Until the beginning of the Winter Meetings (Dec. 7-10 in Nashville, Tenn.), I’ll be doing a deep dive on the Phillies with particular focus on their offseason plans. What may happen? What’s the future hold? Seriously, how excited should you be?
We’ll try to answer all the questions here.
Today: Third base and first base.
Past – Since the Phillies traded Scott Rolen, the Phillies have been unsuccessful finding the right combination of power and glove, a profile epitomized by the greatest Phillie of them all: Mike Schmidt.
Maybe that will change. Very few spots on the Phillies’ roster are as secure as Franco’s, as the 23-year-old Dominican will begin the 2016 season as the team’s starting third baseman, barring injury. He was called up to Philadelphia in May 2015 and immediately made an impact, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 50 in 335 plate appearances. His .280/.343/.497 line was among the best of all Phillies in 2015.
Since Franco endured a wrist injury for a spell in 2015, the Phillies asked the slugger to spend some time in the Dominican Winter League. He just arrived, but in eight plate appearances for the GIgantes del Cibao, Franco has already homered once. He’ll probably play out the string in the Dominican before preparing for spring training.
And once he arrives in Clearwater, Franco will be tabbed as the Phillies’ opening-day third baseman. He’ll also likely hit anywhere from the 3-5 hole. With a full season without injury, one could expect Franco to hit around .265 with a .330 on-base percentage and .500 slugging mark. Somewhere between 18 and 25 home runs is a decent bet.
Asche, meanwhile, will likely be asked to fill in for Franco while getting outfield time and pinch hitting. He lost the starting third base job to Franco in 2015; needless to say, with Asche’s often toothless offensive game, he won’t be getting that job back any time soon.
MiLB Present – Harold Martinez, 25
Martinez, meanwhile, hit a solid .292/.335/.400 in 86 games in Reading in 2015, though with very little pop to stick at third base. He’ll likely reach Lehigh Valley in 2016 with an outside chance at seeing the majors, but bet on the Phillies to grab veteran depth to sub Franco in a pinch, or simply slot Asche at third base.
Walding hit a pedestrian .233/.318/.315 in Clearwater in 2015, but he might head to Reading in 2016 just because there’s little positional depth in the system. He doesn’t look like a major leaguer.
There seems to be slightly more promise for Tomscha, the third-sacker who hit .282/.368/.417 with eight homers and 59 RBI in Lakewood. The 81/39 K/BB ratio doesn’t help, though, for the 2014 17th rounder. Still, he deserves a promotion to Clearwater.
Most interesting is Hernandez, who will be 21 in 2016 and can probably flash the leather better than any third baseman in the system. His .211 average and .258 on-base percentage are bad, but his .413 slugging percentage is good, with 10 homers and 21 extra-base hits (in 213 at bats) to show for it. The Phillies hope he continues to improve the bat as he likely heads to Lakewood in 2016.
Finally, 2015 third-round pick Williams was off and running in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .288/.400/.331 with a sterling 23/21 K/BB ratio in 118 at bats. He also stole nine bases, thus the “off and running” part.
Present Need – So the Phillies may want to sign to a minor league contract a veteran with major league experience, in case Franco goes down with an injury. Of the free agents available, Conor Gillaspie (.228/.269/.359) has some pop, and Joaquin Arias (.207/.207/.276) may accept a minor league deal.
Otherwise the Phillies may test at third base some of their homegrown middle infielders with better arms, just to see if something sticks.
Future – I’m sure the Phillies organization, and the Delaware Valley at large, would love to see Franco play third base in red pinstripes for the next 10-15 years. Whether or not it happens, Franco is the man in 2016. Nobody is even close. Be excited.
Past – Since 2005, first base has been the home of Ryan Howard, who has been both a one-man wrecking crew and the one man wrecking the patience of fans everywhere. And when all’s said and done, he’s probably the greatest first baseman in franchise history.
Howard has hit 357 home runs in 12 seasons, an absolutely prodigious display. He’s also flamed out as a subpar ballplayer, striking out far too much while walking far too little, and fielding his position like a drunk getting out of his stool after a long night at the bar. Most every metric says Howard is one of the worst everyday players in baseball; his 2015 wins above replacement was actually below replacement, at -1.4.
And the days of -1.4 are nearly over in Philadelphia. Howard’s contract expires after the 2016 season, though the Phillies could pay his team option of $23 million to keep him on board (they won’t, electing instead to pay a $10 million buyout). It’s also possible the Phillies trade Howard to an American League team seeking a designated hitter, any time before the season or during the season.
