Crash Bag, Vol. 7: Prospects, Frenchy, and Legacy

With pitchers and catcher having reported earlier this week, the Crash Bag mailbox saw a marked uptick in questions directly related to baseball and a downtick in ephemera. This, in my opinion, is neither a moral good or a moral bad. A good question is a good question, regardless of its subject. The Crash Bag, like baseball as a whole, works best, I believe, when it contains a mix of actual baseball and profound nonsense. The six editions prior to this have been heavy on the nonsense, so consider this a bit of a balancing of the scales.

@scottbails13: Which of the Phillies’ prospects has the best chance to play significant time for the big club this season?

The easy answer here is Andrew Knapp. He’s one of two prospect eligible players likely to break Spring Training with the major league team (Joely Rodriguez is the other). He’ll be the backup catcher, and Joely will be a LOOGY sort of dude out of the bullpen, so they’re not the flashiest of answers, but backup catcher, in particular, is a pretty significant role that guarantees something like 200 plate appearances over a full season. 

While neither is remotely likely to break camp with the team, I think we’ll see significant time from J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro. If you told me at this time last year that J.P. Crawford would not have made his major league debut by now, I probably wouldn’t have called you crazy, but I would have had a lower opinion of your baseball knowledge. As it stands, you would have been right and I would look like a fool. That’s ok, I’m used to it at this point. What was my point here? Oh, yeah. Crawford is really close to his debut and we’ll see it early this season. He’ll get somewhere between 300-400 plate appearances.

Alfaro made his debut last year in September, but will start the year in the minors, where he still hasn’t played at AAA yet. He’ll get some seasoning there, but will force some sort of decision with Rupp and Knapp by the end of July, I would think. Maybe 150-200 plate appearances for him.

I’m not exactly giddy about it, but I think we’ll see plenty of Ben Lively this season as one of the first guys called on when injuries inevitably strike. He’s pitched well in the minors and, though there are major questions about how his act will be received at the major league level–likely: lots of hard contact–he has little to prove down there and deserves a chance to prove definitivley that he’ll falter lest he become Darin Ruf reincarnated as a pitcher.

Roman Quinn will be up as soon as either Saunders or Kendrick is injured or traded. I already said I wasn’t concerned about embarrassment when predictions are wrong, but I’m drawing the line on Nick Williams. I have no idea what will happen with him.

William Green (via email): What are your thoughts on whether MLB will ever go to 32 teams?  If so, what city would have the two teams and how would you re-arrange the divisions?

Major league baseball is doing very well financially right now despite all the concern coming from the league offices about attracting a younger audience. Internationally, I’m not sure the game has ever been stronger and talent really is flooding into the sport. I don’t have hard data to back this up, but it seems to me that more and more in recent years, Rule 5 draft picks are becoming useful–if not always particularly productive–major league players.

That suggests that there is an excess of major league level talent that can’t quite fit on 30 major league rosters of 25 men. Look also at some of the free agents still available–Matt Weiters, Pedro Alvarez, Joe Blanton, Jonathan Papelbon, etc. These are major league level players without a home at the start of Spring Training. There’s enough talent and money in the game to justify an expansion and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the next decade.

As far as cities, Montreal is the first that comes to mind. Thanks to Jeff Loria, they lost a perfectly fine franchise and there is considerable local agitation–led by Jonah Keri, of course–for the return of baseball. They’re to baseball what Seattle is to basketball.

The next city is a little tougher. Let’s look at a map for guidance:

That’s the location of every major league team. You’ll notice two things to start: a giant cluster in the Northeast and Rust Belt and a second cluster in the Southwest. There’s a lot of empty space in the Montana/Idaho/ Wyoming area, but no one lives there, so even if they love baseball, there’s the simple logistics of filling a stadium.

If you follow the MLB Draft even loosely, you’re likely aware that the SEC is very strong at baseball and, indeed, baseball is popular in that part of the country. You’ll notice from the above map, however, that the Atlanta Braves have a geopolitical monopoly on that market. They definitely aren’t complaining about that, but the poor soul in New Orleans who cheers for the Braves probably doesn’t like the six-hour commute to the park. While a place like Charlotte would make a similar amount of sense, I’m giving my 32nd team to New Orleans for two reasons. They’ve shown they can support major sports teams–sorry to the Panthers and Hornets–with good attendance and have an established interest in baseball with the popularity and success of the LSU baseball team.

That took an unexpected French twist with Montreal and New Orleans getting our two expansion franchises. The only remaining question is which team will hire Jeff Francoeur as its first manager.

@GlennQSpoonerSt: Was Ed Wade underrated & unappreciated as a Phillies GM? Drafted Hamels/Utley/Howard, Acquired Ruiz/Victorino Traded for Wagner.

