The Philadelphia Phillies were never expected to be any good in 2016, but they’ve done a solid job of staying relevant for most of the season. As things stand, Philadelphia is at 59-68 and nine games back of a wild-card spot.
That may not seem brilliant, but consider this: they sit ahead of the National League’s other rebuilding teams and have just four fewer wins than the New York Mets who reached the World Series last year and came into the season with realistic expectations to win the NL East.
Most importantly, the Phillies have been able to do all this without too much help from their experienced veterans. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins left in 2015, while Carlos Ruiz has started 46 games behind the plate and Ryan Howard 62 games at first base. Instead, guys like Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph, and Freddy Galvis have been presented with more of an opportunity to impress.
Through this increase in game time, youth has also led the way in the team’s success. 23-year-old Maikel Franco leads the Phils with 22 home runs and 72 runs batted in, at 26 Galvis is tops with 20 doubles, 24-year-old outfielder Odubel Herrera has 19 stolen bases and 24-year-old Joseph has a .793 OPS.
In his sophomore season last year, Franco showed plenty of promise by hitting to the tune of a .280 batting average, but the expected power simply wasn’t there. He had only 14 home runs and 50 RBIs as the team was still very reliant on the likes of Ryan Howard to produce at the plate.
A year later, Franco has asserted himself as the engine room of the Phillies offence. His 72 RBIs and 22 home runs account for about than 16.5% of the team’s total, and this year he has also bettered his defence at the hot corner.
The thing with the current Phillies team though is much of these guys are just stop-gaps waiting for younger players to come up and push the team towards its next period of success. Franco is the only member of their starting lineup who you can be confident has a long-term future in the organisation.
Guys like Galvis and Rupp may only be a few years older, but they’re playing positions where the Phillies figure to have other younger options ready to be major league players. Regular starters Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos, Jimmy Paredes, David Lough, Andres Blanco and Darin Ruf, aren’t likely to be around when the team is next fighting for a postseason spot either.
Pitching is something of a different story because much of the team’s more important arms are the scraps of other organisations. Some of the team’s young starters have performed quite well, though, as Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff at 24 and 25 respectively both have eight victories and a sub-4.40 ERA. Jeremy Hellickson could be categorised as ‘scraps’ from the Rays and Diamondbacks, but he has served his purpose by eating plenty of innings and winning more games than anyone else on the team.
The good news is they’ve moved on from a lot of older guys who gave put out on the mound in 2015 with almost all of their starters under the age of 26. Gone are their aging arms of a year ago, with Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams retiring, Cole Hamels traded and Sean O’Sullivan, Chad Billingsley, Kevin Correia and Dustin McGowan seeking greater pastures.
Instead, the youth of Velasquez, Eickhoff, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin have been handed control and combined to win 25 games or a little over 42% of Philadelphia’s total victories.
The good news is the Phillies have reportedly been chasing bats lately, and what is the free agency market stocked with? Bats of course! Experienced hitters Ian Desmond, Adam Lind, Matt Wieters, Mike Napoli, Neil Walker and Justin Turner, are just a few names they’ll take a look at.
We could potentially see a Phillies team with Herrera, Desmond and top-five prospect Nick Williams in the outfield, Franco, J.P. Crawford, Walker and Lind through the infield and Matt Wieters behind the dish. That’d be a team more than capable of winning at least 75 games with some solid pitching. This is obviously all hypothetical, but it certainly isn’t unrealistic to think that they may decide to dish out some dollars in the offseason.
The rotation arms are certainly there to make something work, and we’ve seen how easy it is late to put together a solid bullpen. If Philadelphia can combine some of this exciting youth they already have on the big league roster with some of their upcoming prospects like Crawford and Williams, and sign some free agents with the ample salary cap they have, then the Phillies could be the next breakout organisation sooner than you know it.