The Phillies Are Going to Be Fun

The Phillies aren’t projected to be a very good team this season. If you’re familiar with our internet pages, that certainly doesn’t come as breaking news. The Phillies rebuild has been a long time coming, and it’s good that they are finally committed to that process. And when I say committed, I mean committed. In a good way. The process is working, and working faster than many have anticipated. But while the process can be ghastly to the point where it isn’t really fun to watch, the Phillies don’t figure to be that kind of team. In fact, they should be fun.

Among the projected starting rotation and starting lineup, there will only be three players over 30 — Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Charlie Morton. Ruiz is a fan favorite, and Morton is a still interesting pitcher who doesn’t have the mileage on him a 32-year-old normally would. Watching Howard might not be pretty, but we’re suddenly in the last year of his contract (assuming Philly isn’t going to pick up his 2017 club option). Hopefully, the season can be spent celebrating all the good things he did in a Phillies uniform — like how he’s still just one of 24 players who has ever hit 40 or more home runs off of right-handed pitching in a single season. Or perhaps the three home runs he hit in the 2008 World Series, or his MVP performance in the 2009 NLCS. There were good times to be had. And hey, at least he got back to hitting righties at an above-average clip last year. That was nice.

Aside from those players, this is not a team that is going to be populated by retreads like last year’s version of the club. In addition to Howard and Ruiz, last year’s Phillies also gave run to 30s-aged players Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, Jeff Francoeur, Grady Sizemore, Chase Utley, Aaron Harang, Kevin Correia, Jerome Williams and Andres Blanco. Blanco — who oddly produced a 136 wRC+ campaign — is back, but the rest have been excised. The only other potentially prominent 30-something is Matt Harrison, if he can get healthy again. And if he does, his comeback will be a heartwarming story.

It’s not just the lack of old people though that will make the Phillies fun. A lot of the young players who will get run this season are actually intriguing. Maikel Franco seemingly took a long time to get to the majors, but he’ll be in just his age-23 season in 2016. And after hammering 14 homers last year in roughly half a season of playing time, we should be ready for more this season. He figures to be at least an average player, and if the FANS projection of 4.0 WAR comes true, he’ll be an All-Star candidate.

Then there’s Odubel Herrera. Lifted out of the Rule 5 draft, Herrera was a boon for the Phillies last season. He played Gold Glove defense, knocked eight homers and swiped 16 bases. He rocked an ungodly .387 batting average on balls in play, which should come down a bit this year. But it probably won’t regress wildly. Here are his BABIPs in all of the minor league stops at which he tallied at least 100 PAs: .399, .361, .343, .355, .304, .359 and .389. Simply put, when the dude puts the ball in play, there’s a chance something exciting is going to happen. He was the only player on last year’s team to tally 30 doubles.

Speaking of speed, Cesar Hernandez can fly. He swiped 19 bags, and his 6.4 Speed Score was 18th in the game last season (minimum 400 PA). Hernandez is also the rare Phillies hitter who takes his walks, which is nice to see. Rounding out the speed trio is shortstop Freddy Galvis, who stole 10 bases in 11 tries last season, and his 4.6 BsR ranked 23rd in the game last season.

While Galvis is solid at short, he’s not the player to really be excited about. That’s J.P. Crawford, who not only is lighting up the traditional prospect leaderboards, but also came in at #1 in the updated KATOH leaderboard. I won’t be telling you anything you don’t already know about Crawford at this point, but having a stud prospect who could anchor the team for years to come possibly debut this season is reason enough to watch Phillies games in the second half. And he’s not the only player who made the KATOH Top 100. Nick Williams (60), Andrew Knapp (68) and Dylan Cozens (90) also made the list, and all had progressed to at least Double-A by the end of last season — i.e., all could see big-league time this year. We already have Williams (and Crawford) on the Phillies depth chart in anticipation.

Williams of course, is a consensus top prospect, as is catcher Jorge Alfaro. But it’s not just position players that make this Phillies team intriguing, it’s also the pitchers. Consensus top-100 prospects Mark Appel and Jake Thompson could see big-league action this season, as could former top prospect Vincent Velasquez. And we haven’t even got to Jerad Eickhoff. Last season, Kiley McDaniel anointed Eickhoff a top 200 prospect following the trade deadline, and when he came up late last season, he struck out 24.1% of the batters he faced, and had a lovely 17.7% strikeout- and walk-rate differential, which ranked 27th among starters with at least 50 innings pitched. Now, he is garnering sleeper attention in fantasy land and is popping up on Eno’s arsenal scores list. And he probably isn’t even the team’s best pitcher.

That honor likely will go to Aaron Nola, who was Kiley’s 51st-ranked prospect last year, and turned in a solid rookie campaign of his own. His end of the season will likely be a microcosm of how the Phillies season goes. In five of his final seven starts, he allowed either one or zero runs, working at least five innings in each and at least seven in four of them. In the other two starts, he gave up six runs in each and didn’t get past the fifth in either. In one of the bad outings, he managed to strike out eight, so you could see the good even in the bad, but Phillies fans will certainly be hoping for fewer six-run outings from their new ace.

