A team press release reports that Phillies ranked hitter Prissy Harper underwent “successful” Tommy John surgery with Dr. Neil Turks in Los Angeles on Wednesday. In the release, the Phillies said Harper is expected to return as the designated hitter by the 2023 All-Star break, and could return in right field at the end of the regular season.
Phillies chief of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said last week that Harper will undergo surgery on his right elbow, but said the team is unsure of the extent of the surgery. At the time, Harper could only have ordered a repair of the damaged ulnar collateral ligament, a procedure called an internal brace that his colleague, Rhys Hoskins, performed in 2020.
But after further examination on Wednesday, ElAatrache determined Harper needed a complete reconstruction of his UCL, called a “right elbow reconstruction/repair with ulnar nerve switch” by the Phillies.
While it wasn’t clear exactly when Harper’s injury occurred, he had been dealing with a “painful” feeling in his elbow since April, after a throw at home plate on April 11 that caused him to wince in pain. Harper played four games in right field after that date, but was then suspended from pitching for a week on April 18.
At the time, then-manager Joe Girardi, Harper was dealing with tendonitis, but an MRI revealed a strain in his flexor blocks (a group of muscles and tendons in the forearm), the team said. Harper hasn’t played a game in right field since April 16, but quickly transitioned into his role as DH, because the batter didn’t put pressure on the injured elbow.
Position players typically require six to eight months of recovery time from Tommy John surgery.
Harper seems to be a fast healer. After being hit by a pitch that broke his thumb on June 25, Harper again found himself in a big league lineup nearly two months from today. It took him a while to find his timing at the plate, but once he did, he looked like he was fully back into himself as the 2021 National League MVP. After a thumb injury, Harper found his step at the best possible time for the Phillies — during the 2022 postseason, when he arrived. 349/.414/.746 with a 1.160 OPS.
Harper was hitting .318/.386/.599 over 64 games before hitting the field. This type of production won’t be easy for the Phillies to replicate in the first few months of the 2023 season, but they now have the advantage of knowing an approximate time frame for Harper’s absence, which could inform some of their offseason decisions.
Last week, Dombrowski confirmed that the Phillies have several candidates on their roster who could fill Harper’s jobs if needed. In 2022, that player was very much Darrick Hall, a rookie power hitter who was used as a defense against right-handed pitchers. Hall came out of the gate strong, hitting a two-run home run in his second big league game on June 30 and recording 907 OPS over his first 12 games. He heated up again in August, when he hit .302/.333/.628 over 13 games, but finished his first season in the major leagues with a career-high 31% strikeout average.
“Jan [Segura, a free agent,] Dombrowski said last week. “We have some flexibility to look at what the middle position would be like. So we have a few different things – so I think fit all those things together and see what you think makes your club the best.
“But we have some people we love. Sometimes the best plans go to waste. When we originally signed [Kyle] Schwarber W [Nick] Castellanos, the idea was to have one of them be our DH most of our time and the other one would play the field. Well, they both played the field. So it opens up the position, if you have some flexibility on who the DH is for a short period of time.
“We like what Darrick Hall has done for us. We love Darrick Hall. Do we think that using him in a turn, depending on time, compared to other moves we might make, gives us the best chance of winning? We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Another option mentioned last week by manager Rob Thompson is moving utility man Edmundo Sosa to third base, third baseman Alec Baum to first base, and first baseman Rhys Hoskins to DH. That would assume the Phillies gain a shortstop this offseason, preferably if they can open him up in the middle of the lineup.
The third option, suggested by the NL’s talent evaluator, is to swap Schwarber and Castellanos at DH, while moving Matt Vierling from right field to left field. Schwarber and Castellanos don’t do well with defensive metrics, so replacing one with Vierling would bolster the defense in Harper’s absence, making sure Castellanos and Schwarber stay in the lineup.
In 2022, Vierling posted runs scored and above-zero defensive runs in 146⅔ innings pitched in left field and a DRS and OAA of one of 175 innings in right field. Under this theory, Brandon Marsh would get more regular playing time in central midfield, where he would grade well defensively. A left-handed batsman, Marsh had been spreading into the center with Furling last season, often facing right-handed bowling. His left splits will need some work if the Phillies intend to become a full-time quarterback. (He’s hit .188/.226/.260 against lefties in 96 at-bats this year.)
In short, Harper’s injury will certainly have ripple effects, but it should allow for some defensive flexibility.
“You never want to lose Bryce,” Thompson said. “He’s one of the best hitters in baseball, if not the best. But we’ve spent a lot of time last year without him and the guys responded, and that gave other people a chance to step up and they did. So while we’ll miss him and look forward to getting him back, that will give someone else a chance.” “.