Maikel Franco swung at the pitch up near his shoulders. It seemed like he was screaming “Get it away!” as he swung.
And the ball got away, flying high into the Gulf Coast air, catching a soft wind, then falling just beyond the outfield fence at Bright House Field. It was Franco’s seventh home run of the spring. Reporters are discussing him. Experts are wondering if he’s a breakout candidate.
Meanwhile on Friday Peter Bourjos lined a ball past the fence for a home run. Cameron Rupp slammed a shot into Frenchy’s tiki bar. And Ryan Howard lifted one high over the batter’s eye in centerfield. The Phillies put up 15 runs against the Pirates; never mind that the Pirates scored 12 of their own against flimsy pitching. Here’s the point: the Phillies are 12-5 this spring. They’ve scored 117 runs, second in baseball. They’ve socked 28 home runs, again, second most in baseball. Their .851 OPS is third in the game.
What is going on here?
Well, let’s temper some of the enthusiasm. The Phils scored eight runs off pitchers like Wilfredo Boscan, Guido Knudson and Trey Haley, who between them have a combined grand total of five innings pitched in the major leagues.
And yes, the Phils have scored early runs against starters, too. But here’s a list of starters who have given up three or more runs to the Phils this spring:
Lucas Sims – ATL – 1.2 IP, 5 ER
Jon Niese – PIT – 3 IP, 4 ER
Jordan Zimmermann – DET – 3.2 IP, 4 ER
Kyle Kendrick – ATL – 1.2 IP, 7 ER
R.A. Dickey – TOR – 4.1 IP, 3 ER
CC Sabathia – NYY – 1.2 IP, 2 ER (3 R)
Yovani Gallardo – BAL – 2.1 IP, 5 ER
It’s a relatively impressive list, with Sims the only pitcher who’s likely not to be in the majors in 2016. But look closer: Niese isn’t having a good spring, trying to prove himself worthy of a rotation spot; Kendrick was recently released by the Braves – who are expected to be as bad as the Phils, if not worse; Sabathia is pitching so poorly that he could start the season in the bullpen; and Gallardo is still getting back to game speed after being signed late.
Yes, Zimmermann and Dickey are quality starters, but as you can see, spring is a time of small samples and very little proof. While they’ve teed off on some decent pitchers, the results here can’t be taken too seriously.
Meanwhile the Phils were actually outscored 5-0 in the first three innings of Friday’s game. Charlie Morton did not pitch well. This is the the more likely reality we’ll be facing this April, when pitching is tenuous and hitting isn’t teeing off on double-A pitching.
But that’s okay. We expect the Phillies to be bad in 2016. They’re probably going to lose 85-95 games. It’s possible they do better; it’s possible they do worse. Regardless, that’s what we expect.
Still, watching Franco launch another bomb on Friday at Bright House, I can’t help but feel excited about what’s to come in a year, maybe two. It’s the same feeling I experienced watching Nick Williams slash a few extra-base hits, J.P. Crawford making stupendous plays at shortstop, and Jorge Alfaro stopping runners cold with ropes to second base. These young Phillies look solid against their peers, the very players who will be populating the majors in a couple years.
And this is a major reason the Phils are playing so well this spring. They’re a nine-inning team in spring, rotating in good young talent from first pitch to final out.
So yes, what’s going on is the Phils are having fun against third- and fourth-tier pitching, most of these guys likely to spend critical 2016 time in double-A, triple-A and in independent ball. But that they’re doing it up and down the lineup is key. The kids are certainly alright.
So, as we’ve said a few times now, be excited for Franco’s moonshots, because they’ll surely continue. And be excited to watch Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Odubel Herrera and Tyler Goeddel … and all the young kids playing in the minors this year. Because they’re all doing their work this spring, against all kinds of players, and that signals good things for the near future.