Ten Questions For the Phillies Heading Into Spring Training

It may be a chilly January morning in the Philadelphia area, but pitchers and catchers report in less than a month to sunny Clearwater, Florida. The Phillies have been turning their farm system around in recent years due mostly to trades, but some drafting as well. Hopefully the latter is a trend as a team needs that for sustained success and without it, it will go into a prolonged period of bad performance. Here is a list of ten questions for the Phillies major league team as well as some of their prospects:

1.Will Odubel Herrera put together a full season of good play?– Herrera got a long-term deal in the 0ff-season after putting together two decent seasons of play. The thing with Herrera is that they were basically two very good half-seasons with two not-so-good. In 2015 Herrera’s first half slash line was .268/.297/.398, while the second half was .329/.394/.440. The first half was an average season while the second half was all-star caliber. In 2016, it was the opposite. Herrera got off to a fast start with a slash line of .294/.378/.427 but slowed down in the second with a line of .277/.337/.411. The first half numbers don’t quite show how good his start of the season was because he began to slow down before the all-star break. I don’t think anyone really expects him to maintain numbers that were almost historic (Herrera peaked May 16th last year with a line of .343/.453/.471), but more even play would be nice. Hopefully 2017 will be the year that he can put together a full season of above-average performance.

2. Will one of the outfield prospects the Phillies have stick in 2017?- The Phillies have quite a few outfield prospects that have yet to make a statement that they belong in the Major Leagues. Last year was supposed to be Aaron Altherr’s year, but he got hurt in spring training and was probably still hampered by the wrist injury when he returned. Roman Quinn has a lot of tools, but also was injured after he was called up, which has been hard for him to avoid throughout his career. Out of the two, Quinn had better numbers in Philly. Of course, the Phillies picked up Howie Kendrick from the Dodgers to play left field, but at age 33 and coming off a bad year, he is not a long-term solution. Tyler Goeddel is another outfield prospect who spent the year playing sparingly as a Rule 5 pick. While Goeddel is a former first-round pick and showed some flashes last year, he ended the year with a batting average of under .200 and an OPS of .549. There were some concerns with Goeddell’s bat speed last year and at 6′ 4″ and 180 lbs, he could probably stand to add some strength. At this point Goeddell doesn’t appear to be anything more than AAA depth. Nick Williams is another outfield prospect that came over in the Hamels deal and had been putting up good numbers until he hit AAA. He could have been called up at the end of last season, but his numbers, especially the strikeouts, did not warrant such a move. It would be nice if he could play well enough to force the Phillies to call him up sooner than later next year. I currently don’t have a lot of confidence in Williams, though. Out of all these prospects, I think Quinn has the best chance to stick as an everyday player.

3. What will Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens do now that they are not playing in Reading?– Speaking of prospects, these two sluggers put on a show at Reading last year hitting about 80 home runs between the two. The big question is what will they do now that they are in AAA. Reading Municipal Stadium is know to be quite hitter-friendly. Darin Ruf if a good example of how the numbers there don’t always translate to the Major Leagues. On the other hand, Ryan Howard had no problem after dominating there. Having one, or even both, of these guys continue to play well would be a huge thing for the Phillies moving forward. Cozens is an outfielder, so he could also be placed in the mix for question number 2. Hoskins is a first baseman, whose path may be blocked by Tommy Joseph depending on how well he plays next year. The good news with these two guys is that neither of them are 20th round picks who suddenly played well at Reading. Hoskins was a fifth round pick (like Howard) and Cozens was a second-round pick. Both showed some power previously, but not like last year. Their performance with the Iron Pigs should be closely watched by all Phillies fans. If they play well, they most certainly could be second-half call-ups depending on the play of those listed in the previous question. I hope both have great careers, but right now I am giving the edge to Hoskins who has shown a better ability to get on base. Hoskins career OBP is about 40 points higher than Cozens’ number.

