The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies 2014 Season Outlook (part 1)

 

The expectations are not nearly as high for this Phillies this season as they’ve been in recent springs, but ready or not, Opening Day (and the unofficial end to this miserable winter) is here!

In preparation for the new baseball season, we recapped the action from this year’s spring training down in Florida on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, and coming up this Thursday, we’ll provide an overview of the Phillies and other teams’ major and minor league systems (our special guests will be ESPN’s Eric Longenhagen & PhillyBaseball.com ‘s Chuck Hixson).

First, here’s a sample of the insights we discussed about the Phillies, their prospects from the exhibition season and thoughts on the new season from inside the Phillies organization:

Here are a few more comments and observations from this year’s spring training season and elements to watch as the 2014 season unfolds.

1) Pray for good health. Ryne Sandberg has been much more adept at resting his older players to keep them fresh. While Charlie Manual would often speak of doing this in the preseason, he would quickly resort to playing his veteran ball players heavily which certainly wouldn’t help the established players deal with injuries as the season would unfold. Still, with an aging core, there’s no question that most of the starting players will have to stay healthy for the entire year for the team to have any shot at the playoffs.

2) The bullpen looks good. In talking with a writer who covered the team this spring, I ask which relievers really impressed him and he rattled off five or six different names. In fact, his biggest question mark was with the team’s closer, Jonathan Papelbon, and his velocity and mental approach to the season. If the young relievers can truly develop this season (Jake Diekman might be the stopper before the year is out), this will be a positive for the organization going forward regardless of the outcome of this year’s campaign.

3) The lack of bench power. For various reasons, the team lost potential bench pieces Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, Bobby Abreu, Kevin Frandsen and Ronnie Cedeno before the final exhibition game in Clearwater. John Mayberry, Jr. will start the season (barring a waiver-wire addition) as the team’s sole source of power off the bench. Although I was impressed by Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Cesar Hernandez’s preseason, the team starts 2014 with a huge collection of singles-hitters as pinch-hitting options. Plus, there’s SERIOUS depth issues among the organization’s position players. If you lose any combination of Chase Ultey, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cody Asche for any length of time, you’re not just talking about the season being over, you are looking at players who potentially open the season at Double-A needing to step up and play in the big leagues.

We’ll have more on the Phillies, as well as insights on other major and minor league teams on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show. And in next week’s post, we’ll hear from some of the Phillies prospects themselves and their outlook on the 2014 season. In the meantime, post a comment below or email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com with your thoughts on spring training and predictions for the Phillies in 2014!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The Phillies Farm System: May 2013 Report

Excuse me for making an interjection amongst angry fans who are upset with the current state of the Phillies roster, but contrary to the public fandom’s opinion, “the cupboard is NOT bare” in the Phillies’ minor league system.

Philadelphia PhilliesPeople will point to the fact at the overall decline in ranking according to Baseball America — something that cannot be disputed. There are clearly less “prospects” in the Phillies minor league system than there were a few years ago .. before the days of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and even Ben Revere. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., using the mantra that most Phillies fans have been clamoring for DECADES to do, went for the jugular with “win now/damn the future” deals to improve the team in 2009 to the present to try to win baseball’s ultimate prize. As memory serves, nearly all of those deals (except the second Lee trade) were met with universal praise and admiration (and backhanded derogatory comments towards former GM Ed Wade, who took an opposite approach) for making the “tough deals” to try to win a World Series. The price, of course, is that in order to obtain top-of-the-line talent, which the Phils have done, they would have to give up most of their young talented players in those deals—the majority of them still have not panned out with the team they were traded to.

Now that the team is floundering (as of their 16-21 record), baseball fans in the Eastern Pennsylvania region are upset that Amaro can’t twitch his nose and make a power-hitting outfielder appear. You could argue that he over-evaluated the talent on this current big league roster and put too much faith in the bounce-back abilities of Halladay and Ryan Howard. However, to say that the organization’s minor leagues are in shambles is just not accurate. The Braves, one of the best teams at grooming minor leagues to contribute to the parent club, have done an excellent job over the last few decades of developing at least one or two home-grown players a year to help out the varsity squad. Most teams fall short of that goal. So let’s look ahead at some potential openings/holes in the current Phillies roster and analyze if the front office has provided efficient insurance down on the farm.

Second Base (Chase Utley). With his contract expiring at the end of the season, there is a huge “unknown” as for how long his oft-injured knees will hold out. But down in Triple-A, the Phillies have perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the spring so far. Cesar Hernandez (as of May 13th) is hitting .336 in 140 Abs with 10 extra base hits, a .392 OBP and is 10-11 in steal attempts. A serviceable defensive 2nd baseman and with continued improvement, it wouldn’t be outlandish to envision him replacing Utley where he has frequently been in the Phils’ lineup (the number-two slot).

