Odubel Herrera: The First Piece of the Future

I am honored to be taking over for Eric here at Crashburn, this site has always been a place I looked up to. I am excited to work alongside the talented writers here and to keep the tradition of high quality analysis going into another Phillies season.

2017 will mark the Phillies’ first season without members of their 2008 core. The Phillies are not without veterans, and they are not without players who have been with the team for a number of seasons. What they lacked was any tangible direction for the future. This offseason the Phillies made their first long term commitment to their new core, signing Odubel Herrera to a long term contract. Continue reading…

Is César Hernández For Real?

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is second baseman César Hernández.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, César Hernández surprisingly managed to lead the Phillies in fWAR last year with 4.4. This was also third best among second basemen in the National League. At the beginning of last season, if you had given me 5 guesses on who would lead the Phillies in WAR, I don’t think Hernández would have made the cut, but here we are.

His path to very-good-playerdom followed the Luis Castillo precedent of good defense, high average, lots of walks, little power, and decent baserunning, but how much of that is sustainable for the 26-year-old’s upcoming seasons? Let’s pick this apart piece by piece. Continue reading…

Jeremy Hellickson: The Anatomy of a $17.2 Million Contract

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.

For two years, Jeremy Hellickson was an above-average major league starting pitcher. That was 2011-12, the first two years of his career, during which he picked up a American League Rookie of the Year award and a Gold Glove. His ERA was 3.02.

For two years, Hellickson was a below-average major league starting pitcher. That was 2013-14, the following two years, and the end of his time in Tampa’s organization.

On November 14, 2014, he was traded to Arizona. Another below-average season followed, but he showed enough for the new Phillies brass to buy low on him one year to the day after the that trade sent him to the Diamondbacks. It was one of Matt Klentak’s first moves with the team, sending tall, physical right-handed pitching prospect Sam McWilliams for Hellickson’s services. Continue reading…

Tommy Joseph: Swing At The Strikes

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is first baseman Tommy Joseph.

For the ardent reader of the Crashburn Roundtable, my enthusiasm for Tommy Joseph should come as no surprise. For those who chose baseball dormancy as Citizens Bank Park was preparing to close its doors, a quick review of said enthusiasm.

Continue reading…

Maikel Franco: Can He Just Chill Up There?

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is third baseman Maikel Franco.

Maikel Franco certainly makes himself look silly sometimes at the plate. As it became clear that his 2016 sophomore campaign was going to be a year-long source of frustration, spilled drinks, and, in it’s more unfortunate moments, broken screens of various sorts, the sight of Franco’s helmet flying off while reaching for a pitch low and away felt more rule than exception.

Because of Franco’s above-average ability to make contact on pitches out of the zone, his regression in plate discipline and strike-zone discernment don’t necessarily manifest themselves in more strikeouts or fewer walks. Of course, it did to some extent: Franco struck out in 16.8 percent of 2016 plate appearances versus 15.5 percent in 2015 and walked only 6.3 percent of the time versus 7.8 in 2015. Those are steps backwards, to be sure, but hardly alarming ones on their own.

Continue reading…

Jerad Eickhoff: Two Things to Watch For

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff.

To start off this preview, I want to give you the story of Jerad Eickhoff, the Phillie. Eickhoff was considered something of a throw-in, quad-A type pitcher in the Cole Hamels trade. He had 8 strong starts to finish out the 2015 season, which generated tempered optimism for the 2016 season. The fact that he was essentially Hamels’ equal last year in fWAR is nothing short of amazing.

He posted a 3.65 ERA over nearly 200 innings last year on the strength of a league-average strikeout rate and the 8th-best walk rate among qualified starting pitchers. Offsetting his mediocre fastball is a spectacular curveball and a solid slider. He’s also thrown a change about 5% of the time, but it’s gotten rocked (opponents slugged .643 against it). One of his Spring Training goals is to improve that change into a respectable pitch. The idea is that having a fourth option in his arsenal will make him less predictable and also allow his fastball to play up.