4. Can Tommy Joseph build on a good 2016 season?- Of course, Joseph has a great story. A catching prospect that came over from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence trade who, after experiencing a number of concussions, was left unprotected to the Rule 5 draft. He wasn’t selected and, after a vision issue was corrected, put up good numbers in AAA at the start of 2016, was called up, and continued to hit. While he hit 21 homers in just 315 at bats, his on-base percentage of .308 could use some help. However, if he continues to slug at the .505 rate from last year, that is not a major concern. Joseph’s numbers against left-handed pitchers are much better than the other way around, which has led some in the front office to say they might look for a left-handed hitting first baseman for a platoon situation. However, since the Phillies are not expected to be contenders next year, I think they should play him full time to see if he can improve those numbers. Last year, he was platooned with Howard for most of the year, so he didn’t see right-handers that often. The only way to get better with that is to play more, and there’s not much to lose doing that next year. If both Joseph and Hoskins have good year, the Phillies will have a decision to make, but we’re not there yet.

5. Will Mikel Franco live up to his prospect label and have a good year?- Franco had a lot of people buzzing about his future after playing well at AAA and then putting together a nice 2015 in Philadelphia, hitting 14 home runs with an OPS of .841 in a partial season. Last year, Franco was pretty streaky, but overall had a disappointing year. He did hit 25 home runs, but his percentage numbers took a general fall leaving him with an OPS .733. The Phillies would be wise to wait before they give him an Odubel Herrera-like contract. If he puts together a season like 2015 for a full year, then that would the time to do it. The Phillies had one of the worst offensive years in their team’s 130+ year history, so a Franco that hits 30+ home runs with an OPS of .850+ would be most helpful.

6. Will Freddy Galvis realize he’s not a home run hitter and try to get on base at least at a somewhat respectable rate?- As I mentioned, the Phillies were really bad last year offensively. They had the second worst on-base percentage and the worst on-base plus slugging percentage in the Majors last year at .301 and .685 respectively. While it was nice to get 20 home runs from a shortstop, it can’t make up for the fact that Galvis had an absolutely horrendous OBP of .274. Unfortunately, that is around his career average, so improvement is unlikely. I think the front office would trade ten of those home runs if Freddy could raise his on-base percentage to .320. Galvis’s time at shortstop is most likely numbered as prospect JP Crawford will hopefully be ready to play by 2018. It’s possible he is moved to second base at some point as he plays great defense and is a leader of a time that is quite young. However, that means Cesar Hernandez won’t have a position, and while he has several shortcomings, getting on base is not one of them. If Hernandez has another offensive year like he did last year (BA of .294, OBP of .371), I don’t see how the Phillies can take him out of the lineup, unless they have someone else to replace him. Scott Kingery has been a name floated as a future replacement, but he’s still a ways off. Closer to the Majors is Jesmuel Valentin who played at Lehigh Valley last year.

7. Can Aaron Nola stay healthy?– This is a very big question for the Phillies. Nola’s story is well known. Drafted out of LSU, Nola was billed as a good, safe pick as he was very polished but maybe didn’t have as high a ceiling as other prospects coming out of college. After years of trying to outsmart people in the draft and take raw, “high-ceiling” players, the Phillies went for the safer pick and it really paid off. Nola rocketed to Philadelphia and put up good numbers in 2015. In 2016 Nola started very strong and was pitching like an ace through June. He was striking out around 10 batters per nine innings and had a sub-3.00 ERA. However, in July he lost his characteristic control and was being hit pretty hard. It was found he had a sprained elbow ligament. Rehabilitation rather than Tommy John surgery was recommended. This kind of injury was actually predicted by some who saw flaws in his mechanics. Nola has rested and rehabbed and will ready to pitch again in 2017. I hope he doesn’t have to have Tommy John surgery, but I would not be surprised if that happens.

8. Just what is Vince Velasquez?- Velasquez is one of the Phillies more intriguing young players. He came over from Houston in the Giles deal and has dominating stuff which hasn’t always appeared in his starts. One game he’s striking out 16 batters and the next he’s giving up 9 hits in 5 innings. He was pretty inconsistent, but to make matters worse there is a question about his arm health, due to which he missed several starts last year. There was talk about Velasquez not using his breaking stuff more often last year to put hitters away. He certainly gave up too many hits and home runs. It will be interesting to see which Velasquez we will get next year and if he can pitch a full season.

