One of the more glaring, undeniable issues crippling the Phillies last few seasons is the demise of outfield defense. Domonic Brown, Delmon Young, Ben Revere, Jeff Francoeur, and Cody Asche have all had the ghosts of Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and a face-nursing Aaron Rowand shaking their heads in confusion or outrage at some point.
Things improved slightly at times - moving Ben Revere to left field was one of the few correct things of the Ryne Sandberg Era - but a flashy, young outfield is something that just seemed like it was for other teams, especially when Revere left for Toronto. But as characters such as Aaron Altherr, and more recently Peter Bourjos, join the cast, the outfield that starts for the Phillies in April 2016 will be a smaller, nimbler bunch who may regularly reach the ball.
Altherr was the winner of 2015 Gold Glove for defense in minors, did not commit error in 279 chances, and he has already played all three outfield spots with Phillies. Also, he is fast. The appeal of speed to me in baseball players is well-documented. It is likely because fast players in baseball video games allow me to employ an insanely liberal base-running strategy that ends inevitably with the controller in a toaster and the console on eBay.
In the majors, the 24-year-old, German-born Altherr saw action in 39 games: 22 in left, eight in center, and 11 in right. While his offensive output is scrutinized as people look for something, anything, to provide runs in this lineup, Altherr's sweet, clean, versatile defense cannot be overlooked. Besides, Matt Klentak just gone done explaining how preventing runs isn't just going to the pitcher's job on the Phillies anymore. The days of trotting a starter out there with the expectation that he can carry the load for seven to nine innings without giving the D a reason to flinch are over; which you might have suspected every time Jerome Williams went out there to pitch this season.
There was a brief mystery in St. Louis this year when Bourjos seemed to disappear. He's not a strong hitter, and the Cardinals were trying to beat back Cubs and Pirates all year. It made sense for him not to be an every day player with other options available. But then, Matt Holliday popped a quad and Jon Jay couldn't get his wrist right. Time for a spry, stalwart reserve outfielder to get his chance!
When Bourjos was used, it was because Mike Matheny was trying to put together a defense that could smother a lineup into a series of late 1-2-3 innings. While Bourjos had fallen out of regular usage, Matheny still showered him with praise regarding his defense. The Cardinals just had a lot going on in their outfield, with young players entering the fray and Shelby Miller somehow turning into Jason Heyward. The Phillies, on the other hand, remain somewhat thin out there, which will give 28-year-old Bourjos the chance to display the defensive prowess for which he has been known his whole career.
And, better still, he gives the Phillies 6' 1" of further depth at the center field position, something they lacked after putting the job on Herrera's shoulders and trading Ben Revere to Toronto. Bourjos has not spent much time as everyday player, and given the Phillies' needs, they will be a good match for the quick defender looking to make a name for himself. What a shame it will be when Jason Heyward arrives in Philadelphia and again takes up an outfield spot on Bourjos' team.
As John Stolnis and I gaped and gawked about on TGP Radio, Herrera may not be the better defender in center when compared to Altherr, or now, Bourjos, but he is at the top of a list of defensive metrics on which an absolutely hysterical collection of names are deemed less effective than him, like Mookie Betts and Mike Trout. My god; Herrera was saving 10 runs defensively for the Phillies this past season, getting outdone only by the sports' most stoic pillars of protection.
Getting an effective young starter out of the Rule 5 draft is one of the areas where the Phillies actually have a good reputation, and Herrera seems on his way to being their most recent success story. It's not every player stolen from another team's roster in a nonsensical draft that can catch the final out of a no-hitter while lying on his stomach (Something about that warning track dirt was really calling to Herrera that day at Wrigley).
His dives aren't clean - they're more like tumbles, or somersaults being aborted a third of the way through - but he gets to the ball and has a strong arm, an intersection of skills that Phillies outfielders have not showcased for a while.
And all the rest
Maybe if the Phillies sign and develop enough outfielders they won't have to force their infielders to be outfielders anymore. Is this the chance Darin Ruf needs to finally christ I'm not even going to finish this.
With the universal praises of J.P Crawford echoing throughout the land and an entire regiment of new, impressive prospects stepping off the bus in Reading and Lakewood, the speedy, Billy-Hamilton-but-better Phillies center fielder seemed to fade from future conversations this past season - this was aided by his hip flexor tear in June. But Quinn hasn't gone aground. He's still lurking... somewhere.
The man who was tearing his clothes and throwing them into the stands after the last game of the season is considered quite integral to the Phillies' clubhouse, given his ability to smile through the pain of 162 games with the Phillies. Also, he is capable of uncorking an outfield assist from time to time.
I for one welcome the inevitable 10-year, $220 million deal Heyward has signed with the Phillies somewhere in the future.