Phillies players have been trickling into town for a few days. They all must undergo “intake testing” and wait for the results before they can participate in workouts at Citizens Bank Park in preparation for the shortened 2020 season.
Players testing positive for COVID-19 must register two negative tests before being cleared to return to the club.
Some players could participate in informal workouts as soon as Tuesday, but the first “official” workout won’t be until Friday, according to general manager Matt Klentak.
The Phillies will have 54 players in camp and that number can grow to 60. At any point, a player or two or more could be sidelined by COVID-19, or even the suspicion of COVID-19.
Fifty-four players is a big group. If the Phillies were training in Clearwater, where there are five full fields, a half field, multiple bullpens and batting cages, a huge indoor facility, and another field across the street, spreading out and finding workspace would not be an issue.
It shouldn’t be an issue in South Philadelphia, either, but it will be a challenge.
In an effort to space things out, the Phillies will utilize both Citizens Bank Park and the fields at their youth academy in FDR Park. Players will be transported across the street to FDR Park and there will be security.
“We’re looking to use all parts of Citizens Bank Park,” Klentak said. “It’s not going to be surprising to see guys doing weight-room routines on the concourse. That’s something we’re contemplating just to give guys a little more room to maneuver.”
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For reasons of spacing and distancing, the Phillies will likely stagger daily report times for players.
“You might have two groups in a morning session and two groups in an afternoon session so you don’t have 50-plus players there at the same time in the locker room,” Klentak said. “We’re working through all of that.
“It’s going to be a challenge. The season will look and feel different for everyone. We all need to be flexible. We may have the best of intentions to structure things in a certain way, but we may find out on Day 1 or Day 2 that that’s not working and we may need to adjust. But right now, we’re making every effort to stagger workouts both in terms of number of people and in terms of using multiple fields.”
The 60-game regular-season schedule is still being finalized by MLB. Opening day is slated for July 23 or 24. Teams can open with as many as 30 players. After two weeks, the maximum number shrinks to 28 before shrinking to 26 two weeks later.
Teams can stash 30 players at a satellite training site throughout the season and draw from that group when reinforcements are needed. The Phillies’ extra group will train at the Triple A facility in Lehigh Valley.
Several players around baseball have decided not to play because of the COVID-19 risk. They include Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross of the Nationals, Ian Desmond of the Rockies and Mike Leake of the Diamondbacks.
According to Klentak, no Phillie has opted out. Pitcher Zack Wheeler plans to leave the team for several days in late July for the birth of his first child. He will have to go through health protocols when he returns. By rule, players are allowed three days of paternity leave.
“It’s subject to change but right now we’re not anticipating an extended absence,” Klentak said of Wheeler.
The Phillies left some breathing room — for now, six open spots — in their player pool. They are expected to add more players, probably a catcher from inside or outside the system. Klentak said it was also possible that Odubel Herrera could be added to the pool. Removing a player from the 60-man pool is permitted, but a team risks losing that player if they do. That’s another reason for preserving some breathing room.
It would be naïve to think that the Phillies — or any team — will not be affected by COVID-19. The Phillies, in fact, already have been with 12 positive tests, including six players. All of those testing positive recently spent time at the team’s training facility in Clearwater.
“On a relative basis, we’ve been fairly fortunate that none of the cases, players or staff, have been especially serious,” Klentak said. “Some of our people have had flu-like symptoms and fevers that have lasted anywhere between a few hours and 24 hours. But nobody has been hospitalized. There haven’t been any grave concerns for anybody, which is good, obviously.
“But I think what is eye-opening to a lot of us is how quickly it spread even in an environment where we were on the extreme end of caution. The facility in Clearwater was pretty airtight in terms of staggering the times that players were reporting and working out and cleaning the facilities in between.
“Truthfully, in some ways, it was frustrating to some of the players how strict it was and yet this type of outbreak still happened. So, it’s concerning, but at the same time I’m hopeful that not only our team but teams throughout the league can learn from what happened on the eve of spring training and hopefully work to prevent more outbreaks like this moving forward.”
During their three weeks of “summer camp,” the Phillies will try to come up with the best roster possible. Top prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm will be in camp with a chance to impact the season, though it won’t be surprising if the team tries to maximize future control of both players by delaying adding them to the active roster for a week or so.
“The fact that (Howard) is part of the (54-man) group shows we view him as a candidate to compete for us in the 60-game season, and Bohm as well,” Klentak said.
“I think we’ve got a good team and we’ll do everything we can do to put the best team out there and win.”
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