Overview (Present Rank: 21st | Future Rank: 12th)
Gone are the days of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels forming an elite trifecta atop of the rotation or Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins driving in runs left and right. That premier group of talent won the NL East for five consecutive years while claiming two National League Pennants and a World Championship trophy in 2008 before aging themselves out of contention. Now, the team is coming off of three straight losing seasons, and the front office is finally focusing their resources toward the future.
Philadelphia isn’t the typical rebuilding team, as it was only a couple years ago the team ended the year with a $183MM Major League payroll. The Chicago Cubs are proving a big-market team with the right resources, the right front office, and the right manager can transform a rebuilding project into a perennial contender within a few seasons. The Phillies aren't there yet, but they’re starting to manufacture an intriguing collection of promising players that could soon deliver the same run of success the fightin’ Phils experienced five years ago.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 4, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
Longtime catcher Carlos Ruiz is finally starting to run out of gas. The 10-year veteran has spent his entire career in Philadelphia after being signed by the team as an amateur free agent in 1998. Now the 37 year-old is coming off a season where he posted an OPS of .575 and has just one year left on his deal (assuming Philly declines his $4.5MM team option for 2017). Whether he can stay off the shelf in 2016 or not, it’s time to move on from the former All-Star.
It wouldn’t be wise to move on from Ruiz without a viable replacement already in place. The Phillies would love if Cameron Rupp finally developed into a reliable everyday catcher, but the 27 year-old’s insufficiencies at the plate have prevented him from doing so. He’s always been able to handle lefties in the batter’s box (.915 OPS in ‘15), but righties held him to a sub-.600 OPS last season. If he can make any improvement against right-handers, he could emerge as the replacement the Phillies are looking for until a certain someone is ready for the show.
That certain someone is the No. 70 prospect in the game (according to Baseball Prospectus). Coming over in the Cole Hamels deal last July, Jorge Alfaro has Phillies executives excited for the future of their catching situation. Alfaro brought a cannon for an arm along with him to Philly. Alfaro has a high floor as a defense-first catcher, but his ceiling is also fairly high with the raw power and strong arm he possesses. If he can start to recognize pitches better, he could be an above-average hitter too making him a threat from both sides. The Phillies only need to ask Rupp to hold down the position for half of next season as Alfaro will be knocking on the door at some point during 2017 season.
While Baseball Prospectus holds Alfaro in high regard, Baseball America left the 22 year-old off their top-100 list. Instead of Alfaro, they placed Philadelphia’s other catching prospect Andrew Knapp at No. 96 on their list. Knapp’s stock took flight after posting a 1.050 OPS in 55 Double-A games last year. However, his receiving problems and poor swing plane returned in a disappointing showing at the Arizona Fall League. At 24 years old, he’ll have to prove he belongs in the majors once he’s called up this year. If he can’t seize the opportunity, he’ll give Alfaro the advantage at taking over the position long-term.
Future Outlook: Alfaro or Knapp?
After the 2016 season Carlos Ruiz will be gone, and Cameron Rupp will be the team’s primary receiver (assuming GM Matt Klentak doesn’t acquire a better stop-gap solution). Considering Rupp’s track record, the Phillies will be craving for somebody else to step up. It’s looking like Philadelphia will have it’s choice between Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. Knapp was once battling Tommy Joseph to be Ruiz’ eventual replacement, but after the team acquired Alfaro, it appeared he immediately became the leader of the pack. That was before Knapp responded to the trade with a 55-game tear in Double-A. After he heard Philly acquired the other top-100 prospect, Knapp hit .366 for the rest of the season forcing Baseball America to include him on their own top-100 list. The next couple years will be big in identifying who will be Philadelphia’s long-term catcher.
Ryan Howard had an excellent start to his career by winning the Rookie of the Year and MVP all in the first two years of his career. The 2006 National League MVP is just a shell of himself in 2016. His six consecutive years of 30+ HR’s and 100+ RBI’s netted him a 5yr/$125MM contract that the Phillies surely wish they could undot the I’s and uncross the T’s on. Since signing the extension, Howard has recorded a lousy .232/.300/.421 slash line over four seasons. A far cry from the .274/.369/.559 line he produced in the five years before the deal. With only one year left on the albatross of a contract, the Phillies will look to unload Howard as soon as possible with a midseason deal highly likely. Philadelphia’s new front office is looking toward bigger and better things at first base.
