Baseball is a really hard game.
Played at its highest level, there aren’t many sports that are as difficult to play as a newbie as baseball. There’s a reason players who are drafted out of high school can take 3-5 years to make the Majors and why most college players take at least 2-3 years to reach the big leagues.
Of course, watching Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies lead the NL is most offensive categories after a month of play and seeing the eye-popping ease with which it appears Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna plays the game, it’s understandable that folks might be down on the Phillies collection of youngsters, specifically, the rookies.
But Albies and Acuna are outliers. For most rookies, learning to play Major League Baseball is a serious challenge.
Scott Kingery, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro are all hitting under .225, all have an on-base percentage well under .300 and none have a slugging percentage approaching .400. Combined, those three players have struck out 33.2% of the time this year (75 times in 226 plate appearances), and walked just 14 times (6.2%).
Kingery got off to a fast start, batting .280/.315/.540 in his first 54 PAs, with two homers, seven doubles and 12 RBIs, with a wRC+ of 129. Since then, he’s hit .143/.231/.143 in 39 PAs, with no extra-base hits. He does have one hit in each of the last three games, so maybe he’s slowly starting to make some adjustments.
Overall, the versatile rookie is hitting .224/.280/.376 with a 30.1% strikeout rate and a 6.5% walk rate. Unlike the first two weeks of the season, when he seemed to notch a big hit almost every game, he’s been a black hole in the middle of the lineup.
Kingery will get a chance to play shortstop everyday for the next 10 days at least, with J.P. Crawford heading to the disabled list with a strained right forearm, so maybe some consistency will help. As for Crawford, after posting a .356 OBP in 87 PAs last season with a 18.4% walk-rate, pitchers have kept the ball over the plate against Crawford this season and he’s not been able to get the job done thus far.
In 71 PAs, he’s walked just 5.6% of the time while whiffing in 26.8% of his plate appearances, giving him an unsightly slash line of .188/.246/.328. He has just five extra-base hits (two homers and three doubles), and has seen some fluctuation in his play thus far.
From Opening Day through April 8, he had one hit in 25 plate appearances, good for an .043 batting average. From April 9 through 16, he batted .350/.409/.750 in 23 PAs. Finally, from April 17 through the end of the month, he had four hits in 27 PAs, with a .160/.222/.200 slash line.
Crawford has also struggled in the field, with five errors and -4 Defensive Runs Saved in the early going. It’s too early to start comparing defensive statistics and zone rating numbers, and no, the Phillies should not have kept Freddy Galvis. But suffice it to say, there have been moments where it’s been ugly. Perhaps the forearm strain had something to do with some errant throws and an inability to hit consistently, too.
As for Alfaro, the young catcher has been focused on defense, and his offensive numbers reflect that. In 62 PAs he’s batted .193/.258/.298 with two homers and six RBIs. More troubling are the strikeouts, 27 thus far, with a K-rate of 43.5%. No one should have expected a repeat of his .318/.360/.514 slash line in 114 PAs last season, but the hope was that he’d be doing a little bit more offensively than he has in 2018.
Of course, here’s the thing with talented rookies. The overall results haven’t been there, but there have been glimpses of greatness from time to time.
SAVE THAT BASEBALL!— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 9, 2018
Scott Kingery hits his first-career HR to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead in the second. pic.twitter.com/kVCME8yLPf
Kingery’s grand slam is one of the early-season highlights, as were J.P. Crawford’s two massive bombs.
And Alfaro is capable of feats of strength most catchers can’t match.
#Marlins @ #Phillies— Ballpark Videos (@BallparkVids) April 8, 2018
Jorge Alfaro lifts a long solo homer to right-center field to extend the Phillies' lead to 20-1 in the 7th inning (00:48)
MLB Gameday: https://t.co/gipGn0dkHQ pic.twitter.com/uGDasifkFU
Alfaro, Crawford and Kingery all have outstanding defensive potential, too, and will one day be plus-defenders.
It’s unfair for anyone to expect a whole lot more from what these three rookies are giving the team. Perhaps moving all over the diamond and/or getting jerked out of the starting lineup on a regular basis has factored into the poor offensive results, but in such a small sample size, it’s impossible to know.
It would be helpful if some of the team’s veterans, like Maikel Franco (.312 wOBA), Carlos Santana (.276 wOBA) and Nick Williams (.230 wOBA) would pick up the slack. At least Aaron Altherr (who started the season with a .091/.245/.250 slash line in his first 53 PAs but has hit .385/.429/.692 in his last 28 PAs) has pitched in as of late.
But for now, pitchers are exploiting holes and the inexperience of the Phils’ rookies. And while it sticks in the crawl a bit to see players like Albies and Acuna be so dominant right away, it’s important to remember the Phillies still have Rhys Hoskins, who has been among the best hitters in the National League this year.
It’s up to Crawford, Kingery and Alfaro to adjust. It could take some time, and it could remain ugly at times while these young guys figure it out.
Luckily, there’s plenty of time.