9. Which of the Phillies young pitching prospects will be for real in 2017?- This is a questions that will be answered over the  next few years rather than just next year. However, the Phillies have quite a few strong pitching prospects who will battle for spots this year and next. There doesn’t seem to be any aces at this point, but having very strong 2, 3, and 4 starters is also important. Jerad Eikoff, who came over from the Hamels deal, has surprised me. He can no longer be viewed as a prospect as he threw 197 innings last year with a very solid 3.65 ERA and WHIP of 1.165. He needs to allow fewer home runs, but has proved he is a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter. I had hopes Adam Morgan could stick as a starter, but 2016 showed that it probably won’t happen. Once a top prospect who got hurt, Morgan had enough starts last year to prove himself, but pitched very poorly. Zach Eflin is another intriguing pitcher. Eflin was a former first round pick of the Padres and pitched himself to Philadelphia after a good year in AAA. If you take away his last three starts, he had a decent showing in Philadelphia. Eflin had surgery to correct chronic knee pain (which ended his season early), so it will be interesting to see how he does in 2017. He will be in a battle for the fifth spot. Jake Thompson is another enigma. Coming from Texas in the Hamels trade, Thompson dominated at AA and AAA in 2015 and 2016 when he was called up in August and pretty much pitched terribly for the Phillies. Thompson’s biggest problem in Philly was walking too many hitters. He did show some improvement in his September starts. He, too, will try for the fifth starter spot. Lastly, Alec Asher is another pitcher to watch for the fifth spot. Asher, too, came to the Phillies in the Hamels deal and had a great few starts in September with a 2.28 ERA and a WHIP under 1.0. He was suspended for 80 games last year for a positive PED test.  Asher was up in September in 2015 but did not pitch nearly as well. His improvement has been credited to the use of a two-seam fastball, making it less straight and harder to hit. Two more pitchers to keep an eye on are Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta.

10. Will the catcher of the future be identified this season?-  Cameron Rupp had a nice year last year, hitting 16 home runs to go with a respectable OPS of .750. Rupp is only 28 so he could be considered part of the future. However, prospect Jorge Alfaro is generally seen as Rupp’s heir to the catching position. His arm is regarded as off the charts, and he had a good offensive year at Reading last year. Like many young players, he needs to walk more as he only drew 22 walks last year. Alfaro needs some more seasoning and will most likely start the year in AAA. Another candidate is Andrew Knapp who will probably be Rupp’s backup next year provided he doesn’t have a horrible spring. Knapp was once higher on the prospect radar after having an amazing season between high A and AA ball in 2015. His stock dropped last year after a mediocre year in AAA. So, Phillies fans will have to keep an eye on how Alfaro progresses (or not) in AAA and how Knapp does as a Major League backup. And, of course, let’s now rule Rupp out as he has already proven himself at the top level.

There you have it Phillies fans. While the team probably be all that competitive, there is certainly a lot to watch this year. At this point, the Phillies strength this pitching as they have quite a few good prospects about to break into the Majors. If any combination of Franco, Cozens, Hoskins, Joseph, and Alfaro have good to great years, then there will be real reasons to be excited for the future of this team.

Don’t Overlook Cameron Rupp

People have been very excited about Jorge Alfaro, the catching prospect the Phillies received from Texas in the Cole Hamels. This has been a fruitful trade so far, as Alec Asher and Jerad Eickoff already seeing action in the major leagues, with Nick Williams close to a call-up from triple A. Cole Hamels has been having an excellent year for Texas at 12-3 with an ERA of 2.89. His secondary numbers suggest that success may not last (FIP over 4 and a fairly high WHIP, although he has brought that number down over the past few weeks), but maybe it will. It was the right trade at the time, because many of Hamels starts would have been wasted on this feeble offense the Phillies have, and the Phillies got a number of promising young players.

Alfaro, as I have mentioned, is one of them. Recently I heard Angelo Cataldi say that Alfaro will be in Philadelphia in two years. There was also some talk  of the Phillies trading Rupp because they have Alfaro in the system. Now it may be true that Alfaro will make it to Philadelphia in 2018, but any assumption that he will be the starting catcher is way too premature. First, Rupp is having an excellent year. His slash line is .278/.329/.502, which is good for anyone, let alone a catcher.  Finding a catcher who can also hit is not an easy thing to do. The percentage of base runners he’s caught stealing is down from the previous two years at 24%, but that’s not horrible either, plus he’s working with a lot of young pitchers who may not be doing a good job of holding runners on first base. One might say that he’s playing over his head this year and will come down to earth. That is possible, because he hasn’t hit like this really at any point before and his BABIP is a little on the high side. However, he was also a high draft pick (third round), and he’s hitting the ball a little harder this year. His exist velocity average is among the highest in the National League. Let’s not forget that Carlos Ruiz was never a hitter in the minors either until he started playing full time in the majors. Rupp has also been praised for his leadership skills, something important for a young team to have.

