In just 11 short days, the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies will start trickling into Clearwater, Florida for every baseball fan’s favorite time of the Winter, Spring Training. February 13th marks the day that pitchers and catchers will be reporting for duty, marking our first taste of 2017 Phillies baseball. In honor of just these 11 days to go, I personally have come up with 11 predictions for the Phils for this upcoming year. Some seem pretty realistic, while some might seem a little farfetched, but that’s the fun of it! Often times people find that their preseason predictions for anything in any sport almost never happen. Who else had the Falcons making it to the Super Bowl before the season started?… I’ll wait. With that said, here are my 11 predictions for the 2017 version of the Philadelphia Phillies.
1.) Vince Velasquez leads the team in wins.
– Now here’s my first whammy. A lot of things have to go right for Velasquez to lead this staff in wins. One thing would be health. This guy has to stay on the field more than he did during the 2016 season. His 24 starts will hopefully see an increase to around the 30-35 start range. He made only 3 starts in June and 1 start in September this past season due to some injuries that led to the team ultimately shutting him down for the latter part of the season. We all saw in April, though, what Velasquez is capable of. An April in which he threw to a 3-1 record with a 1.78 ERA in 4 starts, including a 16-strikeout performance against the Padres on April 14th, showed us a glimpse of the abilities the 24-year-old has in his right arm. If he can put a full healthy season together, we could be talking about him as the ace of this team for years to come.
2.) LHPs Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos both make the team out of Spring Training.
– This guess is solely based on the fact that these two lefties are the only left-handed relievers with a sufficient amount of Major League experience in camp for the Phillies. 25-year-old Joely Rodriguez, with a whole 9.2 innings pitched at the Major League level, is not only the lone lefty listed in the bullpen on the Phillies’ depth chart according to MLB.com, but he’s the only one on the entire roster including starting pitchers. Burnett and Ramos come into the Spring on Minor League deals with invites to Spring Training, but teams always end up with players signed to these kinds of deals on the Opening Day roster. These two veterans seem to fit perfectly into what the Phillies need in their bullpen. Rodriguez could afford to have some more time in Triple-A, where I think Luis Garcia would end up being the odd man out in a bullpen that would likely consist of Burnett and Ramos, as well as the newly signed tandem of Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek. Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos figure to round out the ‘pen. The 34-year-old Burnett and 32-year-old Ramos seem to be the more reliable of the potential bullpen candidates that the Phils have heading into the Spring. Burnett can be the lefty specialist the Phils desperately need, and Ramos, who has experience in this role as well as starting and long relief, can be a versatile lefty for the club this year.
3.) None of the Phillies’ top prospects will start the year in the Majors.
– Here’s looking at you, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Roman Quinn, JP Crawford, Andrew Knapp and the rest of the guys down on the farm. The Phillies, although seemingly improved as a whole from last year, still see the future as a more important time than the present. All of their youngsters still have time to get more experience in Triple-A before they make the jump to the bigs for good. The signings of potential veteran bench players such as Andres Blanco, Daniel Nava and Ryan Hanigan, and the trade for veteran starter Clay Buchholz, signal the likelihood of the Phillies still taking their time with their young studs and letting them get full playing time in the Minors, as opposed to sitting behind more established Major League talent on the big club. Their time will come, whether it be mid 2017 after some trades, September 2017, or April 2018. Have patience, folks.
4.) Maikel Franco reaches 30 home runs and 95 RBI.
– Yes, I’m taking the under on the 100 RBI mark for Maikel Franco, but just barely. Last season, the Phillies’ rising star knocked 25 home runs into the seats with 88 RBI in 581 at-bats. Maikel did play in 152 games, a solid number for anyone these days, so you would have thought that he could join the 30 and 100 club in his first full major league season. He had an overall solid season, but the little support that he had around him in the Phils’ lineup was a big reason why his stats didn’t look even better. Look for his supporting cast, helped by the additions of Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick, to help him out a little more in this regard, leading to an increase in the power numbers for Franco. I don’t want to go as far as him eclipsing 100 RBI just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he did in fact reach that number. For now, I’ll leave him slightly below that mark.
5.) Clay Buchholz gets demolished in the National League.
– Now, as much as I would like to, I can’t predict everything to be all peachy for the 2017 Phillies if I want to get any of these right. The fan in me wants to say that the whole entire Phillies rotation is set for a good year. The realest in me says that if all 5 starters had good seasons, that would basically by default make the Phillies a playoff team, which they are not. Therefore, something has to go wrong in the rotation, other than injuries of course. My best bet is that the acquisition of Buchholz doesn’t work out in the Phils’ favor. Buchholz will look a lot like he did during the better part of last year, getting shellacked in most of his starts. This will make it tough to get something back for him at the Trade Deadline, but luckily some of the other acquisitions the Phillies made will likely pan out and get them nice returns.
6.) Howie Kendrick, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek net the Phillies some nice prospects by July 31st.
– Like I just mentioned, some of the 1-year signees Matt Klentak has made this offseason will end up working out for the Phillies, netting them some more young talent in the process. Playoff hungry clubs are already salivating at the players the Phils have signed knowing that they aren’t in their long term plans, basically guaranteeing that they will be on the trading block come mid-Summer. Teams that need that one extra piece will be calling the Phillies to check on what they want for their veterans, and I predict that these three players will enjoy a very good first 3-4 months of the season, therefore forcing teams on the cusp of a postseason spot to pull the trigger on these types of deals. You think the Phillies have some good, young depth right now. Wait until the clock is ticking at the end of July. They might look even better.
