Analysis

Offseason 2015 Deep Dive: Middle Infield

Until the beginning of the Winter Meetings (Dec. 7-10 in Nashville, Tenn.), I’ll be doing a deep dive on the Phillies with particular focus on their offseason plans. What may happen? What’s the future hold? Seriously, how excited should you be?

We’ll try to answer all the questions here.

Today: Second Base, Shortstop.

Second Base

cesar+hernandezPast – Well, we had a guy. He was the best second baseman we ever had. He might be a Hall of Famer. His name was Chase Utley. Still is, actually.

Dark days, ya’ll.

MLB PresentCesar Hernandez, 25; Andres Blanco, 31; Darnell Sweeney, 25

In the effort to move on from the Chase Utley Era, the Phillies give us Cesar, who will we neither praise nor bury. Hernandez now has 708 major league plate appearances (seems like more, right?), and in them he’s put up a .269 average with a .331 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage. Those first two averages are fine at second base. The third? Not so great.

Here’s the short version on Hernandez: He’s not a difference-making offensive player. He needs more extra-base hits to be effective but isn’t getting them. Defensively he’s very average, not the wizard we thought we were getting in 2013. That means he’s not necessarily a long-term solution. But he’s cheap, and there’s no reason to diverge from him yet, so he’ll probably stay put. Let’s hope for a line like .265/.330/.340, which isn’t much different from 2015, but with improved defense.

Better news is we also have Blanco, who signed on for 2016, avoiding arbitration. Blanco – who turns 32 a week after the 2016 season begins – had a career season for the Phillies last year, hitting .292/.360/.502 in 261 appearances. He also sugged seven home runs and lashed 22 doubles. He was outstanding.

Blanco doesn’t kill you defensively, and he can play practically every infield position, so he’s useful. Even if he regresses in 2016 (which he should), the Phils will probably get acceptable value for him. And if the Phils trade Hernandez or shortstop Freddy Galvis, Blanco can step in and start for as long as necessary.

Sweeney, acquired in the Utley trade, is a Swiss army knife who will be asked to play second base, maybe third base, and definitely plenty of outfield. He turned in a crude 98-appearance line of .176/.286/.353 last season, but notice that the slugging percentage was actually higher than Hernandez’s. Why? Eight extra-base hits, which isn’t bad.

It’s possible the Phillies send Sweeney back to triple-A to work on a few things (his defense everywhere is plainly mediocre), but if not, hopefully he gets a couple spot starts each week to spell starters. He probably wouldn’t be a drop from Hernandez at second (call it .260/.325/.380 with eight homers and 15 doubles), but his versatility may be his greatest value chip.

MiLB PresentAngelys Nina, 27; Carlos Alonso, 28

Two weeks ago the Phillies quietly signed Nina to a minor league contract. The former Rockies farmhand put up a .300/.333/.402 line with four home runs, 50 runs batted in, 46 strikeouts and 22 walks in triple-A Albuquerque in 2015. Those are slightly improved numbers from 2014, but as a note, those are Pacific Coast League numbers. Offense is inflated there.

Nina’s exactly the kind of middle infielder the Phillies need in triple-A: an unknown quantity capable of taking over the job in case of injury. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Nina get a shot with the Phils in 2016.

Alonso tore his ACL, victim of a dirty slide, early in the 2015 season; before the injury he was hitting .262 with a .392 on-base mark (nine walks, six strikeouts). He also plays solid defense and, yes, is the brother of Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso. He’s probably more organizational filler than a future major leaguer, but it’s possible the Phils give him a look in 2016.

Further Down the LineAngelo Mora, 23; Derek Campbell, 24; Drew Stankiewicz, 22; Jesmuel Valentin, 21; Scott Kingery, 22; Tim Zier, 24; Josh Tobias, 23

Here’s a name to pocket: Angelo Mora. Turning 23 in February, this Dominincan second sacker went .327/.411/.531 with 27 strikeouts and 16 walks, plus 13 extra-base knocks, in 113 at bats in Reading last year. That’s after pulling a .304/.326/.405 mark with 28 strikeouts and eight walks in Clearwater.

This came out of nowhere. It certainly helps, as Mora was known for a pedestrian offensive game and poor defense. Now he suddenly has an opportunity at real advancement. Don’t get too excited, though: unless he’s a near-elite offensive player at second base, he doesn’t have a great shot. Put it this way: Blanco is an average defender with great major-league offensive numbers, and he’s a backup at best. He’ll probably start 2016 back in Reading.

Campbell, who rivals Andrew Knapp for best mustache in the organization, is not highly regarded (.257/.352/.352 in 105 Clearwater at bats). Stankiewicz is slightly more skilled, hitting a decent .283 with a .345 on-base percentage across Lakewood and Clearwater in 2015. He’ll probably return to Clearwater to start 2016.

Valentin, a native of Puerto Rico, was suspended after a domestic violence arrest in April. He returned for the end of the 2015 season and hit .273 with a .351 on-base mark and .424 slugging percentage last year in Clearwater. He’s still a good prospect, showing easy play at second and a good plate approach. He’ll likely start in Clearwater again but should jump to Reading quickly.

