Phillies trade season renews focus on Brandon Marsh: Can he be a successful everyday player?

CHICAGO — Kyle Schwarber lost playing time in certain matchups during the first six years of his career. It consumed him. He wanted to play every day. He tried to hit lefties like he hit righties. “I had no clue what I wanted to do,” Schwarber said. In 2021, he met Kevin Long when they were both with the Washington Nationals. They created a different plan for lefties. It stuck.

So, earlier this season, Long, the Phillies’ hitting coach, enlisted Schwarber’s help. He had reached a good place with his work against lefties. Now, Schwarber had to pay it forward with Brandon Marsh.

“Because,” Schwarber said, “I can relate to that.”

It’s been 50 days since Marsh started against a lefty. He is a platoon player and, this month, he is one of the more intriguing people in the Phillies organization. The club must decide where to upgrade at the trade deadline. It could seek a better right-handed-hitting outfielder to pair with Marsh.

So much has changed in the three months since the Phillies and Braves saw each other. But, when they meet again Friday night, Marsh will not be in the lineup against lefty Max Fried. The same thing happened in March when Marsh sat two of the three games versus Atlanta in the season-opening series. Team officials, including manager Rob Thomson, have insisted Marsh is more than a platoon player. But their actions indicate otherwise.

Marsh is not a current option if a lefty is on the mound.

“At this point,” Long said, “it’s not even in the conversation. Really. He’s not getting many … I can’t remember his last lefty game started.”

It was May 16.

“So he’s not in that picture right now,” Long said. “And he will be if we start feeling like his at-bats are getting better against lefties. That’s really what it boils down to.”

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Brandon Marsh, left, talks with hitting coach Kevin Long last year. (John Adams / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images)

Marsh is 7-for-46 with 25 strikeouts against lefties this season. He has one extra-base hit against a lefty — it came April 12, a double off Pittsburgh’s Bailey Falter. A season ago, Marsh showed some improvements. He at least mashed lefty fastballs to a .317 average and .508 slugging percentage.

This season, he’s hitting .143 with no extra-base hits on left-on-left fastballs.

“We’ve been grinding, really trying to make it a point,” Marsh said. “I want to try to be as successful against lefties as I am righties. Just really trying to see the ball deep and just let the swing go.”

This is the current Schwarber approach. “That’s my dude who I’m working with,” Marsh said. Schwarber is hitting .341/.447/.532 versus lefties in 2024. It’s the best he has ever been against them. He is using the whole field. Schwarber is convinced Marsh can make himself playable against lefties.

“I think 100 percent yes,” Schwarber said. “I think he has qualities, obviously against right-handers, that make him very valuable. And I just don’t see why that can’t translate to the left-handed side of pitching.

“The thing is, it’s different. It’s something that you have to work at. You have to have a good plan and you have to keep doing it. And that’s something that he’s showing that he wants to do. He wants to keep working on it. He wants to get better at it.”

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Kyle Schwarber, right, is helping Brandon Marsh as he works to get better against left-handed pitchers. (John Geliebter / USA Today)

Marsh hit another ball hard Thursday afternoon against a righty in a blowout Phillies loss to the Cubs. His single scored the first run of the game. He has the 14th-highest average exit velocity in the majors against righties. That matters.

There is a mental element to the situation, Schwarber acknowledged. The Phillies have two conflicting objectives right now: They want to win as many games as they can, and they want to develop Marsh into a more complete player. This was the same dynamic Schwarber encountered as a younger hitter when he was often platooned with the Cubs.

“I hate saying it, right?” Schwarber said. “But it’s the problem of being on a good team. And that was me.”

Certain thoughts creep into a hitter’s head. If Marsh isn’t seeing many chances against lefties, he feels like he has to have a good result every time. “That’s putting you in a bad spot,” Schwarber said. He has stressed to Marsh that the work matters most. Feel good about how you approach the at-bats, then the results are the results.

This is a challenging balance to achieve.

“He’s probably been too passive against lefties,” Long said. “That’s the thing I see. He’s just not swinging enough. He’s behind in the count a lot. He’s giving them way too much credit. He needs to attack them instead of waiting for them to come to him. He needs to be ready to go.”

This month is not a referendum on Marsh’s future; the Phillies can acquire a better platoon partner for him in the short term but not shut the door on a more regular role in 2025. It’s discouraging that these are the same conversations they had late in 2022 and all of 2023. The Phillies passed on a trade for an outfield upgrade last summer.

There are reasons to reconsider this time. Even a marginal upgrade could have a significant effect.

Righty hitters — Whit Merrifield and Cristian Pache — have logged 112 plate appearances as a left fielder for the Phillies this season. They are hitting a collective .170/.250/.250. Merrifield has not made hard contact all season. Pache has yet to produce in limited action.

The Phillies, arguably, could be better served by sticking Marsh, a strong defender, in left field no matter who is pitching. It’s hard to be worse, although Marsh’s .152/.226/.174 line against lefties this season is.

“He’s just not there against them,” Long said. “I told him it’s going to take a lot of work. And you have to be diligent in your work. You have to get in there and work on the lefty stuff five times a week. That’s what Schwarber did. So we’ve been on him about that. Staying on him. And he’s been more diligent with his work. We have to make sure that when he gets those at-bats, he at least can give us a good quality at-bat.”

Schwarber did not reach 500 at-bats in a season until he was 26 years old. It was his third full season in the majors. The Chicago Cubs gave him more chances against lefties that year because Schwarber made real improvements. Marsh is 26 and in his third full season. Long showed Schwarber how he helped mold Curtis Granderson into a viable everyday player. Schwarber picked Anthony Rizzo’s brain as he improved against lefties. These are all things Long and Schwarber are passing onto Marsh.

Schwarber is convinced Marsh can do it. There was an at-bat from last postseason, in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, that Schwarber uses to remind Marsh. Marsh drove a double to left-center against Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Andrew Saalfrank to tie the game.

“The more that he works at it,” Schwarber said, “he’s going to get more comfortable.”

That work has to happen, for now, behind the scenes. It can be grueling and the benefits might not be clear — especially when Marsh knows he will not start against lefties. The Phillies are asking him to trust their plan.

But they’re not certain how it’ll unfold. Can Marsh be a successful everyday player in the majors?

“I don’t know,” Long said. “I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that. I just know that he’s a good enough player and a good enough athlete that he should be able to handle it. And, to this point, he hasn’t. So we have to get better.”



Brandon Marsh returns to Anaheim for first time since trade that changed everything



The essence of Kyle Schwarber, the Phillies’ everyman slugger with an empathetic spirit

(Top photo: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

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