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A lack of young talent is killing the Phillies

Rhys Hoskins’ struggles aren’t the only thing preventing the Phils from meeting expectations.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers are worrisome.

Since the start of the second half last year, Rhys Hoskins has been worth -0.4 fWAR with a slash line of .182/.332/.343. He has nine home runs in his last 84 games (370 plate appearances), has not hit a dinger in his last 111 PAs and, despite starting every game in the No. 2 hole in the lineup, has one RBI.

Since the start of the second half last year, Scott Kingery has been worth 0.2 fWAR with a slash line of .213/.275/.375. He has eight home runs in his last 79 games (325 plate appearances). He has just four hits so far in 43 PAs this year, one fewer than back-up catcher Andrew Knapp. He does not have an extra base hit.

Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery were supposed to be the two position players around whom the team would construct their rebuild, but thus far, those two former minor league stars have not yet demonstrated the consistency to live up to that billing. Kingery has been dealing with the after effects of contracting COVID-19 earlier this year, so perhaps his struggles are related to that, but it’s also fair to note that, coming into 2020, Kingery was a lifetime .242/.291/.407 hitter who showed versatility with the glove but not much consistently with the bat.

It’s still too early to give up on either player. That’s not what this is about. But if you’re not worried about the future of this franchise given their struggles, as well as the team’s inability to develop many home-grown All Stars in recent years, then you’re a far more optimistic person than I.

During the rebuild, the front office’s plan was to develop the arms and buy the bats. They did that when they signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen and traded for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto last off-season. Aaron Nola has developed into a very good starting pitcher, and the signing of Zack Wheeler to a free agent deal this past off-season appears to have been a wise one. But despite their desire to “buy the bats,” every team needs at least a few home grown stars in order to maintain success, unless that team is willing to blow past the luxury tax every year. We all know by now how the Phillies feel about that.

Earlier this week, the Phils designated Nick Williams for assignment. The final piece of the Cole Hamels trade was jettisoned into baseball’s netherworld, never really given a full chance to succeed in Philadelphia. The McCutchen and Harper signings last year left Williams without a role on the big league club, and he struggled as a bench player. So the big Cole Hamels trade, the one that was supposed to kickstart the rebuild, now has not a single player contributing in 2020. Jorge Alfaro was traded as the secondary piece in the J.T. Realmuto trade, Jerad Eickhoff suffered a number of injuries and was released, and Jake Thompson flamed out.

Matt Klentak’s first big move when he was named general manager after the 2016 season was to trade their home-grown closer, Ken Giles, to the Astros. Vince Velasquez remains in the Phils’ rotation, but for how long? Mark Appel couldn’t be fixed, Thomas Eshleman is now pitching for a rebuilding Baltimore team, and Harold Arauz and Brett Oberholtzer were immediately forgotten after they were acquired.

Two big trades. Not much help with the rebuild.

Some smaller trades have helped a bit. Getting Zach Eflin from the Dodgers was good. The Nick Pivetta trade for Jonathan Papelbon looked like it was going to be a great one, but that hasn’t been the case. The overall list of young players that have come through the farm system and not panned out at the big league level is staggering. Williams, Aaron Altherr, Dylan Cozens, J.P. Crawford and Roman Quinn are all either gone or nothing more than back-up players. Adam Haseley is off to a nice start and could be a success story, but time will tell.

Are we noticing a pattern?

We also forget about Odubel Herrera. The domestic charges filed against him effectively ended his time as a member of the Phillies (he’s not even a part of the 60-man player pool), but it’s important to remember the former All-Star turned into a really bad baseball player. From June 2018 until his last at-bat in ___ of ‘19, Herrera was worth -0.7 fWAR and hit .222/.276/.372 in his last 134 games. That train was coming off the rails anyway.

Let’s look at the pitching. Yes, Nola has been a true success story, no doubting that. However, Pivetta was just optioned to Lehigh Valley after washing out as both a starter and reliever. Velasquez is likely one more lackluster start from either joining him or being moved to the ‘pen. Zach Eflin has shown flashes of brilliance mixed with sustained stretches of ineffectiveness. And outside of Hector Neris (and maybe Adam Morgan, this season’s stats notwithstanding), the Phillies have had great difficulty developing their own relief assets. Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edubray Ramos, none have worked out.

This wouldn’t be so worrisome if the Phillies had a farm system that was loaded with top-end talent following 5-7 years of high draft picks and the opportunity to spend cash on the international free agent market. Baseball America is out with their latest franchise rankings and they have the Phillies at No. 26. That’s... not ideal. Mickey Moniak is light years from the big leagues. Alec Bohm appears ready to take on a big league role and has promise, as do Bryson Stott and Mick Abel, although both are still a couple years away and are not considered sure-fire superstars-in-the-making. Klentak’s first few drafts have not yielded much fruit.

The Phillies have also struggled to develop international talent. They haven’t waded into the deep end of the pool since giving Jhailyn Ortiz a $4 million bonus in 2015, a player who has struggled to make enough contact in Single-A Lakewood and Clearwater the past two seasons. There don’t appear to be any other young international players on the fast track to becoming future All Stars, either.

Right now, the team is in a tough spot. They don’t want to go over the luxury tax. In order to avoid that, they need some young, cheap talent to produce. There are just two superstars on the team in Harper and Realmuto (and one of them might not be here in 2021) and one productive veteran in Didi Gregorius (who also may not be here in 2020). Harper is young, but Realmuto and Gregorius are not. Veterans Segura and McCutchen are both struggling. Kingery and Hoskins have failed to make up for that, and none of the young relief pitchers the team was hoping would step up have done so, either. It’s almost impossible to field a postseason-quality roster this top-heavy, with such little production coming from former farmhands. With the Phils’ cheap young talent not pitching in, it’s left to the veterans on the team to make this go. And while that may work for stretches, it’s not a long-term plan for success.

The rebuild that everyone has endured since the team’s last playoff appearance nine years ago isn’t over yet. Their 5-8 record is indicative of that, mainly because the issues we’ve seen this year mirror the issues we saw in 2018 and ‘19. Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak’s plan may have been to mimic the success of the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, but at this point, their inability to draft, develop and produce high quality young players has fallen far short of those lofty goals.

Either the front office didn’t get enough good, young players into this system during the rebuild, or they screwed up their development when they had them. Whether it’s moving young players all over the field, creating confusion with young starters by asking them to do things they weren’t capable of as part of a short-sighted one-size-fits-all model, or screwing up young hitters with talk of launch angle and seeing as many pitches as possible, many of these young Phillies players appear broken. The two years Gabe Kapler was in Philadelphia may have caused irreparable harm to some of these young players. It’s fair to wonder if this team would be further along if Pete Mackannin, Matt Stairs, Rick Kranitz, and/or Bob McClure were still in the fold.

The book is not yet written on some of these players. It’s too early to give up on Hoskins and Kingery, although the sample sizes get larger with each day. It’s likely we overrated players like Altherr, Williams, Cozens and Quinn. Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm are now both in the big leagues, and Stott and Abel could be life savers the next few years.

But only if the Phils’ luck, and player development skills, changes.

On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, I spoke with MLB analyst extraordinaire and actress Ellen Adair about the Phils’ problems and where the team is headed moving forward. Check it out, subscribe, rate and review!