As the Philadelphia Phillies begin their 2017 baseball campaign, we preview the season to come and what fans can expect this year.
Ok … that sounds like this team is going to be so good that previous utilization of the word ‘success’ would be insufficient to describe them. Let’s stifle that noise right here. Because, the fact is, this is a Philadelphia Phillies team that won 71 games last year and it looks like it would take a biblical series of miracles for them to be a .500 team this year.
To borrow a buzz word from the other side of Pattison Ave., this team is in the middle of a ‘process’. They’re slowly beginning to see the fruits of trading off the veterans of their successful run in the late Aughts and the high draft picks they have been earning since that train ground to a halt. Unfortunately, upper management is of the mind that most of those prospects would be better served in Lehigh Valley and Reading to begin the year. So, ‘slowly’ might be an understatement. What it means is that you may see more interesting baseball on the farm this summer than you do in South Philly.
Let’s take a look at Manager Pete Mackanin’s opening day roster … while keeping an eye on the kids who will be working to make them trade bait by July.
Starting Pitchers –
Their combined ERA in Florida this spring was less than impressive. But, we’ll cling to the old ‘they were working on things’ adage for now.
Jeremy Hellickson – A solid 3rd or 4th starter on any major league team. Naturally, he will be the Phillies’ opening day starter for the second year in a row.
Jerad Eickhoff – Described as a bulldog with an unhittable curveball, he suffered from a shameful lack of support last season. His mistake pitches have an annoying tendency to leave the field of play in fair territory. Fixing that is his top priority.
Clay Buchholz – As a rookie in 2007, he no-hit the Baltimore Orioles in only his second big league start. Since then, he has been slightly above average (81-61, 3.96). The willingness of the Boston Red Sox to part with him for Single A second basemen Josh Tobias should tell you all you need to know about how he was valued by the only team he had ever played for.
Vince Velasquez – Vinny from Philly exploded onto the scene, striking out 25 across 15 shutout innings in his first two starts of 2016. But, even though he piled up 210 K’s for the year, he struggled to finish off hitters and ran up pitch counts that limited him to less than six innings in far too many of his outings. Ten of his 21 home runs allowed were in his last five starts, as his ERA rose above 4.00 and he was shut down for the last few weeks of the schedule.
Aaron Nola – His 2016 season was a microcosm of the team’s. At the Quarter Pole (41 games – May 18), the Phils were seven games above .500 and Nola was sporting a 2.89 ERA. On June 5th, Nola handled the Milwaukee Brewers in an 8-1 win that took his ERA to a season-low 2.65 and he was compiling stats on par with the league’s best arms. The next two months were nightmarish for both the young righthander and the squad. After a terrible run that saw him go 1-5 as his sparkling ERA ballooned to 4.78, the team shut him down to treat his sore right elbow. If the rest didn’t work and things haven’t changed, Nola could be facing surgery by early summer.
Which brings us to the hurlers in waiting … each member of the Iron Pigs’ starting rotation is a viable option for a call up in the event of injury. Jake Thompson, Nick Pivetta and Ben Lively, specifically, all seem to have a stake in the big club’s future. Mark Appel is the frustrating enigma who could just as easily become a dominant major league starter or pitch himself into a future in timeshare sales.
Joaquin Benoit – The big righty will turn 40 this summer. If they can find him meaningful innings early on, he may fetch a low-level prospect at the deadline.
Joely Rodriguez – The Dominican lefty was fairly effective in 12 late-season appearances with the Phillies last year. Don’t expect him to be strictly a specialist. He will be called upon to deal with righties and lefties.
Pat Neshek – Throughout his career, righthanded hitters are averaging .184 against this unconventional righty. The Phillies could have signed him for about $1m a few years ago. But, he went to St. Louis, became an All-Star, had a few decent seasons in Houston and now signing him cost $6.5m.
Edubray Ramos – When a bridge was needed to the 8th and 9th innings, Ramos proved a valuable commodity. We’ll find out if he can adjust now that the league has had a look at him.
