The Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies will enter the 2017 MLB season as one of the worst team’s in baseball. After years of perennial contention, the team is in the midst of a rebuild that probably should have began 5 years ago. The 2017 season isn’t likely to be very fun especially since the Philly Fanatic has been retired, but there are some signs of hope ahead on the field.
One of the Phillies better prospects is 24 year old Maikel Franco who had a bit of a disappointing season during his first full major league go round. After hitting 9 home runs last Spring Training, Franco set the stage for some heavy expectations. Franco profiles as an average to slightly below average third base defender, but his bat is full of raw power. The beauty of Franco is that he doesn’t strike out too much as evidenced by his 16% strike out, and he still managed 25 home runs in his full season debut. However, he faded in the season’s second half and saw a decline in almost every meaningful hitting stat. His infield pop fly rate was also the fifth worst in all of baseball at 17%. This kind of auto-out has to be solved moving forward if he wants to take a step forward and remain a starter long term.
Franco is hitting in a fairly weak batting order so he isn’t going to get a lot run production by virtue of being in the heart of the batting order. In 2017, it’s hopeful Franco makes small adjustments to improve on the things he already does fairly well like hit for power and limit strike outs. If he can even slightly improve his defense and limit his pop fly rate he could be in line for a solid sophomore season but temper your expectations.
At shortstop, the Phillies will likely start the year by trotting out Freddy Galvis who is not known for his bat but is a slightly above average shortstop. He will likely hit either in the number two or eight hole for the Phillies where he was able to add 20 home runs and 17 steals last year. This power spike was a bit surprising after his poor hitting performance in 2015, so I am cautiously optimistic that the power is here to stay. Galvis doesn’t walk very much (4% walk rate in 2016) and doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to likely boost his batting average. It’s most likely he will hit around 0.245 and have an on base percentage of 0.294 which is far from ideal for a player hitting in the top half of any line up. My bet is he ends up near the bottom of the line up, but this is the Phillies and to hell with trying to win games!
Important to note that fighting for playing time will be top Phillies prospect JP Crawford who profiles as an elite defensive short stop and he has already reached AAA. He’s invited to spring training and is being given the chance to break camp with the Phillies. He does not have an MLB ready bat nor a lot of speed, but he could make the team on defensive merit alone. For fantasy baseball purposes there’s not a lot to see here but he will challenge Galvis and will make the Phillies a better team in long run.
The Phillies best player in 2016 was second basemen Cesar Hernandez. The soon to be 27 year old had a stellar break out season as he played some outstanding defense for the Phillies and put up some all-star lead off numbers evidenced by his 0.372 OBPS. The kid is such a prototypical lead off man and knows how to take a walk (10% walk rate) and has continually improved his strike out rate each of the last three seasons. He’s a fast runner but could use some improvement on the base paths. Hernandez attempted 30 steals in 2016 but was thrown out 13 times. Optimistically. Hernandez could put up a 0.275/0.365/.380 slash line and steal 25 bases. The power will likely never develop but the kid will continue to have a knack of getting on base.
At first base, Tommy Joseph will have the chance to be an every day player now that long time albatross, Ryan Howard, is out of the picture. Joseph, like Franco has tons of raw power. In only 347 plate appearances he hit 21 home runs, which is a home run every 16.5 at bats. I wouldn’t get too excited and try and extrapolate his totals across an entire 600 PA season, but the kid’s good and has room to grow. Also similar to Franco is that Joseph doesn’t strike out a ton for a slugging player (only 21% in 2016) and he was consistently putting the ball in play through his minor league career as well. But like Franco he doesn’t walk enough to counter his mediocre batting average and infield fly ball percentage (14% is gross). In hindsight I should have just written a preview for Franco and Joseph as one because they are essentially the same damn player but Joseph never had the hype.
In the outfield the Phillies will utilize a combination of Odubel Herrera and recent acquisitions Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick.
Herrera, a former rule 5 draft pick up, had a great season in 2016. He had career high power numbers, stole a lot of bases, put up a great average and on base percentage and was good enough in centre field. Herrera is exactly the kind of player any team in the majors would want to have on their team. He literally does everything pretty good. In this third full major league season there is no reason to believe that any of this would change. The biggest room for improvement would be his defense as his route selection and hands have been questionable at times. He almost has too much speed and has a tendency to over run the ball on touch plays. If he can continue to learn and make the necessary adjustments he could become a plus centre fielder very soon. Given his solid hitting abilities he will likely hit somewhere in the top 4 for the Phillies and an improvement to his RBI totals could be possible if the rest of his teammates continue to improve their abilities to get on base.
