Looking Forward to the 2016 Season
In what is now an annual tradition for baseball stat nerds, FanGraphs has projected the standings for the upcoming season. It should come as no surprise that the Phillies are expected to once again put up the worst record in baseball, though they are at least projected to improve by three wins over last year at 66-96. Silver linings, right?
The Phillies haven’t made any real improvements on the major league roster, but full seasons from Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr plus the continued progression of Aaron Nola and Odubel Herrera should help make up for the loss of Ken Giles and the makeup of an uninspiring starting rotation. Though the on-field product doesn’t portend to be great, the 2016 season may be the most entertaining and exciting season for Phillies fans since 2011. Here’s why:
Shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford won’t make the major league roster out of spring training, but the 21-year-old phenom should be taking hacks at Citizens Bank Park by July. Crawford is the Phillies’ #1 prospect by far and is an easy top-five prospect globally. Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts went over Crawford’s profile in his top-ten prospect list here and his superlatives for Crawford were bountiful. It’s easy to get your hopes up about Crawford and you should. Shortstops like Jimmy Rollins don’t come along everyday and it’s tough to replace what he meant to the Phillies organization both on and off the field, but Crawford — if things pan out as expected — could do a damn fine job of it.
Crawford has a great eye at the plate and would make a great fit at the top of the lineup with Odubel Herrera. He doesn’t have power (at least not yet) but should be able to hit at least 20 or 30 points above the league average with 20-25 doubles. While, as Winkelman notes, Crawford can mess up routine plays, he should still play above average defensively and can add value on the base paths. He’ll likely make incremental improvements in that area with more experience.
Center fielder Odubel Herrera was quite the pleasant surprise for the Phillies last season after they took him from the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft. He had yet to play above Double-A and was a second baseman by trade with scant playing time in the outfield. The Phillies threw him in center field, hoping for the best, and they got it. Herrera hit .297/.344/.418 with 30 doubles and 16 stolen bases in 537 plate appearances while playing some of the best defense in center in baseball. He even displayed legitimate power, as seen here:
Herrera was shut out in National League Rookie of the Year balloting. While he certainly wasn’t more deserving of a first-place vote than winner Kris Bryant, runner-up Matt Duffy, or third-place finisher Jung-Ho Kang, he was deserving of some down-ballot appreciation — more so than Justin Bour, Joc Pederson, and Stephen Piscotty. At any rate, the onus is on Herrera to prove his breakout last year wasn’t a fluke. Herrera can etch a permanent role for himself in the Phillies’ outfield with another productive season.
Nola in Full
Phillies fans got a small taste of what Aaron Nola can offer in his 13 starts last season. The #7 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nola compiled a 3.59 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 19 walks across 77 2/3 innings. The scouting reports were quite accurate in describing him, as we saw a calm and composed pitcher with terrific command, an ability to work the strike zone, and maturity beyond his years. Nola lacks the ceiling of a Cole Hamels, but can be rock solid and dependable in the Phillies’ starting rotation for years.
Nola did run into trouble with home runs at times, yielding 11 of them in his 13 starts, but seven of those homers came in just three games. Because he is around the strike zone so often, when his stuff is off, he can get hit pretty hard. That was evident in his September 14 start against the Nationals, when Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth each went yard against him. That Nola will continue to be around the strike zone often isn’t exactly a death knell for his home run rate, however. Shelby Miller, for example, had the eighth-highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone (49.1) among qualified pitchers and only gave up 13 dingers. Nola was in the strike zone 47.8 percent of the time.
Nola should be plenty good over a full season for the Phillies, even if he’s a little homer-prone. But it will be interesting to watch him evolve as a pitcher going forward.
In Goeddel We Trust
Hoping to strike gold in a second consecutive Rule 5 draft, the Phillies selected outfielder Tyler Goeddel from the Rays in early December. Goeddel doesn’t have a starting role in the Phillies’ outfield right now, but then again, neither did Herrera. It wasn’t until Herrera broke out in spring training that the Phillies gave him an opportunity. Goeddel will be given plenty of opportunities this spring, but even if he doesn’t wow the Phillies, he can still provide value as a fourth outfielder. The club will have to keep him on the 25-man roster over the duration of the season, otherwise Goeddel must be offered back to the Rays.
The Phillies aren’t exactly in want of outfielders. Along with the current starting three of Altherr, Herrera, and Peter Bourjos, prospects Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and Cornelius Randolph wait in the minors. Goeddel, if he performs well, could allow the Phillies to progress Randolph at a comfortable rate rather than rush him up to contribute to a team that could be competitive in a couple of seasons. Or he could be used as trade bait in order to bolster a position of need.
With Double-A Montgomery last season, Goeddel had 39 extra-base hits (an almost even distribution of doubles, triples, and homers) with 28 stolen bases and a .783 OPS. We should expect those numbers to deflate a bit against major league competition, but he can prove us wrong just as Herrera did.
At some point this year, the Ryan Howard era in Philadelphia will finally end. The Phillies could trade or release him before or during the season. At the very latest, Howard will cease donning Phillies red pinstripes when the regular season ends and the club pays him $10 million to buy out the final year of his contract signed way back in 2012. It will be a sad end to a sad five-year period in which Howard went from folk hero to crushing albatross.
Howard signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April 2010 on the heels of four consecutive 45-plus homer seasons. Even if he declined with age, many thought, how bad could he possibly get? Over the last four seasons, Howard has dealt with a torn Achilles tendon and a torn meniscus, zeroing out what little mobility he had and handicapping his base strength. Since the start of the 2012 season, Howard has a .232/.300/.421 triple-slash line with 71 home runs over 1,760 plate appearances. Compare that to his .278/.379/.589 line with 198 home runs in 2,755 plate appearances from 2006-09.
The Phillies don’t have an obvious candidate to take over at first base. It’s Darin Ruf for now and maybe Cameron Rupp on days when Carlos Ruiz is catching. It could be Jorge Alfaro if his catching skills can’t pass muster at the major league level. Regardless, the Phillies will be making a change and it will happen by October.