Crash Bag Volume #2: The Third Base Problem

There is currently a baseball game playing on a screen in front of me. We are still 5 weeks from opening day, thus we enter a time of questions and praying for health.

@KRAM209: It seems like the Phillies have had trouble finding 3B prospects of late.  Why?  What do you think they should do differently?

Here are the third basemen the Phillies have drafted with day 1 or 2 picks (or paid that type of money in bonus to) in recent years. I am using their intended pro position, not their pre-draft or first year position.

  • Jake Scheiner (4th rd, 2017, Jr) – It is still really early on Scheiner who might actually be a 2B.
  • Jake Holmes (11th rd, 2017, HS) – Holmes had a solid debut and is just starting to move over from SS.
  • Cole Stobbe (3rd rd, 2016, HS) – Stobbe had a good first year and then just failed to recognize off speed pitches and solid out his contact for power in Williamsport.
  • Luke Williams (3rd rd, 2015, HS) – Williams was always a weird fit at third. He has below average power, plus speed, and a good glove. He just hasn’t hit much.
  • Josh Tobias (10th rd, 2015, Sr) – Moved to 2B and traded to Boston for Buchholz.
  • Jan Hernandez (3rd rd, 2013, HS) – Hernandez has never shown a good approach and has lately struggled to hit righties. The Phillies moved him to RF to add flexibility last year and he took the position quickly.
  • Trey Williams (7th rd, 2013, JC) – Williams just never hit in his two year in pro ball.
  • Zach Green (3rd rd, 2012, HS) – Green showed big time power, but his approach has been poor and his swing stiff. Wrist and other injuries have limited his playing time over the years.
  • Harold Martinez (2nd rd, 2011, Jr) – Martinez had big power as a college freshman and it never came back. He hung around as a good org hitter until 2017.
  • Cody Asche (4th rd, 2011, Jr) – Asche was never a great defender at third, but he showed enough hit tool to be a second division regular at 3rd. His hit tool fell apart when he reached the majors.
  • Mitch Walding (5th rd, 2011, HS) – Walding had (and still has) a beautiful left handed swing. It took until 2016 for him to show any power. Had a breakout year of sorts in 2017 at age 24 in AA. He has a lot of swing and miss in his game, but is a good defender and potential 4 corner utility bat.

Internationally the only 3B of note has been Maikel Franco, so I won’t go into that side too much. The big thing that jumps out immediately here is the number of high school hitters. Most of them were high school shortstops who moved to third, and have had their bats not live up to expectations. The problem has really been the Phillies inability to develop high school hitters. The obvious counter would be to say they should draft college 3B. The problem there is that by the 3rd round where most of these picks are, most of the polished college hitters are off the board. The Phillies have gone high risk at the hot corner and so far it hasn’t paid off. At the same time they have been really good at developing 2B and SS, so who knows. They need to get better at drafting in general, they have had some hits, but some huge misses as well.

@andrewrinnier: I get the need for Arrieta, but have the expectations for this year changed that much? The plan was to compete next year, would it better to see if these young arms can stay healthy and are able to pitch at this level one last time?

When the Phillies signed Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, and Pat Neshek they moved themselves close to a .500 team. Last year the second NL Wild Card was at 87 wins, and there is a reasonable argument that it should be in that range again this year. If the team where to replace Ben Lively with Arrieta on opening day, they are in that Wild Card hunt, not at the front of it, but in that race. That means the pathway to the playoffs for the Phillies is improvements from some of Nick Williams, Maikel Franco, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff to go along with J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro being competent. It isn’t likely, but it is also not impossible.

As for getting a look at the young arms. Even if you sign another starter, the Phillies would open with a rotation containing Eickhoff, Velasquez, and Pivetta. The odds of all of those pitchers being good or healthy is low. The Phillies are going to use 8 or more starting pitchers this season due to injuries and ineffectiveness, and that is going to open up opportunities for young pitchers. If for some reason you have health and success with that opening day rotation, then you thank the baseball gods and prepare for the playoffs because that is likely where you end up.

@EvanDkemelor: How far do you expect Sixto to be able to move up by the end of the season? Any chance for a playoff appearance in AAA?

I doubt he makes it all the way to AAA. The Phillies are still going to be cautious with Sanchez to start 2018. He probably starts in Clearwater and reaches Reading at some point and likely ends his year there. By the time the minor league playoffs come around I expect Sanchez to be at his innings limit. I do expect him to start 2019 in AA or AAA and reach the majors at some point that season.

@loudfartnoise: if I wanted to go see a Reading / LV game, which visiting teams would provide the most compelling matchups?

I started with Baseball America’s top farm systems and then looked for affiliates in the Eastern and International Leagues. Here is a basic list and top prospects to watch for (you might need to do some research depending on time of year).

I probably missed someone somewhere.

@IamBillStewart: What Phillies prospects outside the consensus top 20 do you think will make the biggest leap this?

The obvious answers are Jonathan Guzman and Simon Muzziotti, they are both GCL hitters who are going to face higher level pitchers in 2018 while stronger and more experienced. However, I think they make their leaps in the 2019 season, unless they open the year in Lakewood. Instead I am going to go off the board with Connor Seabold. Seabold was the Phillies’ 3rd round pick in 2017 out of Cal State Fullerton. He is a right handed starter with plus command and solid stuff across the board. There is a chance he starts in Clearwater and does some version of the JoJo Romero/Cole Irvin seasons where by the end you are looking at him as a possible #3 and safe #4, and he is in AA. Another player to really watch is Luis Garica. The Phillies gave him $2.5 million last summer and he will only play in the GCL, but if he comes out at full talent he could shoot up lists.

@LaCrossUSPS: In a preview of the Phils (potential) starting pitchers, Tim Malcolm posited the presence of Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, and Zach Eflin is a waste of time, because of low K rate and high HR rate they will never succeed here. Do you agree with that opinion?

I think there is a definite chance that is true. I am especially worried about it with Ben Lively and Jake Thompson where we have not only seen a lack of growth, but actually a decrease in skills. I just don’t see the command or pitches in their arsenal to miss bats or create weak contact. I could see either of them doing what Lively did last year which is going on a run of luck where they have success for a small period of time. Eflin is probably in that category, but given his youth, higher velocity, and lack of playing time over the past few years, I want to see what he has. He still needs to show some sort of useable breaking ball and command of his pitches, not just control. In general, I think pitchers need to be able to generate strikeouts at a reasonable enough rate that they aren’t entirely at the whims of BABIP.

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