There’s no doubt that Alfaro is an exciting prospect. His hitting statistics in the minors have been solid, if not that spectacular (although he’s having a very nice year this year at the plate). He certainly could stand to walk more as he is average less than a quarter of a walk per game, but his on-base percentage is a respectable .330 this season.  Alfaro’s throwing arm has gotten him most of the attention and he’s thrown out a very impressive 42% of base stealers this year. However, AA is a long way from Philadelphia. It may very well be the Alfaro has another good year in AAA next year, but it is way too early to start showing Rupp the door or granting Alfaro the title of “future starter at catcher for the Phillies”.  The last thing they should do is trade Rupp, assuming Andrew Knapp or Jorge Alfaro will soon step in to do the job.

Cody Asche: A Cautionary Tale

I was recently looking at Cody Asche’s minor league numbers, and I had forgotten how good he was in the minor leagues, especially before he was first called up in 2013. I may have forgotten this because Asche has struggled since that time, to a tune of a .242/.300/.390 slash line for his ML career. Manager Pete Mackanin has recently grown impatient with Asche saying that he “needs to step it up” as Aaron Atherr is also now competing for an outfield spot. It got me wondering why Asche has struggled so much after a very nice minor league career. Was he brought up too soon? Is he just not good enough? Let’s take a look at his numbers…

If we throw out his first year in short-season single A ball and his recent minor league at-bats, Cody Ache never had an OPS of under .825 at any stop in the minors. He hit over .300 at every stop except for his last AAA and that was .295. He never had an OBP of under .352. In other words, he was a great hitter. There was no noticeable dip at AAA where he no doubt faced pitchers who had major league experience. In Lehigh Valley he hit .295/.352/.485 with 15 home runs and 68 RBI.

Could it be the Phillies brought him up too quickly? Phillies fans have long accused the Phillies of letting their prospects stay in the minors too long, like with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Ache rose through the ranks very quickly, with a different minor league team each year. He only played in 432 minor league games, which is not a huge amount of time. Granted, it could be said he played himself out of the minors with his performance. In retrospect, though, maybe more time would have been better. Like a lot of the Phillies top prospects, Asche did not walk a lot, averaging .32 walks per game. In the majors, it has gone down to about .25 walks per game. He’s walking a little less, but hitting a lot less. My point is that if a prospect has not developed a good sense of the strike zone and plate discipline, when they face a higher level of pitching in the major leagues it can be a problem. With fewer hits, the player’s OBP will be even lower. With poor plate discipline, it makes playing more difficult for a young hitter as pitchers will exploit this weakness and give them few good pitches to hit.

The second possibility is that maybe Asche is just not good enough. There have been many, many players who can hit really well in the minor leagues, but not in the big leagues. It’s really hard to say, but the reason why this is a cautionary tale is because some of those prospects who are doing well now, may not do the same in the majors. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee. Also, some of those same prospects have poor plate discipline as well (see the last post). Fans have been clamoring for the team to bring some of them up, but maybe waiting wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Phillies need hitters who can get on base as they are last in ALL of major league baseball in team on-base percentage at a meager .295. This will be something the Phillies will have to address.

Down On The Farm

There’s been a lot written lately about the Phillies farm system, and rightly so. For many years the cupboard was raided in an attempt to win now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that and, really, no prospect the Phillies traded away has done anything of substance. The larger problem was poor drafting of players. More recently, the Phillies have restocked the system by trading away Cole Hamels and Ken Giles, among others. At the same time, some of the players they have drafted are getting noticed, such as Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford. Others who arrived though the trades are already here making a difference like Zach Eflin and Jerad Eickoff. MLB.com rated the Phillies system as 7th best in baseball even before some of the prospects began having breakout years. Minorleagueball.com had them at number 10 , and Baseball Prospectus had the Phillies in the 4th spot. I haven’t written on this blog in quite some time; I’ve been busier than I expected I would be this summer. I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the prospects and give them a rating.

