The 2017 season is almost here. Our 35-week spring training odyssey in Clearwater is over, and very soon, baseball games will no longer be allowed to end in gross ties.
And with Opening Day in Cincinnati just a few short days away, it’s time to make predictions. We will be rolling out our season predictions, and on my podcast The Felske Files, you can hear all my division picks and World Series pick as well.
But here is where we’re gonna get a little loose. We’re just gonna have some fun with this internet blogging thing, here. We’re gonna let our hair down and get crazy with 10 bold predictions for the 2017 Phillies season that probably won’t happen, but if they do, I’m a genius.
And if they don’t, well, no one takes these things seriously anyway, right?
Jerad Eickhoff Makes the All-Star Team
I’ve made no secret of my man-love for Jerad Eickhoff, the supposed throw-in to the Cole Hamels trade that could end up being the very best piece of it. After a solid 2016 season in which he made 33 starts and put up a 3.65 ERA and a 2.9 fWAR, Eickhoff had a very good spring. Prior to his “I just wanna get outta here” implosion of a final start against the Yankees on Thursday, he had struck out 21 batters and walked 4 in his 5 starts (19 innings) before that, with a .254 batting average against.
This is all while spending most of the spring working on a change up that he hopes will help him against left-handed hitters. I don’t know how many All Stars the Phillies are going to have this year (they had just one last year) but I’ll bet Jerad Eickhoff is one of them.
Phillies Starters Finish As A Top-7 Strikeout Group
I present this information to you, the podcast consumer.
Grapefruit League K/9:— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) March 29, 2017
1. Vince Velasquez, 11.4
2. Chris Sale, 11.1
3. Aaron Nola, 10.7
4. Masahiro Tanaka, 10.7
5. Rafael Montero, 10.3
I’ll bet you didn’t know Velasquez led all MLB pitchers in K/9 this spring, huh? But you didn’t realize Nola was third, right? Velasquez still has to prove he can pitch deeper into games, and Nola has to prove he’s not going to continue to get hit around a lot, but this is a rotation that should strike a bunch of humans out this year.
Before Nola’s season ended and the rest of the rotation fell apart after the All-Star game, the Phils were one of the best at piling up the K’s. They struck out 8.47 batters per nine innings in the first half, 5th-most in baseball. Their 22.1% strikeout rate was 6th-best.
If the rotation can stay healthy this year, I think they can finish the year in the top-7 at least in those two categories. That is in spite of...
Aaron Nola Will Be Sent Down to AAA
In his final eight starts last year, Nola had an ERA of 9.82 and allowed a batting average against of .355. He then was lost for the season with an elbow problem.
In 6 starts this spring, Nola had an 8.38 ERA in 19.1 innings and allowed opponents to hit .329 against him.
Nola is apparently unhurt. His velocity is up. He says he’s feeling good, but he’s just not locating the ball where he wants. He was also working on his change up throughout the spring, so these numbers could all reverse once the bell rings.
But if they don’t, and he’s still struggling in late-May, you could see a scenario where Nola is sent down to AAA to work on some things and gain some confidence. Remember, he only has 17 career starts at AA and 6 career AAA starts under his belt, with plenty of options left.
It’s likely he figures it out and sticks with the team the whole season. But it could be for his benefit to spend a couple weeks in AAA if he can’t solve what has ailed him over the last few months.
A Phillies Starter Will Pitch A No-Hitter in 2017
Which one will it be? Despite worries about potential struggles, Nola has no-hit stuff. Velasquez’ 16-strikeout complete-game shutout last year proves he has no-hit stuff. Eickhoff would need a lot of luck to pull off that feat, as would Jeremy Hellickson, but both strike enough guys out for the possibility to be there. And Clay Buchholz already has a no-hitter to his credit.
This has the potential to be a really good starting staff, and this is a place for bold predictions, so... why not?
The Phillies Will Be No-Hit in 2017
Look, I think the offense is going to be better this year, but there are so many great pitchers in the National League and this is still a lineup with a lot of swing-and-miss and bad at-bats in it, that I think the chances are good the team is no-hit at some point.
Especially as the season progresses and more rookies potentially enter the lineup.
No-hitters are fluky things anyway, but I can envision an early-August game where Noah Syndergaard comes into town and unleashes his arsenal of fury at a Phillies lineup that just isn’t ready for it.
