By: Jack Henkels
I watched the Phillies game last night. Living in Syracuse, I’m subjected to a New York TV market which means I watch way too many Buffalo Bills and New York Mets games over the course of the year. It’s not as ideal as a Philadelphia market, for my personal sports-viewing purposes, but it is a nice change of pace when the Phils take on the Mets and I’m able to tune in. After playing basketball, I plunged into my room and flipped on the game. The Phillies were already down 5-1 and Clay Buchholz was being removed from the mound (for injury, I think, but he still stinks).
I watched then for about an hour as Yoenis Cespedes hit something like 17 homers, including one that traveled all the way to University City. I think the Mets in total have already surpassed their home run total from last year. Adam Morgan stinks. The offense still stinks. They are still just stink.
I’m being a bit dramatic and depressing here, and sure, maybe the Phillies aren’t the worst team in baseball, but they haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, and haven’t been competitive since the year after. Management has tried to turn over a new leaf, but it just hasn’t clicked yet.
It’s 2017. The Phillies best players are (probably) Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, and Maikel Franco. The second tier, for me, would be Cesar Hernandez, Jerad Eickhoff, Howie Kendrick and Vince Velasquez.
Aaron Nola’s ceiling is probably a solid #2 starter in the MLB. I’ll admit, he’s the minor exception to the larger point of this article. Also, injuries last year prevented him from getting a full set of reps, so the jury is still a bit out on what this guy can do.
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Odubel Herrera is awesome and fun. He plays an average, yet adventurous CF, will never hit more than 20 homers in a year, and will hover around .290. There’s a big enough sample size to say, at this point, Herrera is probably a starter on a playoff team, but more of a 6th or 7th guy in the lineup. It’s nearly impossible to see Herrera making the jump to top-15 outfielder in the bigs. He’s a major leaguer, but not someone you can build a franchise around.
Maikel Franco swings like he’s trying to hit the left field foul pole. The dude’s got an absurdly powerful stroke, but too often he just pulls off the outside of the plate. He hits way too many balls off the end of the bat. Rather than driving a high and outside pitch to the right center field gap, he pulls off and taps a grounder to short or shatters his bat and pops it up. We’ve seen flashes – every once in a while he peppers that right field gap or hits a laser over the right field wall. But, we’ve seen a lot of Franco at this point – most of his homers are on pitcher’s mistakes where they leave a ball on the inner half of the plate, where Franco can make them pay. I do like Franco, but he’s starting to feel like a .260/25 homer guy. He finished right around there last year. Once again, there’s a spot for him on a contending team – he’s got some pop and does manage to drive in some runs… But as a player to build around? I just don’t see it. He fits as more of a Raul Ibanez 2009 role. Ibanez had Werth, Utley, Howard, Rollins, and Victorino, though.
Much like I can’t see Herrera taking that next step, I’m starting to lose faith in Franco as a franchise guy. He can be a key component, but a ceiling of “franchise player” is starting to fade.
Then, in the second tier, you have Cesar, Eickhoff, Kendrick, and Vinny.
Cesar is awesome. Every time he does something good I go “Hip, hip! Cesar!” It’s a really stupid thing that I do a lot. Right now, he’s the Phillies leadoff hitter. He’s got above average speed and hit for a decent average last year. He can play a few positions, which is cool. But, once again, we’ve had Cesar in the bigs for a while now and I think this is all he is. He’s a serviceable utility guy on a contender. A nice, switch-hitting option off the bench who can play a couple positions in the infield. A faster Eric Bruntlett.
Is Cesar taking the next step to elite leadoff hitter? At this point, it’s hard to say there’s still a chance.
Jerad Eickhoff was consistently average last year and thus far this year he’s off to a similar start. He’s the king of the quality start. He hovers right around 6 innings and 3 or 4 runs. He’s not getting any better, and he can probably stick around in the league, but as the backend of a rotation guy on a contending team who gets knocked to the pen come playoff time.
Howie Kendrick is old.
Vince Velasquez is still young and missed a fair amount of last year with injuries, so he definitely falls under the category of “we’re not totally sure what we have here yet.” So far, we know he loves to strike guys out, he loves to walk guys, and he throws a hell of a lot of pitches. As with Nola, I can’t see him being a staff’s ace, but if he learns to play to contact a bit and stay in games longer, I could see him as a fringe 2nd, definitely 3rd starter – but only if he learns how to not throw 600 pitches every fifth day.
And then there’s Galvis, Joseph, Gomez, Hellickson, Rupp, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. None of these guys are part of the picture moving forward, unless Galvis turns into a 30 homer guy, Joseph doesn’t strike out 3 times a night, Gomez suddenly hits 98 on the gun, Hellickson puts on 60 lbs and 5 inches, and Rupp transforms into Babe Ruth.
Essentially, I’m at this point with the Phillies:
2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 we did not contend and did not intend on contending. That was okay. We gave shots to guys like Galvis and Cesar. Herrera, the Rule 5 product, and Franco have been given chances to be “the guy” while they develop. We threw Nola and Eickhoff into the rotation just to see what they’ve got.
It was fun rooting for Herrera. His bat-flipping antics are hilarious and his anything-but-efficient routes to fly balls are ever entertaining. I enjoyed watching Galvis hit 20 homers last year. It was cute cheering “Hip, hip! Cesar!” for every Hernandez base knock.
There have been flashes of really fun baseball stuff. Goedell gunning down Suarez at the plate and securing a May 2016 W for the Phils. Last year, I caught a Franco homerun ball off Aroldis Chapman that tied it in the 9th. Velasquez struck out 16 Padres.
But, as we inch further and further away from 2011, this all seems just “cute.” We’re all grasping at straws when we think Tommy Joseph or Maikel Franco are the cornerstones. I’m the first to tell you I don’t know much about the farm system – I sure hope Crawford and Quinn are impact players.
But right now, these “bridge-the-gap” guys we’ve had for 4 or 5 years are just that – bridging the gap. We don’t have a franchise guy. We don’t have a number 1 starter. We don’t have a lock on the All Star ballot. We have no one at the top of any statistical leaderboards… But worse yet, I don’t think we have any guys whose ceilings are any of the above – and that’s a scary proposition. Franco, Herrera, Nola, and Vinny might be pieces, but they’re nothing to build around.
And the fact that the Phillies are five years removed from contention and don’t really have a locked in franchise guy yet for that next window of contention? That’s concerning.