Recently, MLB Network rolled out their list of the top 10 players at each position heading into the 2019 season. And while the current crop of Phillies didn’t exactly litter their lists, there were a few notable Phils players represented.
At first base, Rhys Hoskins came in 9th at the position, behind Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Max Muncy, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Olson, Justin Smoak and Jesus Aguilar, one spot ahead of Jose Abreu.
Among starting pitchers, Aaron Nola finished a superb 6th, behind only Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander and ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Luis Severino, Carlos Carrasco and Blake Snell. Impressive company indeed.
In right field, Andrew McCutchen came in 8th, behind Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Mitch Haniger, Bryce Harper, Brandon Nimmo and Yasiel Puig, and ahead of Nicholas Castellanos and Stephen Piscotty.
On the most recent episode of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I talked about these lists and speculated on some other Phils players who could have a 2019 campaign that would put them on these lists next season (more after the jump).
Here are four current Phillies players who could reasonably be expected to improve enough to be considered a top-10 player at their position in 2019.
Seranthony Dominguez is an obvious choice among relief pitchers. The 24-year-old fireballer burst onto the scene by earning 16 saves in 58 innings of work with a 2.95 ERA and a 2.85 FIP, striking out 11.48 batters per nine innings and allowing a batting average against of .156.
Seranthony Dominguez fools Miguel Rojas into swinging at this putrid, 90 mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/ZZpVsfbWiM— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) September 6, 2018
He got off to a particularly hot start in his first month with the team, allowing no earned runs in his first 12 outings, giving up just two hits in 14.2 innings. Among 147 relief pitchers who threw at least 50 innings last year, his 32.0% strikeout rate ranked 18th (David Robertson’s 32.0% was 17th, by the way).
It’ll be interested to see how manager Gabe Kapler uses him. Will he get his fair share of save opportunities and pile up that mostly unimportant counting stat? Or will he be the multi-inning fireman-reliever that Kapler wants him to be so badly? Either way, Dominguez could emerge as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball this season.
Folks, this is what catcher Jorge Alfaro can do.
In honor of Super Ball Sunday, here's the Phillies' hardest-hit dinger of 2018— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) February 3, 2019
Date: April 7
Batter: Jorge Alfaro
Distance: 433 feet
Speed: 115 MPH pic.twitter.com/ClIPj3gecA
This year’s list of top catchers included Salvador Perez, Mike Zunino, Wilson Ramos, and Kurt Suzuki in its top 10. It is a weak position and, with a bit more contact and some improvement blocking balls in the dirt, Alfaro could absolutely become a top-10 catcher in the game in 2019.
Even in his first full season in the Majors in 2018, a season in which his many, many flaws were on display, he still hit .262/.324/.407 in 108 games, with a 2.1 fWAR that ranked 3rd on the team. He had a .406 BABIP mainly because, whenever he makes contact with the ball, he scorches it. Last year, he ranked 23rd among all MLB players, qualified or not, in average exit velocity, at 91.6 mph.
And it’s fair to wonder if he already isn’t a top-10 catcher, considering he finished 9th among qualified backstops in fWAR last season. Yes, he had a better fWAR than Suzuki (2.0), Buster Posey (2.0), and Perez (1.7). Just sayin’.
If Alfaro can cut his strikeout rate from an insanely high 36.6% and get it down into the upper 20s, he can be a 20-homer, .270-to-.280 hitter. That would be insane, given his other gifts behind the dish.
Last year, Cesar Hernandez ranked 10th among second basemen in MLB Network’s list, but playing on a broken foot for half a season apparently didn’t do much to help him stay on that list this year.
In 2016 and ‘17, Hernandez combined for 1199 plate appearances and hit .294/.372/.406 with 32 stolen bases, 40 doubles, 17 triples and 15 homers. He was worth 3.9 and 3.4 fWAR those years, and he was off to a hot start last year, too.
Through his first 43 games he was hitting .282/.392/.448 with an .840 OPS with 7 doubles, 6 homers and a triple. He was an All-Star. However, from May 20 through the end of the season he batted .242/.343/.330 for a .673 OPS and in the 2nd half he hit just .228 with a meager 11 extra-base hits.
So it turns out that Cesar Hernandez played through a broken foot for most of the second half of the season after he fouled off a pitch in July. Klentak said he didn't need surgery after the season and that it healed properly on its own. #Phillies— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) December 11, 2018
Yet, he played in 161 games. If he’s healthy, Hernandez has the potential to play himself back onto everyone’s top-10 list for second basemen.
Odubel Herrera is everyone’s favorite enigma, and there’s no doubt he had a down year last season. But it’s easy to forget that, prior to 2018, Herrera was an above average defensive center fielder and batted a combined .288/.344/.430 over the first three seasons of his career, averaging 31 doubles a season.
Like Hernandez, Herrera was off to the best start of his career last year, playing at an MVP-caliber level. Through May 25, Herrera batted .339/.401/.531 with a .932 OPS, 7 home runs and 11 doubles. Of course, from May 26 on he hit .214/.266/.367 with 15 dingers and 8 doubles, and unlike Hernandez, there was no injury to blame. He was just plain bad.
However, after being chastised for reporting to spring training out of shape last year, Herrera has been down in Clearwater for the last couple weeks and is, by all accounts, in fantastic shape. A determined Odubel Herrera could be a scary thing, because he can do stuff like this.
So there are four Phillies players who, if they make modest improvements and/or return to form, could be talked about as one of the ten best players in the game at their position.
Hopefully, they’ll be joined by another free agent or two in the next few days or weeks as well.