Analysis

Grading the 2016 Phillies: Infielders

Before we move ahead with scouting the 2017 offseason, we’re going back this week to grade the 2016 Phillies.

Today we’ll tackle the infielders (including catchers). Tomorrow we’re writing about outfielders, Wednesday we’ll grade starting pitchers, and Thursday we’ll go over relievers. Friday we’ll sum up the 2016 club.

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FrancoCesarFreddyOverall: Though starting pitching caught the early headlines, the infield was probably the Phillies’ biggest strength in 2016. The trio of Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco were locked in much of the year (also giving decent defense at all positions), while Tommy Joseph supplanted Ryan Howard during the latter’s final season as a Phillie. And four of them (Galvis, Franco, Joseph, Howard) hit at least 20 home runs.

The catching situation wasn’t bad, either, with Cameron Rupp filling a role admirably. In short, there are plenty worse things about the roster.

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Catcher

Cameron Rupp – C+

For the first time in years the Phillies prefered a backstop other than Carlos Ruiz. Rupp didn’t disappoint early, slugging .507 in the first half with 27 extra-base hits in 222 plate appearances. But the production slowed in the second half (.211/.274/.378), and Rupp finished the season an average hitter with decent production. The problem is his weakness remains his ability to call games, something Phillies management expressed throughout the season.

We can live with a poor game caller if he’s an above-average hitter, but if Rupp can’t consistently mash, we’re probably seeing his ceiling. Maybe Rupp is best as a backup catcher on a good team, and slightly out of his element as a bad team’s starter.

Carlos Ruiz – C+

Chooch’s tenure with the Phillies ended on Aug. 25, as Matt Klentak sent him to Los Angeles for A.J. Ellis, Tommy Bergjans and Joey Curletta. Ruiz had one of the better eyes on the team, scoring a .368 on-base percentage with 24 walks to 28 strikeouts. His power was barely existent, however, as he struck just nine extra-base hits over 193 plate appearances. His defense and framing remained average, at best, as it’s been for the past few years.

Ruiz was perfectly fine as a good backup catcher.

A.J. Ellis – A

Ellis was shocked upon learning of his trade to the Phillies on Aug. 25, but it didn’t affect his play. Ellis hit .313/.371/.500 in 35 plate appearances, and did a relatively good job catching his pitchers despite being a newcomer (the Phils went 3-5 in his starts). Meanwhile, Ellis helped the younger catchers in his brief time with the Phils and said all the right things along the way.

He could be a good addition for 2017, in case the Phils need a veteran to keep Jorge Alfaro’s space warm.

Jorge Alfaro – INC

Alfaro made the big leagues in the window between Ruiz’s exit and Ellis’ arrival, then returned in September after the Reading Fightin’ Phils were eliminated from the Eastern League playoffs. He didn’t get much playing time with the Phillies, so he gets an incomplete grade here.

Chances are Alfaro will start 2017 in Lehigh Valley, and for good reason: he needs more time. He looked overmatched during his short stay in the majors, but the potential is extremely high.

First Base

Ryan Howard – D+

Much of Howard’s final season in red pinstripes played out like his last few. He hit .154 in the first half, striking out 71 times and looking completely washed up. Then Tommy Joseph got more playing time and, maybe, Howard got a little testy.

His second half was closer to vintage Piece, as he assembled a .262/.324/.608 mark with 13 home runs in 142 plate appearances.

Yes, the Ryan Howard Era is over, and the Golden Age has certainly passed, but for one late-summer moment, we got back the slugger we remembered from long ago. It was a beautiful thing.

Tommy Joseph – B+

Heading into spring training, Joseph was on nobody’s radar. He was off the 40-man roster, a discarded past project destined to be the backup first baseman on someone’s triple-A club for the next five years. And then he swatted six home runs and hit .347 in his first 100 plate appearances for Lehigh Valley, while Darin Ruf struggled to hit anything in Philadelphia.

Joseph got his chance and didn’t let go. His .257/.308/.505 line shows promise. He hit 21 home runs and 15 doubles in 347 plate appearances. That’ll play. Suddenly Joseph is a possible puzzle piece. At worst, he could find his way on a couple major league rosters in the next five years.

Darin Ruf – F

It wasn’t a good year for the 29-year-old Ruf, who had to show he belonged for good. Instead we got a .205/.236/.337 line during two stints with the club – one early, one late. It doesn’t matter if he can play in left field, that offense won’t play there.

Second Base

Cesar Hernandez – B

The book on Hernandez was simple: can hit a little, good speed, not a great baseball IQ, can’t play anything but second base. All of that added up to a likely bench bat, nothing more.

But then the second half of 2016 happened. The numbers: .298/.413/.411, 49 BB, 57 K, 17 XBH. The Phillies’ second baseman suddenly turned into a patient, slick-hitting top-of-the-order professional, though his suspect baserunning remained an issue. Still, point sticks: Hernandez was good this year.

But will the patience and good hitting last? If so, the Phils have an everyday second baseman for the next two to three years. If not … back to the drawing board.

Emmanuel Burriss – F

Burriss didn’t get a ton of looks in his infielder/outfielder role, but .111/.184/.178 is bad. Filler.

Shortstop

Freddy Galvis – C+

How do you grade Galvis? Twenty home runs and 67 RBI seem very good for a shortstop. But 2016 was an unprecedented year for shortstop (and, really, everyone’s) power. So you look at the metrics: .241/.274/.399 is terrible, especially for someone who gets more than 600 plate appearances. Offensively Galvis was good for something, but was it good for all? No.

Then again, Galvis displayed outstanding fielding ability in 2016. If not for Addison Russell and Brandon Crawford, Galvis would be a slam-dunk Gold Glove winner. With exceptional range, a good arm, and more than a few show-stopping plays, Galvis can certainly stick on some teams as a starter.

So what is Galvis? He’s not an A or B because that offense was that bad, but he’s not an F or D because he saved quite a few runs. He’s a C. But hey, he’s a team leader, so let’s go one louder: C+.

Taylor Featherston – INC

Featherston didn’t get enough looks to constitute receiving a grade, though what he showed wasn’t exactly inspiring.

Third Base

Maikel Franco – B-

The team’s co-leader in home runs (25) and leader in RBI (88), Franco produced well in 2016. His line of .255/.306/.427 could’ve been better, but as a sophomore on a bad team without much lineup protection, could you ask for much more?

Or maybe we could. We knew heading into 2016 that Franco would have to adjust to being the focus of the lineup. In that respect he handed us mixed results. He didn’t strike out too much (106 isn’t that bad), but he did hit a lot of weak grounders and limp fly balls. He tried, maybe too hard, and it affected his on-base percentage (.306, down from .343) and, in turn, his production (.427 SLG, down from .497). It’s not all his fault, but then again, he failed to make key adjustments.

That said, Franco’s defense was decent in 2016. He’s not a stud, but he certainly makes the plays meant for him, and he has a knack for bare-handed turns. That should keep him at third base for a little while longer.

The bottom line: Franco didn’t get crushed under the weight of expectation. In fact, he remained a sound slugger who certainly has the ability to improve. He deserves a B- or C+. The better-than-expected defense pushes him closer to B-.

Andres Blanco – B-

It’s possible the Phillies move on from the veteran Blanco for 2017, but in 2016 “Whitey” gave the Phils a steady stick with positional versatility, at least when not injured. No, Blanco didn’t have a repeat of his otherworldly 2015, but .253/.316/.405 with 19 extra-base hits is perfectly fine.

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Coming tomorrow: Outfielders

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