Kingery, meanwhile, was the Phillies’ second-round pick in 2015 (after Cornelius Randolph). He boasts a good glove but a plus contact tool, which didn’t quite show up in 2015 in Lakewood (.250/.314/.337). To be fair, he started that year playing for his University of Arizona Wildcats. He’s still pretty advanced, so look for him to start 2016 in Clearwater with a real shot at jumping the line and moving to Reading, and ahead of Valentin. He literally could be in pinstripes by April 2017.

Zier is old for Lakewood, but he may have to stay there considering a shin injury zapped him of game time in 2015, and there’s quite a glut of talent ahead of him. He had a poor 2015 when healthy (.264/.339/.283).

Finally, Tobias can hit (.321/.362/.475 in Williamsport with four homers and a 42/14 K/BB) but his glove needs work. He’ll probably head to Lakewood as a starter.

Present Need – There’s no present need at second base. Hernandez can do the job in 2016. Sweeney should get something of an audition.

The need comes in 2017, when the Phils could have a prospect ready to go (Kingery), a prospect near ready (Valentin) or nothing at all. Hernandez isn’t a long-term solution, as I noted, so decisions will come, but they won’t have to happen immediately.

Future – No certainty yet. It could be Kingery, could be Valentin, could be something else entirely different. We’re punting on second base this year. Which is fine.

***

JP CrawfordShortstop

Past – Same story as second base, only replace the part that reads “second baseman” for “shortstop,” and the part that reads “Chase Utley” for “Jimmy Rollins.”

Sigh.

MLB Present – Freddy Galvis, 26; Blanco

Galvis is not the future at shortstop in Philadelphia. In 1,153 plate appearances (a solid indicator), he has a .241 average, a .282 on-base mark and .352 slugging mark. Don’t be fooled by the seven home runs or 50 runs batted in, either; his extra-base-hit percentage decreased to 4.3, worst thus far in his career.

Bluntly, Galvis is a singles hitter who doesn’t possess elite speed. He’s an average to below-average fielder who hasn’t had positive run-saving numbers at shortstop since 2012.

If the Phillies can dangle Galvis to a team desperate for a low-cost place-holding shortstop, they should seriously consider a deal. Blanco – described above – can fill the space until the new shortstop arrives.

Otherwise, a 2016 season for Galvis could look something like .265/.300/.350 with eight-10 home runs and 12-15 stolen bases.

MiLB PresentJ.P. Crawford, 21; K.C. Serna, 26

Turning 21 in January, J.P. Crawford will be the new shortstop of the Philadelphia Phillies. The 2013 first-round pick started 2015 in Clearwater, drilling pitchers at a .392 average, .489 on-base percentage and .443 slugging percentage. It didn’t take long for Crawford to be promoted to Reading, and he (.265/.354/.407, 33 XBH in 351 AB) helped drive the Fightin’ Phils to the Eastern League Championship Series. Crawford also assumed a leadership role with Reading; clearly, the kid seems to know what his future holds.

That future is as a very possible cornerstone of the Philadelphia Phillies. Crawford was highly touted when drafted and hasn’t yet stumbled. He flashes a potentially elite glove, has very good speed, hits extremely well and has decent shortstop power. He’s the complete package, a likely top-three world prospect heading into 2016, and, maybe, the rightful heir to Rollins’ throne.

But no … no pressure at all, J.P.

He’ll probably start 2016 in Lehigh Valley (outside chance he spends April in Reading) and could be called to Philly by mid-season.

Serna is past true prospect age, and he wasn’t a prospect anyway. He split time in 2015 between Reading and Lehigh Valley, faring poorly offensively but hold his own on defense. He can play shortstop and second base, so in a pinch, he could get a call to Philly early in the season, especially if the Phils don’t want to rush Crawford to the show.

Further Down the LineMalquin Canelo, 21; Emmanuel Marrero, 22; Dylan Bosheers, 23; William Cuicas, 21; Grenny Cumana, 20; Luis Espiritu Jr., 19; Jonathan Arauz, 17; Arquimedes Gamboa, 18; Lucas Williams, 19

In the Phillies organization since 2012, Canelo – a standout shortstop from an early age – is now steadily moving up. He hit a nice .281/.331/.396 across Lakewood and Clearwater last season, but his real value is an elite glove that may be better than Crawford’s. He may be moved quickly to Reading, but it’s also possible he opens 2016 getting a little more time in Florida.

Marrero split time between Lakewood and Clearwater in 2015, and was pretty bad in both levels (full season .187/.239/.258). He is, however, a plus fielder at shortstop, but with those offensive numbers, he’ll need some serious time with the bat. It looks as if he’ll probably start 2016 in one of those levels and is not an impact prospect at this time.

Of the other names (all on the Williamsport roster, so prepare for substantial shuffling), Cumana may be the most likely to move up the ranks.

International free agents Jonathan Arauz and Arquimedes Gamboa are both very young and raw, playing in the Gulf Coast League. Gamboa may be the better long-term project, but both are still a ways from being serious prospects.

Present Need – Nothing really. Galvis can start in the majors until Crawford is ready. Galvis can be traded, and Blanco can start in the majors until Crawford is ready. Basically we’re waiting on Crawford.

Most of the Phils’ depth is in the low levels, which means Canelo may be slightly rushed to Reading. Depth to play at that level could be nice.

Future – This one’s easy: J.P. Crawford.

***

Next: Saturday I’ll go over the outfield.

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