2016 Phillies Report Card: Andres Blanco

In 2016, utility infielder Andres Blanco spend his fourth season with the Phillies’ organization. Originally signed to a Minor League deal during the 2012 season, he spent that season in Lehigh Valley providing depth at all four non-catching infield positions, without hitting well. He returned to the Phillies in 2014, and after a similarly unexciting Minor League season, Blanco was promoted to the Majors and actually produced a 105 wRC+ over a short 25 game sample. In 2015 he displayed even stronger results – producing a 138 wRC+ over 261 plate appearances.

The corresponding 1.5 fWAR was far past expectations, but there was still the sense that this was less than half a season of production from a utility infielder who had never even produced like this in the Minor Leagues. Regardless, that production, versatility, and phenomenal clubhouse reputation made his $1.45 million 2016 contract a no-brainer for the Phillies to sign. Blanco had stints in six previous Major League seasons with three other teams, always carrying a low strikeout rate and defensive versatility. However, since arriving in the Majors with the Phillies, it appears that he has added a new skill – roughly average or better power. Now over 523 plate appearances with the team (including 2016), Blanco has produced a .274/.337/.457 line, which includes a .183 ISO.

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Phillies Free Agency Tidbits

Jeremy Hellickson Extended Qualifying Offer

The Phillies extended a Qualifying Offer to Jeremy Hellickson before the 5PM deadline yesterday. He was one of ten players who received the qualifying offer and the only starting pitcher. Reliever Kenley Jansen also received the offer from the Dodgers. Here is a list of all the players to receive the QO:


As you can see, Jeremy Hellickson falls right near the average player to receive a QO. This validates the opinions of our staff from several weeks ago. It may seem weird to see Jeremy Hellickson among the top free agents this year, but after a surprisingly effective 2016 and a free agent class that’s bereft of talent, that’s exactly where he belongs. MLBTradeRumors has him as their No. 7 Free Agent this year, predicting a 4 year, $60 million contract, so don’t expect him to accept the Qualifying Offer. If Hellickson moves on from the Phillies, the team that signs him will be required to give up their top unprotected draft pick, and the Phillies will get a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round.


Chooch Traded

This is only tangentially related to the Phillies, as they weren’t involved in the transaction, but Phillies Legend Carlos Ruiz was traded yesterday from the Dodgers to the Mariners for left-handed reliever Vidal Nuno. Following a thoroughly ordinary 2016 (7.82 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 1.69 HR/9 in 58.2 innings), Nuno will likely provide depth for the Dodgers’ bullpen. Fun fact: he is one of only three relievers to allow as many or more home runs than walks in 2016, along with Carlos Villanueva of the Padres (who is somehow only 33) and Hector Rondon of the Cubs.

Chooch was bound to get traded or not have his option picked up after the season due to the presence of starter Yasmani Grandal and prospect Austin Barnes on the Dodgers roster. However, he did bounce back from his terrible 2015 to post a 99 wRC+ in part time duty in 2016, which must have been enough for the Mariners to pick up his $4.5 million option for 2017. He will back up the perpetually mediocre Mike Zunino, who spent 79 games in the minors in 2016. There’s a chance for Chooch to get some decent playing time for the Mariners.

2016 Phillies Report Card: Odubel Herrera

For the first time in his thus far short stint in Philadelphia, character concerns began to pop up for Odubel Herrera in 2016 and, in my opinion, did their part in overshadowing how productive Herrera has been.

It’s almost that Herrera’s quick rise to prominence last year, after being selected in the Rule 5 draft, was detrimental to how Phillies fans viewed him. He blew up in 2015, all but cementing himself as a cornerstone of the rebuild. But because of that, we skipped the “Can this kid play?” stage of his career and made a beeline toward critiquing his play like he was a multi-year veteran. He is 24. No, it’s not idyllic that he needs extra encouragement to get on the field early and take extra reps, but if we’ve learned anything about Odubel Herrera, he is still growing and maturing as an everyday ballplayer and producing heavily for a dismal offense.

As a lefty, he enjoyed better-than-average success against left-handers in 2015, but that did not transfer over to 2016, however. From May through September, each faction of his triple-slash against lefties began with a two, and he somehow managed to post a single-digit, 9 wRC+ in 28 May plate appearances against lefties.

But for the equal opportunity bat flipper, 2016 was the continuation and solidification of the fact that he is poised to give right-handers fits for years to come. If you remove the first three months in the big leagues in 2015 (essentially time he would have spent in triple-A were he not mandated to stay on the 25-man roster all year), his monthly wRC+ figures against righties are as follows: 199, 128, 147, 146, 166, 107, 87, 103, 136. That’s just one below average month (this July). Even his directional batted ball tendencies matured: His pull percentage dropped 11.3 points (from over a third of all balls in play down to a quarter), and he evenly distributed those balls up the middle and the opposite way, raising each from an identical 31.1% in 2015 to 37.8% back up the box and 35.7% to left field. For a hitter with inconsistent plate discipline, the ability to work all parts of the field is important, especially for a speedster.

