Analysis

Offseason 2015 Deep Dive: Outfield

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: The Outfield

Center Field

OdubelPast – We figured the Phillies would enter 2015 with Ben Revere playing center field. But they selected Rangers prospect Odubel Herrera – an infielder who could transition to the outfield – in the Rule 5 Draft. The Phils suggested Herrera could start the season as the everyday center fielder, which seemed ambitious, but the idea worked … and better than anyone probably imagined.

MLB Present – Odubel Herrera, 24; Peter Bourjos, 29; Darnell Sweeney, 25

Unless General Manager Matt Klentak stuns us with a trade, “El Torito” will be your starting center fielder for the 2016 Phillies. Defensively he had his moments, taking circuitous routes to fly balls, but he was practically learning on the job, at the highest level. And as the year progressed, Herrera showed true skill playing the position. According to Baseball Reference, he saved 10 more runs above the average center fielder in 2015. For a rookie playing everyday center for a big-league team, that’s highly impressive.

The offense, too, was impressive. Known for a good contact tool, Herrera showed solid skill there (.297/.344/.418). He also stole 16 bases, being caught eight times. But it was his power that stunned most often: 41 extra-base hits in 537 plate appearances, including 30 doubles and eight home runs. And his home runs were no joke.

Herrera’s biggest weakness is plate discipline: 129 strikeouts, 28 walks. That needs to improve. Because he’s still learning on the job, and pitchers are still adjusting to him, expect his numbers to possibly drop a little in 2016, but hopefully not too much. We’ll go with .280/.330/.415, eight-10 home runs and, hopefully, a K/BB ratio more like 3/1 and not 4.5/1.

Now, the reason I say “stuns us with a trade” of Herrera is because the Phillies just claimed off waivers, and signed to a one-year deal, Bourjos, a singles-hitting, fast, and solid defensive outfielder who could be a fine everyday center fielder.

Bourjos is known for his glove, which has at times been elite, but as of late has been more “good.” His bat, meanwhile, can be average, or even slightly above it, but has mostly been poor. But it’s still hard to put a definitive word on Bourjos, as he was shuffled around quite a bit during his time in St. Louis. Analysts will say he needs a full season of consistent plate appearances to show his true value.

Go back to 2015. He didn’t start a lot for the Cardinals, registering a .200/.290/.333 line with 59 strikeouts and 19 walks over 225 plate appearances. So it’s not a lot. He only stole five bases and was caught eight times. Again, not good.

Defensively, most metrics say he was below average in 2015. He seemed to be above average in 2014, but below average in 2013, but far above average in 2010, ‘11 and ‘12. So again, no definitive answers.

Here’s the deal: Bourjos, as of right now, is probably a starting outfielder, likely to play in left field. He’s a low-risk, medium-reward candidate who acts at worst as passable filler between now and the future, and at best as a surprising contributor who could be traded later in the season. It’s possible he is relegated to the bench, platooning with Cody Asche in left field and getting a ton of pinch running assignments. That wouldn’t expose any new value, though. It’s a good pickup, but will only work in the Phils’ favor if they know he provides more potential value than Asche (or another average or below-average offensive player).

I covered Sweeney in the middle infield writeup. He’ll probably get more assignments at second base but could see a little time in center field (likely if there’s an early-season injury). He could provide solid value with the potential for extra-base hit power, but he’s still slightly raw. His value is probably highest at second base.

MiLB PresentRoman Quinn, 22

Now on the 40-man roster, Quinn is finally on the doorstep to the majors. It seemed like an adventure; just as he was settling into a superb season in Reading, Quinn suffered a quad tear early in the summer, one of many injuries the lightning-fast center fielder has endured thus far in his career.

For all that, though, Quinn is worth it. He has gotten on base at every level, stealing plenty of bases along the way, while also improving his outfield defense. In 257 plate appearances with Reading he hit .306 with a .356 on-base percentage and .435 slugging percentage (16 extra-base hits including six triples). He’s basically a singles hitter with the potential for a healthy amount of extra-base hits. And his speed seems to be only rivaled by one other player: Billy Hamilton.

Quinn has been able to accrue more plate time in the Dominican Winter League; there, he’s hitting .278/.313/.212 with eight steals (99 at bats). He has two home runs and two triples. He’s basically holding his own but showing a need to develop consistent extra-base hit swings.

Quinn isn’t likely to make the Phillies out of spring training, but he should be a candidate to start 2016 in Lehigh Valley. A callup isn’t out of the question, especially if the Phillies want to show off his elite speed late in the season.

