After months of fans clamoring for it, Scott Kingery was promoted. Despite his 2016 double-A debut leading to an unexciting but understandable .606 OPS, Scotty Jetpax took off in his 69 games at Reading this year, including a .313/.379/.608 triple slash that has some fans convinced he’d be the Phillies’ best player today if he were brought up to join the big leaguers. He wouldn’t be, though, which is why he was instead sent to Lehigh Valley to continue developing his craft, which is essentially being a well-rounded player with a bright future. It’s too soon to say whether his power surge will stick – his ISO to begin this year is double his previous career total – but he has other strengths that will earn him a spot in the majors when he’s ready for one.
Tom Eshelman is another guy who made the leap from double-A to triple-A following a strong start to the season. Since joining the IronPigs rotation, Eshelman has a 2.08 ERA and 3.03 FIP over 9 starts. He’s a command pitcher who’s striking out fewer batters per 9 innings (5.68) than in 2016 without his success taking a hit.
Neither of these guys seems most likely to be the next Phillie promoted, though. Neither has seen enough time at triple-A to graduate from it organically, and the front office likely sees enough upside in their development to be hesitant to upset it with a hasty trip to Philly. Instead, it’s a familiar friend – one the promotometer has stopped on before – who seems most likely to get the call and have an actual impact when he does.
Stats: .276/.321 /.509, .830 OPS, .362 wOBA, 15 HR, 5 SB, 4.7 BB%, 30 K%
Since his last spin on the promotometer at the start of June, Williams has slashed .272/.337/.533 and hit for an OPS of .869 over 101 plate appearances. In other words, he seems to have settled into a degree of consistency that had been missing from portions of his professional career before.
The strikeouts remain a concern. Only three qualified major league outfielders have a strikeout rate worse than the 30% mark Williams finds himself at this year— Keon Broxton, Byron Buxton, and Khris Davis. While striking out a lot is by no means unusual in today’s game, strikeouts remain a hole in Williams’ game that would likely get worse against major league pitching.
Service time: In our last look at Williams, it was worth considering whether his promotion timeline could be affected by the Super Two cutoff. While holding players down longer is an exploitative, front office-friendly measure that robs players of millions of dollars, it’s nonetheless one that factors into decisions to promote minor leaguers on the cusp. At this point, though, the deadline has likely passed, meaning it shouldn’t affect the club’s reasoning on when to call up Williams.
Is he ready?: There are reasons to believe in the improvements Williams has made this season. First, he altered his swing in the offseason, and success from mechanical adjustments is more likely to continue than success that can’t be explained. Additionally, that success has been apparent, with minor fluctuations, over the course of around 300 plate appearances, which is a large enough sample size to hang your hat on. Williams has even been credited for a shift in his thinking and mental approach to the game, which some see as a sign that he is a more developed, mature player who’s ready to take the next step in his career.
By the numbers, there’s not much more to wait for. Producing similar and presentable results for a solid three months is a sign that he’s not benefiting from flukiness or a flash in the pan; it seems like this is really the player Williams is. Plus, other than his strikeout rate, it’s hard to find something fans would disagree with in his game: he’s hitting for a fine average with some power and making flashy plays in the field while he does it. His platoon splits are not out of line with other players, and he has the benefit of being stronger against righties, who have pitched in three times as many plate appearances as lefties have this season.
Major league hole: An outfield logjam has been a topic of conversation surrounding the Phillies since before the season started, and that was before Aaron Altherr was making his case as a deserving starter in a corner outfield spot. With Altherr and Herrera as locks, there’s really only one slot open in the outfield for any other player.
Already, that role is being shared between recent call-up Cam Perkins and Daniel Nava. When Cesar Hernandez returns to play, Howie Kendrick will shift back into the role unless his nagging hamstring requires him to be sent to the DL himself. That puts three players already in the majors fighting for one spot. In other words, playing time is tight, and it wouldn’t make sense to call up a prospect like Nick Williams unless he can play every day.
The Phillies could option Cam Perkins, who has scratched out a .143 in his first 8 games in the majors, depending on what role they foresee him really having with the club in the near future. If he’s only a temporary fill-in and backup outfielder, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to send him down.
Nava, who has been productive offensively to the tune of a 117 wRC+, might be harder to remove from the batting order. He’s a catastrophe in the field, however, so his overall value diminishes to a level that wouldn’t be difficult to replace. His presence in the lineup may be meant to jumpstart the Phillies offense and make others around him better, but it may also be a showcase to draw interest from other teams. The Phillies have little to gain from holding him past the trade deadline and, although he’s unlikely to be moved for an impact prospect, he’ll get a lot more attention as a leadoff hitter than a bench bat.
Kendrick, when healthy, has been one of the best batters on the team this year. He plays enough positions, though, that he could be shuffled around the field to give other guys off days and still make several starts a week. Plus, Williams’ development should be more important than getting Kendrick more PA by a wide margin.
Prediction: The above is a convoluted way of explaining that Williams should be up this year, but it may not be until after the trade deadline. He has reached a level of performance that could get him to the next level and then make further adjustments as necessary, but a secondary issue appears to be ensuring playing time. As soon as there’s room for him – whether by trading assets or further injuries – Williams should be the guy stepping in.
UPDATES ON HOSKINS, ALFARO, CRAWFORD AND QUINN
A single tear rolls down my cheek every time Quinn is injured. He’s an electric player who’s among the fastest players you’ll see, stealing 10 bags in 45 games this year at Lehigh Valley. The bad news is it’s hard to actually see him— in other words, he’s lost a lot of time throughout his professional career due to injury. If he’d stayed healthy, he’d probably be a major league regular already. Instead, he started the year with a .344 OBP but hasn’t played since May 28.
Alfaro’s first year at triple-A shows that it’s the right place for him for the time being. He’s not embarrassing himself by any means, but he’s showing that there are still things to fix before making it to the show. He walks too little (4.3%), strikes out too much (28.9 %), and has seen his ISO drop to .122 while hitting 5 homeruns through 61 games. The last month has been especially unpleasant, including hitting .181 in the last 28 days. The speculation is that it’s his defense and game-calling, not his offense, that the IronPigs are most concerned about this season. Whatever he’s working on, he deserves to keep working on it— and triple-A is the place for him right now.
Crawford remains polarizing. In the last week, he’s gotten on base at a .370 clip. That’s too small of a sample size to make much of without having actually watched him hit, but it’s at least a glimmer of hope. The issue with Crawford analysis is that most people have their minds made up on him already, and many are willing to give up on him completely. Here’s a tip for those looking for a written-in-stone path for Crawford’s career: don’t. Development can be slow, circuitous, non-linear and unpredictable. At Crawford’s age, Chase Utley hadn’t reached double-A. Carlos Ruiz started his age-22 season with a promotion … to single-A. In the immediate sense, there’s no reason to promote Crawford to the big leagues yet.
Rhys Hoskins showed explosive power in 2016 that, combined with hitting for good average throughout most of his minor league career, would make him a formidable presence in a lineup. There was concern that his power and overall performance were enhanced by Reading’s hitter-friendly, homer-inducing park, but he’s started 2017 by putting up even better numbers at triple-A. He’s improved his walk rate, strikeout rate, average, OBP, slugging percentage, wOBA, and wRC+. Really. His OPS in the last week is 1.071. It’s understandable to want a player to get more than 78 games of seasoning at triple-A before calling him up, but Tommy Joseph might be as much an impediment to Hoskins as inexperience is. Joseph has hit well enough to keep getting a look, and there’s no real reason to rush either player out of the status quo.