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How good will the Phillies “core” be in 2019?

While the Phillies add to their roster externally, the internal options need to be better in 2019.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt your Philadelphia Phillies are working hard to improve the roster this off-season in both the free agent and trade markets.

They have already traded for Jean Segura to play shortstop and signed Andrew McCutchen to play one of the corner outfield spots. They’ve removed Carlos Santana from the roster to make room for Rhys Hoskins at first base, and J.P. Crawford is no longer a member of the organization.

And, of course, the Phillies are in pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two free agents whose names are so often linked together that I’ve decided to simply refer to them as “Macharper.” They are rumored to be involved with other players, too, but it’s unclear to what degree.

So, general manager Matt Klentak is clearly not done sprucing this 80-82 team up just yet. But no matter who else they add to the roster, one thing is true if the Phillies truly want to contend for a playoff spot in 2019.

The young core that this team spent years developing in the minors and gave a full year at the big league level to last year must do better next season. It’s really that simple.

A large part of the core were playing their first full seasons in the big leagues in 2018: Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams and Scott Kingery specifically. Other members of the group, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, all had very inconsistent-to-down seasons. So how much can we expect this core to improve?

Projections are a fickle thing and, generally speaking, they err on the side of caution. But since we’re talking about a collection of mostly young, unproven players, perhaps that’s the right mindset to take. So let’s gander at Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for 2019 and compare them to certain players’ stats from last year.

Young Phillies Core ZiPS Projections

Player 2019 ZiPS 2018 fWAR Difference
Player 2019 ZiPS 2018 fWAR Difference
Rhys Hoskins 3.4 2.9 0.5
Odubel Herrera 2.4 0.9 1.5
Cesar Hernandez 2.2 2.2 0
Nick Williams 1.3 0.3 1
Maikel Franco 1.2 1.2 0
Scott Kingery 0.7 -0.1 0.8
Aaron Altherr 0.7 -0.4 1.1
Jorge Alfaro 0.4 2.1 -1.7
Total WAR Improvement 3.2

The numbers above show only one player declining in 2019, Jorge Alfaro, who ZiPS projects to be -1.7 fWAR worse than he was in ‘18. That seems like a steep drop-off, but otherwise, every player above is either projected to be static or better next season.

Herrera is expected to see the biggest bump in production, improving by 1.5 fWAR, worth 2.4 WAR total. They project he’ll hit .264/.321/.428 with 19 home runs and an OPS+ of 99. They also believe he’ll play better defense.

ZiPS projects better things from Kingery, although the bar is set pretty low. Kingery was one of the worst position players in baseball last season, but ZiPS is at least projecting him to be slightly better than replacement level, at 0.7 WAR. That would be a 0.8 WAR improvement over the -0.1 WAR he put up last year. But can Kingery be better than the .238/.283/.373 slash line he’s projected to put up over 509 PAs?

Nick Williams is an interesting player, to be sure. He showed flashes last year, but his poor defense and uneven plate appearances resulted in a 0.3 fWAR season, hitting .256/.324/.425 with 17 HRs. ZiPS projects him to improve defensively as well while hitting .256/.308/.448 in 500 PAs with 21 homers and 75 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr also got a pretty nice bump, however, they project him to jump from -0.4 fWAR to 0.7 by accumulating 362 PAs, which would be a generous total. It’s more likely he’ll see far less than that.

Rhys Hoskins is expected to see a better WAR with a defensive improvement at first base, and Hernandez and Franco are each expected to stay where they were last year. That may not be great news for the Phillies, as Hernandez struggled with a broken foot and hit just .253/.356/.362 last season. ZiPS has him at .261/.355/.375 next season.

Of course, these public projections are likely far different from the Phils’ internal projections that none of us get to see, but the bottom line is there is lots of room for the Phillies’ young core to improve. Many of these players were highly thought-of prospects before arriving in the Majors, and there is reason to believe they can be more productive in 2019.

However, that is no guarantee, which is why the Phils are reportedly being aggressive on a number of fronts this winter. Whether they are able to actually rope in some of that new talent or not, the core that already exists must be better if this team wants to think about competing for a wild card or the NL East crown next year.

On Episode 243 of Hittin’ Season, hosts John Stolnis and Paul Boye answer questions from the Twitter mailbag on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (Macharper), talk about the young core, the emergence of Nick Pivetta as a breakout starter in 2019, and lots of other Phillies questions.