If Tommy Joseph can step in and prove his worth in 2016, new President of Baseball Operations Andy Macphail will have no need to go outside the organization for Howard’s replacement. Joseph was the headliner in the Hunter Pence trade with San Francisco a few years ago. The 24 year-old has suffered multiple injuries making his future outlook unclear. After struggling immensely in Triple-A last year, plenty of evaluators are down on the former second round pick. However, if he can finally prove he’s healthy, he could use his plus hit tool and raw power to become a middle-of-the-order bat in Philly’s lineup.
Darin Ruf was once viewed as Howard’s replacement, but the 29 year-old doesn’t have much upside anymore. He’s hit his floor as a lefty-mashing platoon bat with limited speed and fielding abilities. His ceiling as an all-around first baseman seem unreachable at this point. Rhys Hoskins has the same floor Ruf has as a platoon bat off the bench. However, at just 23 years old, he still has time to figure out righties and become an everyday player.
Future Outlook: Howard’s contract is finally about to expire
Almost immediately after the Phillies signed the former MVP to that 5yr/$125MM extension, they’ve been counting down the days until they were no longer on the hook for the aging first baseman. With him off the team’s roster, there’s a huge hole at first base. Tommy Joseph and Darin Ruf could seize the opportunity, but their track record makes that look doubtful. If Rhys Hoskins can keep producing against more rigorous minor league pitching, he could cement himself as the favorite to be Howard’s replacement. If all three options don’t work out, then Philly will have to go outside the organization to fill the hole. The team can wait a couple of years to see how Joseph and Hoskins do before investing heavily in another first base prospect.
After registering 452 plate appearances in 2015, the incumbent Cesar Hernandez will have second base all to himself in 2016. He probably won’t benefit from a .342 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) again, but Hernandez has the speed to keep it above .310. His actual batting average will likely decline from .272, but he could still get on base at a .340+ clip thanks to his improving plate discipline. Hernandez is no Chase Utley, but the 26 year-old is still getting better offensively and defensively.
Utility infielder Andres Blanco posted an .863 OPS out of nowhere last season. Before playing 106 games in 2015, Blanco totaled 260 games over 11 years, and never owned an OPS above .800 in any single season. The 32 year-old found something that worked last year, and the Phils will make him their primary utility man in 2016.
If Cesar Hernandez can’t find a way to improve his production, the Phillies don’t have any replacement possibilities in the minors. They just drafted Scott Kingery in the second round and have moved him from the outfield to second base, but he’s just starting the year in High-A ball. Jesmuel Valentin has made a solid impression against minor league pitching, but doesn’t have much potential, and won’t be ready until at least 2018.
Future Outlook: Cesar Hernandez has to show improvement
With little to nothing down in Philadelphia’s farm system, it’s all up to Hernandez to produce results at second base. Hernandez has the potential to be serviceable starting second baseman, but a .683 OPS won’t cut it. Considering they just spent a second round pick on Kingery, the team should wait to see how he develops before drafting another second baseman. If Hernandez can’t evolve into a reliable starting option, Philadelphia will need to go outside the organization for a quick plug in.
Like Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis had an underwhelming 2015 season in his first year as a starter. That’s not the only similarity he has with his double play partner, as the two were both signed out of Venezuela in 2006. After coming up through the ranks together, the duo has now made it to the show. It’s no coincidence that once Philadelphia started prioritizing the future instead of winning right now, that Galvis was handed a starting role. He’ll have to prove he belongs there before Philadelphia puts together a competitive team again.
