The Phillies are moving quickly to the end of the schedule, waiting to put 2017 in the rearview mirror. Much of this season has been a lost cause, except for the last months when they showcased some long awaited talent.
Though the team did struggle to consistently add to the win column, it’s not an inconceivable notion to see this young Phillies squad race up the standings in 2018. A core led by LSU product Aaron Nola on the bump, and eye-popping slugger Rhys Hoskins, the next generation of Phillies could begin scratching .500 sooner than you think.
Yes, this comes after a year when they are on pace to finish with one of the club’s worst records in recent memory, 57-89 as of this writing.
The Phils have utilized September call-ups to wet the feet at the major league level of a few potential stars primed for roster competition come spring time. J.P Crawford and Jorge Alfaro are both seen as the successors at shortstop and catcher, respectively. Each have been gaining more plate appearances and experience as the games go by with manager Pete Mackanin opting for the future over what’s been working- or not- in Freddy Galvis and Cameron Rupp.
Thus far, each have played like the future cornerstones of a Phillies World Series team. Alfaro should be atop the catching depth chart in 2018 following a disappointing campaign for Rupp. At 28 years old, Rupp replaced Carlos Ruiz when the Phils moved on from the fan favorite. Rupp barely managed a .216 average to go with a .300 on-base percentage, and seemingly lost time in the lineup. Crawford’s place is still a question, though there is no doubt the talent is there.
Unlike other teams who have much of the roster makeup complete for next year, the Phillies have decisions to make. Crawford, Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco will be competing for three starting spots around the infield. Presumably, one becomes the Andres Blanco-esque utility guy.
Defensively, Galvis is Gold Glove caliber, but his bat is lacking. In order for the Phillies to reach .500, they may opt to further build the farm by moving the pending free agent. With Hernandez proving his worth for a roster spot, it’ll be hard to make a case to move him out to a rival. In any case, the Phillies infield is crowded, which is not necessarily a bad problem to have. This spring will be crucial for management in choosing the right players to progress in the rebuild one step closer. First base is the only given for Mackanin’s team.
Current first baseman Tommy Joseph is a near-lock to be dealt at this coming MLB Winter Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Joseph was the key prospect in the 2012 Hunter Pence to San Francisco trade. With Hoskins’ rise proving to be no fluke, it appears the Phillies are ready to move on from the catcher-turned-first baseman. When a team comes calling for Joseph with a fair return, Matt Klentak should be pulling the trigger. It’s a given that Hoskins will supplant him as the everyday first baseman, given his success thus far.
Hoskins, 24, is already establishing records in just 118 at-bats. He’s lighting it up with three separate streaks of at least three consecutive games with a home run. He’s also become the fastest player to hit 17 home runs in his major league career, doing so in just 33 games. The rookie made his long awaited debut August 10 after proving everything he has in the minors, smacking 67 homers between Reading and Lehigh Valley. After starting 0-10 at the plate, he’s settled in just fine.
Dubbed “Rhys Lightning”, Hoskins will be a key component to the Phillies chances of breaking even next year in which they face the always-tough American League East among the plethora of playoff-capable clubs. Hoskins’ power surge has already put him in competition as one of the most feared hitters in baseball, regardless of his team’s success. The Phillies have had no option but to play him full time this month, considering his prowess at the plate. Mackanin went as far as playing Hoskins in the outfield, a position he hasn’t played regularly in since freshman year of college before his promotion.
The rookie will eventually come back to earth from his torrid home run rate and batting line of .314/.442/.805 next year, but if he can keep up the power stroke over a full season, he has a legitimate chance to claim the Silver Slugger award, All Star game representative, and even be a dark horse for the National League Most Valuable Player awards. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s hope he can rank near the top in rookie of the year voting this year after his unprecedented start.
Next season is all about making the leap forward. 2017 was a step backward with their performance, however, a great jump towards grooming the next slew of Phillies stars. Rebuilds take time, effort, and dedication. Going on six years since the inception of the rebuild and 10 years since the World Series championship, it’s time for the Phils to make the right moves. 2018 is critical for their prospects, and fans.
Since many of the future pieces have made their debuts and become more comfortable with the majors, it’s time to stop signing bridge arms like Jeremy Hellickson or Clay Buchholz and instead spend money to bring in a long-term player to mesh with Crawford, Nola, Alfaro, Hoskins, and the other young guns. It may not be time to get their ace yet, but they also can’t continue to piece together a starting rotation. Spend, spend, spend on pitching, continue growing the farm system through winter and spring ball, and look ahead- the end (of the playoff drought) is near.
The time is ripe to iron out the kinks, mold the team together, and set goals higher than simply “to win games.” I’m a believer in this young group. The 2018 Phillies can reach for .500 this coming season, potentially keeping up with the second wild card spot race.
What better time than the 10-year anniversary of the club’s second world championship to bring excitement back to Philadelphia baseball? Don’t look now, but the future is here.
Photo: Laura Nawrocik via Flickr