Monday, April 4, 2016

Who Are These Guys?

Maikel Franco 

The Phillies will play meaningful baseball today, not that too many people have seemed to take notice of a team that is predicted to lose over 90 games and has literally one household name left on it. I’ve been following spring training with a modicum of interest, really just in an effort to figure out who even plays for this big league club any more.

Last year Jimmy Rollins did not take his spot as the opening day shortstop. This year there will be no Chase Utley playing hard but not playing well at second base. Next year, thankfully, Ryan Howard will not be taking his spot at first base. You’ll see him there plenty this season though.

As for the rest of this team, it’s literally the scene straight out of Major League when fans around the city discussed what the Indians looked like that year. “Who are these ____ing guys?” It’s what they say in the movie, and it’s certainly what any of you looking at a spring training box score were thinking.

Without looking anything up, there’s really only a handful of guys I can name on this roster, and it’s actually the way it needs to be after seeing so many familiar faces not getting the job done the past few years.

Ryan Howard and his contract will be the elephant at first base for the majority of the first half of the season. His play will determine how much, if at all, he'll play post All-Star Break.  Howard is on the books for $25,000,000 this season which accounts for almost 30% of the Phils’ total payroll. Current GM Matt Klentak and to a larger extent, former GM Ruben Amaro, cut $60 million in payroll from 2015 to ’16 ($148M to 88M) when Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, and Cole Hamels were all making 8 figures.

Howard figures to platoon at first base with Darin Ruf when left-handers pitch because Howard has hit lefties just a shade higher than I’ve hit lefties the past few years. Howard stands to make per paycheck what half the team makes for the season, roughly. Watch for some animosity there if Howard isn’t producing much.

Recently extended manager Pete Mackanin’s issues are far from over when it comes to his first baseman. I can name three starting pitcher’s for this team, I wonder if Pete can name more than that?

Jeremy Hellickson, a free-agent brought over from Arizona, will start the season opener today in Cincinnati. Hellickson went 9-12 last year with a 4.62 ERA. It’s the first time since 2008 somebody not named Halladay, Hamels, or Lee will start on opening day for the Phillies. And last year they were the worst team in baseball.

Aaron Nola

Following Hellickson will be the real headliner of the staff, Aaron Nola. Nola is in his first full season in the Bigs and will turn 23 in June. He was the 7th overall pick in the 2014 draft and his starts will matter more than anybody else on the roster this season. It’s a ridiculous comparison, but think Greg Maddux when you think of Aaron Nola. He’s not going to blow that speedball by you and make you look like a fool, boy. He’ll work with pinpoint accuracy and subtle change of speeds to keep hitters off balance.

Every time I hear or read anything about the bullpen it’s that “every spot is up for grabs.” With the departures of  Papelbon and Ken Giles, the Phils will most likely be closing games by committee early in the season until somebody proves their worth. Bullpen names include Jeanmar Gomez, David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa, Hector Neris, Brett Oberholtzer, and James Russell. You get all that?

Rounding out the early season rotation will be Jerad Eickhoff, Charlie Morton, and Vince Velasquez. Sounds like runs.

For a team that hopes 4 of the 5 best position players in the organization are not yet in the Majors, it’s hard to look for bright spots. Maikel Franco is the Phillies best player, hands down. Franco led all of spring-training in both homers (9) and RBI (23) and appears to have a pretty slick glove at third base. He’s the best right handed power bat since Jayson Werth and he needs to put together the kind of season that gives Phillies fans hope for the future. I’d like to see Franco hit .270 with 25+ homers and 80+ RBI. That would be a season we can all live with.

The four guys I refer to above are the future of the team, and waiting in the wings at either AAA - Lehigh Valley or AA - Reading.  JP Crawford (21) is the shortstop heir apparent to Jimmy Rollins. Nick Williams (22) is the power hitting outfielder the Phillies haven’t had for half a decade. Outfielder Roman Quinn (22) opened some eyes in spring training with some power and defensive prowess. Meanwhile, Jorge Alfaro (22) will be looking to eventually replace the current second oldest tenured Phillie in Carlos Ruiz.

The Phils will run back Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez as their double play combination. A duo that can turn a double play if you hit it sharply at them with a man on first and less than two outs. A duo that will collectively slug lower than what Miguel Cabrera averages this season. A duo that strikes fear in their fans. A duo that can hopefully be replaced sooner rather than later.

Odubel Herrera will be the starting centerfielder for the second straight season. Odoobs showed some promise with the bat last year, and also proved to be a half-decent center fielder considering he was a second baseman his entire career until 2015. He will need to be a bit more patient at the plate as he walked only 28 times in 147 games last year. A 5.2 % walk ratio is no good for anybody, let alone someone with his speed who bats at the top of the order.

I expect plenty more names to come and go this season as the Phils look to essentially just get older this season, and for the first time in a while that’s a good thing. The offense will be in short supply with the everyday players the Phils are employing, especially if Ryan Howard continues at his current clip. The pitching will be scary at times, with starters that lack talent. To a greater extent on the scary scale will be the bullpen, where even more unproven talent will attempt to hold leads and keep the Phils in games without much of a calming veteran presence. 

Fans have to hope for flashes of brilliance from the guys who can provide value to this team when it has a chance to be a winner down the road. We want home runs out of Franco. We want shut down innings from Aaron Nola. We want it to be 2020 and have Crawford and Williams reporting to South Philadelphia not Lehigh County.

But for now, let’s just enjoy the wins this young squad will provide us with this season. I’m saying they can get to 70 of them, if things fall just right and they take care of business against the only team in the Majors predicted to be worse than them: The Atlanta Braves.

Also, do yourself a favor and listen to Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen as much as possible. They are as good as it gets. It's easy to play Scott.


  1. Here's hoping it's a season worth commentary to spark enough interest to keep us in the game.

  2. I like helly today vs this lineup!! Think we'll get 6 solid innings from him, interested to see who will close it out though if we get to that point ...

  3. Craig lookin' into his crystal ball again !!!

  4. Solid read. Thank god finally its a good thing to be getting older! Be worth watchin for first time in 3 years.

  5. Very nice post.really I apperciate your blog.Thanks for sharing.keep sharing more blogs.