The Phillies newcomer who interests me the most is Howie Kendrick. The long time second basemen will be asked to play corner outfield this season. Last year we saw Ian Desmond make the transition fairly seamlessly to center field but in 2015 we saw the comedy of Hanley Ramirez embarrassing himself in left field after a long infield career. I would expect Kendrick to mirror closer to Desmond due to his solid defensive repertoire in years past but some bumps are to be expected along the way. Kendrick’s best days are behind him and at age 33 he really doesn’t much ceiling left. If healthy he will likely steal 7 bases, hit 8 home runs and provide a mediocre batting average. Fun fact about Kendrick is that he has not hit an infield pop fly since 2013, whereas his new team mates Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph have hit 29 and 15 each in 2016 alone. Maybe that’s why Philly brought him to town.
Newly arrived Michael Saunders was two face last year. He was awesome for the Blue Jays for a few months and then was dog shit after his first all-star game appearance. The Jays decided to pass on the oft injured Canadian outfielder and now he ends up in Philadelphia. At 30 years old, Saunders has a decent power stroke but he’s prone to long slumps and high strike out totals. In the 2016 season’s first half, Saunders was a legit all-star and hit a 0.298 average and added 16 home runs. In the second half he nose dived his way to a 0.178 average and hit only 8 more home runs and lost playing time down the stretch. The question that everyone has is what Saunders is for real or was Saunders playing hurt down the stretch?
Saunders is a pretty low risk high reward addition for the Phillies. He signed a 9 million dollar guaranteed contract for 2017 and the Phillies hold an 11 million dollar 2018 club option on him. If Saunders remains healthy and fixes whatever went wrong in the second half of last season, the Phillies will be very pleased. He doesn’t provide that great of defense but with Herrera’s speed in centre field this might be masked. The most solid bet about Saunders though is that it’s likely he gets hurt at some point because he has never managed to play more than 140 games in a single season. Nonetheless, Saunders will be an intriguing player to watch as the 2017 season unfolds.
At catcher, the Phillies start the year with Cameron Rupp now that long time Philly catcher, Carlos Ruiz is a gone. The 28 year old catcher is an average defensive catcher who posted career high power numbers in 2016 that are likely to regress. He strikes out way too much at 28% but that usually comes with the territory when you try to swing for the fences. At some point in 2017 I expect that the Phillies top catching prospect, Jorge Alfaro, wrangles some playing time away from Rupp. He is a much better defensive catcher then Rupp and his bat profiles very similarly; a lot of power with too much swing and miss. For fantasy baseball purposes there’s not much to see here unless you play in an NL only league or a two catcher league and if you do those kind of leagues I have to ask, what’s wrong with you?
Long gone are the days of the Phillies stacked and scary starting rotations which once consisted of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. Out with the old and in with the new! As with the majority of their position players the Phillies are young and flush with some potential.
Jerad Eickhoff was the hidden gem of the Cole Hamels 2015 trade deadline transaction that would send Hamels to Texas and a package of top prospects to the rebuilding Phillies. During his first full major league season, Eickoff had his ups and downs but generally fared pretty well. Eickhoff did a fabulous job limiting walks in his 2016 campaign but did give up too many home runs. He likely possesses better strike out potential then evidenced in 2016, but he will have to nick the corners better with his fastball in order to hit that potential. He already possesses a plus curve ball and slider, but the fastball and change up are both slightly below average pitches. He will never blow the ball by top hitters as he tops out at 91 Mph, but he can be a reliable inning eating for the Phillies.
Aaron Nola is the man who could become an ace for the Phillies in 2017. The former first round pick also had various ups and downs in his second MLB season but was mainly a victim of bad luck. His ERA ended up at 4.78 but FIP indicated he really deserved an ERA of 3.07. Nola has a similar pitch repertoire to Eichhof just without the slider. He won’t hum it by most batters but his curveball is already elite and a killer strike out pitch. With the ability and track record already in place to strike out a batter per inning that’s the kind of stuff aces are made of. Nola will not likely reach his full ace potential in 2017 alone, but if he can improve his walk rate overall statistical improvement is imminent.
As a solid inning eating number three option on a rebuilding youthful team, the Phillies must be very happy with the trade they made last off season to acquire Jeremy Hellickson. The former Ray and Diamondback’s pitcher, had a solid performance in his Phillies debut which turned out to be the best season of his career. The former 2011 AL rookie of the year once held a lot of potential, but had some command issues and not enough strike out ability to ever reach it. Similarly to his rookie of the year campaign, Hellickson did a great job inducing weak contact from his opponents. Advanced stats call for regression but his repertoire plays well at being able to continue to induce weak hits which turn into easy pop flies and easy ground outs. A very good comparable to what Hellickson has become is Marco Estrada. Helickson and the Phillies were unable to come to a long term extension in the off season and he was re-signed to a one year 17.2 million dollar offer. If Helickson can repeat his 2016 performance he will be set to become a very rich but average pitcher in 2018’s free agency clas. The rebuilding Phillies will probably be more than happy to take the free agency first round pick compensation if and when that occurs.