Continue reading…

Vince Velasquez: Trouble with the Curve

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Vince Velasquez:

It’s no secret that Vince Velasquez, despite his electric fastball, struggled to pitch deep into games because of a lack of effective secondary pitches. He often looked like he was just trying to strike batters out, while forgoing other pitch-to-contact methods that can minimize pitch counts while still recording outs, albeit those not as flashy as 95-mph fastballs blown by helpless hitters.

By his own account, he’s is focusing on gaining trust in his curveball during spring training, a pitch he threw 13.6 percent of the time last season.

He had this to say of his struggles with the pitch: “If you have no conviction in it, no trust in it, why even throw it?” Continue reading…

Misguided Early Spring Training Analysis: 5th Outfielder Battle

Spring Training statistics are just short of utter meaninglessness. This likely isn’t news to you as a reader of Crashburn Alley. Bill Baer made it a point to provide an annual reminder of this fact on these very pages. That first link offers a particularly comprehensive reason for unreliability of Spring Training statistics. To start, the length of Spring Training is such that all sample sizes are small. Added to that are considerations such as players working on weaknesses rather than playing and competing as they would in regular season play and quality of competition.

In the first five games of 2017 Spring Training, we have seen all of that. Obviously, five games is a minuscule sample. We had reports yesterday of Clay Buchholz only working at 80 percent effort, which, presumably, would inflate the stats of hitters facing him. Phillies hitters have likely faced similar non-100 percent efforts from opposing pitchers. Early in the spring, especially, low-level minor leaguers see time in Grapefruit and Cactus League games, diluting the quality of competition even further than the spring on the whole. All that is to say that none of what follows matters much at all.

Even so, as a Phillies-centric site, it behooves us to focus on what is perhaps the only truly interesting roster battle in camp for the glorious role of fifth outfielder.

Continue reading…

Who Are You Series Wrap-Up

For the past five weeks, we’ve been looking in depth at new members of the Phillies roster. In case you missed any of the profiles, here are links to all five of them:

OF – Howie Kendrick (link)

RP – Pat Neshek (link)

RP – Joaquin Benoit (link)

OF – Michael Saunders (link)

SP – Clay Buchholz (link)

Before putting a close on this series, I wanted to get some thoughts on some notable non-roster invites who didn’t merit due to questionable odds of making the team. Some were explored in some depth in our other preview series that attempted to predict the Opening Day roster well before it was prudent to do so.

Continue reading…

MLB Pipeline Releases Phillies Top 30 Prospects

On Tuesday, MLB released their top 30 prospects for every National League East team on MLBpipeline.com. While for many this was a chance to see what the league’s prospect gurus had to say about the Braves farm system, which is one of the best, we here at Crashburn were interested in getting our first look at their take on a Phils farm system that has seen some mixed reviews throughout the offseason.

While the general consensus is that the organization is above average, opinions have varied. Keith Law ranked the Phillies as the 14th best system, down from sixth heading into 2016, while Baseball Prospectus tabbed only three teams as having more Top 101 prospects than the Phillies.

A few factors combined to lower the esteem held toward what many in Philly think is a bright prospect-studded future. First, the organization graduated a handful of upper-level prospects last season. The last MLB Pipeline ranking in 2015 had Jake Thompson ranked third, Zach Eflin as a top-10 prospect and Alec Asher also listed at 25. All three played with the big club in 2016.

In addition, a few of the best prospects in the system didn’t take expected steps forward. Nick Williams tried to swing his way to Philadelphia with no such luck, J.P. Crawford, who many also assumed would debut with the Phillies late last season, didn’t make the adjustment to triple-A as swimmingly as hoped for a top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and Mark Appel struggled before having season-ending elbow surgery.

You lose some players to the majors, a few top guys don’t make statements that incite the greatest level of confidence, and your stock realistically will drop. So it went.

So how do they rank the current prospects? Continue reading…