Commentary

No veterans to be found as Phillies reintroduce themselves



altherrAaron Altherr and Aaron Nola are sitting down to press conferences with manager Pete Mackanin.

Nick Williams is doing a media tour, talking about smacking golf balls out of his Texas backyard and how pumped he is about the Phillies future.

Mark Appel is going 100 on Jim Salisbury, admitting he’s had some rough patches in his professional development but that he’s excited to get to the major leagues.

MLB Network is doing asides on the Phillies prospects. Prospect rankings are coming out, touting J.P. Crawford and the bunch.

And the Phillies are hosting events in Philly and in the Lehigh Valley, showing off young talent, thanking fans and inviting the media.

This week has been strange. Now, the Phillies do this kind of thing every year, inviting prospects to Philadelphia for an “education” week, and having a #BackInTown week a month before spring training, but there’s something different about this year’s events. We’re really being spoonfed bright smiles by way of exciting and freewheeling baseball players, some of whom haven’t even played an inning in the majors. And look at the #BackInTown event list: Altherr is everywhere this week.

The Phillies have started a Phan Investment Tour. In case you haven’t noticed, team President Andy MacPhail kicked off the tour by both touting the young talent in the system, and by admitting there were rebuilding problems last year. General Manager Matt Klentak, dapper in a zip-up fleece, made media appearances before the holidays, talking approach and timeline (key word “discipline”). Now, a few weeks after the holidays and just before the scene shifts to the Gulf Coast, the Phillies are trotting out the manager and his young talent. Especially his young talent.

You may notice you haven’t heard from Carlos Ruiz, Andres Blanco, Cesar Hernandez or Charlie Morton. Aside from arbitration-year contract settlements, there hasn’t been a peep this offseason about Freddy Galvis, Jeremy Hellickson or even Jeanmar Gomez. Hell, Cody Asche, once a glimmer in our eyes as a potential puzzle piece, has been nearly put down to pasture this winter. Of course we heard from Ryan Howard, but that’s a different story altogether.

But this Phan Investment Tour (PHIT) – which is my term for all of this, copyright pending – is showing you just where the Phillies see themselves right now, and in the future – short- and long-term. The veterans are not addressed; the prospects are all over the joint. The purpose of a Phan Investment Tour is to stoke some interest in the prospects today. Get on board today with Crawford, Williams, Appel, Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp, Roman Quinn and Cornelius Randolph, because this is the likely future of the Philadelphia Phillies. And if you get on board today, in five years, when your kids are old enough to know which player’s t-shirt they want to buy at the Phanatic Store, they’ll be picking out the shirt before you even reach the keychains. Your kid’s going to love J.P. Crawford.

It’s also been a strange week because this is happening so quickly. We haven’t seen such hype over a collection of non-major-leaguers … maybe ever … in Phillies history. Sure we hopped on the Domonic Brown train a few years back, and before that we were excited about Cole Hamels. I think we were giddy to see Howard slug some balls in the majors, and before that, maybe Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell had us excited. But none of these guys came up at the very same time. The evolution of the Golden Era Phillies of 2006-11 was slow, starting way back in 1998 when Burrell was drafted first overall in the amateur draft. It took the Phillies about seven years to know its “young foundation.” This year, 2016, we could potentially see nearly a dozen kids who have bonafide major league futures get to Citizens Bank Park. That’s unprecedented for the Phillies, at least in modern history.

And here’s why it’s exciting: Last season, while the Phillies were terrible and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs were floundering with rejected major leaguers, the Reading Fightin’ Phils were awesome. Powered down the stretch by Williams, Knapp and Brock Stassi, and thriving on the arms of Thompson, Eflin and Ben Lively, the Phils finished 80-61, losing in the deciding game of the Eastern League Championship.

And leading that team, by example and by word, was Crawford. Playing very well in 86 games with Reading, Crawford backed up his offensive and defensive prowess with an outstandingly visible sense of leadership. He talks a lot and shows supreme confidence. And, maybe best of all, he’s not afraid to mix it up with players all across the organization. It’s pretty clear that of all the prospects, Crawford sees himself as being the focal point. There’s something immensely special about that.

So the Phan Investment Tour is off and running, reminding us that Altherr and Nola are right here, right now – with Franco and a few others – and introducing denizens of the Delaware Valley to a collection of kids who are likely to play significantly in Philadelphia this season. And if you’re at all a Phillies fan, someone who will always have some vested interest in the team, try to read a story or two, or watch a video, or even attend an event with one of these prospects. Hell, go to Coca-Cola Field and watch a bunch of them in action this season. Chances are, at least for the first half of the season, the Iron Pigs are going to be really good.

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