7.) Michael Saunders earns himself another year in a Phillies uniform.
– Michael Saunders was an All-Star last year. Yes, the Michael Saunders that hit .178 in the second half of the season was the same player who was one of the better outfielders in the American League in the first half of 2016, posting a .298 batting average with 16 Home Runs and 42 RBI in 82 games prior to the All-Star break. If you just go ahead and double his first half numbers, he was on pace for 32 home runs and 84 RBI. I don’t see him hitting quite as many home runs for the Phillies, but 20-25 doesn’t seem too far out of reach for the 30-year-old, especially since he ended this past season with 24, even with the dreadful second half of the year. A season in which Saunders hits around .270-.280 with those 20-25 home runs and 75-85 RBI seems realistic once again, and it also seems like a year that could see the Phillies pick up his 2018 option. Howie Kendrick likely won’t be here heading into 2018, freeing up a spot for Nick Williams or Roman Quinn. Saunders could hold down right field for the Phils this year and next year, possibly shifting back to his natural left field spot after Kendrick leaves, if he shows that he can turn his first half of 2016 into a good full 2017 season.
8.) Jeremy Hellickson pitches like an ace in the first half and the Phillies trade him for Major League ready talent.
– Remember last year when it seemed like Jeremy Hellickson was practically a guarantee to be traded? Well, he’s still here, and this year seems like it’ll be the same deal. Rumors will swirl with Hellickson’s name in the middle of tons of trade talk. There will be two differences this year, though. Hellickson will live up to the potential he showed as the 2011 Rookie of the Year and finally pitch like an ace, and he will most definitely be traded away from the Phillies. In return, the Phillies will get more than they would have if they traded him last season or during this Winter. Hellickson and Jerad Eickhoff were the steadiest arms in the 2016 Phillies rotation, and look for that to continue along with Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez coming around. I think Hellickson will throw up the best stats of the 4 leading up to July 31st, and he will be of high demand when that deadline comes. Maybe the Phillies can package him and one of their talented middle infielders, Cesar Hernandez or Freddy Galvis, to not only pave the way for JP Crawford, but to also get Major League ready talent at different positions.
9.) Tommy Joseph hits bombs, but bombs everything else.
– Like I said when talking about Clay Buchholz earlier, I can’t have all good predictions. I predict that Tommy Joseph once again shows solid numbers in the power department. Along with this, he will be pretty subpar, if not flat out bad, in other departments. A season in which TJ hits 25-30 home runs while batting around .230-.240 and striking out over 100 times seems to be right around where I think he ends up, while playing average to below average defense. Sounds like some other guy we have had at first base before. Anyway, as that other guy has shown in the past, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have a first baseman who just hits balls out of the ballpark, but in this current state of the game with all of these analytics being thrown around on the daily, Joseph could see his stock plummet this season.
10.) JP Crawford finally gets called up… on August 1st.
– Why August 1st? See Jeremy Hellickson above. I think ultimately Galvis or Hernandez is shipped off to another team when the trade deadline comes around, thus paving the way for the Phils’ prized prospect. The influx of young talent coming up from the Minors is upon us, and JP will be the head of that crew. He’s going to have himself a heck of a season at Lehigh Valley, and it will be tough for the Phillies to keep him down there all the way up to August 1st, but they’ll realize that the more experience he has and the more continuous at-bats he gets, the better player he will be. Once they rid themselves of the expendable Galvis, or if a good deal comes around for Hernandez, it will be Crawford’s time to shine.
11.) The Phillies finish right around .500, but still finish in 4th place in the NL East.
– The Phillies will 100% be a better team than they were in 2016. They filled a few holes with experienced veterans. Their young players will be back with another year of baseball and experience under their belt. This team is improved and it will show in the win column. With that said, they are not going to beat out the Mets and Nationals, and they will have a hard time beating out the Marlins. The Nats and Mets will once again be top contenders in the NL, and I think the Marlins have themselves a solid club featuring Giancarlo Stanton and the emerging young studs that they have in Christian Yelich, JT Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna. The Braves will be bottom feeders. Sorry, Atlanta. Good luck in the Super Bowl, though! Anyway, the Phils, who went 71-91 in 2016, won’t see their losses hit the 90’s this year. 81-81 seems like a realistic record for them. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they had slightly less or slightly more than 81 wins or losses. I’ll put them for the sake of these predictions at 79-83. A lot of things have to go right for them to surpass the other 3 teams in the division, and I hope they do all go right, but my guess is that things won’t work out as perfect as we want them to.
So there you have it. It’s likely that none of these will happen. I don’t have a crystal ball. I just have an odd and hopeful mind. Let’s hope Tommy Joseph hits 40 bombs and Clay Buchholz wins 15 games or wins enough games in the first half to get us a good trade return at the deadline. Let’s hope Maikel Franco hits 35 home runs and drives in 105. Let’s hope Vince Velasquez wins 18 games and strikes out 225 batters. For now, all we can do is hope. In 11 days, though, those hopes will start to look a lot more like reality, as our Phils finally get back to work.
Photo: steve_trapani (Via: Flickr)
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