I am not going to go through every prospect obviously, but some of the ones that have been in the news lately. The following rating system will be used: 4= MLB All-Star   3= above average   2= average   1= bench player. For pitchers, the system will be: 4= Legitimate ace 3= number 2/3 in rotation  2= 4/5 in rotation 1= bullpen piece.

Let’s start of with J.P. Crawford. I am giving him a 4, I believe he will be an all-star one day in the Major Leagues. Of course, I am not going out on a limb as he is ranked the number 3 prospect in all of baseball right now by MLB.com.  The main reason why I think he will be an all-star is because of his plate discipline. It is so rare for a young player to have such good discipline. At every level he has walked about the same amount of times that he has struck out. During his time at double A, he actually walked more than he’s struck out. AAA has been a little different story, but he has not been there the whole season, plus it should be kept in mind that he is 5.6 years younger than the average AAA player, a good number of whom have Major League experience. Some knocks on Crawford have been his defense, having only a .956 career minor league fielding percentage. He has played good defense in 2016, however. At the same time however, his range factor per game is quite good.  He does not hit for a whole lot of power, with a career slugging percentage of .400. However, he is a shortstop, so power would be a bonus (and he did hit 11 home runs one year, so he could develop into a guy who could hit 10-15 home runs a year with a good number of other extra base hits) and he does make up for it by getting on base at a nice rate- .378 career. I have no doubt that if Crawford continues to do well that he will be a September call-up.

Next up let’s take a look at Jake Thompson, who’s been on an amazing roll over the last few weeks after a rough start to the season. Originally a second round pick by the Tigers, the Phillies picked him up in the Hamels trade. Thompson is also young, just 22 and is knocking on the door to the big leagues. He’s had a successful career in the minors with an ERA of 3.06 and a WHIP of 1.209. This year he has an excellent 2.42 ERA (over his last 9 starts he’s only surrendered three earned runs) and a WHIP of 1.101. He strikeouts per nine innings average is a little lower than one would like at 6.2, but he’s certainly getting the job done. There’s not much more Thompson can prove at AAA and will be up as soon as there is an opening in the rotation. I’d give Thompson a rating of 3.

Another guy at AAA that some people have talked about, and not always for good reasons is Nick Williams. Williams is another player who came from Texas in the Hamels trade. Williams is one of a few up-and-coming outfielders that Phillies have. Like Thompson and Crawford, Williams is also young for AAA, but after a slow start is having a good year. His slash line is .290/.324/.470 which is around his career minor league average. Williams has shown some power, twice hitting 17 home runs in a year, and can swipe a few bases, too. He strikes out too much, but hopefully he can cut down on that as he matures as a hitter. He could also stand to walk more, too. The biggest knock on Williams is that he’s been benched twice for not running out hits which is not what you want to see from a young prospect. Williams could probably stand to be spoken to by more than just a manager, but by a veteran player who’s had success in the major leagues. If I am the Phillies, I would not bring Williams up in September so as to send a message that he needs to tighten up his game more. Williams is a bit of a wild card but I will give him a 3.

The last AAA player we will look at is Andrew Knapp, a catcher who was a 2nd round pick in 2013. Knapp had a fairly average minor knappleague career until he was promoted to AA Reading last year and responded by hitting .360/.419/.631. Those numbers made a lot of people take notice, and for good reason. At Lehigh Valley this year, his numbers have really come back to earth and are probably a better picture of what he is capable of. Knapp certainly is not ready to be promoted and with another, better catching prospect at AA, Knapp will probably be moved to another position at some point. Or, he may just be a backup; it really depends on how well he can hit. It may help to bring back the AA mustache again. I think Knapp will be a 2. His great season last year seems to have been a bit of an aberration.

The AA guys are obviously a little tougher to project, but let’s give it a shot. Let’s start off with their very exciting catching prospect, Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro came over to the Phillies from Texas for Hamels and impressed during spring training this year mostly due to his arm strength. Pete Mackanin, who’s been in the game a long time, said it’s probably the best he’s seen. Vincent Velasquez also spoke highly about him as well after his rehab stint in the minors this year. Alfaro has thrown out an impressive 42% of base runners this season.  Alfaro has good pop in his bat, but rarely walks. In 69 games this year, he’s only walked 16 times. He just won’t have success in the majors with that kind of walk rate. At this point Knapp seems to be the odd-catcher out and Alfaro will eventually be a catcher with the Phillies. Cameron Rupp has had an excellent season this year (and the Phillies should not look to trade him) so Alfaro will most likely start as a backup, maybe late next year or 2018. I’ll give Alfaro a 3.

