Last year, I made 10 bold predictions before the start of the 2017 season and, well, there’s a reason I called them bold, OK?
Bold predictions mean they’re more likely not to happen. So it’s understandable that so many of my calls for 2017 withered and died on the vine.
NO Jerad Eickhoff did NOT make the All-Star team last year and Phillies starters did NOT finish among the top-7 in strikeouts per nine innings and Aaron Nola was NOT sent down to AAA and a Phillies starter did NOT pitch a no-hitter and the Phils’ offense was NOT the victim of a no-hitter and Aaron Altherr did NOT hit 20 home runs and Odubel Herrera did NOT have a 20-20 season, and Jorge Alfaro was NOT the everyday starting catcher by August 1 and Roman Quinn was NOT a rookie of the year finalist.
The only one I got right... the only one... was that Rhys Hoskins would prove he was for real.
I don’t know what Dylan Cozens is going to do in AAA this year. He was a monster masher for Reading in 2016, but his home-road splits were eyebrow-raising, and I’m not sure if his game is going to translate in a more neutral park.
I have fewer concerns about Hoskins, who smashed 38 dingers and hit .281/.377/.566 last year in AA, and looked incredible this spring with the Phils in Clearwater.
In 21 ABs he hit 3 homers and 2 doubles while walking 6 times and striking out 4, batting .286/.429/.810. That was an extremely small sample size, but it was enough to get me hopeful that he’s the real deal and not a product of the Reading bandbox.
I predict Hoskins will have a fantastic season in Lehigh Valley and make general manager Matt Klentak think long and hard about what to do with his first base situation, because I also predict Tommy Joseph will have a productive 2017 season as well.
OK, so if you’re gonna 1-for-10, it might as well be the most important one, right?
With that in mind, here are this year’s 10 bold Phillies predictions that stand virtually no chance of being correct.
Vince Velasquez Will Pitch 150 Innings
This is the prediction I’m least confident about, as I’m highly skeptical Vince Velasquez’ long-term future is in the starting rotation. He’s looked decent at times this spring (3.48 ERA in 10.1 IP, 12/3 K/BB ratio), but a few outings down in Clearwater is no venue to make a long-term declarative statement on his future. Ultimately, it feels as if he’s headed to a career as a multi-inning or late-game relief pitcher.
That being said, Velasquez has looked pretty good, and the Phillies appear committed to giving him a full shot at staying in the starting rotation. They’re not looking for him to go 7-8 innings every time out, which should help take the pressure off. And with their bullpen, and the way teams are using starters nowadays, 5-6 innings is all they need from Vinny.
His career high in innings is 131, in 2016, and last year, he tallied just 72 innings. But these are bold predictions, so I’ll say Velasquez does better in the rotation than any of us expect and gives the team 150 innings this season.
Maikel Franco Is Replaced By Scott Kingery In June
It’s hard to believe, given that we’ve been talking about him for half a decade, that Maikel Franco is just 25 years old. But while it’s true Franco is just a few months older than Rhys Hoskins, Franco is already washed up in the eyes of a large segment of the fanbase that wants the team to move on from him right now.
While Franco continues to be an enigma in Philadelphia, this much is true - his time is running out. Franco’s 2018 season is pivotal for him, either because he has Scott Kingery knocking on the door or because of the Phils’ pending pursuit of Manny Machado this off-season.
There are those who think Franco will rebound in 2018 and the team is right to give him the first couple of months to do that. But with Kingery’s ascension to the Majors a foregone conclusion at this point, it’s likely the best second base prospect in baseball will be the everyday third baseman by the third month of the season.
Jorge Alfaro Will Hit 20 Home Runs
I’m an Alfaro believer. The power is real and he’s going to start 120-130 games this season, piling up plenty of at-bats to figure a way to bash 20 dingers in 2018.
Look, he’s not going to walk. If Alfaro puts up a BB% over 5%, you should be thrilled. And he’s going to strike out a lot, probably about 30% of the time. That’s just who he is, and his rookie season is going to be as much about learning the defensive side of the game as the offensive side.
That being said, Alfaro will figure out a way to whack enough bombs over the fence in ‘18 to smash 20 homers, albeit with a low batting average and a low on-base percentage.
Thomas Eshelman Becomes The No. 5 Starter By July
At the start of spring training, I was convinced Jerad Eickhoff was going to have a bounce back season in 2018. But with him starting the season on the disabled list with a lat strain, Eickhoff won’t make his season debut until sometime in May, and I don’t know what he’s going to give the team this year.
I’m also not sure how long Nick Pivetta is going to last in the starting rotation. Last year, Pivetta had a K% last season of 24.0%, and among 115 MLB pitchers who threw at least 120 innings, that ranked 30th. So it’s easy to see why the Phillies are excited to give him every chance to stay in the rotation.
But Thomas Eshleman is going to have a good season in AAA this year, which will have followed a good spring training (aside from a 9th inning appearance in which he came out of the bullpen and gave up a bunch of runs). Given Velasquez’ injury history, Eickhoff’s current status and the uncertainty of what the Pivetta/Ben Lively/Zach Eflin trio will do, I think Eshelman will work his way into a rotation spot by the middle of the season. And he’ll be good once he does.
No Phillies Reliever Finishes With More Than 25 Saves
The Phils are going to be like a number of teams that don’t necessarily have certain innings assigned to certain relief pitchers. It appears likely Hector Neris will start the season as the team’s “closer,” but manager Gabe Kapler seems to be going with a committee approach in which he’s going to use his best available reliever at the most crucial point of the game, whether it’s in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning.