Adam Morgan – Hard not to root for this guy. He has done everything that has been asked of him and battled like a special teams gunner or a third line winger. His stuff may not overpower anybody. But, there is a place for a guy like him in this league.
Hector Neris – Borderline unhittable for the first half of the season, his vicious splitter was the key to a very successful 2016 season. He fanned 102 in 80.1 innings, carrying leads to the ninth with consistent success.
Jeanmar Gomez – In last year’s preview article, we called him ‘the definition of a middle innings, keep it close guy’. Then, he became a remarkably dependable closer, locking down 16 of his team’s first 24 victories en route to a 37 save campaign. He was considerably less effective in the latter half of the season and may not have a very long leash with other options for closer in the pen.
The farm offers options like Luis Garcia, Michael Mariot and Cesar Ramos who have all seen action at the big league level, as well as Pat Venditte, the switch-pitcher who raised eyebrows but ultimately didn’t get enough batters out to make the big club.
Projected Lineup –
New hitting coach Matt Stairs spent most of last season pointing out on TV all the ways these guys could be better at the dish. This year he inherits one of the league’s most frustrating and least productive lineups. If the boys buy in and embrace his philosophy, the pitching staff may finally get the support they were lacking.
Cesar Hernandez (2B) – After Mackanin moved him into the leadoff spot last July, he hit .313 with a .430 OBP. You can’t ask for much more from your table setter. Except … for a guy with his speed, he should be a better base stealer.
Freddy Galvis (SS) – The guys in the booth love to remind us that the 27-year-old Venezuelan hit 20 homers last year. But, in the light of what you need from the shortstop in your two-hole, those 20 dingers play like 40 stolen bases from your cleanup hitter. Bottom line … he is a career .241 hitter whose flawless glove could be on the market if J.P. Crawford earns a promotion this summer.
Odubel Herrera (CF) – ‘El Torito’ began 2016 with a patient approach at the plate that led to 38 walks in his first 54 games. At that point, he was hitting .311, having been as high as .335 on May 23rd. By the time he received his invitation to the All-Star game, his plate approach had changed. Over the last 108 games, he walked only 25 times as his average dipped to .286.
Maikel Franco (3B) – It would be easy to look at the numbers (25 HR, 88 RBI) and say that Franco took a solid step forward last year. But, anyone that watched him at the plate could tell you that he simply had not matured as a hitter. His defense seemed to take a step back, as well.
Michael Saunders (RF) – One of two veteran acquisitions this offseason, Saunders seems to be a placeholder for whichever prospect, Nick Williams or Dylan Cozens, earns a promotion.
Tommy Joseph (1B) – Curiously, his arrival closely coincided with the June collapse that sank the team, even though he performed admirably (21 HR, 47 RBI in 107 games). He may find himself in a platoon situation after the spring heroics of Brock Stassi.
Howie Kendrick (LF) – The other offseason arrival, Kendrick seemed lost this spring. His veteran experience is expected to be valuable. But, like Saunders, he will be expendable if Williams and Cozens are lighting it up in Allentown.
Cameron Rupp (C) – After replacing the popular Carlos Ruiz with his cannon arm and solid hitting, the big Texan know has Jorge Alfaro in his rearview mirror.
Brock Stassi – By now, you know the story … late round pick, 27-year-old rookie, monster spring numbers. As the saying goes, making the show is one thing, staying there is another.
Andres Blanco – The living embodiment of the utility man. He’ll never be a superstar. But, he plays responsible ball and his loved by his teammates.
Daniel Nava – Nava’s first major league hit was a grand slam against the Phils in June 2010. Apart from that, there isn’t much to report. He’ll be a switch-hitting option.
Aaron Altherr – His promising development was derailed by an injury last year. He will need to impress in what opportunities he gets in order to expand his role.
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This team looks like a 76-86 team. If that is who they are, they run the risk of being leaped over in the standings by the Atlanta Braves. Success for this season will be defined by the development of the prospects throughout the system. If this ‘process’ is to be successful, the kids need to seize the opportunity and move forward.