The Phillies have a few good prospects in Reading- Roman Quinn, Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens. Quinn would probably be knocking on the door to the big leagues by now, but has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Quinn has excellent speed, and was having a very nice year (.288/.361/.420 25 SB in 50 games) when he got hurt. He only recently returned to the field. If he can stay healthy, I like Quinn to be in the Phillies outfield in 2018. I’ll give Quinn a 2.5.

Rhys Hoskins was a 5th round pick two years ago and has shown excellent power his whole time in the minors, especially this year. Hoskins, a first baseman, has 29 home runs so far along with a very solid .285/.356 BA/OBP line. Reading is known as a hitters park, and Darin Ruf had a even more impressive total a few years ago and never really made an impact in Philly, so the number should be taken with a grain of salt. He’s hit about twice as many home runs in Reading than away. He will no doubt be in AAA next year, so it will be interesting to see how he does there. The Phillies first base situation is definitely not settled, although Tommy Joseph has performed well enough to be the presumptive starter next year for now. Joseph really needs to get on base more, though.  It’s tough to judge, but I will give Hoskins a 3.

Lastly, we have Dylan Cozens, a right fielder who is also have a monster year at Reading with 25 home runs and a .279/.366 line. The two have very similar stats and there have been quite a few news reports featuring both these guys.  Cozens has walked more this year, but he’s also struck out more. Cozens is a really big guy at 6′ 6″ and 235 pounds, but is quick, with 17 stolen bases so far. He’s also hitting a lot of home runs in hitter-friendly Reading, so that should be a consideration, too. Of his 25 home runs, 20 have been hit at home, which is an even more extreme split than Hoskins. The Phillies have quite a few outfield prospects to sort through, so it will be interesting to see over the next two years who are for real and who are just mediocre players. I think I will give Cozens a 2, although he may come through as a 3. Hoskins has shown a better ability to get on base and that just is so important at the major league level.

So there you have it folks, so armchair scouting for you.  I think it’s a pretty safe bet we will see Thompson in Philly soon (it really seems Jeremy Hellickson will be traded). I also think we will see JP Crawford up in September. Nick Williams is also a possibility, but I’d hold off on that as I mentioned above. Also, keep an eye on Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, two players recently promoted up the ladder. There really is a lot to look forward to as a Phillies fan. The Phillies could very well be in a good position to spend a lot of money over the next few years in free agency thanks to salaries coming off the books and the Comcast contract kicking in.

A Glimpse of the Future

We all know this is a rebuilding season for the Phillies. While they have played competitively and are currently at .500, they are probably playing over their heads a bit. Their offense is just too weak to be contenders. This year is all about letting young players develop as well as getting a better idea of how good they are.

Just recently I wrote about their offensive woes, particularly their lowly OPS ranking. Part of OPS, of course, is on-base percentage. There is only one Phillies player who is excelling at getting on base. That is Odubel Herrera. Herrera had a great year last year, especially considering that he had never played above AA before. Not only that, but his second half was stronger than his first, which suggests he was not having success because he was unfamiliar to pitchers. So far he has confirmed that his season last year was not a fluke and that he will be a fixture on this team for years to come at the top of the lineup. After 20 games, he has 19 walks and an OBP of .442. I don’t think that high number is going to last the whole year, but the guy knows how to draw walks and look at pitches. It’s been quite a long time since the Phillies had a legitimate leadoff hitter. Jimmy Rollins had some years where he did a pretty good job getting on base, but never cracked the .350 mark. Herrera is a guy the fans should be excited about.