Further Down the LineAaron Brown, 23; Carlos Tocci, 20; Herlis Rodriguez, 21; Carlos Duran, 21; Venn Biter, 21; Jesus Alastre, 19

Brown, who spent all of 2015 in the Clearwater outfield, displayed a decent bat (.257/.324/.406) with emergent power. It came at the expense of average and plate discipline, though, so that’ll need to be cleaned up. In the Arizona Fall League he hit .277 with just a .200 slugging percentage in 40 at bats. Still, the 2014 third-round pick is a solid prospect who could move quickly. He’ll probably get a full season in Reading in 2016, a big shot to see if he’s the real deal.

The Phillies are taking a calculated risk leaving Tocci – who signed with them in 2011 at age 16 – unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft. They hope no major league team wants to give a roster spot to a 20-year-old who last played in the Florida State League. There, with Clearwater, he hit .258 with a .296 on-base mark and .313 slugging mark. Not necessarily good, but he’s young, flashes good leather and has good speed. As long as he’s still here, he’ll probably start 2016 in Clearwater as the Phils hope the bat continues to emerge.

Rodriguez, who showed decent pop in 2015 in Lakewood (10 home runs, 34 extra-base hits in 445 at bats), is hitting .266 in 59 at bats in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’ll take his bat to Clearwater in 2015. He’s not highly regarded like Quinn, Brown or Tocci, but could stick in the majors one day.

Duran is a long-term project who had some injury troubles in 2015; he may improve quite a bit and could get to Lakewood. Venn Biter is the organization’s best name but, alas, isn’t highly touted. Alastre put up decent numbers in the Gulf Coast League in 2015; he’ll move up to Williamsport but isn’t highly regarded at this moment.

Present Need – Since acquiring Bourjos the Phillies don’t need another big-league center fielder. They could grab some fringe-level depth for Lehigh Valley; otherwise, they’re in decent shape.

Future – For now Herrera has shown considerable skill to be a long-term solution in center. Bourjos probably isn’t a long-term solution in any position. Behind them, Quinn certainly could be a solution, but the Phillies would need get a long look before making that judgment.

For now the Phils can work with Herrera. If he continues to improve, there’s no reason why the Phils can’t dangle Quinn as trade bait somewhere down the line. Hell, there’s no reason why the Phils can’t dangle Herrera, either. The possibilities are flexible here.

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Corner Outfield

altherrPast – Last season the Phillies employed Revere and Jeff Francoeur in the corners for a good while. At times Domonic Brown was there, showing not enough to secure him a future in Philadelphia. Cody Asche and Darin Ruf, too, played a little in left field.

By the end of the season Aaron Altherr was entrenched as a regular outfielder, showing real potential in the corners. He’ll likely be given a starting job out of spring training. The other job is still uncertain, though the newly signed Bourjos may be the answer.

MLB Present – Bourjos; Cody Asche, 25; Aaron Altherr, 25; Darin Ruf, 29

See above on Bourjos. As of today he’s a starter, probably in left field, and with Herrera and Altherr, composes a terrific defensive outfield.

Asche, meanwhile, may sneak into a platoon with Bourjos, unless the Phils really want to give Asche a big chance at sticking everyday in left field. That’s a direction I wouldn’t recommend.

Getting 456 plate appearances in 2015, Asche showed basically the same kind of offense he showed previously (.245/.294/.395, 111 K, 26 BB). He doesn’t have stunning power, and he’s not a defensive stud, so it’s hard to imagine him sticking as an everyday corner outfielder. The Phillies could dangle him for a trade, and a team seeking a filler third baseman could step in, but it’s more likely he remains a bench bat, capable of swatting a choice pinch home run every once in awhile.

In his short but valuable stint as everyday right fielder of the Phillies in 2015, Altherr demonstrated true potential. He hit .241/.338/.489 with 41 strikeouts and 16 walks, plus 20 extra-base hits, in 161 appearances. He has sneaky power, a decent hit tool, and best of all, is a plus defensive outfielder (average of two runs above average last season). He’ll get a true opportunity to be an everyday outfielder, likely in right field.

Finally, Ruf could get innings in left field, but that seems more unlikely with the existence of Bourjos. As we know, Ruf can hit lefties with generous power. That said, his value exists primarily as a platoon with Ryan Howard at first base. He’s not a terribly good outfielder.

MiLB PresentNick Williams, 22; Cameron Perkins, 25; Brian Pointer, 24

Nick Williams. Oh baby. The 22-year-old acquired in the Cole Hamels trade made an instant mark in AA Reading (.320/.340/.536, 11 XBH, 97 PA). He profiles as an athletic corner outfielder with a solid hit tool, burgeoning power and good defense. In short, he’s a cornerstone corner outfielder.

The weaknesses include plate discipline and fine tuning his defense, but that’s basically what Herrera is going through at the major league level. Williams is on track to be a starting corner outfielder in Philadelphia – possibly left field – and will probably move to Lehigh Valley with a likely July or August callup.

