Now that pitchers and catchers have reported to Clearwater for spring training, the writers of Phillies Nation are now prepared to report a few of their opinions on 2016. We conducted two writers’ roundtables this week – the first on the fifth-starter race, which you can find here – and this one, a multi-question format that addresses prospects, acquisitions and a final 2016 finish.
Are the Phillies doomed to be in last place once again? Read on to find out!
Which prospect makes the biggest impact this year?
Ian Riccaboni: For the second year in a row, the biggest impact from a prospect will come from the Rule 5 Draft. Tyler Goeddel has improved almost every offensive facet of his game each year he has been in the minor leagues, with each of those seasons including a promotion to the next level. If Goeddel, a converted infielder, can find comfort in the outfield, he and last year’s Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera could form two-thirds of a very speedy trio that hits with a bit of pop.
Jay Floyd: Reliever Jimmy Cordero will be that guy, simply based on the amount of time I expect him to get at the big league level. Sure, the Phils have some great prospects in J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams, but both guys are at positions where there isn’t an immediate need for them at the big league level. The bullpen will have need and Cordero, who can reach triple digits with his fastball, will be the youngster that contributes the most this year.
Tim Malcolm: A reliever is the easy answer: Any flame-throwing arm can quietly find himself shutting down lineups at Citizens Bank Park during the course of the season. But that’s not so fun. I’ll go with my man Crawford, who is called up before June 15 and immediately earns the starting job at shortstop. The adjustment period will be short. I’ll shoot for 300 plate appearances, a .266 average, a solid .340 on-base mark, 3-5 home runs, 5-10 steals, superb defense and a lot of hope for 2017.
Ryan Gerstel: Crawford is the easy answer. But I would be lying if I said that he wouldn’t have the biggest impact among the players expected to make their big league debuts in 2016. Crawford is expected to be the successor to Rollins, and by all reports, he’s the real deal. If he lives up to the hype, he could quickly become the Phillies’ best and most electric player.
Matthew Gephart: If he matches any of the hype about him, Crawford should be making an impact for years to come with the Phillies, just like Rollins. But my obscure left-field pick for this roundtable question is going to be Jorge Alfaro. Carlos Ruiz is on a major decline, as we’ve seen in the past few years, which opens the door for Alfaro to have the biggest impact on the Phillies’ future.
What in-season acquisitions do you anticipate the Phillies making?
Gephart: I don’t see the Phillies making any splashes this year, although there are plenty of players out there that could help them in the long run The one player I’ve mentioned in a previous article of most likely to be on the move (as we all hope) is Ryan Howard. If Howard can keep his power up this year, and make a little more contact, there should be an American League team looking to add a bat sometime in the year for the designated hitter position.
Gerstel: Last year I thought there was a chance that Howard would produce enough to attract an AL team around the trade deadline. I’ll make the same prediction this year. The 36-year-old first baseman had an okay season numbers-wise in 2015, although his .229 batting average was a pretty discouraging mark. However, for the first time in his career, Howard will not expected to be “the guy” in the middle of the Phillies’ order, which should help lift some of the weight off his shoulders. With a fresher bat, and a clear mind due to less pressure, I wouldn’t be surprised if Howard flirted with a .250 average, which, if he puts up similar HR and RBI numbers, might be enough to attract an AL team come the trade deadline. Of course, the Phillies would have to be willing to eat most of Howard’s remaining salary. Another player who could be on the move is Cody Asche. With Maikel Franco manning third base, and a crowded Phillies outfield, Asche could be the odd man out. If he hits enough in limited action, perhaps a team would be willing to take a flyer on a 25-year-old bat with upside.
Floyd: The Phillies should continue to be sellers. They should move forward, trying to clean out the leftovers of the “dynasty” years from the cupboard. If a contending team with holes can use Howard or Ruiz, the Phils should make those moves, no matter the return. David Hernandez could be a worthwhile trade target for contending teams by mid-season, as well.
Riccaboni: This will be the year we say goodbye to Chooch. This will also be the year the Phillies get a team to bite on a Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir-like deal, and I think it will involve Jeremy Hellickson. Look for both Asche and Darin Ruf to be released or traded as camp breaks, while relievers will be dealt like they are going out of style as value presents itself.
Oh, and Ryan Howard ends the year as a Phillie.
Malcolm: I don’t see the Phillies pulling the trigger on anything huge season. To be frank, this is the year Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak and Co. figure out who composes the future of this franchise. Maybe they deal Hernandez before August. Maybe Hellickson or Charlie Morton get flipped. It’s possible the Phils trade Ruiz to a team seeking a late-season rental. Otherwise I foresee little movement.
