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The Leadoff, Vol. 1: Rounding the Bend

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Ah, January. The first month of a new year. My birthday month. That time of year when it feels right to start new projects, and still have the hope that you’ll see them through. Hopefully, you haven’t canceled your gym membership yet.

So! Enter The Leadoff, a mailbag feature reboot here at The Good Phight that will center around questions you pose on Twitter. With moves likely still to be made in the month between now and pitchers and catchers, we’ll look to run one of these weekly. They’re fueled by your questions, remember! And you don’t even have to @ us (though it’d help). You can just use the hashtag #tgpleadoff and we’ll find your question.

David later clarified that this is more about high, top picks in general (as Wentz was 1.2, someone probably would’ve nitpicked). With that in mind: Yeah what the heck?

It doesn’t make things easier when picks further back in these drafts leapfrog the players the Philly teams pick, either (Wentz being the exception, since he looked pretty damn good in year two before getting hurt). The Moniak thing hurts, but only mostly because he was a First Overall Pick. The 2016 draft was pretty widely panned for its lack of top-shelf, impact talent at that spot, and the Phils took a shot on a kid who had glowing present hit tool reports.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to watch that evaporate over the course of Mickey’s first full pro season. But look, he’s 19. It’s so unbelievably early in the process yet, and if the pure hitter that Moniak was scouted to be gets unlocked this year, all of a sudden the Phillies have another valuable player in their stables. Is a .625 OPS bad? Yes. Can we turn this into a positive thing and say Moniak stands to learn important lessons about his struggles and conditioning for playing a full season? Absolutely.

I’ll expect him to be better. It’s hard not to be. But how much better will determine whether he ever becomes a top prospect again.

As long as some of Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer stay available and are not snatched up by another team, the Phillies are in play. They still need at least one significant upgrade.

Look, an argument for letting some of the younger guys continue to try and figure things out is still somewhat valid. The Phillies, even after signing Carlos Santana, can’t be reasonably expected to compete yet this year. They can still try and identify 2019 cogs in trial-by-fire mode. But there is some substantial pain associated with a rotation chock full of guys who can barely scratch out five innings a start. You don’t want Hector Neris throwing 80 innings all the time; Pat Neshek is awesome, but averages less than a full inning per appearance and, timeless as he appears, is 37; Victor Arano looks cool, but has never made more than 46 appearances in a season as a pro. And on and on. You need guys at the front who can, from time to time, go six or seven or maybe even eight (gasp) innings and spare the relievers. Bullpenning is a trendy postseason strategy, but no staff will survive a season if it has to lean on its relievers for four or five innings every single game.

With that said, I grow more pessimistic about the idea of the Phillies making a big trade for a pitcher. I think, as more time passes, we see an increase in the likelihood of something like a Jeremy Hellickson reunion, or a redemption project like Jaime Garcia. Carlos Santana has been as close to a sure thing, offensively, as any hitter in the game over the past five-plus years, so adding him to a roster of unknowns and uncertainty was a pretty logically stabilizing move. I’m not sure the front office sees the roster, today, as close enough to competing to warrant surrendering major chips and transitioning out of the discovery stage by splurging on a top-tier starter via trade. This offseason has been weird, though, and I’m not 100 percent sure my sense of logic has been calibrated to match it yet.

Nah. I think that’s reaching too far to find a scapegoat.

They’ve committed $60M to Carlos Santana and more than $30M to bullpen upgrades in Neshek and Tommy Hunter. I also think they’ll look to sign Aaron Nola to a new deal and, if things go a certain way, perhaps give Rhys Hoskins or Cesar Hernandez new contracts of their own. And, hell, if everything goes right and they’re sniffing the periphery of the playoff chase in July, maybe they finally make that big trade acquisition and add some money then.

