Opinion

How the Phillies are becoming the ‘team to beat’

JP Craw 6Back on Jan. 23, 2007, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins uttered a famous phrase that will forever be remembered in Philadelphia history. After falling just short of a wildcard birth in 2006, Rollins was asked about the Phils’ chances for the division in 2007.

“I think we are the team to beat in the NL East – finally,” he said. Rollins lived up to his words, clinching the NL East on the final day of the season as well as capturing his first and only NL MVP. The Phillies left the ’07 playoffs with a bad taste in their mouths, but they didn’t in 2008, as the rest – as they say – is history.

What made those years of 2007-11 so good? The core group of players were homegrown.

The Phillies ’07 infield was composed of three draft picks including Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, all of whom were drafted in the top five rounds. Howard is a year younger than both Rollins and Utley. Pat Burrell, meanwhile, was the first overall selection by the Phils in the 1998 draft.

The stud pitcher of the ’07 club was a young Cole Hamels, who was 23 years old. The left-hander was also a first round selection in 2003. His battery mate that season, who caught Hamels’ no-hitter last year and four total in a Phillies uniform, was Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies signed him as a amateur free agent from Panama in ’98.

Other pitching contributions included Brett Myers, primarily a starter but closing 21 games for the team in 2007. Myers was the 12th overall pick by the Phillies in the 1999 draft. Kyle Kendrick, another draft pick of the Phils in ’03, contributed to the ’07 season as a 22-year old rookie with 10 wins.

The Phillies had several homegrown players playing a pivotal role in their first division title since 1993. All of the players grew up together in the system. They learned early in their careers what the “Philly way” was all about. For the most part, each of the players either drafted or signed as amateur free agents are no more than three years apart.

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Let’s take a look at the last two teams to hoist the World Series trophy: the Kansas City Royals of 2015 and the San Francisco Giants of 2014.

The Royals’ core group of players were all homegrown products. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, elder statesman Alex Gordon and amateur free agent Salvador Perez all came up through the system and are relatively the same age. Key pitchers, including Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy, were also Royals draft picks.

The Giants – who won three world championships in five years – start with Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, two guys who halted the dreams of the 2010 Phillies as rookies. They are the backbone of the team and have hoisted the trophy all three times. Other supporting castmates of the 2014 team include Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Pablo Sandoval, all draft picks by the Giants. Pitchers Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong were all brought up through the Giants’ farm.

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The Phillies of today are doing it right. They have a plethora of players in the farm system who are on the cusp of the show. The Phillies’ young draft picks include Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins, Roman Quinn, Cornelius Randolph, Mickey Moniak and J.P. Crawford, who are all well on their way. That is a start and is similar to the type of talent the 2007 team had, as well as the Giants and Royals of recent years.

Of course, not every player can be brought up through the system. Trades are a huge part of rebuilding a team. The Phillies acquired young talent from several teams to have one of the best farm systems in the league. Though guys like Ben Lively, Nick Williams, Zach Eflin, Tommy Joseph, Jorge Alfaro, Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff and few more are not considered “homegrown,” they were still young enough to grow and hit their stride in the Phillies’ system.

Once many of these players are staples in the rotation, lineup, bench and bullpen, they will all have grown up with each other, hopefully making for more Red Octobers.

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