It’s an exciting time to be a Phils fan. Tell me, when is the last time you heard that one? Or better yet, when is the last time you actually believed it?
Ever since Ruben Amaro decided to blast the fans and their lack of understanding toward his grand plan, the Phillies have been in an absolute tailspin with no end in sight. Coincidence? Doubtful. Either way, the baseball gods seem to have a funny sense of humor when it comes to the timing of everything, because since Amaro’s comments, before the team’s most recent series has them up 2-0 against the Cincinnati Reds, the Phillies hadn’t won a single game. The team was in the midst of a seven game skid which included getting swept by the Colorado Rockies for the first time ever at home. They have returned to their rightful place as cellar dwellers. And their already, downright awful team stats, both on the mound and in the box, (30th in runs scored and slugging percentage, 29th in on base percentage, 29th in WHIP, 28th in batting average, 27th in batting average against, 22nd in ERA) have just continued to plummet.
When I say the hits just keep on coming, make no mistake, I’m not referencing base hits, because those have been seldom these past seven games.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit a small and likely insignificant one if Amaro’s plan is to be believed. Because while the Phillies are struggling, their Double-A affiliate, the Reading Fightin Phils are absolutely soaring, proving that it truly is an exciting time to be a fan of the Phils.
Reading Phils that is.
The Kids are More than Alright
Sunday, I had the rare chance to get down to Reading, PA to see the minor league club take on the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.
Before the game, there was a small TV screen that was reporting on the Eastern League (EL) stats and standings. It was quite the eye opener.
Third in the EL in batting average is Reading’s Brock Stassi, the 25-year-old first baseman hitting at a clip of .340. His OBP of .407 is fourth. His OPS of .935 also third. He leads the league with 41 RBI.
First in the EL in stolen bases (24) was the just turned 22-year-old center fielder, Roman Quinn, who also appears on the leader board as tied for first in hits (60), runs (35) and triples (5).
He and Stassi run seventh and eighth respectively in total bases as well.
And then for the pitchers. Just shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Nola sits on the EL leader board tied for second in wins (6), third in WHIP (0.87), fourth in strike outs (50) and fifth in ERA (1.81). 21-year-old Zach Elfin and 23-year-old Ben Lively also chart in the top 25 with ERAs of 3.38 and 3.81 respectively.
All three are in the top 15, with Nola and Elfin running one and two, in innings pitched. Also, Elfin, Lively and fourth starter, 23-year-old Jesse Biddle, are tied for fourth in wins (4).
That’s not even to mention J.P. Crawford, who is going to fill any empty seats Reading may have had. The 20-year-old, fourth best prospect in baseball according to ESPN’s Keith Law, jumped from Single-A to Double-A after just 17 games there this year. The 16th overall pick in 2013’s draft, only that year’s second overall pick, Kris Bryant, now of the Chicago Cubs, really has stood out more. Crawford made his Reading debut Saturday and in three games, is hitting .273 with three walks and his first extra base hit, a double, since his first game of 2015.
This is what Competitive Looks Like
In addition to the individual success that several Reading players are having, the team is actually competitive, which is something else we can’t say for the Phillies right now. Reading has 27 wins on the season. Philadelphia has just 19. Reading is second in the Eastern League standings, just 4.5 games back of the first place New Britain Rock Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Rockies. The Phillies of course, are mired in dead last.
The Fightin Phils are hitting the ball well. Of the 12 Eastern League teams, they are first in OPS (.746) and slugging (.409), second in doubles (97), home runs (36), total bases (677) and OBP (.337), third in average (.268) and fourth in hits (444), runs (220) and stolen bases (47). The only thing the Phillies are best in, is in being the worst team in NL in runs scored, home runs, total bases, RBI, slugging and OPS. If not for the Milwaukee Brewers they would be the best at being the worst in average and on base percentage too.
Yeah, it’s that kind of year.
The Phillies aren’t exciting. They don’t even put out a good product. It is no wonder why their attendance has plummeted to record lows while meanwhile, Reading leads the Eastern League in average attendance per game. Fans want to see good baseball and right now, the only place they are going to find it is with Reading, a team who on Sunday scored six runs in the eighth inning to win, after having previously been down 3-0.
The Future is Reading
For the Phillies, for Amaro, for the owners, for anyone reading this who might happen to have some sort of decision-making say in the organization, not only is the future of this team in Reading, it is Reading. The players, be it Stassi or Quinn, Nola or Elfin, are right at the cusp of being ready. And yes, you don’t have to tell me that before this year, Stassi was hitting just .232 in Double-A or that Quinn was never a .300 hitter before this year either. I understand those things.
Unlike Amaro’s opinion of I the fan, I know the stats, the numbers. But what I also know is that I would rather have a 25-year-old Stassi hitting .244 than I would a 35-year-old Ryan Howard or a 21-year-old Nola pitching to the same 5.49 ERA that 33-year-old Jerome Williams currently has. And from conversations I’ve had, I know I’m not the only one.
I understand that these guys are still young, that their development has only just begun in some cases, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be ready. There is no age limit to when a guy can be promoted, no level of the minors he had to reach. I’d argue that the jump from Double-A to Triple-A is less significant than Single-A to Double-A anyway. Some would argue that’s where Quinn and Nola should be before they break into the majors. I don’t necessarily agree that has to be a requirement.
But if you do, then fine, make the case for the Iron Pigs’ 28-year-old Chase d’Arnaud, who is hitting a slash of .305/.346/.364 or 31-year-old Brian Bogusevic (.319/.377/.434). Although, then you’ll see what most people who follow the minor league circuit already know. The future isn’t in Lehigh Valley. Lehigh Valley is where your major league guys go to rehab, where those guys you sign to minor league contracts live out their usefulness or lack thereof. The Iron Pigs roster is full of those from Bogusevic to Jordan Danks, Seth Rosin and for the love of all things holy, Jayson Nix. None of those guys are going to make the team in any role other than an extra man off the bench once the rosters expand in September. But even then, Stassi or Quinn would be much better options to fill those spots.
At least with those two there is hope they will contribute in the future.