Crashburn Roundtable: Breakouts and Busts

In advance of today’s Grapefruit League season opener, we set up a virtual roundtable to share which Phillies we’re most looking forward to watching this year and which Phillies we’re most concerned about putting up a dud of a season. The participants for this discussion:

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Last Call for Carlos Ruiz

There is perhaps no moment that better encapsulates what catcher Carlos Ruiz has meant to this Phillies team than the final out in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS. Roy Halladay was brilliant that night, untouchable in fact.

With 8 2/3rds innings of no-hit ball in the books, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips tapped a weak grounder in front of the plate, dropping his bat perfectly in the void between Carlos Ruiz and the final out. The ball spun absurdly along the barrel of the bat, daring the catcher to make a mistake.

One misstep, one errant stab at the ball, even a poorly timed sneeze, and Phillips was safe for sure. This would have been merely a well-pitched game, a playoff victory, a silver lining with a touch of grey, but nothing of the history-making variety. Continue reading…

A Summary of the Phillies’ Active Waiver Claim Offseason

The winds of change swept through the Phillies organization last October, as Matt Klentak was named the organization’s new General Manager. Perhaps as would be expected for the worst projected team in baseball, the Phillies were tied with Klentak’s former employer (the Angels) for the most waiver wire claims of the offseason (seven).

These claims consisted of two outfielders and five relievers, the former of which figure to feature prominently in the opening day outfield mix. The pitchers selected will compete in Spring Training for jobs, with the hope that some of these unassuming relievers can slide through waivers a second time without being claimed, addressing the lack of immediate AAA relief depth in the organization.

These moves haven’t come without a cost – the Marlins were able to claim RHP Nefi Ogando and the Pirates were able to claim and trade for LHP Jesse Biddle, two pitchers with higher upside than these players, in part because the Phillies prioritized the relievers claimed in this way.

However, these players are of some modest interest, so below is a summary of what can be expected from these players in 2016.

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Positional Preview: The Bullpen

Let’s not pussyfoot around here, the Phillies’ current bullpen situation is bad. The good news is that it’s essentially bad by design. The key prospects in the Phillies rebuild (and any good rebuild) are position players and starting pitchers – guys like Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, J.P. Crawford, and Jake Thompson. The lineup and starting rotation are the components of a roster which can propel a franchise back into contention; a good bullpen is an important supplemental piece which only becomes important when that good roster is already in place.

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Positional Preview: The Starting Rotation

When the Crashburn Alley crew received its year-end report card assignments for the 2015 season, I somehow managed to end up with the unenviable task of writing up Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, AND Sean O’Sullivan. You can read my thoughts on those three fellows here (Harang), here (Williams), and here (SOS). Without forcing you to relive the tire fire that was the 2015 Phillies starting rotation, I’ll simply say you’re in for a much more pleasant experience this season. Now, with no further discussion of that 2015 rotation ever ever ever, I present your shiny, new Phillies starting pitchers.

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Positional Preview: Prospects

So, let me clear something up here, right off the bat. Maybe you’ve already figured this out, but, technically, “Prospects” is not a position. However, on the 2016 Phillies, prospects are as important a subset of the roster as any. And so, if I haven’t completely blown your mind, I hope you’ll follow along with me as I take a look at a handful of guys who will be worth watching in spring training, and in their minor league seasons at Reading and Lehigh Valley.

Star Potential Up The Middle: J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams

It’s been said before about a thousand times, and I’m not sure I can add much to the conversation here, but let me try: JP Crawford has awesome dogs. Have you seen them? Beautiful. Here’s one of them.

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Positional Preview: The Infield

Now this is a story all about how my infield got flipped, turned upside down…

Sorry, I’m feeling nostalgic after Jimmy Rollins agreed to a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox yesterday (instead of the San Francisco Giants). In December 2014, Rollins was traded to the Dodgers in a somewhat complicated deal that netted the Phillies two pitching prospects, Tom Windle and Zach Eflin. The painful but necessary trade shifted Freddy Galvis into a starting spot, and broke up the Ruiz-Howard-Utley-Rollins infield core that the Phillies had deployed every season since 2007. The 2015 Phillies began with Chase Utley at second base, but we all know that didn’t last until the end of the season. Now, with Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard both entering the last year of their contracts, the Phillies embark on the final season with the remaining members of their greatest infield ever. It’s a team and a positional group in transition. Who can we expect to form the infield of 2016? Let’s start at the center of the action, behind the plate. Continue reading…

Positional Preview: The Outfield

A week from today the Phillies will play their first Grapefruit League game, as sure a sign as any that the new baseball season is almost here. In this last week without Phillies games until October, we’ll be running positional previews. Today I’ll break down the outfield situation and Adam will take on the infield. Tomorrow Brad will provide a preview of the prospects in camp and then we’ll be closing out the week with Adam and I previewing the rotation and the bullpen.

There is very little intrigue to be found in Clearwater this spring in regards to outfielders battling for roster spots. Barring injury, the outfielders exceedingly likely to break camp are: Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel, and Odubel Herrera. The one prospect who could make things somewhat interesting is the versatile infielder/outfielder Darnell Sweeney who may challenge for a spot on the bench but appears most likely to begin the season as the everyday second baseman at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Their backup in case of an injury is 30 year old David Lough who is in camp as a non-roster invitee and has spent much of the past four seasons moving between Triple-A and the majors for Kansas City and Baltimore.

And, yet, despite the lack of surface-level intrigue, the outfield is brimming with question marks. For this positional preview, we’re going to run down five key questions facing the 2016 Phillies outfield.

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Spring Training Storylines: The Closer

For the first time since 2011, the Phillies will enter spring training with every role at the back end of the bullpen wide open for the taking. Say what you will about Jonathan Papelbon‘s personality, he capably and dependably secured the closer’s role in Philadelphia for the entirety of his Phillies tenure. Ken Giles was the heir apparent to the role in which he looked so darn great for the second half of the 2015 season after Papelbon’s departure, but he’s currently trying to pry the role of closer from Luke Gregerson in Astros camp. Now the Phillies are left with neither an incumbent nor a clear successor to the ninth inning role.

Does it really and truly matter who the designated Opening Day closer is for team in transition like the Phillies? Not particularly. But that won’t stop them from naming one. So, who will it be?

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Spring Storylines: The First Base Black Hole

Well friends, we’ve finally come to the end. This season will be Ryan Howard‘s last in a Phillies uniform. He’ll receive his $25 million salary, then a $10 million buyout, and he’ll take his 380± home runs to an American League city (I’m assuming he hits about 20 homers in 2016). Until then, the Phillies will deploy Howard as the exceedingly expensive half of a first base platoon, which is just about the worst use of two roster spots on a young team I can imagine. That’s not a knock on Klentak & Co., as their hands are tied by a sunk cost incurred long before their stewardship of the local nine.

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