Perkins had an outstanding run in Reading in 2014, so he earned a full year there in 2015. The result: more power but less consistency (.252/.307/.411, 11 HR, 37 XBH, 25 BB, 53 K, 377 AB). There’s still hope for Perkins’ bat as a corner outfielder, so he’ll likely be moved up to Lehigh Valley in 2016 with a chance at a surprise callup to Philly. But there’s still a bat to develop.

Pointer spent much of 2015 in Reading, where he hit .242/.347/.421 with 28 extra-base hits in 273 at bats. Like Perkins the power is there, but the consistency is sacrificed (he also has a weaker glove). He, too, should be in Lehigh Valley in 2016 but could be the odd man out with both Perkins and Williams getting regular innings. A callup to Philly isn’t out of the question.

Further Down the LineDylan Cozens, 21; Andrew Pullin, 22; Cord Sandberg, 21; Cornelius Randolph, 18; Jose Pujols, 20; Samuel Hiciano, 22; Chase Harris, 24; Jiandido Tromp, 22; Mark Laird, 23; Zachary Coppola, 21; Greg Pickett, 19; Bryan Martelo, 19; Juan Luis, 20

Behind Williams on the depth chart but a year younger, Cozens – a top-20 team prospect or so – made a successful late-season leap to Reading from Clearwater. In total Cozens put up a .286/.336/.426 line over the two levels, primarily playing right field. He has solid power potential and good outfield defense, so the profile is there. He’ll probably spend more time in Reading in 2016, maybe getting a full year of assessment.

Pullin was a full season player in Clearwater, and his .258/.300/.396 proved his bat still needs development. He’s intriguing, however, and may head to Reading in 2016 to play alongside Brown and Cozens.

Nothing has truly emerged yet with Sandberg. Hitting .255 with a .303 on-base mark and .345 slugging mark in 2015 for Lakewood, he’s started showing extra-base hit potential as the season progressed (he stroked 28 doubles total). The jury is out. He’ll probably get a shot in Clearwater in 2016.

Randolph, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, is very promising. He towered above the competition in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .302 with a .425 on-base percentage and .442 slugging percentage. He also slugged 19 extra-base hits in his 172 at bats. Drafted as a shortstop but moved to the outfield, he can fly through the system on his hitting alone. It’s possible the Phils drop him right in Lakewood in 2016, but the jury is out.

Then there’s Pujols, who has prodigious power potential. He had 21 extra-base hits in 2015 in Williamsport (256 at bats), but still shows to be a high-strikeout hitter. If he develops well, he could be a big-time home run hitter. But we’re probably, at least, two years from knowing the truth.

Now the rest: Hiciano missed all of 2015 with an ankle injury. He was showing improved power but decreased on-base skill. Upon his recovery he may head to Clearwater, but he doesn’t rate as highly as Cozens. Harris was sent down to Lakewood from Clearwater during the 2015 season. It didn’t seem to go well for him (total season .255/.310/.294). Time seems to be running out for this 14th round pick. Tromp keep hitting the wall in Lakewood, where in a full season all averages dropped and strikeout rates soared.

Also: Laird showed good plate discipline but little power in Williamsport. He may still go to Lakewood. Coppola didn’t flash anything great in Williamsport in 2015 and isn’t considered much of a prospect.

And finally: Pickett, an eighth-round pick in 2015, stumbled in the Gulf Coast League and could return there in 2016. Martelo fared marginally better there but is years from being a realized prospect. Luis was decent in 2015 in the GCL and should head to Williamsport.

Present Need – Some will say the Phillies could use a Jason Heyward in the corners (I would be one of them), but having a high-priced corner outfielder right now is not important. So flexibility is fine.

The Phillies have been rumored to be looking at outfielders for their first overall Rule 5 pick next week. If so, someone like the Mariners’ Jabari Blash or the Rays’ Tyler Goeddel could be in the cards, and may push Bourjos and Asche out of starting jobs. This direction, while also intriguing, is not one they must take.

The Phils could very easily head into 2016 with Asche, Bourjos, Herrera, Altherr and Sweeney as outfielders. They could also bring up someone like Pointer or Perkins in a pinch. Williams would be ready by mid-season, in a perfect world. So there’s no imminent need to acquire anything more in the outfield. Can they? Sure. Could it help? Sure. Could it be great? Absolutely. But is it necessary? Nah.

Future – A likely future has Williams in one corner position, Herrera in center, and Altherr in the other corner position. But anything, literally anything, can happen with a rebuilding team.

I would gather that Williams is a likely starter in 2016. I would also gather that Altherr could be in the outfield. Herrera may be here, but Quinn may be here. A free agent or trade target could also be here.

Way down the line, Tocci could be here in 2018 or ‘19. Cozens has an outside shot at a starting job, maybe by ‘18, as well. Randolph? A boy can dream, maybe by 2019.

There’s a lot of solid depth in the Phillies outfield pipeline. That’s really good news right now.

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Next: We’ll sum it all up and preview the Winter Meetings, probably Sunday.

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