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Phillies Acquire Solid Bullpen Arm

In the first significant move of the Phillies’ offseason, Matt Klentak acquired reliever Pat Neshek in a trade with the Houston Astros. The Phillies immediately exercised the 2017 team option in Neshek’s contract for a reported $6.5 million. Packing their bags for Houston are either a PTBNL or cash considerations, which is baseball parlance for “who cares?”

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Phillies Voted to Have MLB’s Best Farm System

Update 11/3/2016: There are actually conflicting signals about whether the Phillies won the fan vote or the staff vote. While the “table of contents”-style infographic in the announcement indicates “fan”, other sources indicate “staff.” Knowing that, take some of what’s below with an additional grain of salt.

Yesterday, MiLB.com announced the winners of the 2016 MiLBY award for the Best Farm System in baseball, and the Philadelphia Phillies received top honors – in the fan vote. The prospect staff of the site instead opted to pick the New York Yankees for their variation of the award. This offers a good opportunity to discuss the merits of such an award, and the Phillies’ system’s place in Minor League baseball. These awards occur every year, from a variety of sources, and can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, a person who is purely a fan of Minor League baseball might select the winning-est farm system, because winning is the end goal to that individual. However, a Major League farm director might vote for the team who ended the season with the most Top-100 prospects in their farm system.

What can winning this award tell us about the Phillies farm system? We can start by asking what an award like this supposed to measure. Per the award’s description in 2014, the year of its inception, the Best Farm System award is meant to “honor the organization whose system made the most strides [during the season]”. That description is a little ambiguous, but at minimum the phrase “made the most strides” can reasonably be interpreted to mean “most improved.” “Improved” is, itself, a loaded term. Does “most improved” entail seeing already top prospects move to higher levels? Does it mean the team that added the most noteworthy prospects throughout the year? Is it tied to winning at the Minor League level? It is referencing the team with the most significant number of breakout prospects and draftees (prospects who initially emerge in the system) during the year?

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Crashburn Roundtable: World Series Edition

As some readers may be aware, the World Series is currently going on, pitting one team with a long championship drought against a team with the long championship drought. As Cleveland and Chicago face off over the next few days, it understandably dominates the world of baseball. As a result, I thought it would be fun to temporarily change course on the round table series and ask some World Series-themed questions this week. Joining me on this Phillies-free affair are Crashburn Alley staff writers Timothy Guenther and Michael Schickling.

Cleveland ace Corey Kluber and Chicago ace Jake Arrieta are a month apart in age, each made over 30 starts in 2016, and each saw strong results. Kluber’s 73 ERA-, 76 FIP-, and 44.5 percent groundball rate compare well to Arrieta’s 75 ERA-, 85 FIP-, and 52.6 percent groundball rate in 2016. However, Arrieta also experienced an arguably higher peak just one season ago. If both were free agents this offseason, who would receive a larger contract?

Timothy Guenther: Kluber is coming off the better season, and has the better projection going forward. But to me, the most telling stat is the K-BB percentage.

2014: Kluber 22.9%, Arrieta 20.5%
2015: Kluber 22.6%, Arrieta 21.6%
2016: Kluber 19.8%, Arrieta 14.3%

The reason for Arrieta’s precipitous drop: hitters stopped chasing his pitches out of the strike zone. It may be a correctable issue, but it’s an issue that would give Kluber a leg up in this hypothetical contract battle.

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Lost

If you’re just joining us, I’ve been spending this week working through the Phillies’ 40-Man roster crunch, and taking a look at which prospects may be added in advance of the Rule 5 protection deadline. On Monday, I cleared some space on the current roster and found what might be up to ten spots available for Rule 5 eligible prospects. On Tuesday, I looked at the players who are basically locks to be added to the roster. On Thursday, I examined seven players with strong, but not guaranteed, cases for receiving a roster spot. To summarize, the following players have already been examined earlier in the week:

Locks: Elniery Garcia, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, Andrew Knapp, Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams

Likely: Mark Appel, Ricardo Pinto, Alberto Tirado, Jesmuel Valentin, Carlos Tocci, Malquin Canelo, Seranthony Dominguez

Today, we finish up by discussing the players who are potential targets for other teams in the Rule 5 draft. Obviously, I consider the above players most likely to be picked if available. Because not all of them have room to be protected, a couple may be selected. However, the large majority those players are going to be off limits.

Subtitling this article as “The Lost” is only really relevant for alliterative purposes – at worst, the Phillies would only lose a couple players in the draft. The below is a list of the players who just missed the cut, but are intriguing Rule 5 eligible prospects. It is feasible, but not too likely, that any one of them will end up on another team’s active roster in Spring Training.

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Likely

This week, I’ve been spending some time examining the Phillies’ impending roster crunch. On Monday, I looked at the current roster to see how many spots the team is working with. Having determined that there may be up to ten open spots on the 40 man roster, on Tuesday I continued on to those who are basically guaranteed to be added In advance of the deadline. After all of that, we suddenly have five potential spots available for remaining players. Let’s take a look at the group of players who each have compelling cases to join the 40-Man roster, but each also have warts that make them less than certain additions.