Now imagine Herrera as the leadoff guy, and batting after him or in third is J.P. Crawford. I saw this article today on CSNPhilly about how Crawford is again playing well in Reading and may soon earn himself a promotion. What’s great about Crawford, is he is another guy who can get on base. He’s actually walked more in his career than struck out, something that Herrera is doing this year. Crawford also has a little bit of pop in his bat, too, which is never a bad thing. Following these two you will have Maikel Franco supplying some power. That’s what the top of the lineup will probably look like next year. Of course, three guys don’t make an offense, and there is a pretty big dropoff after that. However, maybe later in the year we will be able to say Nick Williams will be ready to be the number five or six hitter. It’s no secret the free agents in 2018 are going to be some big names. By that point the Phillies will have an extremely low payroll and a better team. That is the year the Phillies will probably begin to spend on big-time free agents again. Some of the hitters: Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, and Manny Machado. Some of the pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, David Price and Matt Harvey.

Hopefully, the players I mentioned will continue to sustain and improve upon their success so we will continue to see an improving Phillies team that is ready to add some expensive pieces in 2018. And, of course, hopefully the Phillies will also draft well the next few years.

The Phillies Offense: A New Hope

Well, we all knew the offense was not going to be good this year, and that is currently the case. The Phillies have been a little lucky with their 6-9 record as their Pythagorean W-L record is 4-11. Not that the advanced stat predictions are always right, as Jayson Stark noted recently, but still I think we can all agree that their record could be worse. It’s mostly been due to their lack of offense, and it is pretty darn bad. They have yet to get more than 9 hits in a game after 15 games. The last team to achieve that ignominy was the 1978 Mets. Not surprisingly they are last in the NL in runs, third from the bottom in hits, they may be 9th in home runs, but they are second to last in slugging percentage, a better indicator of power, last in on-base percentage and second to last in OPS (on-base plus slugging). They are also not hitting the ball very hard, as they are third from last in hard-hit balls.  They are towards the top of the league in line drives, if that matters. Their offense was really bad last year, especially early one. It never really caught fire, but it did improve. Through the first few weeks they were on pace to score the second fewest runs in team history. As it turns out, it only became the 47th worst in team history. Right now, they are basically on the same pace they were last April and if things stay exactly the same they will finish with 399 runs scored. The 1942 Phillies scored 394, but it fewer games, of course.

This post is not to tell you what you already know (although their lowly pace might be news). It’s to maybe offer you some hope. One thing I can mention is that their BAbip (batting average on balls in play) is significantly lower than the league average, .263 to .297 which suggests they’ve been a little unlucky when hitting the ball; hitting at guys instead of in the holes. Ryan Howard is actually one of the lowest on the team at .179. That will only take you so far though, and their biggest problem is power and getting on base. If it seems like it’s been like that for several years now, it has. In 2015 they were second to last in the NL in OPS. In 2014 they were tied for 12th in the league. The year before that, they were also 12th. You have to go all the way back to 2012 before they make it to the middle of the pack in OPS. And we can’t blame Dom Brown anymore. So what can we look forward to? I think you will see Maikel Franco hit a little better, and that’s about it for the major league squad. Herrera is having a very nice year, even with the low batting average because he is getting on base. I think we will see a little more power from him as well. Ruf will provide a little more, too. After that, there’s really no offensive improvement available.

So wasn’t this supposed to be about hope? Yes, and that is in the minor leagues. You will see some of the guys in AAA up before the year is out, and probably before that, too. The Phillies don’t have any big-time hitting prospects, but there are some intriguing candidates. I don’t think you will see anyone from AA like JP Crawford, and I am okay with that because he is quite young still. Cam Perkins, LF,  is a guy who had taken a step back last year after a good year in AA, but is on fire right now. He will almost certainly be called up for a tryout. Andrew Knapp has continued his torrid hitting. Now, he’s a catcher, and I don’t know if I see Rupp getting displaced for a younger guy this year (I could be wrong), but Knapp has played first base before. Of course, Ryan Howard is still there, still blocking younger players. Hopefully he can hit well enough to be traded to another team. Until that time, Knapp probably will stay where he is. Tommy Joseph (who for some reason looks about 40 in his team picture) is an intriguing name because of his history as a prospect turned often-injured catcher, turned surprising resurgence story. However, he also plays first base and I don’t know if I see the Phillies calling him up until September. If Nick Williams starts to hit, he will be another guy to keep an eye one. Hopefully he can start doing that as the weather turns warmer.

So, in the end, it will be another long season, which is no shock. But the pitching staff is generally better, and we may have some young hitter to watch soon.

