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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Phillies Notebook: Gazing into the future

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 15

The Phillies finished 66-96 this season. That’s five fewer wins than in 2016. I predicted they would win five more games than in 2106, but I also stressed that the Phillies’ season should be judged by their progress rather than by wins and losses.

Progress, as I defined it, would be identifying which players should be part of the team’s future. The Phillies appeared to find some pieces to serve as the foundation for their future, while eliminating others. On the other hand, there are still some huge question marks, particularly with regard to the pitching staff.

So, as we look back at the 2017 season in the final Phillies Notebook of the year, let’s evaluate where the Phillies have identified players to be important pieces of their future.

STARTING ROTATION

This is probably the area in which there is the most uncertainty. Before the season, I identified Jerad Eickhoff as the only starter who looked as if he were definitely part of the Phillies’ future. I have to re-evaluate that conclusion after Eickhoff posted a 4-8 record and 4.71 ERA. Instead, it was Aaron Nola, who I listed in “the jury is still out” category before the season, who appears to be a lock for the future rotation.

Phillies-Nola2Future: Nola (left) bounced back from a tough sophomore campaign, compounded by elbow issues, and an uninspiring spring training to post a 12-11 record and 3.54 ERA. Nobody else won more than eight games. Nola was particularly dominating during a stretch of 10 starts during the second half of the season. The Phillies ran numerous pitchers to the mound in 2016, but nobody other than Nola proved he deserved to be considered part of the Phillies’ future.

Forget about it: Clay Buccholz wasn’t part of the future even his season ended due to injury after two starts, but some people were still holding out hope that Vince Velasquez would finally figure out how to pitch. It’s time to pull the plug on that experiment. Velasquez was 2-7 with a 5.13 ERA before a nerve issue in his finger cut short his season. Even more disturbing than Velasquez’s numbers was his lack of confidence. He clearly is frustrated with his performance and is confused about how to improve. It’s time to put Velasquez in the bullpen or trade him.

The jury is still out: Let’s start with Eickhoff . It’s too early to give up on him. After a hard-luck 11-14 record, with a 3.65 ERA, during his first season with the Phillies, it’s too early to write him off after a disappointing second season. Nick Pivetta (8-10, 6.02 ERA) and Ben Lively (4-7, 4.26 ERA) both showed flashes of being decent starters, although inconsistency was a major problem, especially for Pivetta. They at least deserve a shot at making next year’s rotation. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.96 ERA) had some success as a starter, but may be better suited to being a long reliever. The same could be said for Jake Thompson (3-2, 3.88 ERA), who was much better during the latter part of the season after getting off to a disastrous start (in the majors and minors). The Phillies shouldn’t write off Zach Eflin (1-5, 6.16 ERA) – at least not yet. But Eflin isn’t far from being in the “forget about it” category.

BULLPEN

The Phillies used so many relievers this season it could make your head spin. The best of the bunch was veteran Pat Neshek, whom the Phillies sent to the Rockies before the trade deadline. I won’t go through all of this year’s relievers, but I’ll stick to those with more than four appearances.

Future: After a slow start, Hector Neris made a nice adjustment to the closer role. He finished 4-5 with a 3.01 ERA, converting 26 of a 29 save opportunities. There don’t appear to be any other candidates to be the closer. Luis Garcia (2-5, 2.65) shows promise and has a nasty cutter, but he is inconsistent and only converted 2 of 7 save opportunities. The brightest future might belong to Hoby Milner (2.01 ERA in 37 appearances). Adam Morgan (3-3, 4.12 ERA) resurrected his career and appears to be a solid left-handed bullpen option and possible long reliever. Mark Leiter Jr. could be a long reliever if he doesn’t find a place in the starting rotation. I don’t know how far into the future Neris, Garcia and Morgan will be around, but let’s put them in as “sure things” for 2018 and possibly 2019.

Forget about it: The Phillies jettisoned most of the pitchers who fall into this category (i.e. Joely Rodriguez). But some of their young relievers are close to this being placed in this category.

The jury is still out: Everyone else. I know some people are high on Edubray Ramos’ potential, but I was close to putting him in the “forget about it” category after his 2-7 record and 4.21 ERA this season. Ricardo Pinto (1-2, 7.89 ERA in 25 appearances) and Jesen Therrien (0-0, 8.35 ERA in 15 appearances) were saved from the “forget about it” category by their youth. Repeat performances, however, will put them in that category. Victor Arano (1-0, 1.69 ERA) looked good as a late-season callup, but we need to see more before reaching any conclusions. Yacksel Rios (1-0, 4.41 ERA in 13 appearances) deserves another look. The biggest unknown is whether Velasquez will be moved to the bullpen.

CATCHER

Future: Nobody – for now.

Forget about it: Nobody, although Cameron Rupp doesn’t appear to be the long-term answer.

