Welcome to 2018, the year the Phillies are supposed to truly take shape.
Last year was one of transition, when we sat through the horrors of the same-old, same-old before being gifted with exciting performances from newcomers like Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford and, of course, Rhys Hoskins. These kids join a group that includes Aaron Nola, Aaron Altherr, Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco and Vince Velasquez (most likely) as the top talent heading into 2018. With veterans Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter along for the ride, maybe the Phils will compete for a wild card berth. But at least they’ll be an actual team with a real goal, unlike what we’ve seen over the past several years.
That headlines our checklist for 2018, the things we want to see most. Let’s go through the list:
Watch a core take shape
That’s the headline. It seems the core includes Alfaro, Crawford, Hoskins, Herrera and Nola, though anything can change at any time. Possibly new faces will join this group, and possibly some of the names move to other places, but that’s the group for now. The goal is to watch it develop into a group that can compete for a postseason berth. Can Alfaro cut down the strikeouts and play steady defense? Can Crawford show a little more contact while developing a little power? Can Hoskins learn from his September struggles and become an all-world power hitter? Can Herrera focus just a little more and limit his mistakes? Can Nola stay healthy? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then we’re in for a treat. It’s likely not everything will come to fruition, but it’ll be interesting to watch it unfold.
See just one starting pitcher make the leap
Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Thompson, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Zach Eflin and Mark Leiter Jr. each logged time last year in the starting rotation, and none of them truly emerged as a sure thing. 2018 could be their last shot, which means we’ll have to sit through another few rounds of starting pitcher roulette. But in the end, if one of these guys can prove himself worthy of a competitive playoff-quality rotation, we’ll check off another box. The Phillies apparently believe in Pivetta and Velasquez, while the rest either have sub-optimal stuff or injury problems. Here’s to hoping one of them breaks through.
Field a somewhat competitive team
I don’t expect a playoff team, nor do I think the 2018 Phillies (at this moment) are capable of hanging with the big boys past the trade deadline. But give me a couple exciting winning streaks. Give me some ESPN piece about how the Phillies are fun to watch. Get close to .500, if not actually getting to .500.
Yes, it’s slightly sad to be hoping for absolute mediocrity, but if we’re keeping the long view, this should be the year the Phils aren’t a laughing stock and are just “a team about to be good.”
Get creative, but not too wild
I’m a fan of new manager Gabe Kapler, primarily because he speaks passionately about managing players on a personal, individual level, and also because he preaches fluidity in his actions. We’ve already seen pieces in which Kapler talks about maintaining a batting order that changes often – possibly daily – to reflect a variety of factors including how a player feels on a given day. I’m all for it. Baseball thrives in part because there’s a lot we expect to happen, from the seventh-inning stretch down to how managers construct a lineup. We’ve been conditioned to think that the fastest guy leads off, a guy with some combination of speed and contact bats second, and on and on. Kapler might not stick to this, and with other constants that can often be constraints. Hopefully this rings true in 2018.
Just don’t bat the pitcher leadoff, okay?
On the farm, stay healthy
The Phils’ most prized possessions in the farm system include a gaggle of pitchers hovering in the double- and single-A pools. Starring is Sixto Sanchez, who many believe has the ability to be an elite-level ace in the big leagues. It would be gravy if Sanchez puts up some absurd ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio in Clearwater (where he’ll probably start in 2018) and Reading, but seriously, just stay healthy. Same for Franklyn Kilome, Adonis Medina, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez, JoJo Romero and Jose Taveras. And for everyone else in the system. Seriously, no injuries. Not one.
Keep it affordable
The “every home game in April” promotion the Phillies have run the last few years has helped bring a few more fans (most of them college-age and 20-somethings) to the ballpark. Keep doing that.
The Phillies should find every way to make Citizens Bank Park an affordable outing for everyone, and especially young families. Think about the 6-year-old coming to three or four Phils games in 2018, getting to watch guys like Crawford and Hoskins up close. That 6-year-old may just be following these guys for the next 10 years. Give her every opportunity to watch these players live and in person. Feed that love of baseball.
Get ready for a wild offseason
We’re a ways from the 2018-19 offseason, but we’re already talking about it. Could the Phillies sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado to some insane contract? What about someone like Clayton Kershaw?
The Santana signing feels like a warning shot across the game – the Phillies are going to spend big, and here’s a little taste of what that looks like. Maybe they make a splash at the trade deadline, but at the very least, they should be among the most active teams next offseason. Get ready for it. Should be a blast.