Vincent Velasquez is another young Phillies pitcher with ace potential. The 24 year old was acquired from the Astros in the Ken Giles 2015 off season trade that was always looking like it would be a big win for Philly. He almost immediately made his presence to the baseball world known as he pitched his way to a 16 strike out and 3 hit shutout in mid April last year against the Padres. Unlike the other young pitchers in the Phillies starting rotation, Velasquez possesses a deadly 94 Mph fastball and strikes out 10.5 batters per 9 innings. He does however lack the command and execution of his secondary pitches which makes him give up too many walks and home runs. If he can get his curveball and change up to improve he almost immediately becomes the top pitcher in this rotation. Between Nola and Velasquez, one of them is going to bust out in a big way this year.
I was so happy to be done writing about the Boston Red Sox but of course Clay “Grease ball” Buchholz has to land on the next team I chose to preview. The former Red Sox pitcher had quite the fall from grace over the past few seasons and eventually ended up in the bullpen last season. Buchholz finished with a 4.78 ERA and 93/55 K/BB ratio over 139 innings, so to say that The Grease Ball has a lot to prove is kind of obvious.
In 2016 Buchholz fly ball rate sky rocketed from what he allowed in 2015 and so did the home run rate. His 2015 season was a mirage and this regression was seen from a mile away. He doesn’t really have the stuff to be a strike out artist and his better pitches are regressing. I’m not sure where to predict Buccholz in 2017 but I feel like he will have good and bad starts before either getting hurt or sent to the bullpen for good. The Phillies obviously felt that he had a bit of gas left in the tank and perhaps getting out of the meat grinder AL East will help Buccholz. As a fifth starter getting 5 to 6 innings a start and a 4.50 ERA would probably be good enough for the Phillies.
The Phillies bullpen is pretty uninspiring. Currently the closer role is set to be given to Jeanmar Gomez who saved 37 games in 2016, but I wouldn’t bank on him lasting more than a couple of months at most as closer. Gomez has an 89 Mph fastball and only struck out 6 batters per 9 innings last year. He then went on to self destruct in the 2nd half of 2016 where he blew 6 saves and posted an awful 8.33 ERA from the mid point on. Some of that was due to bad luck, but the bottom was due to drop out for Gomez who was looking way too good up until the collapse.
Next in line to close out games is likely Hector Neris who is much more of a strike out artist and has better command. He owns a 95 Mph heater and nasty split finger for an out pitch. I understand that Gomez saved 37 games last year but if the Phillies are serious about winning games Neris should be their guy out of the gate rather then letting Gomez blow 3 to 4 games first. Neris gets batters to swing and miss 15.4% of the time while Gomez only 7.3%. Easy choice here… make the right call Philly.
Joaquin Benoit signed as a free agent with the Phillies and is set to be the 7th inning guy. He has previous closing experience from his days in Detroit and San Diego, but at this point in his career he isn’t a shut down guy in the 9th. He looked pretty awful in Seattle last year prior to his trade to Toronto. He looked great in his short tenure with the Jays but his season came to an abrupt end after a bench clearing fight where he tore his ankle up in the scrum and was shut down for the season.
Rounding out the pen is solid bullpen vet, Pat Neshek, who was unbelievable with the Cardinals back in 2014 but has since returned back to earth and youngsters Joely Rodriguez and Edubray Ramos.
The Phillies are headed in the right direction but will need a lot of things to go right if they are to even compete in the NL East division in 2017. Their defensive fielding abilities are lacking, which will leak some runs and likely lose them a couple of close games. There are too many heart of the order bats who do not take walks and pop the ball up too much to be major gamers (Franco and Joseph) and the bullpen is pretty mediocre at best. An improvement from 2017 is very possible but likely not by much and I expect the Phillies to win 75 games while finishing for a tie for last place in the NL east.
Odubel Herrera – The young centre fielder can do a bit of everything and is the kind of player that won’t come at a crazy price come draft play. As the Phillies improve his stats should as well. A final stat line of .280/.354/420 is realistic while he chips in 15 home runs, 80 runs, 65 RBI’s and 22 steals. As a potential third or fourth outfielder on your fantasy team this is a great buy.
Aaron Nola – The young starter had a great 2016 and should see an improvement to his ratios due to some better bounces for balls hit in play. Being that he is only Philly his draft day price won’t be too high. I expect his ERA to be around 3.62 with a WHIP of 1.23. He may not win a ton of games (Expect 10 to 12) but he can strike out abut a batter per inning which I find hard to pass up.
Jeanmar Gomez – Since there aren’t too many highly ranked Phillies in fantasy baseball I’d have to suggest staying away from current closer, Jeanmar Gomez. I do not want to be the owner whose April pitching stats are sabotaged by his eventual meltdown and bullpen demotion. Without the saves he is useless to you. You’d be better off picking up Neris and using him even as an 8th inning guy due to his strike out work until he gets the job.
Tommy Joseph – First base is a shallow position this year and Joseph will put up top 10 home run totals with regular playing time. His average and OBP leave something to be desired, but as a late round pick the upside is there especially if he can cut down the pop flies and even improve the walk rate. I can easily see Joseph hitting 30 Home Runs, 70 runs, and 85 RBI’s. He’s worth a watch on draft day.