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Mailbag #21: Bored Enough to Build a Basketball Team

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And the Continuing Saga of Second Base

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Spring Training is nearly here. Really! In 10 days, pitchers and catchers will report to Clearwater, and there will be an end to the crushing cold and darkness of winter. With the addition of Chris Coghlan this week, the Phillies almost have a complete roster of competent Major League players, too. Imagine that.

Before jumping into the actual content, a plug for Matt Gelb’s great series on the Phillies in the Dominican Republic:

And good luck to Phillies Ulises Joaquin (D.R.), Jesmuel Valentin (P.R.), Freddy Galvis (VE), and Herlis Rodriguez (VE) in the Caribbean Series.

Prospect Spotlight: Chace Numata

If you haven’t been following the Phillies system, you probably were a bit surprised when something named “Chace Numata” was invited to Spring Training.

Numata was drafted in the 14th round of the 2010 draft as a shortstop out of a Hawaiian high school. The Phillies converted him to catcher, and he spent his first three seasons in short season ball. He was poor in Lakewood in 2013, and then missed almost the entire 2014 season due to injury. He was then mediocre in Clearwater in 2015. Ho hum, right?

This year, he had a breakout in Clearwater, hitting .308/.377/.393 over 94 games and nearly winning the FSL batting title. Numata has always walked at a fine rate and hasn’t struck out above 15% since his pro debut, but he is not going to hit for much power, and that even includes doubles.

The reason that Numata will be in camp (and why he is almost certainly the everyday starter in Reading) is his glove. Numata has always had a big arm, he was up to 95 off the mound as his high school’s closer, and the pop times back a few years were the best in the organization. What he has done is become a much better receiver behind the plate. In 2013, he allowed 28 passed balls and 110 stolen bases in 90 games; in 2016, that was down to 14 passed balls and 50 stolen bases. He is never going to be a Major League regular, but the 2017 season will be his age 24 season, and he has a chance to be someone’s defensively-minded backup catcher.

Mailbag:

I will preface this by saying I am low on first base prospects in general. Naylor is young, he has batting practice power and there is some pedigree. But all that being said I would have him No. 25 in the system, after Seranthony Dominguez and before Carlos Tocci. The Phillies have been enamored with Naylor for some time and there were rumors they would take him at 10 in the 2015 draft (thank god they didn’t, and count me among those glad they didn’t trade Hellickson for him).

As for the Phillies offseason, with Nola’s arm in question and the lack of success by Thompson/Eflin, I think the Phillies still look to get another veteran starting pitcher in addition to Clay Buchholz. Maybe that is a big one-year deal for Jason Hammel or Jesse Chavez. I am fine with how events have unfolded to this point.

The biggest unknown is whether any of these players can actually shoot, so I am just going to ignore that since it’s so difficult to translate. So what I am looking for is pure athletes with body control and decent size. This unfortunately started disqualifying tall, less athletic pitchers.

The point guard is the easiest position to fill. Roman Quinn is the best pure athlete in the system and his blazing speed should at least translate somewhat on a basketball court.

It is really hard to build any sort of sports team of Phillies prospects without including J.P. Crawford. His body control is great, and he has the speed to chase people around at the 2.

The guy I wanted at small forward was Aaron Altherr because of his speed, length, and athleticism, but he is not a prospect anymore. That left me with Nick Williams as the best choice given his size at 6’4” and all around athleticism. I also like his effort on defense this season, even if it wasn’t always effective.

Given that 6’6” is roughly the cap on height, I wanted to put a big power forward who could just bully guys down low and grab rebounds. With that in mind I went with Dylan Cozens, who is also more athletic than some of the similarly-sized pitchers.

For the center I went with the tallest guy I could find in 6’10” GCL LHP Kyle Young. Young is skinny enough he would get bullied around, but he has great body control for his size and is way taller than anyone else I could choose.

That gives us a line up of:
PG Roman Quinn
SG J.P. Crawford
SF Nick Williams
PF Dylan Cozens
C Kyle Young

I could also be missing someone who is actually good at basketball in this system.

Editor’s Note: Can Joel Embiid play the outfield?

This seems to be a conversation that is hinted at in many places but is not actually occurring about the Phillies system. Personally, I will take the system with stars, because you can trade stars for depth (not sure why you would, but it’s an option), and you can’t always trade depth for stars. This of course all depends on what kind of depth you have. Is the system deep in “No. 4 starter” and “average regular” ceilings? Or is it that you have a ton of lottery tickets and you know there are winners, but you don’t know which ones yet? Or is it some combination of the two of them? One of these groups is much more likely to give you future stars than the other.

It seems that the Phillies have been penciled into category one, a system with depth and light on star power. This seems to be a false narrative given that the Phillies have a top-10 prospect (Crawford), two more top-50 prospects (Moniak and Alfaro), and some guys that, depending on preference, should be top-100 prospects (my personal thinking is that Williams, Sanchez, Kilome, and Quinn should all be in contention for lists). That is not the high-end depth of some other systems, but that is some star power.

The Phillies system does have depth, a diverse depth at that. You have a bunch of players who are going to be solid Major Leaguers. But you also have low minors lottery tickets, and someone is going to pop up and cash out on that. Right now, that has been delivering mostly from the Latin American program, but it could be from anywhere given the number of talented players in the system.

The answer is probably Cesar Hernandez. If Hernandez is bad this year, I think he probably still is the second baseman as the Phillies try to revive his value.

If Hernandez is good, then you have two paths for him: Keep him as part of the core or trade him. The consequence of option one is obvious. When it comes to a trade, I don't know if the deadline is where you get the best package for Cesar. His allure comes from being cheap with three more years of control after 2017. Those two things are less important at the deadline, and even if he is good he is not going to represent a huge upgrade over two months for most teams. That means it is probably best to wait until the offseason when teams have holes and budgets to worry about.

I hate comps, myself. They are useful when trying to build a mental picture of the player. The problem is that two people may have two different opinions of the player and the comp, which brings a lot of room for missed communication. With that being said, these are more rough statistical comps for likely peak than they are career arcs. (Big shoutout to Baseball-Reference Play Index)

Scott Kingery: Chone Figgins. A sub-10 HR, 30-45 SB guy, Kingery will walk less and play better defense. Hopefully he gets caught stealing less too.

J.P. Crawford: Slower Rafael Furcal. Per 162 averages from 2000-2010: 4.4 bWAR .285/.347/.414, 10 HR, 25 SB. Crawford probably walks more and runs less. Also, put that in a less offensive era and you have an above-average bat with great defense. This comp is also getting worse the more I tack onto it.

Jesmuel Valentin: Brock Holt. Holt is a cult figure in Boston beyond his on-field output. His 2014-2015 (.280/.340/.380) is probably just beyond Valentin, but his ability to play every position but catcher is certainly within Valentin’s grasp.

Rhys Hoskins: There are really no good R/R first baseman who aren’t stars and unfair comps for Hoskins. I think if he hits his peak he is a guy who could be something like .270/.350/.500, but that still requires a lot to go right.

Everyone loves ToJo, so why not.

He was a top-10 first baseman in the second half when he started to walk. It is the first time in his career he has shown some semblance of a plus approach at the plate. We also haven’t seen him play for a meaningful stretch of time since 2012. The power is real, but to be part of the Phillies long term future he needs to get on base and hit right-handed pitchers, and he did both for a three-month stretch in 2016.