It's no secret there are certain aspects of the Phillies that have struggled so far in 2014.
Third base. Left field. Center field. The bullpen. All four areas have seen below league-average play, mostly by younger players, as noted by MLB.com's Todd Zolecki yesterday.
The Phillies are getting some of the worst production in baseball in left field, center field and third base, where they are counting on players no older than 26. Domonic Brown's .591 OPS is 71st and Ben Revere's .602 OPS is 70th among 76 outfielders. Cody Asche's .684 OPS is 17th out of 23 third basemen.
Philadelphia also opened the season expecting a mix of young relievers to step up and blend seamlessly with veterans Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo, but that has not happened. Phils relievers have a 4.68 ERA, which is the second-highest mark in the NL and the fourth-highest mark in baseball.
Of course, there are some well-known options down in the minors that are potentially tantalizing solutions. Ken Giles is in Triple-A Lehigh Valley throwing 100 mph, and Maikel Franco is heating up after a slow start, hitting .328/.409/.534 with an OPS of .944 since May 1. In that time, he has been walking in 10.6% of his at bats with 2 HRs, 9 RBIs, 14 runs scored, 7 BBs and 10 Ks.
But to listen to Ruben Amaro, neither player is the answer right now to what is ailing the Phillies.
"We're not going to force them because some other guys aren't performing," Amaro said. "They can't be saviors for us. They might be able to help us at some point, but when they're ready, when they have forced our hand to do it, they'll come."
Smart, smart, smart.
While Franco has been hot since the calendar flipped to May, it's important to remember how much he struggled in April. In his first month of seeing Triple-A pitching, he hit .172/.234/.253 for an OPS of .487. He struck out in 19% of his plate appearances and walked in just 6.4% of them. He also had just one home run, struck out 18 times and walked a mere six times.
It doesn't make sense to lift him out of there when he's just starting to get acclimated to Triple-A pitching and get a groove going. Plus, he still has a lot of work to do in some areas, notably on defense and...
So far in AAA Maikel Franco is hitting .282/.349/.487 against LHP and .225/.301/.333 against RHP— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) May 14, 2014
...working on those splits.
If the idea is for Franco to be a potential long-term solution at third base, and you want him to be a potential All-Star down the road, stunting his growth by rushing up to the big leagues to take over for Cody Asche would be a mistake.
Not only that, as bad as Asche has been (and he's been pretty terrible), he's only 24 years old himself. He's played just 34 games this year and accumulated only 109 PAs. Sure, his defensive miscues are unacceptable, no matter how much time he's had in the Majors. He's got to catch the ball and throw it accurately, no matter what he's doing at the plate.
But there is still time to wait on the 24-year-old to start to figure things out and improve on that .219/.312/.375 slash line, hitting out of the 8-hole in the National League, the toughest spot in the order in which to put up good offensive statistics.
As for Giles, his call-up may be more imminent, but it should not happen yet.
Has the Phils' bullpen been an unmitigated disaster? You know that it has. But asking a kid who, before this year, had never pitched above A-ball to suddenly become a savior of the Major League 'pen, is the textbook definition of "rushing" a prospect.
Look, Giles has been virtually unhittable in the minors this year, and his stats tell the story. In 18 innings between Reading and Lehigh Valley, Giles has an ERA of 1.50 and a WHIP of 0.889. He has struck out 31 and walked just six. And the fact that he throws in the triple digits means his fastball will play in the Majors when he arrives.
But while I'm sure Giles would love the call-up, even he realizes there is work to be done, especially on his slider.
Just spoke to Ken Giles...still has things he wants to work on at Triple A, making sure his slider looks like fb out of hand.— Marshall Harris (@mharrisCSN) May 12, 2014
Ethan Martin is likely to be the next reliever called up, and Justin De Fratus, who really didn't get much of an opportunity to prove anything this year, should also make a return before Giles is brought up. Neither guy has the stuff that Giles does, but both would be safer options at the moment.
If Giles continues to pitch effectively this month, I can see a scenario in which he is called up sometime in June. But mid-May is still too early.
Amaro is correct. The players the Phillies have on the Major League roster are going to have to figure this out. There are no magic bullets to fixing the problems. Adding Darin Ruf, when he's had enough at bats during his rehab in Lehigh Valley, should help provide some punch off the bench. And Cesar Hernandez could see some time in center field and at the top of the lineup if Ben Revere continues to struggle.
Maybe they can help a bit.
In the meantime, the urge to rush Franco and Giles to the big leagues is completely understandable. But the Phils are apparently taking a longer view with both prospects, which is absolutely the right thing to do.
There will be a time when calling up Franco and Giles is the right move.
But it ain't right now.