Finishing with a record of 66-96 the third worse record in the Major Leagues last season the Philadelphia Phillies have nowhere to go but up. The season had it’s share of heartache but also had some things that can leave you optimistic if you’re a Phillies fan. So in this off-season preview let’s dive in on what could be a sleeper pick to make a Wildcard spot in 2018.
The Philadelphia Phillies have a young squad full of potential Major League talent. However, potential doesn’t always translate into success. We all remember the loads of potential that were said to be had by the “Immensely” talent Dominic Brown. Brown played across six season in the Majors all with the Phillies amassing a career stat line of -0.7 War. Now it doesn’t matter where you come down on the advanced analytics a career war of negative 0.7 is never a good thing. You can see Brown’s career overview on BaseballReference.com (Link included Domonic Brown Overview). Brown is an example of the old baseball cliché you can’t predict baseball. Unlike with the NBA or NFL where the top picks usually play as predicted, in baseball you just don’t know.
Which makes this Phillies team so intriguing. One player that draws a lot of interest is Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins came up August 10th, 2017 and set the baseball world on fire. Hitting for a slash line (Batting Average/On Base Percentage/ Slugging Percentage) of .259/.396/.618. The ideal slash line in baseball is .300/.400/.500 and Hoskins slugged .618 in 50 games (212 PA). Now sure some may argue about a small sample size however the ability to drive the ball well enough to slug .600 is a skill and when combined with a near .400 on base percentage it can be seen as a real deal Major League hitter. Where things will get a little dicey for Hoskins however is now that the Phillies signed veteran first baseman Carlos Santana to a 3yr $60 Million dollar deal. Santana and Hoskins are both first baseman thus moving Hoskins to the outfield for Philadelphia. Rhys isn’t one of these lumbering ballplayers you throw at first base because you don’t have a Designated Hitter in the National League, he can move around in the outfield a bit. This just makes things a bit more complex for the new first year manager Gabe Kapler. The Phillies outfield already included the likes of Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera. Now adding Rhys to the mix takes at bats away from this talented young outfield core for the Phillies. Obviously in the marathon like grind that is the baseball season at bats will come for everyone on the roster but taking away at bats in the development of these young “potential” superstars will be cause for some speculation as to why Santana was signed to begin with.
These doubts over the young stars of Philadelphia’s future can be put to rest if the ball club can play well right out of Spring Training. They are a young team with no expectations, which can help them in the coming 2018 season. However, the biggest factor in the success of the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies will be the addition of the aforementioned Carlos Santana. Santana has always been known for his impeccable eye at the plate and the patience that defines him. The exposure that the young players in the Phillies’ lineup will have to Santana’s process will be exponentially invaluable. This signing can be seen as a similar move to that of when the former Phillie Jayson Werth made his way to the National’s lineup. His patience was something that the lineup lacked and was a key point in the development of young phenom Bryce Harper. Santana can have the same effect on guys like Williams, Altherr and even a couple guys who have been around a few years in Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera. Odubel and Franco have been a source of fun and frustration amongst Phillies fans. As Herrera bat flips for everything, from a clean single up the middle to a base on balls, and while when he’s doing well at the plate no one cares, when he’s chasing pitches that are in the other batters box it becomes a negative focal point. And Franco shows flashes of the potent David Ortiz like power Phillies fans have heard about, while at other times being subjected to a strikeout spell and inconsistency. Having Santana around can help Herrera and Franco mature in their offensive approach and therefore become more consistent contributors to what can be a sneaky potent lineup. Not to mention some of the relatively unknowns in JP Crawford and Scott Kingery that Phillies fans have been excited about the last couple of years and you can add in a fan favorite stall-ward like Cesar Hernandez who regularly contributes to the top of the Phil’s lineup. This lineup has real “potential”.
Of course, the season isn’t just all about the offense for Philly as this team has some young starters that if they can take that next step in their development can grow into a dominant force for the next several years. First and foremost is Aaron Nola, Nola had a very good season. He was able to make 27 starts and pitched 168 innings to the tune of a 3.54 era and an even better 3.27 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching according to FanGraphs). FIP quantifies the parts of pitching that a pitcher is directly responsible for Strikeouts Walks and Homeruns. Aaron Nola was 9th among all starting pitchers in 2017 in FIP ahead of star pitchers Zack Greinke (AZ Diamondbacks) and Chris Archer (TB Rays). Thus having Nola as the anchor of the Phillies rotation is a strong starting point. Now after Nola the rotation left a bit to be desired in 2017 but the foundation for some guys to take that next step is there. Guys like Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff have the kind of “stuff” to make them viable Major League starters.
The game however is going by way of the bullpens and the Phillies have restocked their bullpen in a major way this offseason bringing back submariner Pat Neshek and bringing in the hard throwing Tommy Hunter to help fortify a bullpen that has Hector Neris and Luis Garcia already in it. The Phillies bullpen pitched pretty well in 2017 and will look to that bullpen to be a strength again in 2018.
All in all the Phillies have an opportunity in 2018 to surprise some people and to have the kind of season that the Minnesota Twins and the Colorado Rockies had in 2017. With a young core growing together into more mature and disciplined players and if a few can have a breakout year. They can be ready to push the hand of GM Matt Klentak to make a push to sign a few superstars in the upcoming free agent class of 2019. All in all the Philadelphia Phillies will be an interesting team to watch this season. Getting to see a full year of Rhys Hoskins and seeing what he can do. Or if the patient approach of Santana can influence Franco and Herrera. Or to see if the pitching staff can take that next leap. Or maybe just maybe to see the look of fear on the umpires faces if Gabe Kapler comes charging out of the dugout. Look for the Phillies to surprise some, shock others and maybe just maybe sneaky their way into the Wild Card picture in 2018.