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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Phillies preview: Building for the future

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 30

That’s the proper criteria for judging the Phillies this season.

It’s not about making the playoffs or finishing above .500. Both of those accomplishments would be pleasant surprises, but this season is about being better than last season and identifying which players should be part of the team’s future.

There is a lurking suspicion that some of the players on the roster are not part of the future. They are merely placeholders until prospects are ready to rise from the minor leagues.

So, as we examine the 2017 Phillies, let’s evaluate whether or not players are part of the Phillies’ future.

STARTING ROTATION

Future: Jerad Eickhoff was a hard-luck 11-14 last season. With a 3.65 ERA, Eickhoff probably deserved better, but the Phillies didn’t provide him with much support. There isn’t enough evidence to make a final determination, but, despite getting tagged for six runs in 2/3 innings by the Yankees during his final spring training start, Eickhoff looks like he’s part of the future rotation.

Placeholders: The Phillies signed Clay Buchholz with the hope that they can flip the 33-year-old at the trade deadline for something more valuable for their future. He hasn’t given many signs during spring training (1-2, 5.94 ERA) that he will bring the Phillies much in return. Jeremy Hellickson, the opening day starter, also doesn’t appear to be in the Phillies’ long-term plans. They re-signed him to a one-year, $17.2 million contract during the offseason. The price makes him expensive, but a contract that expires after this season might be attractive to a contending team in need of a reliable arm at midseason. Hellickson turns 30 years old next week.

Phillies-Nola3The jury is still out: Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola (left) have displayed promise, yet neither has cemented a spot as part of the Phillies’ future. Nola, the seventh overall selection in the 2014 draft, was 6-2 after getting called up during the 2015 season, but dipped to 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA last season while experiencing elbow issues. Nola dodged surgery and says he’s healthy, but his 0-3 record and 8.38 ERA during spring training doesn’t inspire confidence. There were reports last season that the Phillies were shopping Velasquez. That’s because Velasquez rarely lasts six innings, and often didn’t make it through the fifth. He throws far too many pitches, which puts a strain on the bullpen. Velasquez must learn to harness his ability and learn to pitch effectively or else he won’t be part of the future rotation.

Waiting in the wings: Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, Ricardo Pinto, Drew Anderson.

BULLPEN

Future: Who knows? Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos might stick around for a few years. Neris was 4-4 last season with a 2.58 ERA. Ramos was 1-3 with a 3.83 ERA. They are as close as the Phillies have to long-term options in the bullpen.

Placeholders: Joaquin Benoit, who may end up as the closer this season, will turn 40 years old in July. Pat Neshek is 36. There are pitchers the Phillies added to the bullpen during the offseason.

The jury is still out: Jeanmar Gomez was the closer last season before fading down the stretch. His final record was 3-5 with a 4.85 ERA and 37 saves in 43 opportunities. Gomez may be best-suited for a bullpen role other than the closer. Can Adam Morgan make the transition from starting pitcher to long reliever or is he merely biding his time until he gets a starting opportunity? The jury isn’t even close to coming to a verdict on left-hander Joely Rodriguez.

Waiting in the wings: Who knows? It could be Velasquez if he doesn’t learn how to pitch deep in games.

CATCHER

Future: Nobody – for now.

Placeholder: Cameron Rupp could appear in the future category as well. Rupp is only 28 years old. He batted a solid .252 last season while producing 16 home runs and 54 RBI. But, with Jorge Alfaro waiting in the wings, Rupp might simply be a placeholder until Alfaro is ready.

The jury is out: Andrew Knapp beat out a couple of veterans to earn the backup catcher position. Batting .222 during spring training hardly cements the 25-year-old Knapp as par tof the future.

Waiting in the wings: Jorge Alfaro.

FIRST BASE

Future: Nobody – for now.

Placeholder: None.

The jury is still out: Tommy Joseph made quite an impression last season, slugging 21 home runs and driving in 47 runs in just 107 games. But less than two-thirds of a season doesn’t earn you a likely spot in the future. Furthermore, Joseph’s on-base percentage was only .308 and he hit a lot of solo homers. Joseph will have to improve his on-base percentage and continue his success for a longer period to earn a place as part of the future. The jury is, obviously, still out on Brock Stassi, who completed a long journey to the major leagues by earning a spot on the 25-man roster with a fantastic spring training.

Waiting in the wings: Rhys Hoskins

SECOND BASE

Future: Nobody

Placeholder: Cesar Hernandez led the Phillies in batting average (.294) and triples (11) last season, but he appears to be viewed as a placeholder, perhaps until Freddy Galvis moves over from shortstop.

The jury is still out: Hernandez could appear in this category as well.

Waiting in the wings: Scott Kingery

SHORTSTOP

Future: None

Placeholder: Slick-fielding Freddy Galvis is supposedly just keeping the seat warm for J.P. Crawford, who could ascend to the majors as soon as this year. Galvis hit 20 home runs last season and produced 67 RBI, but his on-base percentage was an atrocious .274. Galvis could become a backup when Crawford reaches the majors, or he could start at second base.

The jury is still out: Nobody.

Waiting in the wings: J.P. Crawford.

THIRD BASE

Phillies-Franco throwsFuture: Maikel Franco (the Phillies hope).

Placeholder: Versatile veteran Andres Blanco will continue to back up Franco until someone shows they can do it better.

The jury is still out: Maikel Franco (left) is already a good player. He led the Phillies in home runs (25) and RBI (88) last season. But he only batted .255 and had a .306 on-base percentage. Franco was very inconsistent, putting together torrid streaks but also enduring long droughts. Franco will have to show more than that to get the big-money, long-term contract that he surely will expect in the coming years. The Phillies must decide whether he’s worth that type of contract.

Waiting in the wings: Nobody is going to unseat Franco if he develops consistency at the plate.

OUTFIELD

Future: Odubel Herrera enjoyed a breakout season last year, batting .286 and leading the Phillies in stolen bases (25). The Phillies signed him to a long-term contract that will increase his salary every year until – if the Phillies don’t guy him out – it will reach $12.5 milion, 10 times what he will be paid this season. With Roman Quinn on the horizon, however, Herrera’s future might not be in center field.

Placeholders: Howie Kendrick, 33, signed a one-year contract for $10 million. Michael Saunders, 30, has two years on his contract. Both will have to be terrific to get a commitment from the Phillies for a longer time.

The jury is still out: At 26 years old, Aaron Altherr is beginning to get a little old to be considered a prospect. He’s 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, but Altherr hasn’t been able to win a starting role yet in the big leagues. The jury is also out on Daniel Nava, who made the 25-man roster with a productive spring training.

Waiting in the wings: Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens.

OUTLOOK

As I’ve stressed throughout this preview, this season is about progress and identifying pieces for the future, not about winning right now. Having said that, it would be a positive sign if the Phillies won more games than they did last season when they finished 71-91. The improvement depends heavily on the starting pitching, and I’m concerned about Nola and Buchholz and not overly confident about Velasquez making the adjustment from a thrower to a pitcher.  Prediction: 76-86

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