To be honest, it’s the next offseason that could bring a couple fireworks.
Who isn’t a lock to make the 25-man opening day roster?
Riccaboni: Luis Garcia was very reliable in 72 appearances for the Phillies in 2015. His peripheral stats improved across the board in his first full season with the Phils after spending 37 games with the team between 2013 and ‘14. But the Phillies have acquired so many additional intriguing bullpen pieces that I think Garcia, arguably the steadiest non-closer on the club last year, does not make the team out of spring training in 2016.
Gerstel: There are a couple of players who aren’t locks to make the initial 25-man roster. Asche, a guy who has played more than 120 games the past two seasons, is a candidate to start the season in the minors given the state of the Phillies’ outfield. But a more likely candidate is Darnell Sweeney, who the Phillies acquired in the Chase Utley trade last August. With Andres Blanco returning and the recent addition of Taylor Featherston, there won’t be many opportunities to give Sweeney adequate playing time. The same goes in the outfield.
Malcolm: I’ll choose a real surprise: Jerad Eickhoff. The righty acquired in the Cole Hamels trade fared extremely well in a short sample last season (3-3, 2.65 ERA, 49 K, 13 BB), enough for manager Pete Mackanin to drop him into the opening day rotation … or so we think. The big knock on Eickhoff right now is lack of a suitable changeup, which would help neutralize left-handed hitters. If he can’t get that third pitch up to snuff, he’s anything but a lock. Look, anything can happen in spring, and with plenty of worthy arms on the bubble (Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer, Adam Morgan, Alec Asher), I still think there are two spots up for grabs. Eickhoff isn’t a sure thing just yet.
And who could surprise people by making the roster?
Floyd: I think right-hander Cordero will stand a good chance to be on the big league club from opening day forward, but I’ve talked about him already, so let me mention Ernesto Frieri as a contender to be in the bullpen. He’s a non-roster invitee and I simply think the Phils will want some veteran leadership in the mix there and the team may like him more than some rookie types such as Velasquez or Colton Murray. I just think Frieri will show enough in spring training to end up making the cut to come north.
Malcolm: Almost every spot in the bullpen is open, though we can casually pencil Hernandez, Jeanmar Gomez and a lefty into the equation (most likely Rule 5 pick Daniel Stumpf). We’d have to reach back to find a surprise for the bullpen, so I’ll channel Jay and say Cordero gets the call. The kid can flat-out throw a fastball. I’ll predict he starts the year as a middle reliever getting one or two opportunities a week, but at some point this year he’s being inserted into relatively important situations.
How do the Phillies finish in 2016?
Gerstel: I believe the Phillies are in much better shape entering 2016 than they were entering 2015. That being said, I don’t expect them to flirt with 100 losses again. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if they flirted with .500. With a fresh nucleus starting to take shape, a few highly touted prospects expected to make their debuts, and a younger, more talented starting rotation, I could see the Phillies finishing with a 78-84 record and a third place finish in the NL East.
Riccaboni: The Phillies will finish an improved fourth place in 2016. I see the Phillies finish near 70 wins but, honestly, something as high 74 wouldn’t surprise me. There is addition by subtraction on so many fronts and so many positions on this team may get better by default. They will finish firmly ahead of the Braves, despite the Braves adding some interesting pieces, while the Marlins and Mets duke it out for second place. Despite their dysfunction, the Washington Nationals will be led into the playoffs by another MVP-caliber season from Bryce Harper.
Floyd: They could be up to 10 games better than the 99-loss season they had last year, but I expect the team to continue to be difficult to watch at times this year. However, with all the youth making its way toward the big league roster it’ll be a much more interesting season than 2015. An 89-loss season puts them in third place last year in the generally weak NL East, so you could see them make moves in that regard this year.
Gephart: With the Phillies having no chance at matching the success of the New York Mets, there is no hope for anything past the regular season this year, as we are all expecting. I also believe there is no chance that the Phillies will be as terrible as they were last year in the win-loss record. At least we can hope. My prediction for the season comes to the same that I made last year, 72-90.
Malcolm: The Phillies won’t be the worst team in baseball in 2016. Okay, I can’t say that with all certainty, but I’m confident there’s improvement on the major league level. That said, we should anticipate 90 losses this year, just as a matter of course. But don’t concentrate on the won-loss record; instead, focus on how Franco attacks the strike zone, how Aaron Nola and Eickhoff further adjust to major league hitting, how Herrera improves his route-running, and yes, how much Howard can make us forget, for just a few seconds, that baseball is played by mere men.
Then Crawford, Williams and Jake Thompson come to Philly and there’s a new chapter to write.