Even if Galvis can muster some solid production in the next couple of years, all that would do is give Philadelphia a better return for him. Regardless of Galvis’ major league production, the future of the shortstop position belongs solely to J.P. Crawford. The cousin of Carl Crawford is a unanimous top-5 prospect among MLB evaluators with Baseball America being the only publication that placed him at No. 6. Crawford’s quick hands, great range, and strong arm should keep him at the shortstop position long-term. Offensively, he hasn’t tapped into much power, but scouts believe he can hit 10-15 HR’s annually once he gains strength. Crawford has always been ahead of the curve in the minors and as he enters his prime, he could hit well above .300 with the other tools necessary to become one of the best all-around players in baseball.
Future Outlook: Mark your calendars, J.P. Crawford is arriving soon
Although the Philadelphia Phillies don't have much optimism for the present considering their current lineup, there is hope for the future. No player means more to their future than J.P. Crawford. The No. 6 overall prospect in the league (according to Baseball America) will soon get the call-up to the show. Freddy Galvis is the team’s current captain of the infield, but his presence means very little when looking at the big picture. The Phillies are hoping Crawford can become the franchise shortstop they’ve been looking for since Jimmy Rollins’ departure.
While J.P. Crawford has the most potential of all Philadelphia prospects, Maikel Franco has the highest ceiling of any player in the Phillies organization. The 23 year-old burst onto the scene last year by posting a robust .840 OPS in his rookie season. Thanks to being part of the greatest rookie class of all-time, Franco didn’t receive a single Rookie of the Year vote last season, but the former top-20 prospect has his sights set on a bigger award: MVP. Franco set the world on notice in 2013 when he batted .320 with 31 HR’s and 103 RBI’s between High-A and Double-A as a 20 year-old. Now, it’s only a matter of time before he starts producing those kinds of numbers on a regular basis against major league pitching.
Future Outlook: Maikel Franco’s just getting started
After a strong rookie season, Maikel Franco is just getting started. He has been viewed as the team’s long-term answer at the corner for years. Seeing him succeed against major league pitching as a 22 year-old was no surprise to Phillies executives. Going forward they just hope the Dominican native can stay healthy. If he can avoid the disabled list, the sky’s the limit for Phillies’ third baseman.
Maikel Franco wasn’t the only player in Philadelphia last year to have a strong rookie season. Prior to 2015, Odubel Herrera hadn’t played a single game above Double-A, yet the Phillies were confident in taking the then 23 year-old and making him their everyday center fielder in the majors. Herrera responded with an excellent .297/.344/.418 slash line in his rookie season. Now the Phillies believe they have their future center fielder in town poised to make an impact for the next contending team in the City of Brotherly love.
The rest of the outfield has more question marks than answers. In the two corner outfield spots, Philadelphia is forced to choose between their young players with limited upside (Tyler Goeddel, Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche) and their recent veteran acquisition (Peter Bourjos). None of these four players would find themselves in a starting role on almost any other team in the league, but during this rough time in Philly, two of those players will be given full-time gigs.
Bourjos is nothing more than a fourth outfielder at best on most teams, but he could be the favorite to land a starting job due to the lack of competition. As a six-year veteran though, he has the upper hand at any starting job. Despite his abysmal production at the plate, Bourjos could have a better season if manager Pete Mackanin can utilize him in the right matchups. With Goeddel, Altherr, and Asche all on board, he’ll be able to do just that.
If Bourjos is the favorite for one corner outfield spot, Cody Asche is the favorite for the other. He’s notched over 400 plate appearances in each of the last two years for the fightin’ Phils. Asche’s inability to hit outside located pitches prevents him from being anything more than a low-end starter.
Aaron Altherr has the same potential as Asche does as a low-end starter, but his inability to hit right-handed pitching prevent him from being much more. If he ever improves in that area, he could possibly become a top-50 corner outfielder. However, even that may be too high of expectations for the 25 year-old. To Altherr’s credit, he did post an .854 OPS in the minors before obtaining an OPS of .827 in 137 major league at-bats last year. He could have found something in his swing in 2015, but his track record and tools indicate it’s unlikely he’ll do much damage against major league pitching going forward.
Tyler Goeddel was another Rule 5 draft choice for the club, this time coming before the 2016 season. After spending his 2015 season playing Double-A ball for the Tampa Bay Rays, he’ll try his luck in the big leagues this year. Goeddel is seen as a fringe major leaguer across the league, but given the right opportunity he could become a serviceable outfielder. He’ll survive this year considering the Phillies don’t have much to lose by trying him out there, but in future seasons, he could be continuously sent back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues.