And no, you shouldn’t root for a no-hitter against your team unless you’re at the stadium. Then, it’s a little different.
Aaron Altherr Hits 20 HRs
We all know how much of a beast Aaron Altherr has been this spring. He was handed the right field job last year but couldn’t hold onto it because of a wrist injury and was largely forgotten this off-season as the team brought in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders and we all salivated over the potential of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens.
Yet Altherr has been a monster in Clearwater, hitting .297/.366/.578 with 4 HRs, 4 doubles, a triple and 12 runs scored in 64 at-bats. He struck 17 times and walked 6, which isn’t great but isn’t awful either, especially when it’s packaged with this kind of power.
The big question is his playing time. Will he get enough?
I think he’ll be able to cobble together 400 PAs this season and, in the process, will clear the 20-homer barrier, setting him up to be a part of the team’s plans in 2018, at least.
Odubel Herrera Has a 20-20 Season
In 408 PAs at AAA in 2014, Herrera hit 2 home runs. In 537 PAs with the Phillies as a rookie in 2015, he hit 8. Last year, in 656 PAs, he bombed 15.
Notice a trend? I sure do.
As Herrera’s walk rate has increased and his strikeout rate has decreased, his power has also improved. And as we’ve seen in the past, the power is real.
He may not steal quite as many bags batting in the 2 or 3-hole as he did leading off for much of last season, but he should come close to the 25 stolen bases he reached last year, and could couple that with 20 bombs.
I think it will happen.
Roman Quinn Is A Rookie of the Year Finalist
In order to be a Rookie of the Year Finalist, you have to finish in the top-3 of the voting. Yes, Quinn is starting off the season in the Lehigh Valley outfield, but of all the prospects who are beginning the season in AAA, he is likely to be the first one called up if there is an injury or someone is traded.
And as we’ve seen, he is electric.
The Phils will most likely be looking to move their veteran outfielders at the trade deadline this year and, if and when they do, Quinn will almost certainly get the call to take their place, along with Altherr.
Of course, Quinn has had a lot of trouble staying off the disabled list in his career. But no one doubts his talent, and if he can manage to stay on the field, I think he’s going to be on the big league club and quickly emerge as one of the best rookies in the National League this season.
Rhys Hoskins Proves He’s For Real
I don’t know what Dylan Cozens is going to do in AAA this year. He was a monster masher for Reading in 2016, but his home-road splits were eyebrow-raising, and I’m not sure if his game is going to translate in a more neutral park.
I have fewer concerns about Hoskins, who smashed 38 dingers and hit .281/.377/.566 last year in AA, and looked incredible this spring with the Phils in Clearwater.
In 21 ABs he hit 3 homers and 2 doubles while walking 6 times and striking out 4, batting .286/.429/.810. That was an extremely small sample size, but it was enough to get me hopeful that he’s the real deal and not a product of the Reading bandbox.
I predict Hoskins will have a fantastic season in Lehigh Valley and make general manager Matt Klentak think long and hard about what to do with his first base situation, because I also predict Tommy Joseph will have a productive 2017 season as well.
Not a bad problem to have.
Jorge Alfaro Is the Everyday Catcher By August 1
Throughout the Phillies organization, there is youth at the catcher position. The “elder statesman,” Cameron Rupp, is 28. Back-up catcher Andrew Knapp is 25. And the kid who most believe is the future behind the dish, Jorge Alfaro, is just 23.
Rupp has power but struggles to get on base and had issues with his defense and game-calling last season. It’s likely he’s not the team’s long-term answer at catcher, whereas Alfaro’s talent is off-the-charts. He showed off some of that talent at the World Baseball Classic this spring.
Alfaro got a taste of big league action last September, as well, and while he has his own defensive issues and plate discipline concerns, he also has talent oozing out of his pores.
I predict Alfaro supplants Rupp as the everyday catcher by the time August rolls around, just one of the many new kids who should start navigating their way to the big league club this summer.
Lesser Bold Predictions
I didn’t feel as confident about these, and some were a little depressing. For example, I’m not sold on the idea that J.P. Crawford joins the team before September. I’m not convinced Cesar Hernandez can come anywhere to close to the season he had last year. I don’t think Freddy Galvis hits another 20 bombs. I’m not sure the bullpen is going to be all that good, and I shudder at more Luis Garcia sightings.
Some of those are a little less-than-optimistic and so I decided to shove them down here, hoping you’ll ignore them.