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Phillies roster: Preview for 2018, outlook for 2019

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Let’s take a grand look at where the Phillies stand now and in the future.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Philadelphia Phillies
Handsomeness is the future of the Phillies.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to look at the start of a Phillies season with boundless positivity. And it feels that way because it has been. The last time that was possible, it was 2012. Six years is a long time in baseball. Looking at the Phillies and the team, everything has changed. We’ve seen the Phillies life cycle begin anew, but the difference this year is that now we know we’re on the upswing.

The patience of the Phillies — and of the fans — is starting to pay off. The potential of the 2018 Phillies isn’t limitless, but it’s exciting and meaningful. And there’s a lot of it.

The infield has some new faces. Carlos Santana, who signed with the Phillies in December, joins Cesar Hernandez, who is decent if unspectacular defender, Maikel Franco, who is more nimble than he looks, and J.P. Crawford, who has more than a little talent at defense. Jorge Alfaro is catching, and let’s just say that his defense has nowhere to go but up. Between Crawford and Santana, this could also be an infield that takes a decent number of walks. Crawford will need more time to acclimate to the majors, but he’s got both the patience and fortitude to actually make it happen. The only major weak spot is Maikel Franco. It feels like even the Phillies are starting to get tired of waiting for him to become the player they think he could be. Or to even make a step or two of progress. It feels like this is his last chance to make it work.

That seems like it’s settled, but there’s uncertainty brewing under the surface. The future of the infield, even for just 2018, is up in the air. Hernandez is at second, but Scott Kingery is hot on his heels. If the Phillies want to keep as much of their hitting talent as possible, they need to find a way to get Kingery on the field. He’s been playing at third base, and if he can handle it, that’s very, very bad news for Maikel Franco. Franco needs a significant increase in production if he has any hope of keeping his job. Kingery might not be a natural third baseman, but I think the Phillies would take a few defensive miscues for a fifty point increase in batting average.

In the outfield, things are crowded. Odubel Herrera is manning center field, and he’s joined by Rhys Hoskins in left field. Left field isn’t Hoskins’ natural position, but it’s the one he’ll be playing for the foreseeable future. Signing first baseman and designated hitter Carlos Santana in a league without the designated hitter means that the only place for Santana to play is first, and so Rhys Hoskins is being shoveled over to left field. Hey, if Pat Burrell could do it, so can Rhys. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Installing Hoskins in left means that Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams won’t just spend the season having a constant handsome-off. They’ll be sharing right field, which doesn’t seem ideal for either of them. Williams played everyday in 2017, and 2016, and before. He’s got just a few months of major league service time, and this doesn’t seem like a good thing for his development. And Altherr playing part time doesn’t seem like it’s going to be good for him either. But unless they trade one of them, this is the only way to get both of them playing time. It can’t continue indefinitely. Eventually, the Phillies are going to have to make a decision. But either by choice or by necessity, they’re putting off that decision for the time being.

I usually have no feelings on the designated hitter. But between the Franco/Kingery/Hernandez infield situation and the Williams/Altherr kerfuffle in the outfield, you can’t deny that the DH wouldn’t make it a lot easier to deal with. (Yes, I hear your BOOOs, and I don’t care.)

But since that’s not going to happen, let’s take a look at the Phillies pitching situation. And compared to the start of the offseason, it’s much improved. Jake Arrieta will be with the Phillies for at least a few years, and unless he decides to precede every pitch with a weird, new dance wind-up, he’s almost guaranteed to provide an upgrade over Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and literally anyone else vying for the Phillies’ fifth rotation spot.

Arrieta will join Aaron Nola at the top of the rotation, and oh what a top it will be. Nola has gotten better every year he’s spent in the majors, and showed real brilliance in 2017. It should be fun to watch him in 2018. For Jerad Eickhoff, who spent 2017 being both bad and injured, 2018 is his chance to recapture his 2017 glory. And he’ll start doing that just as soon as he spends 6-8 weeks recovering from a strained lat!

And we can’t forget Vince Velasquez! He also spent 2017 being injured and bad, and there was that persistent, nagging thought that he’d be a better closer than starter. But for all of that, he’s had a decent spring training and he’s not currently injured. Add that to his newfound confidence and fondness for new manager Gabe Kapler, and maybe we’ve got the start of a Velasquez renaissance. A Velasquez-sance.

We could spent time now talking about the Nick Pivetta/Ben Lively/Zach Eflin/Mark Leiter/Jake Thompson portion of the rotation, but I’d much, much rather spend the next few sentences on the improved bullpen. The Phillies went out and signed Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek to multi-year deals, and if you’re wondering whether that’s the same Pat Neshek who pitched for the Phillies in 2017 and seemed to hate it, yes it’s the same guy. The Phillies have largely been relying on homegrown relievers to staff the bullpen, and the early-offseason signings of these guys should have been a tip-off that the Phillies were ready to get serious.

Looking beyond 2018, the possibilities are endless. The Phillies have deep resources in a number of areas. The depth in the minor leagues — and in the majors! — gives them the ability to make a significant trade without selling out their present or future. John Middleton’s continuing quest to bring a championship back to Philadelphia has entered the “throw money at it” stage, and he’s ready for it. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are available, and Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out. Charlie Blackmon, Drew Pomeranz, and Josh Donaldson will be free agents as well. The time has come to spend, and Middleton has deep pockets. The luxury tax is stupid, but it’s no laughing matter. Middleton has said several times that there’s no budget for success, and I suspect that he’ll have the opportunity to prove that before this run is over.

With their depth and financial resources, the Phillies are one of the most powerful teams in baseball. The stars are aligning; the Phillies have a chance to finish building their team exactly the way they want to. After that, it’s up to them. What they’ll do with that power, and how they’ll actually play on the field, remains to be seen. But their patience is starting to pay off — and so is ours.