The Phillies aren’t projected to be a very good team this season. If you’re familiar with our internet pages, that certainly doesn’t come as breaking news. The Phillies rebuild has been a long time coming, and it’s good that they are finally committed to that process. And when I say committed, I mean committed. In a good way. The process is working, and working faster than many have anticipated. But while the process can be ghastly to the point where it isn’t really fun to watch, the Phillies don’t figure to be that kind of team. In fact, they should be fun.
Among the projected starting rotation and starting lineup, there will only be three players over 30 — Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Charlie Morton. Ruiz is a fan favorite, and Morton is a still interesting pitcher who doesn’t have the mileage on him a 32-year-old normally would. Watching Howard might not be pretty, but we’re suddenly in the last year of his contract (assuming Philly isn’t going to pick up his 2017 club option). Hopefully, the season can be spent celebrating all the good things he did in a Phillies uniform — like how he’s still just one of 24 players who has ever hit 40 or more home runs off of right-handed pitching in a single season. Or perhaps the three home runs he hit in the 2008 World Series, or his MVP performance in the 2009 NLCS. There were good times to be had. And hey, at least he got back to hitting righties at an above-average clip last year. That was nice.
Aside from those players, this is not a team that is going to be populated by retreads like last year’s version of the club. In addition to Howard and Ruiz, last year’s Phillies also gave run to 30s-aged players Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, Jeff Francoeur, Grady Sizemore, Chase Utley, Aaron Harang, Kevin Correia, Jerome Williams and Andres Blanco. Blanco — who oddly produced a 136 wRC+ campaign — is back, but the rest have been excised. The only other potentially prominent 30-something is Matt Harrison, if he can get healthy again. And if he does, his comeback will be a heartwarming story.
It’s not just the lack of old people though that will make the Phillies fun. A lot of the young players who will get run this season are actually intriguing. Maikel Franco seemingly took a long time to get to the majors, but he’ll be in just his age-23 season in 2016. And after hammering 14 homers last year in roughly half a season of playing time, we should be ready for more this season. He figures to be at least an average player, and if the FANS projection of 4.0 WAR comes true, he’ll be an All-Star candidate.
Then there’s Odubel Herrera. Lifted out of the Rule 5 draft, Herrera was a boon for the Phillies last season. He played Gold Glove defense, knocked eight homers and swiped 16 bases. He rocked an ungodly .387 batting average on balls in play, which should come down a bit this year. But it probably won’t regress wildly. Here are his BABIPs in all of the minor league stops at which he tallied at least 100 PAs: .399, .361, .343, .355, .304, .359 and .389. Simply put, when the dude puts the ball in play, there’s a chance something exciting is going to happen. He was the only player on last year’s team to tally 30 doubles.
Speaking of speed, Cesar Hernandez can fly. He swiped 19 bags, and his 6.4 Speed Score was 18th in the game last season (minimum 400 PA). Hernandez is also the rare Phillies hitter who takes his walks, which is nice to see. Rounding out the speed trio is shortstop Freddy Galvis, who stole 10 bases in 11 tries last season, and his 4.6 BsR ranked 23rd in the game last season.
While Galvis is solid at short, he’s not the player to really be excited about. That’s J.P. Crawford, who not only is lighting up the traditional prospect leaderboards, but also came in at #1 in the updated KATOH leaderboard. I won’t be telling you anything you don’t already know about Crawford at this point, but having a stud prospect who could anchor the team for years to come possibly debut this season is reason enough to watch Phillies games in the second half. And he’s not the only player who made the KATOH Top 100. Nick Williams (60), Andrew Knapp (68) and Dylan Cozens (90) also made the list, and all had progressed to at least Double-A by the end of last season — i.e., all could see big-league time this year. We already have Williams (and Crawford) on the Phillies depth chart in anticipation.
Williams of course, is a consensus top prospect, as is catcher Jorge Alfaro. But it’s not just position players that make this Phillies team intriguing, it’s also the pitchers. Consensus top-100 prospects Mark Appel and Jake Thompson could see big-league action this season, as could former top prospect Vincent Velasquez. And we haven’t even got to Jerad Eickhoff. Last season, Kiley McDaniel anointed Eickhoff a top 200 prospect following the trade deadline, and when he came up late last season, he struck out 24.1% of the batters he faced, and had a lovely 17.7% strikeout- and walk-rate differential, which ranked 27th among starters with at least 50 innings pitched. Now, he is garnering sleeper attention in fantasy land and is popping up on Eno’s arsenal scores list. And he probably isn’t even the team’s best pitcher.
That honor likely will go to Aaron Nola, who was Kiley’s 51st-ranked prospect last year, and turned in a solid rookie campaign of his own. His end of the season will likely be a microcosm of how the Phillies season goes. In five of his final seven starts, he allowed either one or zero runs, working at least five innings in each and at least seven in four of them. In the other two starts, he gave up six runs in each and didn’t get past the fifth in either. In one of the bad outings, he managed to strike out eight, so you could see the good even in the bad, but Phillies fans will certainly be hoping for fewer six-run outings from their new ace.
Perhaps most importantly, the team seemingly has a higher floor in the rotation spots where they don’t have star prospects waiting to make good. Charlie Morton, Jeremy Hellickson and Brett Oberholtzer aren’t Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine, but they’re actual, competent major league pitchers. They should be a far pace better than a lot of the rotation filler from last season. In 2015, David Buchanan, Adam Morgan, Jerome Williams and Sean O’Sullivan combined to give Philly 64 starts (335.2 IP) of 5.90 ERA pitching. And rotation stalwart Aaron Harang, much as I like him, wasn’t any better last year for the Phillies, either. (And then there were the five starts of 6.56 ERA ball that Kevin Correia turned in.) By finding a nice complement of competent pitchers and padding the rotation depth with their army of prospects, Philly should be able to avoid a lot of these painful starts by pitchers who are going nowhere in the present or the future.
It’s highly unlikely that the Phillies will be a good team in 2016. But they have a solid mix of players who should make for an entertaining brand of baseball, and the franchise has done a great deal to turn things around in the last year. They have very few old and fading veterans, a healthy dose of players who are not only exciting, but as Corinne Landrey recently pointed out, are excited for each other. They even have an interesting reclamation project in Peter Bourjos. It won’t all be wine and roses — let’s not speak of the bullpen — but it is the type of team that you can dream on, and that’s exciting.
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