My understanding is that the historical record has been quite kind to Ed Wade for the reasons you suggest. On this very site, Bill Baer highlighted the success of Phillies drafts under Wade’s rule and bemoaned the fact that Wade’s legacy doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves.

What often went unnoticed was Wade’s guidance of the Phillies’ farm system. Here’s a look at who the Phillies drafted by year:

(Also note that Wade brought Shane Victorino to Philadelphia via the Rule-5 draft, although he did offer to return the center fielder to the Los Angeles Dodgers at one point.)

The Phillies’ scouting department as a whole deserves a ton of credit for putting together what is still the core of the Phillies’ team, but it couldn’t have happened without Wade at the helm and that is something that should be highlighted more often when discussing Wade’s legacy. One does not draft that many good players consistently year after year accidentally, especially when the picks get gradually lower and lower due to the team’s incremental improvement.

Crashburn Alley

You could quite easily draw a parallel between Ed Wade and Sam Hinkie. Both did an excellent job assembling talent and–I hate to use this term, but I have to with Hinkie’s draft picks–assets for future success, but, due to pressures related to winning and sports’ odd idea that “the next step” should happen about two years before it actually should, they both were ousted before they were able to taste the fruits of their success.

That said, Ed Wade was not flawless. He whiffed on two potentially franchise-altering trades with Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling. For the combination of those two, he got Bud Smith, Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, Omar Daal, Vicente Padilla, and Travis Lee. Imagine those two players on the market today. Rolen was in the thick of his prime at age-27 and Schilling was at 33, but, clearly had many productive years left in him. To not get even one player who was a franchise-altering prospect in return for them is a nothing short of a disaster.

So, Wade’s record isn’t perfect, but you’re indeed correct, that, in any history of the assembling of the talent that was at the center of the 2008 World Series Champions and the dominant team of the next couple years, Ed Wade’s place is not only under-appreciated at large, but, in fact, at the very foundation of that story.

How much of an impact can Matt Stairs have on Franco, Herrera and the overall bats this season?

I don’t want to steal Ben Harris‘ thunder in the Crash Bag because a) I’m not capable of such a feat and b) he already did excellent and thorough work in relation to this question earlier this very week at this very site. So you should check out that work–which I’ll quote and add some of my ramblings on here–in full if you want the best possible answer to your question.

In that post, Ben focused on four areas Stairs identified as points of emphasis as he begins his work as the team’s hitting coach:

  1. Implement a game plan
  2. Hit good pitches early in the count
  3. Extend counts if not given your pitch
  4. Work gap to gap

Your first reaction, my first reaction, and Ben’s first reaction, was to look at number one and word associate Maikel Franco. Ben had some entertaining and, perhaps as importantly, informative words about that:

And if you don’t have a plan to begin with, if you simply rely on your God-given talent that has propelled you thus far, things often go awry.

Just ask Maikel Franco, a phenomenally talented hitter who slumped below his expected production in 2016, because, as he put it this offseason, “Most of the time I just went to the plate without a plan. I just swung at everything. Now, I think about it like, ‘This year is really important for you. You have to know what you’re doing and have to show everybody more discipline and be more selective at home plate.’ ”

Even the best hitter is just a man. But with a plan, he could hit a ball over a canal. Maybe even into Panama.

Crashburn Alley

In terms of hitting balls into the gap, well, it’s hard to say how much hitters have control over that. But, if Stairs is correct in that he can teach that, Odubel Herrera seems like a likely beneficiary. Lacking typical home run power–he can hit them out, but he’s not Franco–hitting the ball into the gaps is an easy way for Odubel to increase his slugging percentage and get some extra bases.

Outside of Ben’s much more analytical approach to the issue, I have to add that I have a lot of confidence that Matt Stairs is a great hire for this role. Listening to him the broadcast booth was a joy. Even next to dullards like Tom McCarthy and Ben Davis, Stairs managed to keep baseball interesting, and, more importantly, I felt like I learned something about analyzing a hitter each time I watched a game he called. What do I know? Well, next to nothing, in this regard especially. But, from my perspective, he did a really nice job breaking down a hitter’s swing mechanics and identifying areas that need to be corrected. Most hitting coaches, I assume, can do that, however. What I think is unique about Stairs is that he just seems like a fun dude. I can’t see him getting into beefs with players and, more importantly, I can see players gravitating to him. That aspect of the job is more important that anything else because, if the players don’t like you or don’t think you have anything to add, you’re lost regardless of how much you actually have to add. I see him getting that buy in, which means that, even if he’s not the best technical hitting coach in history, what he does offer has a high probability of getting through. That, I hope, will allow him to impart whatever wisdom he has about hitting to the entire team.

The mailbox for Crash Bag questions is always open. If you have a question you would like to see addressed in a subsequent edition of the series, you can direct it to a) @cf_larue on, b) eric[dot]chesterton[at]gmail[dot]com, or c) the comment section of this very post. 

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