The jury is out: I’m not ready to put Jorge Alfaro in the “future” category after just 29 games in the big leagues. He batted .318 and hit five home runs, but the questions about Alfaro are behind the plate, not at the plate. The Phillies have to hope Alfaro is the answer at catcher. Cameron Rupp batted .217 last season, but displayed some power, hitting 14 home runs and producing 34 RBI in just 88 games. Unless Rupp gets an arbitration award of a salary the Phillies aren’t willing to pay, he could return as Alfaro’s backup. Andrew Knapp (.257 batting average) could be Alfaro’s backup.

FIRST BASE

Future: Rhys Hoskins is clearly a huge part of the Phillies’ future. Hitting 18 home runs and driving in 48 runs in 50 games had people talking about Hoskins’ Hall of Fame future. He tailed off toward the end of the season as pitchers adjusted to his success, but Hoskins has more going for him than simply pure power. He’s a patient hitter who goes to the late with a plan. He should be the Phillies’ first baseman for the next decade.

Forget about it: Tommy Joseph has been displaced by Hoskins at first base, but it’s difficult to discard a player who was second on the team in home runs (22) and RBI (69).

The jury is still out: The jury is still out on Joseph’s future.

SECOND BASE

Future: Scott Kingery. The odd part of this designation is that Kingery, due to contract issues, might not be on the team when the 2018 season begins. The Phillies may keep in the minors long enough to prevent Kingery from gaining a full year of major-league service, thereby delaying his right to arbitration and free agency for year.

Forget about it: Nobody.

The jury is still out: We know what Cesar Hernandez can do. He batted .294 for the second straight season. What’s uncertain is whether Hernandez will start the season as the starter at second base or if Freddy Galvis will move over from shortstop to make room for J.P. Crawford.

Phillies-Galvis swingsSHORTSTOP

Future: Nobody – for now.

Forget about it: Nobody.

The jury is still out: J.P. Crawford will be given an opportunity to be the starter, but, after he batted .214 in 23 games, I’m not prepared to say that Crawford is the future at shortstop. In fact, it’s possible that Crawford might switch positions, at least in the short term, if the Phillies make some other moves with their starting infield. The best defensive option at shortstop is Freddy Galvis (left), but he might be moved out, or shifted to second base, to make room for Crawford.

THIRD BASE

Future: Nobody.

Forget about it: Nobody.

The jury is still out: Maikel Franco led the Phillies in home runs (24) and RBI (76) for the second consecutive season. But he only batted .230 – and needed a late-season surge to reach that number – and had an atrocious on-base percentage of .281. That’s lower than the .255 average and .306 on-base percentage he had in 2016, and those numbers were enough to spark concern. Franco remains extremely inconsistent, putting together torrid streaks but also enduring long droughts. Perhaps the Phillies can take advantage of Franco’s struggles by signing him to a long-term contract below market value. On the other hand, they might explore trade possibilities so they don’t get stuck with Franco if he is a case of “what you see is what you get” and fails to improve.

OUTFIELD

Future: Nobody.

Forget about it: Nobody

The jury is still out: The Phillies’ starting outfield next season should consist of Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams. Whether or not that’s the long-term future is a major question. Herrera, who batted .281 and smashed 42 doubles, is the only Phillie signed to a long-term contract. But his occasional lapses of concentration and failure to hustle all the time lead to speculation that he might not be the long-term answer in center field. Altherr stepped up with 19 home runs and 65 RBI, but recurring injuries put some doubt about his future as a full-time starter. Altherr, who will be 27 in January, isn’t a kid, either. Williams hit 12 home runs and rove in 55 runs while batting .288 during the second half of the season. He struck out 97 times, but also displayed patience at the late (20 walks) that he didn’t show in the minor leagues.

MANAGER

Future: Nobody.

Forget about it: Pete Mackanin. The Phillies extended Mackanin’s contract in May, but then determined that the 66-year-old isn’t part of their future.

The jury is still out: Whomever the Phillies decide to hire.

*****

SEARCH FOR MANAGER: The internal candidates to replace Pete Mackanin include Juan Samuel, a former Phillies player who has been a Phillies coach since 2011, Jorge Velandia, a special assistant to general manager Matt Klentak, and Class AAA Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan. The outside candidates include all of the usual suspects, but we’ll wait until there’s more than just speculation to list all of the names. The feeling here, though, is that Klentak will hire a candidate who hasn’t been a manager elsewhere.

*****

BOWA STAYS HOME: The Phillies coaches were told they are free agents and should seek employment elsewhere, but it’s good to see Larry Bowa remain with the organization as a senior adviser to general manager Matt Klentak, the same position Pete Mackanin was moved to after being removed as manager. Bowa has spent 33 years as part of the Phillies organization, giving his heart and soul to the franchise as a player, manager and coach, so it’s heartening to see him remain with the Phillies for what probably will be the rest of his career.

*****

REDUCED ROLE: Broadcaster Larry Andersen also will return next season, but it will be in a reduced role. Andersen, a former Phillies pitcher who just completed his 20th season as part of the Phillies’ broadcasting role, has decided not to broadcast a full season in 2018.

Andersen has spent the past 11 seasons forming a tremendous duo on radio with Scott Franzke. Known for his candor, sense of humor and criticism of umpires, Andersen will be missed on the nights when he’s not broadcasting.

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