Perhaps most importantly, the team seemingly has a higher floor in the rotation spots where they don’t have star prospects waiting to make good. Charlie Morton, Jeremy Hellickson and Brett Oberholtzer aren’t Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine, but they’re actual, competent major league pitchers. They should be a far pace better than a lot of the rotation filler from last season. In 2015, David Buchanan, Adam Morgan, Jerome Williams and Sean O’Sullivan combined to give Philly 64 starts (335.2 IP) of 5.90 ERA pitching. And rotation stalwart Aaron Harang, much as I like him, wasn’t any better last year for the Phillies, either. (And then there were the five starts of 6.56 ERA ball that Kevin Correia turned in.) By finding a nice complement of competent pitchers and padding the rotation depth with their army of prospects, Philly should be able to avoid a lot of these painful starts by pitchers who are going nowhere in the present or the future.

It’s highly unlikely that the Phillies will be a good team in 2016. But they have a solid mix of players who should make for an entertaining brand of baseball, and the franchise has done a great deal to turn things around in the last year. They have very few old and fading veterans, a healthy dose of players who are not only exciting, but as Corinne Landrey recently pointed out, are excited for each other. They even have an interesting reclamation project in Peter Bourjos. It won’t all be wine and roses — let’s not speak of the bullpen — but it is the type of team that you can dream on, and that’s exciting.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

What? No Mention of what could be one teams best young all around position player: Aaron Altherr.

8 years ago
Reply to  Scalious

Hard to get excited about a guy who will probably strike out over 150 times, but not hit 20+ HRs or get 20+ SBs.

He got smoked by LHP last year (71 wRC+), which is odd because he bats right-handed.

He might be a good defender, but LF is not the “flashy” defensive position.

I doubt he is their best young all around position player. Odubel is probably that guy, and he got a nice write-up in this article. He’s a year younger than Altherr, already has 1 full season of proven experience. Altherr reminds me of a guy the Phillies have already passed around in their system, Darin Ruf. Except Ruf somehow once hit 38 HRs in AA.

They even had similar first extended looks:

2013 Ruf – .211 ISO, .806 OPS, 125 wRC+
2015 Altherr – .248 ISO, .827 OPS, 124 wRC+

Altherr can play defense though. Also, Altherr hit an inside the park HR, which certainly helps his ISO.

8 years ago
Reply to  mrmaddness

Altherr’s sort of interesting at least inasmuch as we don’t know exactly what he is. There’s some real reason to think that he’s going to beat his projections for his first full year in the MLB; he seems like a classic case of a guy who sort of clicked, in that before this year he was known as wildly inconsistent but starting sometime in May I think he began smacking the baseball pretty good and didn’t stop all year. My understanding is that his swing will never let him hit for average or real power but I don’t think it would be a surprise if he hit .250ish with 12 home runs, stole 20 bases, and played above-average right field, which would put him right around 2-2.5 wins.

8 years ago
Reply to  jruby

Right. If that’s your “best all-around prospect”…then you’ve got seriously problems.

Or you are the Marlins.

8 years ago
Reply to  jruby

Potentially Best all around player upcoming year=/=best prospect?

As he drafted way way back in 2009 and took him 5-6 years to finally click at his age 24. Now coming into age 25. Not to mention the vulnerably he showed with the K/contact rates

Lots more players in the phillies system have higher long term projections than Altherr. However as of this upcoming season, wouldn’t surprise me if he lead all position players in WAR is basically the message.

Yeah, its a SSS alert..but he flashed power, defense, speed and some idea of the K-Zone(24.4% O-swing) Putting up 1.7 WAR in less than 200 PAs w/o an inflated BABIP.

Sure the ISO and defensive numbers could crated in the full season. As those numbers take a lot of time to stabilize. (4 triples probably being less likely to repeat than the 5 HRs off 13 HR/FB rate)

Can admit i’m sticking my neck out here saying such things.

However as far as “interesting” is concerned. He is has to be one of them given what he flashed in his cup of coffee and knowing that something finally clicked after years of struggling his way in the minors and his raw tools.

Brad Johnsonmember
8 years ago
Reply to  jruby

I’m a big fan of Altherr. I think he’s an easy 3 win outfielder. That’s comparable to their current best player, Odubel.

8 years ago
Reply to  Scalious

Nope, because no one has ever made such a mention until your post just now.

Mark Davidson
8 years ago
Reply to  Whitemikeca

To be fair Altherr is likely to post the second or third best WAR among the Phillies’ position players in 2016. Is he an exciting prospect in the context of the league? No. But he has a chance to be amazing on the Phils. Maybe that’s what he meant…?

8 years ago
Reply to  Mark Davidson

The guy is not a prospect