First Base (Ryan Howard). With Charlie Manual’s recent tendency of sitting Ryan Howard against the majorities of southpaws, it increases the opportunity for another home-grown player, Darin Ruf, (.294, 5-HR, 21-RBIs in 125 AB-s through 5/13) to get playing time at a position that he has had success in defensively. Ruf has looked alright when I’ve seen him in action in left field with the IronPigs (he’s basically playing 5 games at left and 2 games at first so far this season). A combination of him at first base, DH (in American League parks) and left field (in a semi-platoon/rotation with Dom Brown, possibly even shifting to center for a few innings a week?) might help the team’s long-struggling offense. And although the thought of trading Howard and his mega-contract is unlikely, the Phils do have an option should they find a taker for the “Big Piece.”

Catcher (Carlos Ruiz). This might be the biggest disappointment of the season—and not just because of his slash line of .200/.256/.225 as of May 13th. The alleged brain cramp of not getting a prescription for his amphetamines certainly put the team and himself behind the 8-ball, both offensively and defensively, in a pivotal year for the veteran. Ruiz is one of a handful of core players who are eligible for free agency after this season. The Phillies clearly are not happy with his lack of judgment and it might factor in when it comes time to negotiate. Tommy Joseph wasn’t exactly tearing it up in Triple-A before going on the DL with a concussion, but scouts and team officials seem genuinely high on the young receiver acquired in the Hunter Pence trade, and more than one of the Phillies beat writers have indicated that if there’s any place the team might “gamble” on a young player for next season, they would bank on Joseph.

Third Base (Michael Young). In a prior blog entry and on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on VOD), we’re already debated in some detail with IronPigs media members about the potential of Triple-A infielder Cody Asche and the chances on him manning the hot corner in Philadelphia by Opening Day 2014. Although Young has been the team’s best hitter—average-wise—and poses a consistent, professional hitting approach that the team has lacked the last few seasons, Young’s age (he’ll be 38 in October) and lack of power will work against (but not preclude) him when the team considers which of the current crop of free agent players they’ll make a play for this offseason (would you prefer Young or Utley batting 3rd?). Even if Young would return (he can play other positions), Asche has continued to get positive reviews and improve his Triple-A numbers (.272 BA, 11 extra base hits in 125 ABs) as the season has unfolded.

Shortstop, Center Field and “Anywhere else.” Following the three hits in his first three at-bats against the D-backs in the final game in Arizona, home-grown Freddy Galvis had his batting average up to .293 while playing five different positions (including spring training) and, quite honestly, looked better in the field than some of the “regulars.” Whether he finds an everyday home in the near future, or becomes a valuable “super-utility” player that can spell people on days-off and/or fill-in when injuries occur, his contributions to the organization should not go unnoticed by Philadelphia sports fans. Radio analyst Larry Anderson had opined in a recent broadcast that he would feel comfortable with Galvis playing at practically every position except pitcher and catcher, and the word from people who have been around the switch-hitter have told me the young Venezuelan has the strong mental makeup and baseball IQ to handle multiple roles.

Pitchers. Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd and Justin DeFratus have all come through the Phillies system and have already helped the team (Cloyd pitched well enough to earn a “W” in Arizona), while filling in for hurlers who were either injured or were not performing adequately. A few more may help the team this year (Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, and Mike Stutes) or a year or two from now (Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle), and if Kyle Kendrick (another Phils’ farmhand) continues to pitch the way he has for the last five baseball months, the team could still have a quality starting rotation for the next several years.

Without the ability to go back in time, I think it’s too hypocritical to criticize most of the moves Amaro has made (the Lee to Seattle and Revere deals the exceptions). If none of these young players mentioned above pan out, then you have every right to rip the current front office for their inability to correctly evaluate young talent and for not providing due diligence in maintaining the long-term success of the franchise (something Amaro stated he was doing by acquiring Philippe Aumont and others from the Mariners—which NO ONE is happy with now). However, if the Phillies fail to make the playoffs again in 2013, at least we have some young players with some legitimate upside to watch at Citizens Bank Park in September ’13 and beyond.

What other mistakes have the Phillies front office made since 2008, and do you think the current staff is doing a good job? What are your thoughts on the Phillies’ prospects? Post a comment below or send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for our live “RCN SportsTalk” show every Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV to voice your opinions.