It’s been a rough few seasons in Philadelphia. Following five consecutive NL East titles (including two consecutive World Series appearances, winning in 2008), the Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011. In fact, they’ve finished dead-last in the division twice in the last five years, and seem destined to do it again this year, sitting at 60-91 and five games behind the fourth place New York Mets. None of this seems promising for the Fightin’ Phils, but if you look beyond the surface, you’ll see that there is a lot to be excited about when looking at the Phillies future.
For the most part, they have a talented core of young talent. Odubel Herrera can have some mental gaffes in the field but he is still a talented All-Star caliber player. An NL All-Star last year, he has hit .286/.331/.459 with 40 doubles, 13 HRs, and 51 RBI. To top that off, he has offered solid defense in the field, putting up a 1.0 dWAR and a .993 fielding percentage.
In addition to Herrera, César Hernández has been very helpful to the Phillies this season. The 27 year old second baseman has offered a slashline of .288/.359/.413. While he doesn’t have a lot of pop, he has hit 24 doubles, stolen 14 bases, and accumulated a WAR of 2.2. His defense leaves a little bit to be desired though, as his .979 fielding percentage and 0.0 dWAR are pretty much league average.
German-born left fielder Aaron Altherr has had a very good season. Altherr has a slashline of .281/.351/.539 and hit 21 doubles, 19 HRs, and driven in 60 runs. He has a 1.8 WAR, though he has been putrid in the field, with a -1.0 dWAR. He does have a .990 fielding percentage, though that is a bit misleading, seeing as that he has actually cost the Phillies six runs this season (as shown by his -6 Rdrs). Rdrs, or Defensive Runs Saved Above Average shows the number of runs the player was worth above or below an average player. Still, those are promising offensive numbers to build around.
Aaron Nola, though he had a rough run from August 17th through September 7th (1-3, 6.59 ERA) has had a good season and solidified himself as the team’s number one starter. He has a record of 12-10 with a 3.56 ERA and a 1.210 WHIP, 175 K’s through 162 innings. He had an extremely dominant run from June 22nd to August 12th, in which he allowed two runs or less in ten consecutive starts. In that stretch, he went 6-2 with a 1.71 ERA, and 78 K’s compared to just 19 BB’s in 68.1 innings pitched. He’s a reliable young pitcher and should be at the forefront of their rotation for years to come.
Finally, the Phillies have received a major boost from breakout rookie Rhys Hoskins. In 40 games this season, Hoskins has hit 18 HRs with 43 RBI, and slashing and insane .294/.429/.728. Hoskins has been homering at a historic rate, and there is no sign of slowing down. Since starting his career 1-13, he has hit .317/.448/.797. This shouldn’t be a surprise. This season in AAA, Hoskins hit .284/.385/.581 with 29 HRs and 91 RBI in 115 games. Sure, nobody should’ve expected him to hit at this ridiculous rate, but it should not be a surprise that he is raking in his first taste of “the show.” Hoskins has primarily played first base in his career, but came up playing left field. That is now changing as he is getting more time at first base, finally putting an end to the Tommy Joseph experiment. Tommy Joseph is the worst. Sure, he can hit some homers (21 last year, and 22 this year), but he has an OPS+ of 89, 11 below the league average, and a WAR of -1.1, the fourth lowest total in baseball. Also, people hate this guy. I attended a Phillies game in August and Philly fans actually booed him when he successfully fielded a ground ball, which helped the Phillies! They dislike him that much! He’s not a good baseball player. The Phillies are certainly grateful that they have found their new first baseman (and franchise star) in Hoskins because lord knows it wasn’t Joseph.
On top of all that, they have a stacked farm system. Philadelphia has six prospects ranked in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list. Their top prospect, Mickey Moniak, was the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and is expected to be ready for the majors in 2019 or 2020. He makes hard contact from the left side of the plate, he runs well, and covers a lot of ground in center field. Sixto Sanchez is looked at as a potential impact starting pitcher. His fastball has been clocked at 98mph, and he has good command of it, plus a developing curveball, and a solid change-up. J.P. Crawford is viewed as the shortstop of the future in Philly. He has a good walk rate and rarely strikes out. Power isn’t necessarily his game, but he does make good contact. Although, he is widely regarded for his defense.
There are two luxuries in baseball: prospect depth, and spending ability, and the Phillies have a lot of money freed up after letting many contracts come off the books. As of press time, the Phillies have the eighth lowest team payroll in baseball. This is significant because even two years ago, they had the ninth highest payroll in baseball. As a matter of fact, from 2011 to 2014, they were at least in the top four highest payrolls in all of baseball (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). Over the last four years, the Phillies have removed $140 million from their payroll after cutting ties with Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay. Removing eight enormously constricting contracts brings Philly the ability to spend some money in the coming years.
Which leads us to the 2019 Free Agent class.
It has been long assumed that the Yankees rebuilding effort has been in preparation for the 2019 Free Agent class (following the 2018 season), but the same can be said for the Phillies. With many All-Star players like Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrew Miller set to become Free Agents, the possibilities are endless.
I don’t need to tell you what Bryce Harper would be able to do in the Phillies line-up. It is important to note that in 38 career games at Citizens Bank Park, he has hit 12 HRs and 26 RBI with a slashline of .296/.361/.627. If you want to do the math, you would calculate that in 81 games at Citizens Bank Park, he would average 25 HRs and 55 RBI per year at home. Those are real good numbers, and would certainly be promising if he were to sign in Philadelphia.
Manny Machado would serve as an obvious upgrade to current third baseman Maikel Franco. Though Franco is in his second 20 HR season in three full years, he also has a putrid OPS of .678, and a 78 OPS+, which is terrible. He has offered the Phillies a -0.7 WAR and a -0.5 dWAR. He, like Tommy Joseph, is bad.
Compare that to Machado, a three-time All-Star, who is in the middle of his third straight 30 HR season, and is on pace to drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career (he’s at 92). He’s accumulated a WAR of 3.8, with a dWAR of 0.9 (though that is the second lowest in his six year career). The two-time Gold Glove winner would be a welcome addition in Philly, who has not really had a franchise third baseman since Scott Rolen from 1996-2002.
Dallas Keuchel would be a huge addition to the Phillies rotation, taking some pressure off of Nola’s shoulders. Keuchel, since 2014, is 54-33 with a 3.16 ERA, a 123 ERA+, a 1.139 WHIP, and a 3.24 K/BB ratio. He has had some injury concerns this year, limiting him to just 21 starts, but this is still a Cy Young Award winner, and a possible Cy Young candidate again this year. Adding a pitcher of his caliber would be huge.
As for Kimbrel and Miller, well, those are two of the best relievers in baseball. Adding either of these pitchers would be enormous. The Phillies bullpen holds a team ERA of 3.46, which is about average. Add Craig Kimbrel, a man who has led the league in saves four times (289 saves in eight seasons), and a career 1.79 ERA. That is already a huge help. Or add Andrew Miller. Since moving to the bullpen full-time in 2012, Miller has a 2.04 ERA with 506 K’s in just 326.1 innings. So, yeah, add any of those two guys to the bullpen, and that’ll make a huge impact late in games.
With a solid core of young players, great looking prospects, and the ability to pay out the wazoo, the Phillies are almost certain to make a splash in the coming years. Stars like Hoskins don’t come every day, and the ability to spend boatloads of money to surround him with some stars is not an opportunity that is bestowed upon too many teams. If their prospects payoff, and they are able to make some noise in free agency after 2018, then this could be a team that contends in a few years. One thing is for sure: the Phillies are going to be very good, very soon.
(All stats as of 9/21/17, before gametime)
By: Chris Perkowski