Raising Questions

Do the Phillies have too many young outfielders?

The Phillies are a young team getting younger. They are an organization brimming with young, talented baseball players moving up the ranks toward their ultimate goal of playing Major League Baseball. But there’s so much talent that it’s unclear exactly how everyone is going to get their appropriate shot at big-time stardom.

BaseballAmerica has the Phillies as the sixth best farm system in baseball, pointing out that “much of that talent [is] congregated at the upper levels of the minors in the form of position prospects.” Add to that the fact that the major league roster is already stocked with younger talent still trying to prove themselves and the end result is a logjam of players all trying to get adjusted, all trying to prove their worth. This bottleneck, as it were, is happening in the outfield, at catcher, first base and in the starting rotation. It’s a problem. A good problem but a problem nonetheless.

As an example, the Phillies currently have Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr as the current/future members of the major league outfield. They also have Michael Saunders on an option for next year, but no one really considers him as part of the future, and Howie Kendrick is only here for this year.

Directly behind Herrera and Altherr are Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Cameron Perkins and Dylan Cozens. That appears to be six players for three spots, but actually it’s five players for the two corner outfield positions as Herrera has seemingly cemented himself in center by execution of his five-year/$30.5M extension with the Phils earlier this year.

Altherr is getting some opportunity to play by virtue of an injury to the everyday starter in left, Kendrick, and he’s making the most of his opportunity by showcasing all five tools every chance he gets. His success is buoyed by a completely unsustainable .396 BABIP, but that doesn’t change how impressive he’s been. Given enough plate appearances his BABIP will most likely normalize and take with it his average and on-base percentage. So right now we don’t have an accurate picture of who Altherr is at the major-league level.

Eventually Kendrick will come off the disabled list, and because he’s been very productive, the Phillies will want him to play. How do they get an extended look at Altherr if Kendrick is playing his position?

For the Phillies part, they’ve had Kendrick taking reps at first base so that they can keep both him and Altherr in the lineup. But this isn’t really a solution – it only exposes further the original problem, because at first base Tommy Joseph is already trying to prove himself, Brock Stassi is trying to get at bats so he can show his worth, and right behind them is Rhys Hoskins, who is kicking down the major-league door from the triple-A side. Same problem as we’re illustrating in the outfield, just at a different position.

All of this leads us to what is undoubtedly the most important question the Phillies need to answer: How long does each player get to prove themselves? Right now, for this organization, how they answer that question will dictate their future success.

Players need time to get adjusted to the majors and teams sometimes need to exercise patience. Take for instance Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo’s climb to middle-of-the-order superstar started with three years where he hit a less than impressive .234/.324/.412. He was a consensus top prospect in baseball while in the Red Sox and then the Padres systems, but it took him time, a fair amount of it, to adjust to major league pitching.  By the time he made that adjustment he was with the Cubs.

Or you can look at Jose Bautista, whose long journey to baseball superstardom began when he was drafted by the Pirates in 2000, then acquired via the Rule 5 Draft by the Orioles. They waived him and the Rays picked him up. Then they traded him to the Royals, who then traded him to the Mets. And they traded him to the Pirates, who then traded him to the Blue Jays. He made his Blue Jay debut in 2008, and then Toronto wisely they gave him the time he needed to be the MLB player he became. His first season there he hit .235/.349/.409; over his next five he would hit .272/.393/.559. Patience.

How long does it take to get an accurate read on a player? At what point do they either move on to the next most deserving player or sign the guy to an extension? The last thing you want to do is give up on a guy early and have him go on to ridiculous success while you received nothing in return.

Right now the candidates for the Phillies outfield over the next three years looks like this:

Player Current Level Majors ETA
Odubel Herrera MLB Here
Aaron Altherr MLB Here
Nick Williams AAA 2017
Roman Quinn AAA 2017
Cameron Perkins AAA 2017/18
Dylan Cozens AAA 2017/18
Andrew Pullin AA 2018/19
Cord Sandberg A 2018/19
Carlos Tocci AA 2019
Mickey Moniak A 2019/20
Cornelius Randolph A 2019/20

That’s 11 players for three spots over the next three-plus seasons. As illustrated above, that may not be adequate time for evaluation. Give up early and who knows what you could be missing out on. That’s not going to work for the Phillies, as they have to extract as much value out of their current situation as possible.

One way to achieve that is via trade. They could, and quite frankly should, look into a trade or trades involving this young talent that they currently lack the appropriate time to evaluate thoroughly.

The Phillies sit in an extremely enviable position because of the combination of how their current roster is built and this extreme depth in the minor leagues. Theoretically they could package their veteran trade pieces with a minor league prospect for the sole purpose of escalating, dramatically, the return on those trades. For some team on the verge of a deep playoff run but still needing that one piece, it’s infinitely easier to digest trading one of their prized-possession top prospects if they’re bringing back the help they need for that championship run and a hopeful piece for their future.

For instance, the Red Sox could feel that this is their year but they need to add one more solid starter at the deadline. They’d want Hellickson but they don’t want to give up their top ranked prospect, third basemen Rafael Devers. The Phillies could counter with a deal that includes several prospects, including Quinn, Cozens or Williams. The Red Sox get their help and a few pieces for their future. The Phillies get that highly rated prospect who just so happens to play a position where they’re lacking some depth. This deal doesn’t hurt as much for the Phillies because of their depth.

The other answer for the Phils may just be to package a few of these prospects together and trade for a proven player. For this they need a trade partner in the right situation: A team that isn’t currently competing, is very short on prospects of its own, is at a critical point in spending and has that special player the Phils want. There are quite a few teams who fit this bill and quite a few players that would look great in red pinstripes.

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