RHP Mark Appel

It’s hard to know exactly what to do with Mark Appel. The former number one overall pick in 2013, Appel has never performed at a level commensurate with his raw stuff. After climbing the ranks to triple-A in Houston, he was included in the Ken Giles trade. As a younger prospect, Appel featured a high 90s fastball and two plus potential secondaries. However, in 2016, Baseball Prospectus’ Adam Hayes reported that Appel featured more of a mid 90s fastball and two average secondary pitches in Lehigh Valley. He’s never struck out as many batters as his stuff would indicate, and he hasn’t featured quite the command expected of a college pitcher selected with the first overall pick.

Compounding his problems was the early end to his season – Appel required surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his elbow. However, despite all this, I’d argue he’s a borderline lock for the 40-man roster. While the elbow surgery clouds the picture, every report you’ll see pegs him as a Major League starting pitcher. Having watched this MLB postseason, and really the last couple of years, it’s easy to see a scenario where he is transitioned to the bullpen and has the potential to dominate. The Phillies may not prefer that course, but the problem is, we’re talking about the Rule 5 draft. Some other team would absolutely be willing to give a player with Appel’s stuff and pedigree that opportunity. If the team wants to keep him, they really have no choice. If he’s healthy, Appel will probably see time in Philadelphia in 2017 – in one role or another.

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Locks

Yesterday, I looked at the current Phillies’ roster in order to ascertain just how many roster spots are available as the Rule 5 protection deadline approaches. By my estimates, the team may have as many as ten roster spots to work with to protect their Rule 5 eligible prospects. As a refresher, Minor League players with four (for college draftees) or five (for high school draftees and international free agents) seasons of professional experience, and aren’t on a 40-Man roster, are generally eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 draft. The acquiring team must keep them on the active roster for the entirety of the next season, or offer them back to their original team.

The Phillies are fortunate enough to have a large number of players worth protecting from the draft. However, finding enough room for all of them is a problem. Today, we look at the six players that are definite locks to be added to the 40-man roster.

C Andrew Knapp

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Knapp is already factored into the roster under this scenario. With Jorge Alfaro‘s likely promotion to triple-A in 2017, there isn’t room for two everyday catching prospects on the roster, and Knapp will still need regular playing time. As the Major League team also needs a backup catcher, he may fit in that role. Knapp is a switch-hitting catcher and was drafted by the Phillies in the second round of the 2013 draft. While his ability to catch has reportedly improved, his bat will likely determine his success at the Major League level. He wasn’t able to reproduce his explosive 2015 Reading season at Lehigh Valley, and hit at a roughly league-average rate (107 wRC+).

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: Finding Room

Welcome to 40-Man Roster Crunch week here at Crashburn Alley. Over the next few days, I’m going to distract from the fact that nothing is going on with the Phillies as the World Series continues by focusing on the impending struggle to keep all of the team’s best prospects ahead of the Rule 5 draft. For those two don’t know, the Rule 5 Draft occurs every December on the final day of the Winter Meetings. That day, every Minor League player not currently on a team’s 40-Man roster is available to be claimed by another team, providing a couple conditions are met.

Generally speaking, to be eligible for this draft, a player drafted out of high school or signed as an international free agent must have spent five seasons in the Minor Leagues. If drafted out of college, the player must only have spent four seasons in the Minors. There some edge cases (if a player’s original contract is voided, for instance, they are often immediately eligible), but generally, if those conditions are met, a new team can acquire the player for $50,000. The catch is, they must then not only spend the entire next season on the acquiring team’s 40-man roster, but also the active roster. That is often prohibitive. There are some loopholes, as suspended or injured players are not returned, but generally, that’s the idea.

The Phillies have a notable number of players who are not only Rule 5 eligible this season, but are also worthy of protecting from the draft. It’s not the worst problem to have. This series is split into four parts, including one examining prospects who are locks to be added to the roster, another for prospects who are likely to be added to the roster, and a final one for those who have the potential to be lost in the Rule 5 draft. Today, we’ll begin by clearing the table, and examining the Phillies’ current 40-man roster. Doing this will hopefully give an idea of how many spots are actually available for Phillies’ Minor League prospects. This series begins with the basic assumption that the Phillies aren’t interested in selecting a player themselves in the Rule 5 draft, but were an available prospect from another team more valuable than the current player in the 40th roster spot, that might effect their decision. I don’t think that’ll happen though.

Already Gone

We can begin by acknowledging the six players already removed from the Phillies’ 40-man roster. Last week, it was announced that Emmanuel Burriss, Jimmy Paredes, Patrick Schuster, Frank Herrmann, Dalier Hinojosa, and Colton Murray were the first wave of outrights for the Phillies this offseason. None of those moves are very shocking, but I would say that Hinojosa and Murray, relievers who hit 95-96, are the most likely of the bunch to spend significant time on the Phillies in 2017, as bullpen depth. While this move subtracts six players from the end of season 40-Man roster, there are three players (Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Matt Harrison) on the sixty-day disabled list who will need to be given roster spots in the offseason.

Roster spots filled: 37

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