Neris will probably end up leading the team in saves this season, but a bunch of other relievers will likely get some as well. It makes sense that Neris will get about 25 saves, Pat Neshek has 6-7, and Tommy Hunter will get a handful as well. The Phils’ closer situation is going to drive fantasy owners nuts in 2018.
Aaron Nola & Jake Arrieta Will Make The All-Star Team
Aaron Nola is going to make the NL All-Star team. I am virtually certain this is going to happen. After a 2017 in which he ranked 9th among all qualified starters in FIP last year (3.27) and 12th in fWAR (4.3), Nola is going to be at the Midsummer Classic.
Jake Arrieta is the wild card in this prediction, simply because we don’t know how he’s going to start the season. His first half last year was rocky (4.35 ERA in 101.1 IP) while his second half was outstanding (2.28 ERA in 67.0 IP), and we haven’t seen much of him in spring training yet.
Nevertheless, when he’s on, Arrieta is one of the best starters in the game. He looked good, but rusty, in his first spring outing of the season on Thursday, so we still don’t know much. But the optimistic view is that he starts the season effectively, and with his reputation preceding him, he’ll join Nola at the All-Star Game in Washington, DC later this summer.
Scott Kingery Gets More ROY Votes Than J.P. Crawford
The hype train for Scott Kingery is real. Fanrag Sports’ Jon Heyman quoted a scout that said he was “the best player on the Phillies.” ESPN’s Buster Olney recent tweeted an MLB executive who said Kingery was “Dustrin Pedroia, but with more talent.”
Obviously, this stuff is over the top, but I do expect Kingery to be a regular in this lineup at some point this season. And I also expect that, when he arrives in the Majors, he’s going to do pretty well, say a .260/.320/.450 slash line. He’s going to hit pretty well, he’s going to run, he’s going to play good defense, he’ll hit some balls out of the yard (10-15 in four months or so?) and generally make a good impression on folks. I also expect a bit of a down year for J.P. Crawford this season (thinking a .250/.340/.400 slash), as well as an up-and-down campaign from Jorge Alfaro (.240/.300/.450 w/ 20 HRs).
It’s possible none of the these three rookies receive any Rookie of the Year votes, but if any of them do, my bet is it’s Kingery who gets them. The hype is strong.
The Phillies Trade For Cole Hamels
If the Phils are playing over .500 ball and within a few games of the wild card at the All Star Break, owner John Middleton is going to get on the horn and tell Matt Klentak to go get him some help. That help would likely come in the form of a starting pitcher, like Chris Archer. But there is a more realistic target than Archer if the Phils are to go shopping this summer.
Cole Hamels is coming back, baby.
The Texas Rangers aren’t going to be good this year, and the 34-year-old is in the final year of his contract. He’d be a rental, so he likely wouldn’t cost the team anything they can’t do without, and if he bounces back and has a typical Hamels season (one free of injury with an ERA in the mid-3.00s), a reunion with the 2008 World Series hero feel inevitable.
Rhys Hoskins Will Be A Top-7 MVP Candidate
So again, I don’t want to get too wrapped up in spring numbers, but it seems pretty obvious that Rhys Hoskins is for real.
After slugging an MLB record 18 home runs in his first 34 games last year, Hoskins has continued to show the power and patience at the plate that have many calling him a future star. And that future may be now.
He slugged two homers in the Phils’ exhibition tie against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, but he also walked, giving him 10 walks and 10 strikeouts this spring. In his last five games he 6-for-15 with two doubles, two dingers, five walks and two strikeouts.
If this is a potential playoff team, and Rhys Hoskins is the best player on it (which he will be), he’s going to get some MVP love from the voters this year.
The Phillies Will Make The Playoffs
This is, of course, the boldest prediction of all.
Yes, the Phillies are going to make the playoffs. Here’s how I get there.
The Phils won 66 games last year, but that number is deceiving. Their Pythagorean Win-Loss Record, based on their run differential last season, was 72-90. That means, they should have won 72 games, but some bad luck negatively affected their win total. Not only that, they finished one game under .500 in the second half once Michael Saunders, Howie Kendrick, Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp were largely replaced by Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford and a mix of Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.
This is not a 66-win team. So, let’s start with a base of 72 wins. Improvements by the young players and the addition of Carlos Santana and the two relievers has me thinking this was a team destined to be about 8-10 wins better in 2018. Fangraphs used their 66-win total from a year ago and projected them to be a 75-win team prior to the addition of Jake Arrieta. That’s an 8-win improvement.
If you believe Arrieta is a three-win improvement over whoever their No. 5 starter would be, that means you’re looking at an 83 or 84-win team, if you’re using that 72-win Pythagorean win-loss record as your base. Now say the Phils add Cole Hamels for the stretch run, and he’s pitching effectively. Suddenly, you’re an 85 or 86-win team in a National League with some solid wild card contenders who all have lots of holes.
Look, it’s pie-in-the-sky optimism, I know that. Initially, I didn’t think they would go to the playoffs this year. But while I think the Diamondbacks return to the postseason, I don’t think the Brewers improved their starting rotation enough to get in, the Mets are too top-heavy, the Giants are too old, and the Cardinals are in a much tougher division.
Yes, everything would have to go right for the Phillies to pull this off. But springtime is the time for optimism, and it’s been a while since we had the ability to be this optimistic.
So yes, the Phillies are going to the playoffs in 2018. Let’s hope this is the one I get right this year.
On this episode of Hittin’ Season, I talk with numberFire’s Jim Sannes about the upcoming fantasy baseball season and explore which Phillies players he expects to make a big impact in fantasy this year.
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