And, honestly, Citizens Bank Park is a huge advantage for this team. It’s a great place to watch a game, even when the team sucks, and continuing to maintain that experience is important. If they need to allocate some dollars - which probably come from a different pot than the roster dollars do to begin with - to making the fan experience top-notch, hey, I’m about it.

This is a great question, and I’m glad we’re reaching a point where we can be forward thinking in a positive way, rather than envisioning who’s packing their bags in the spring and summer. It’s refreshing.

Anyway, I’d keep a close eye on the Orioles. They haven’t traded Manny Machado (yet), but don’t really look like they’re going to be a force in a division that houses the Yankees and Red Sox. So, with that in mind, I’d wonder about someone like Kevin Gausman.

Gausman, 27, has been a bit up-and-down during his time in Baltimore. He’s been good when fully geared toward starting, but then little wrinkles, like a spike in walk rate in 2017, emerge and muddy the waters. Prior to exhausting his rookie eligibility, he was a near-consensus top 50 global prospect, and has shown flashes of that elite potential with the Orioles.

After getting shellacked by the Cubs just before the All-Star break, Gausman’s 2017 ERA sat at 6.39, but in the second half, he pitched 86.2 innings in 14 starts, with a 2.70 ERA and 91 strikeouts against 27 walks. That’s a strong finish occluded by some severe first-half struggles.

If the Orioles decide to sell wholesale in July - and the odds are decent - Machado will certainly be talked about, but Gausman’s potential intrigues me, too. Add to that the fact that he’d be arbitration-eligible through the 2020 season, and you’d also have a controllable asset sure to entice those focused on the long-term, too.

I think the Phillies are a third-place team in 2018. I think 75-80 wins should be expected, and anything far lower than that should be cause for alarm for our long-term aspirations.

As for breakouts, I think all of the following are possible, with varying likelihoods ranging from “plausible” to “probable:”

  • Maikel Franco posts a respectable slash line in the vicinity of .260/.320/.440
  • Nick Pivetta tosses more than 100 innings of sub-4 ERA
  • J.P. Crawford posts an OBP over .350 over the full season

But, without getting into concrete numbers, I think we’ll see the biggest leaps from two bullpen arms: Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano. After Ramos returned in August from his midseason demotion, he threw 26.2 innings and struck out 37 while walking six and allowing just one home run. He looked light years better than the lost, flailing guy we saw get trounced early on. He’s set to do big things. Arano came up and struck out 13 in his 10.2 innings despite skipping Triple-A. According to Brooks Baseball, Arano got whiffs on 31 of the 90 sliders he threw during his September/October cup of coffee, and even if his fastball “only” sits at 94, he seems poised to use his breaking ball as a weapon.

I like ‘em both! Buy stock now!

Ah, the hot corner. It’s a pain point for a lot of us. I keep trying to be encouraging about Franco, and I continue to believe in his ability, but I’ll admit that he has a gargantuan mountain to climb in order to win back some fan trust. Plus, with the appetizing options becoming available next winter (e.g., Machado, Donaldson, maybe someone like Marwin Gonzalez?) it’s hard not to turn our eyes elsewhere.

I do think the Phillies have someone other than Maikel Franco start at third base in 2019, though, and I think there’s a better chance of it being Donaldson than Machado.

But, to keep things current and stay focused on 2018 before 2019: Yes, I think it would make some sense to inquire about Donaldson. The Blue Jays seem like they’re being stubborn about it - and I commend them for at least waiting and seeing - but I think they’ll fall off the pace in due time and make some players available; Donaldson chief among them. By then, the Phillies may be too far back of the pack themselves, and the point could be moot. I just don’t see Donaldson being moved before the season starts, even if Toronto has already gone out and picked up Yangervis Solarte. And if the Phillies are in the hunt come July? You’d better believe they’ll be making some international calls.

UPDATE: You can also submit questions for The Leadoff via email! Send questions to thegoodphighttv [at] gmail [dot] com and include Leadoff or TGP Leadoff in the subject line.