The Phillies have enough infielders to come at you from any angle, like I said up in the subhed, but the stories coming out of camp all have their own angles, as well: Can Tommy Joseph keep his momentum after a scrappy underdog story? Will Andres Blanco remain a useful vet and example to the young'ns? Can Brock Stassi keep it clear that he belongs? What are the Phillies' plans for Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez? Don't forget J.P. Crawford! And all the rest.
Those questions keep us up at night, so we decided to try and answer them.
Remember in "40-Year-Old Virgin", when Jay and his girlfriend were showing ultrasound video in the store to all of the workers? In the scene, he remarked how, we’ll call it "grown up" (sorry, family website) his son appeared to be in the video. "Extrapolate that ______". That’s the same kind of giddiness fans get when they think about what kind of numbers Joseph could have put up last year had he been given the starting first base position right out of Spring Training.
It’s a dangerous exercise, extrapolation. While it does quicken the pulse of any fan, it does not factor in outside influences, such as freak injuries or slumps. Both of these things have happened to Joseph in the past, therefore, they cannot be ruled out as he embarks on his first full season as a starter. Sure, the power he displayed and gains he made in exhibiting patience are exciting, but that excitement must be tempered by the fact that due to his past, one errant fastball to his helmet could end his career before it gets started. That’s obviously not the greatest outcome for anyone, but it must be taken into account as he marches forward. He has the ability to be a good regular until someone supplants him at the position, but there will always be that little bit of doubt in the back of fans minds. He’ll never make the Hunter Pence trade look good for the Phillies, but he can at least continue what he started last year and begin balancing the scale a little more towards the hometown nine.
Quick – who had the most fWAR on the Phillies in 2017? Fine, you’re right, Odubel Herrera. Who was second? That’s right, your favorite TOOTBLAN and mine, Cesar Hernandez. Man, those base running issues. They are the main takeaway from his 2017 season and that’s a shame. The team was finally able to produce a quality infielder who is cheap and under team control for a while and all I can remember is the pickoffs, sliding past bases and general giving away of outs whilst being chased in 90 foot intervals. Sure, he struck out too much, but he also put up a 10.6% walk rate and .371 OBP, both well above what anyone could have hoped for last season. His league leading 11 triples were a welcome surprise as well, as it showed off the high end speed Hernandez is known for. Added bonus: his defense was pretty good too (depending on your metric of choice, that is). Add it all together and the team had a well-rounded asset at the keystone heading into the season.
2017 will be the year the team determines his course. If Hernandez is able to put together a season similar to what he had last year, does he suddenly become a vital cog in the team’s future or does he become trade bait? Are they willing to gamble on an unknown quantity in Scott Kingery, betting he’ll be as good or better, or do they stick with the known product? Hernandez’s future with the Phillies will depend on their answering this question.
Poor Freddy Galvis. Dude hits 20 home runs, plays Gold Glove defense, grows a magical hair-do and what happens? Everyone keeps wondering when J.P. Crawford is coming up. Sure he never gets on base, but how many shortstops hits 20 home runs and had at least 5 DRS at the position? Try four – Galvis, Addison Russell, Troy Tulowitzki, and Danny Espinosa. That’s it. Sure, others may have hit for more home runs than him, but they didn’t qualify as shortstops (Machado, Correa), or they didn’t rate as highly as a fielder, but that is some elite company he is keeping. Is that cherry picking statistics? Absolutely. But, it does show what kind of a weird season Galvis had last year. He was great with the glove, showed lots of never before seen power, but wasn’t very good everywhere else.
The issue is, he’ll have to get better in order to stop the Crawford Train from rolling into Citizens Bank Park before June. If he does show improvement, maybe Crawford can stay down a few more weeks. If he struggles, the team will hear the clamor for the heralded prospect loud and clear and won’t have any reason to keep him down outside of any struggles himself.
At that point, Galvis enters limbo. Does he stay on as a utility guy? $4 million is a lot to pay a guy who only gets maybe 6-10 plate appearances a week.
