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.