Chances are, however, that it won’t happen, and Howard will remain the starting first baseman for the Phillies as he goes on an award tour with Darin, his man. What could you expect from Howard? Maybe a line of .235/.290/.450 with 20-25 home runs, if we’re being charitable.
Darin, his man, is Darin Ruf, who pulled a .235/.300/.414 line in 2015 with 12 homers and 39 ribbies. Ruf did most of his damage against left-handed pitching (.371/.447/.660, 8 HR), so popular opinion would be to platoon Ruf and Howard (who hit righties to .256/.304/.499, 20 HR) on the strict lefty-righty tip.
And really, that should be what happens. A Howard-Ruf platoon could generate a semi-productive first base bat. It won’t do any good with the glove, though.
The 6’2”, 190 pound, left-handed hitting Stassi broke out with Reading in 2015. He slugged 15 home runs and dove in 90, walking 77 times while striking out only 63 times. His .300/.394/.470 mark was highly impressive, winning him the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player award.
And because of this, Stassi is the surefire starter at first base for the 2016 Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. If the Phillies move either Howard or Ruf, you’ll probably see Stassi get a shot in the majors. At most, he’s another version of Ruf – not an everyday player, but maybe worth a thrill or two off the bench.
Charles, meanwhile, towers over Stassi at 6’6” and 220 pounds. After a solid 2014 pounding the ball in Clearwater (though with plenty strikeouts), Charles had a little more difficulty in Reading, hitting .215/.304/.367. The strikeouts continued – an atrocious 100 strikeouts in 289 at bats. He did collect 26 extra-base hits, though. Still, Charles will probably move to Lehigh Valley as a pinch hitter and little else; if he doesn’t improve his plate discipline, he’ll forever be minor league filler.
Then there’s Knapp, who is a catcher first and foremost, but spent some time playing first base in the Arizona Fall League. Knapp hit very well in Reading in 2015, putting together an astonishing .360/.419/.631 line with 36 extra-base hits in 241 plate appearances. His bat may play at first, but his glove needs to get there. It’ll be some time before the Phillies make any rash decisions regarding Knapp, who will probably play some first, while catching, in Lehigh Valley in 2016.
Another rather large man, the 6’4”, 225-pound Hoskins was superb in 2015 for Lakewood and Clearwater, not missing a beat between levels. He finished with an outstanding .319/.395/.518 mark with 17 home runs and 90 RBI. His 99/55 K/BB ratio is slightly troubling, but he’s still young, and he actually improved the discipline in Clearwater. He’s also a good defender. Hoskins should start 2016 in Reading, his biggest test yet.
Green, a 2012 third-round pick, has methodically moved up the system but stalled in 2015 with a DL stint in Clearwater (.173/.216/.221 in 104 AB). Because of solid movement behind him, Green could be the odd man out.
At 23, 2015 fourth-round pick Martin is ready to move to Clearwater, and the lefty’s bat confirms as much. He hit .279 with a .446 slugging march in Lakewood, socking 28 extra-base hits in 251 at bats.
Hayden will also move up. The 16th round pick from 2015 had a nice 27/23 K/BB ratio in 50 games in Williamsport, to go along with a .291 average.
And then there’s Encarnacion, the Dominican teen who started to come into his own with the Gulf Coast Phillies. In 2015 he hit four home runs with a 38/12 K/BB ratio. He’s a work in progress, but he has promising power. He’ll likely head to Williamsport in 2016, but there’s a chance he goes right to Lakewood.
Finally, the Phillies signed Dominican Ortiz to a $4 million bonus in July. At 6’2” and 260 pounds, the No. 18 international prospect (Baseball America) is a hefty kid with big power, but he’s a long way to the show. He’ll be in the development pipeline in 2016, but don’t expect full-season play for Ortiz until probably 2018 or 2019.
Present Need – Unless the Phillies add some depth to the middle levels of the minor league system, first base is basically set in stone for 2016. No need to change anything now – just let Howard and Ruf play out the string and see what develops in the pipeline.
Future – This is where it gets fun. Hoskins has suddenly become a genuine possibility to start at first base in 2017. If not, maybe Stassi or Ruf fill the hole until real upgrades are possible. Or Knapp turns out to work out at first, and he gets the gig. And if not, maybe Matt Klentak and Co. trade for a stud like Paul Goldschmidt (toward the end of a five-year deal next year), or pick up a 2016 free agent like Edwin Encarnacion (don’t bet on it).
Point is, it’s wide open. For now, though, enjoy what highlights Howard can give us in what is likely to be his final days as a Philadelphia Phillie.
Next: Saturday I review starting pitching, and Sunday I look at relief pitching.