The 2017 season is expected to be another rebuilding year for the Phillies, where players like Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera will look to take the next step in their development as major league hitters and the young arms will continue to build on last-season’s success.
This season will also be key for many of the Phillies’ prospects in both Reading and Lehigh Valley. With successful 2017, a handful of prospects will have a good chance to make the big leagues in 2018. Let’s take a look …
Going into this past offseason, two of the Phillies’ biggest problems were a lack of power and talent at the corner outfield positions. While the Phils added Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick to improve these areas, both aren’t expected to be a part of the long-term plan. That leaves Franco as the only source of power in the lineup and without any real threat to protect him (we still have to see more of Tommy Joseph), he’ll hit a hollow 20-plus homers, at best.
The Phillies are expected to be active in free agency in the next few offseasons and while General Manager Matt Klentak will look to sign outfield bats, he might find what he needs in Dylan Cozens. Cozens hit 40 home runs and drove in 125 for the Reading Fightin Phils in 2016, breaking Darin Ruf’s previous record of 37.
While success in double-A doesn’t automatically mean the Phils have their next silver slugger (just look at Ruf), he could fit in nicely hitting behind or in front of Franco. This season in triple-A will be the test to see if Cozens’ 2016 numbers were just a product of home run-friendly FirstEnergy Stadium, or if he’s the real deal.
Tommy Joseph was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2016 and with the Ryan Howard era officially over, the first-base job is his to lose. Unless Joseph absolutely crushes the ball in 2017, however, he will have some competition going into 2018.
Rhys Hoskins’ monster 2016 season in Reading, where he hit 38 home runs and drove in 116, earned him the Paul Owens Award alongside Cozens for the best minor league player in the Phils’ farm system in 2016. Baseball America ranked him the No. 6 prospect in the system, and MLB.com deemed him the No.9 first-base prospect across the league.
Like most power-hitting first basemen, Hoskins does strikeout a bit, but his 71 walks in 2016 showed he is able to wait for his pitches and get on base. Since both he and Joseph are right-handed, a platoon situation won’t work; the Phillies will have to make a decision on their first baseman of the future.
Scott Kingery has risen in the ranks quickly after being drafted in the second round in 2015, reaching double-A in his first full professional season. The 22-year-old is seen as a hard-nosed second baseman with a quick, short swing, according to MLB.com. Sound familiar?
Kingery started 2016 in Clearwater where he hit .293/.360/.411 with 33 walks and 26 stolen bases. That earned him a call up to Reading in July but he struggled to close out the season as he adjusted to double-A. The Phillies – or anyone around baseball – don’t seem worried, however. Kingery was named the No. 9 prospect in the Phillies system by Baseball America and the No. 7 second-base prospect in baseball by MLB.com. If he rebounds as expected, Kingery could compete for the starting job in 2018.
Acquired as part of the trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston, Appel is a former No. 1 overall pick who hasn’t quite lived up to lofty expectations. Still, he’s risen in the ranks enough to be part of the Lehigh Valley roster in 2017. Last season he went 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA in 38 innings for the IronPigs before suffering a shoulder injury that led to elbow surgery. The injury is one issue. Another is that he just hasn’t found the command necessary to be consistently effective. A 4.50-like ERA in triple-A won’t translate to a regular major league job.
But why 2018? We’re hoping he settles in this time, maybe developing the focus necessary to reach the majors, even as a middle reliever. That may not be the best possible scenario for a No. 1 overall pick, but any value extracted is good. Imagine he has a relatively successful show this season; the Phils may burn through some other arms before giving Appel a true shot next year.
Last but certainly not least, we have J.P. Crawford. Crawford is the Phillies’ most-touted prospect and many expect him to make the jump to the big leagues in 2017. While injuries or poor play from Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez might trigger an early call-up, fans shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t see Crawford until late 2017. And there’s an outside shot it’ll be opening day 2018.
Throughout their rebuilding process, the Phillies have been extremely patient with their young players and Crawford shouldn’t be any different. Crawford had a disappointing season in triple-A last year, hitting just .244/.328/.318. The team would rather the 22-year-old shortstop get regular playing time in Lehigh Valley than get limited at-bats in the big leagues. It will be tempting at times, but there’s no need to rush. Patience is a virtue.