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The Leadoff, Vol. 3: Divided Attention

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Hi hello yes ::waves hands wildly:: we’re over here!

Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Is this the last Wednesday before Philadelphia caves in on itself? Probably. Be sure to bid it a fond farewell.

Meanwhile, in this sport, the Phils are now just two weeks away from reporting to Clearwater and still have a starting pitching need to address. The longer we all wait, the closer we all assume we are to the market finally closing up shop...but we all see how far assumptions have taken us this winter. The team we see today may well be the team that reports for duty in the middle of next month, and that’s that.

As a reminder, you can catch our eyes by tweeting your question at our Twitter handle - @TheGoodPhight, conveniently enough - with the hashtag #tgpleadoff or by sending an email to TheGoodPhightTV [at] gmail [dot] com with no hashtag whatsoever. Let your #heart lead the way.

To the bag!

Second base.

I think we’re all hopeful he’s built up the arm strength to handle third, but nothing I’ve read from those I trust makes it seem like that’s a likelihood. He certainly has a tough act to follow in that respect, because Maikel Franco has himself a SpaceX vehicle for a right arm.

That said, Kingery would have to make up for the downgrade in arm strength with advanced range, something he certainly appears capable of. And, barring a catastrophe, he probably will see Major League time at third. I just don’t think it sticks, and I think the Phillies as currently constructed will not compete this year, and will find a new home for Cesar Hernandez. But ask me about that last sentence’s outlook again tomorrow, because none of this feels set in cement. It’s kinda scary like that!

It’s never a bad thing to have depth and options. And no matter what you think about those options, they’re (at worst) fringe-y enough to handle themselves at the Major League level, if needed. That sounds disparaging and I promise I don’t mean it that way; have you considered, objectively, how difficult it is to pitch in the Majors? Being kinda able to do that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Anyway.

Aaron Nola is a studmuffin. He’s cool as hell. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s your Guy at number one.

Jerad Eickhoff has had two good years, one bad year, and a now-treated hand injury. If he’s right, he’s a good pitcher, and one I want in the Phils’ rotation. So he’s two.

I am desperately clinging to hope with Vince Velasquez. He’s frustrating, but I still think about that 2016 start against the Padres, like, weekly. So, stubbornly, he goes in at number three.

Nick Pivetta is someone I also believe in, despite that horrid ERA. This is a guy with stuff best described as “curious” both on good days and bad, and he’ll absolutely have a better ERA than last season. Bank on it. Invest in it. Place legal wagers on it. I promise you that 2018 will be kinder to him. Number four.

And so we’re left with the final, fifth spot, with the top contenders looking like Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, and Jake Thompson. All three have options, so there’s no advantage there. Thompson, I feel, is someone who doesn’t currently have the secondaries needed to be a successful SP. The wipeout slider he had during his earlier pro years in the Rangers’ system is not present at the moment, and some semblance of it will need to come back if he’s to improve his outlook as a Major Leaguer.

Between Eflin and Lively, we have two pitchers who are apparently allergic to striking guys out, which I personally hate. If your K% in this, the Age of Unholy K Numbers, is in the low teens, you’re lagging pretty severely. Eflin has had knee and shoulder injuries to bounce back from, while Lively has stayed relatively healthy. If either can show an advanced breaking ball or offspeed pitch that leads to weak contact (or, you know, more of those strikeout things), I think that guy emerges as the frontrunner for fifth starter...and I’ll say Lively is the guy who eventually wins the spot, even if he isn’t recalled until a handful of games into the season. The Phillies could go until the Tampa Bay/Atlanta roadtrip in mid-April before needing a fifth starter, given the days off built into the schedule.

I, like many of you, would prefer another external option. But we may playing cards with the hand we’re currently dealt.

You all can head on in; I’m going to stand out here in the empty Sports Complex parking lot at 5 a.m. and scoff, gape-mouthed, at the fact that with all the reputation defense we in Philadelphia play each year, we have an annual event in which college bros and their proud uncles get liquored up, horned up, worked up, and then, at the crack of nine in the morning, get released back into the Philadelphia wilderness for the rest of us to deal with on the roads, sidewalks, and strip clubs. There’s reformed dudebro media members who believe they bridge the gap between humanity and the backwards baseball caps who go to this thing, making it a legitimate... I don’t know, cool thing to do? They’re wrong. But they make more money than me, so. Hell, would I have gone in college? Absolutely. But my college self sucked, too.

Anyway, what was the question? Which one of us is going to jam a chair under the knob after everyone’s inside and wait for them to finish humping each other’s legs to death? Yeah, I’ll do it. And the city will be slightly better for it until the next Mummers Parade.

What are you trying to say? That a 25-year-old who hadn’t hit 20 home runs at any level could join the Phillies’ AA squad, break off 38 dingers, and become a triple crown contender? Think about what the Darin Ruf’s and Dylan Cozens’ do for that town. They’re the fireworks that set the tempo for summer. Families gather to witness their splendor and marvel at their strength. Think of the popcorn sales.

But yeah, those skewed power numbers are going to confuse some people. I don’t know if FirstEnergy Stadium architecture is high on the Phillies’ list right now, and while it may cause some weird figures to show up, I can’t see anyone in the Phillies front office becoming so enamored by a promising summer that they sink a generation of assets and resources into the mirage of a young slugger. I mean, how many years did we watch Darin Ruf in Philadelphia? What’s that? Parts of five? Good lord. And they converted him into an outfielder? Well, look; that was a long time ago. There’s a new front office now, and Ruf is safely homering in Korea, an ocean between us.

I’m going to choose to see this in a positive light: If a young player gets a confidence boost from a few home run balls that aren’t home run balls anywhere else, maybe he takes that confidence and uses it to improve more overall, and then BAM, we’re looking at a Scott Kingery situation. Maybe a few other teams get pulled in by his numbers and Matt Klentak can swap him out for beans. Maybe that confidence he gained in AA gets him a September call-up and then the greater dimensions at Citizens Bank Park shatter that confidence, sending him reeling into a downward spiral of depression; whoops, I went negative at the end there. I don’t think the Phillies go wrenching the fences out of the ground and I don’t think the “Reading Effect” is ruining anyone’s career. This can’t be the only stadium in all of the minor leagues that gives a bonus to anyone who can elevate a fly ball.

But hey! Home runs are cool. Every now and again you get a Ryan Howard or a Rhys Hoskins, and we blink, rub our eyes, and see that the power is real. It’s all very exciting, and if we have to suffer through a few false idols who light up Baseballtown even though they don’t have an NL MVP in their future, it’s worth a few shrugs.