The glory days of late April feels like so long ago. The times when players like Aaron Altherr and Cesar Hernandez would dominate night in and night out brought the Phillies much success, and some fans (such as myself) were even convinced that this ball club would have a fighting chance to be in the playoff hunt. Perhaps the most exciting part of watching the Phillies of 2017 past is that they brought a legitimate sense of hope to the table. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco were expected to break out of early season slumps and continue their development while leading the inexperienced club. The expectations were sky high for Aaron Nola after an injury-plagued sophomore season, as he looked sharp to begin the year. The bullpen was rebuilt and ready to make-up for the many, many (many, many, many) shortcomings of the previous year. The starting rotation was finally set with legitimate major league arms–in other words, there were no placeholders being thrown to the wolves every fifth day.
However, it’s May 24, and the Phillies have imploded. Herrera is currently in the midst of one of the worst slumps that he has had in his professional career. Odubel is striking out more than ever, and his approach at the plate is nothing like it was during his all-star worthy first-half of 2016 that he was hoping to return to this season. Maikel has improved upon a horrendous start to his season, but his batting average is still hovering in the .220s, and while his RBI are above average, the home runs are nowhere near where they were projected to be in late May. Nola was again injured at the end of April and missed about a month before returning on Sunday against the Pirates. Nick Pivetta struggled in his first taste of major league experience in place of Aaron. The bullpen has been a bit of a horror story to this point in the season. Between the drama, personnel changes, and sheer inability to hold onto leads, it seems as if any time the starting pitcher leaves the game with a lead (which rarely happens these days), then the reliever gives the opponents a free ticket to a comeback.
But as the season progresses, the Phillies lose more and more games, and daily performances cause fans to lose faith in those players who were once thought to be franchise cornerstones of the future (*cough* Maikel Franco *cough*), it is only natural to look to a team which enjoys much success of their own. And it just so happens that there is a team in the Phillies’ organization that has actually been winning games recently: the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The Triple-A club has won 16 of 17 contests, which includes a 12-game winning streak. Many of the organizations top prospects makeup the roster, and plenty of those names are being called upon by fans who can not stand to watch this exact team for much longer. Our Twitter account put up a poll asking which player the fans would like to see called up first.
— PHLSportsNation (@PHLSportsNation) May 24, 2017
Besides the pitcher carousel that occurs about every week, and will assuredly result in a bullpen arm being pulled up from the minor leagues at some point soon, it is safe to assume that the next prospect called up to the major leagues will be an outfielder. There are three main reasons for this assumption: the outfield production has been inconsistent throughout the season, their is no set third outfielder who has proven himself too valuable to give up on, and no significant changes will be made to the infield until late in the season. Once Howie Kendrick returns from the disabled list, Pete Mackanin should roll out a Kendrick-Herrera-Aaron Altherr outfield for a while. Kendrick could be traded or replaced based on his production upon return from injury, which could lead to an open spot. Michael Saunders has been a bust in his short time in Philadelphia, so he will most likely be eliminated from contention.
The above poll lists the three Lehigh Valley outfielders that would be most likely to take over the third spot. Roman Quinn, who spent time with the Phillies at the end of last season, has gotten off to a decent start to this season. He has a .269 batting average with a .339 on-base percentage through 41 games, but he only has 8 stolen bases. Quinn’s calling card is his speed, which makes him dangerous in the outfield and on the base paths. With a high OBP, the speed demon will need to swipe more bags before getting the call to Citizens Bank Park.
Nick Williams was expected to be called up last season before a heavy slump and attitude issues delayed his rise. He is expected to bring a power bat to the Phillies upon his arrival, but the .258 BA and .296 OBP that he is sporting through 42 games in 2017 bring concern about his readiness for the major leagues. Williams can play both corner outfield spots, so his versatility could be valuable when Mackanin decides to where to play he and Altherr.
Dylan Cozens struggled to begin his tenure in Lehigh Valley, but since he has heated up, the IronPigs have been the best team in all of baseball–not just the minor leagues. He has 12 home runs in only the first 42 games of the season, and although his batting average and on-base percentage are low, the power numbers suggest that Cozens will be able to do what he does best (hit home runs) on every level. However, his 63 strikeouts suggest that more than just the bombs transfer to new levels of baseball.
In my opinion, Roman Quinn will be the first of the three outfielders to make the leap to Philadelphia. Williams and Cozens will need more time to develop before being given the chance to break into the big league lineup, and Quinn possesses the tools to contribute something that this team lacks: the ability to get on base. There is one .300-hitter in the major leagues, and not many more players can consistently get on base. Roman would not only be able to get on base and put his teammates in position to score him, but he can also put himself in position to score by wreaking havoc on opposing catchers via stolen bases.
I expect Williams to be called up around September, when the rosters expand to 40 men. Cozens will take a little longer in the minors to fix the obvious flaws in his game, so he will be at Citizens Bank Park at some point next season. Quinn could be up as early as June, but with the way that prospects going to the minor leagues has worked in the Phillies organization, the safe bet would be that he’ll be in the lineup around August.
Be sure to vote on the poll and let us know who you think will be the first Lehigh Valley outfielder to be called up to the major leagues.
Photo by Bryan Green (via Flickr)