2016 Prediction

Hi folks! Yes, this blog is not defunct…. I have some time to work on a post, so let’s do this! I couldn’t let Opening Day go by without some predictions. Last year I picked the Phillies to lose 101 games. It was very clear they were headed in a very bad direction, and I was correct. They lost 99 games. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, though. For a while they were on pace for somewhere around 113 losses with a historically runs-scored total. However, they did improve a little and were able to avoid 1oo losses. The good news is, they get the first pick in the draft, the most money for the international signings, first pick on waivers, and first pick of the Rule 5 draft. So, losing has its privileges you might say.

This year, the Phillies are trending upwards. While Las Vegas says they will win no more than 69 games, I will give them 6 more wins for 73. Their starting rotation has improved and they have some good prospects who can come up and pitch some games if needed. The lineup is a little better than last year, but they will still not have enough power. Their bullpen will probably be their weakest spot, but they certainly have a lot of guys trying for those spots. Usually, I go through the lineup and give predictions of stats, but this year since I am short on time, I think I will just give a few sentences on a couple of players.

Maikel Franco– This guy is headed for a nice season. While the spring stats were incredible, they should be taken with a grain of salt. However, he did very well last year too, before getting hurt. I like Franco to hit at least 30 HR and have an OPS of over .850. He’s still young, so I imagine he will have some significant valleys, but I think he is a player the Phillies can get excited about. He seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders, too.

Odubel Herrera– He’s another guy that I think will improve this year. They guy hit .297 with an OBP of .344 last year and he had never played above AA. His second-half stats were significantly better, too, which says that the league was not catching up to him the second time through.  I like Herrera to hover around .300 with a slightly improved OBP and show a little more pop. It’s going to be fun to watch him, too.

Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis– I don’t think these guys are long-term answers for the lineup. I think Hernandez has more of a shot to stick, especially with J.P Crawford behind Galvis in the minors. I think they both could be above-average utility guys, though. If anyone surprises me, I think it will be Hernandez.

Darin Ruff– It’s no secret we’ve long been a fan of Babe Ruf, and have lobbied for more playing time for Ruf. While it’s fair to say he did not quite seize the day when he was in the lineup, when he started, he played well. He had a great spring with an OPS near 1.000 and looks like he will platoon (finally!!) with Howard at first. The Yellow Seats still believes that if Ruf played every day he’d give you a .270 BA, .340 OBP with 30 HRs over a full season. But when you were not drafted high and have a guy in front of you making $25 million, it’s hard to crack the lineup. As for Howard, I would be shocked if there were any improvement from last year, unless it’s just because he’s hitting against righties. He’s the franchises best first baseman in history, but that time has passed.

Peter Bourjos- I don’t see him doing all that great this year and getting back to his 2011 form, but you never know. He will be fun to watch in the outfield, though.

Here are some thoughts on some of the starters:

Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton– These two guys have had some success in the past, but not lately. I don’t see them doing all that great, but it is possible. Of course, the best case scenario is they have great first halves and then are traded for prospects.

Aaron Nola– Nola pitched very well for a rookie, even if he was a much-heralded one. A 3.59 ERA with a 1.197 WHIP is a very nice rookie year. I’d like to see that WHIP come down a tiny bit as he is not an overpowering pitcher and needs to keep base runners to a minimum. I’m not sure how much Nola will improve in the ERA department, but I’d like to see it under 3.50. He probably won’t get many wins as the bullpen will probably be bad and the offense will most likely struggle to score.

Jerad Eickoff- Eickoff had an even better, but shorter rookie year with an ERA of 2.65 and a WHIP of 1.039. Eickoff was part of the Hamels deal. His success took me by surprise as his minor-league numbers weren’t great. His career minor league ERA was 4.14. Going from that to 2.65 in the Majors does suggest that kind of success won’t continue, but you never know. While I doubt he will have a sub-3.00 ERA over a full season, it doesn’t mean he won’t be a good major-league pitcher, if not great (and 2.65 would be great).

All in all, this will be a much more exciting year for the team. We have some promising young players already here, and some in the minors who we might see before the end of the year like Nick Williams and Jake Thompson, who destroyed the Eastern League after he came over from the Rangers organization in the Hamels deal. Take it away, Harry!