If there is a bigger question mark heading into the season than the health of Aaron Nola’s elbow, it’s the bat of Maikel Franco. Last year, hyped by certain Phillies broadcasters, expectations were high for Franco to lead an offense that looked to be slightly below average, at best. When Franco took a giant step backwards, the offense as a whole suffered, falling to the bottom of the league. Only Tommy Joseph can rival the power that Franco brings to the table, but with his constant flailing at the plate, that power was severely wasted. Sure, the 25 home runs looks good on paper, but all other measurements of offensive productivity went south. This year, Matt Stairs was brought on board as hitting coach, probably with the thought that he could fix
Nick Williams Franco. While the spring stats have not been as encouraging, most people who just watch Franco are noticing that he isn’t giving away as many at bats as he did last season. Stairs has preached having a plan when going to the plate in 2017 and nowhere was this more important than at between the ears of Franco. If he is able to improve on his numbers and replicate his success of 2015 over a full season’s worth of plate appearances, the offense as whole becomes that much more dangerous. With expected regression probable at at least three positions, they’ll need all the offense they can get.
Well, golden boy, here we are. Crawford packed up a little early and headed off to minor league camp, as he will start the season in Lehigh Valley. I know we’re all itching in the pits to see the Phillies’ top prospect take his rightful place in the dirt between second and third base, but he underperformed last year, despite moving from Reading to Lehigh after 36 games. The 22-year-old hit .244 for the IronPigs (he’d hit .265 with a .787 OPS for at Double A), after showing off that quick bat, that keen eye (30 BB to 21 SO), and that killer D. Crawford admitted he had been "trying to hit .600" in order to get promoted and take the big leagues by storm, but instead, his over exertion resulted in low numbers and a rival scout telling him in this year’s Sports Illustrated MLB preview to "stop reading about how good he is." In any case, the tools that made this kid a franchise weapon are still in there. Starting at Triple A will be good for him and, in a perfect world, which we clearly live in, Crawford will be ousting his big league shortstop counterpart/placeholder by late June.
"I never doubted myself, ever," Stassi told reporters through a vale of tears on Thursday after being told he had made the Phillies’ major league roster. Not bad for a 33rd round draft pick who’d struggled to keep his head above water in Williamsport in 2011-12. Stassi crushed Venezuelan Winter League pitching this year, hitting .303/.462/.562. When he departed the team, manager Ozzie Guillen pointed to him in front of the rest of the squad, calling the infielder "important, not only for what he has done offensively and defensively, but also for the way he plays baseball. Everyone should look at themselves in that mirror. He earned his money in this country." He saw plenty of action with the IronPigs last season, hitting .267 in 117 games, with 12 home runs, 60 walks, and 76 strikeouts. This guy is already the story of the year, and along with Andrew Knapp and Aaron Altherr, gives the Phillies a prospect-ridden bench - Knapp and Stassi have a combined zero games of big league experience on their resume. Clearly, Stassi made an impression on the Phillies this spring, and after hitting .333 with a 1.099 OPS and six home runs, that impression was deep and permanent. Have a day, Brock Stassi. Hell; have a whole season.
Old reliable isn’t the big story coming out of spring training this season. Oh sure, sure; we’re bound to get this year’s "Steady veteran Blanco leads young Phillies by example" column at some point, but the best narrative thread of the spring is the 27-year-old sobbing with joy over making the team. Blanco was more than happy to play his role last year, however, saying he never had the mentor in his own fledgling years as a ball player that he hopes to be to guys like Galvis, Hernandez, and Joseph. A multi-position player, he’d probably pitch if you asked him (I mean, who wouldn’t), Blanco, when he hits, is the definitive bench player coaches dream of. The Phillies stuck him at third base this spring, where he DEAR GOD
Taking away a hit and getting two outs in the process. What a play by Andrés Blanco! pic.twitter.com/NWu0WaubwG— Phillies (@Phillies) March 5, 2017
All right. The old man can play.
"Old." The guy is 32. He’s just surrounded by teenagers so he’s probably aging a little more rapidly. From the hot corner Blanco hit Not Well in the Grapefruit League, getting 40 ABs thus far with seven hits, two for extra bases, one home run, four walks, and 15 strikeouts. Last year, the numbers he put up (.253/.316/.405, ) paled in comparison to the .292/.360/.502 he put up in 2015 in 106 games. He also struggled to hit lefties and for some reason wasn’t able to get comfortable hitting at home, going from 1.5 WAR in 2015 to -0.2 WAR last season. Blanco was probably always going to make the team, barring some freak accident or memory loss, as he’s demonstrated his value despite struggling and provides depth all across the infield (not so much at SS anymore) while only taking up one roster spot. Pete Mackanin said he was the best utility man he’d ever seen. Here’s hoping he keeps giving Mack a reason to smile.