Luckily, the other two spots in the outfield could be filled quickly with two of the team’s best prospects. Nick Williams, the No. 2 prospect in Philly (according to Baseball America), was the headliner of the package the Rangers submitted for Cole Hamels. As the No. 27 prospect in the game, the Phillies believe their potentially looking at their future everyday center fielder. Not only that, but a potential offensive catalyst in the heart of the lineup. Herrera and Roman Quinn’s emergence as long-term pieces for Philadelphia will likely move Nick Williams to1 right field where his fringy arm could be a problem.
Roman Quinn’s development has given Philadelphia confidence they’ll have a third solid outfielder to pair with Herrera and Williams on their next contending team. Quinn’s speed jumps right off the bat as his best trait as he had 29 steals in 58 Double-A games last year (translates to 83 SB’s over 162 games). His speed helps him be a plus defender in center field and an elite baserunner. His hit tool developed a lot over the past year as proven by his .306 batting average. If he can keep hitting like that, combined with his speed, he could lead the league in runs scored atop of Philadelphia’s next dangerous lineup (with Crawford, Franco, Williams, Herrera, and Alfaro behind him).
Besides Williams and Quinn, the Phillies also have potential starting outfielders in Cornelius Randolph, Dylan Cozens, and to a much lesser extent, Carlos Tocci. Randolph was the team’s 10th overall pick last year and made his presence known quickly, batting .302 in his first 53 games as a professional. Cozens took a big step in his development this past year. With the recent weight loss he’s hoping to be more athletic in the field and swing a quicker bat. The 6’6” right fielder could finally tap into his raw power becoming a real threat at the plate. Tocci likely won’t make it past a bench role, but his showing in Single-A last year caught some attention.
Future Outlook: The pieces are coming together
A year ago, the future of Philadelphia’s outfield outlook looked very bleak. After strong 2015 seasons from Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn combined with the acquisition of Nick Williams, the Phillies could have three above-average outfielders. All three of them have at least a ‘B’ potential with Williams looking like a future All-Star. If any of them come down to earth, Philly has other options in the form of 2015 10th overall pick Cornelius Randolph or 6’6” Dylan Cozens. There’s always a chance one of Cody Asche, Aaron Altherr, or Tyler Goeddel becomes a productive player in the bigs as well. The Phillies might have the worst outfield situation for 2016, but their outfield’s future is almost as bright as any team in the league.
After dealing Cole Hamels to Texas, there are no reliable left-handed starting pitchers left in Philadelphia. Matt Harrison came over in the Hamels deal, but he’s only totaled nine starts over the past three years combined. He had two exceptional seasons in Texas during the 2011/2012 seasons, but after recurring back injuries, his future outlook is as cloudy as ever. Harrison will start 2016 on the DL for the same back problem. Philadelphia is on the hook for $26.4MM over the next two years before they can buy him out for $2MM and rid him off their payroll.
Brett Oberholtzer was given the most chance of any lefty to start games for Philly, but he’ll take his talent (or lack thereof) to the bullpen. In the future, Elniery Garcia is the only pitcher in Philadelphia’s system that projects to make it as a starter from the left-handed side. There’s nothing too special about the 21 year-old, but he throws enough strikes to project as a No. 5 starter.
Future Outlook: Improve the team’s biggest weakness
The Phillies have multiple weaknesses on their 2016 roster. Long-term, they have at least one potential impact player at every position except left-handed starting pitchers. Cole Hamels’ departure signified a monumental turnaround in that area. Going from having one of the game’s best lefties in the game to one of the worst left-handed starting pitching situations hurts the team’s chances in 2016, but the package Philadelphia was able to receive in the deal should make up for any shortcomings in the future. Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro look like future stars, while Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff could become solid starting pitchers themselves. Matt Harrison is nothing more than an afterthought after recurring back injuries while Elniery Garcia has a chance at making it as a starter down the line. No other lefty is worth mentioning.
As one ace departs, another one emerges. The Phillies won’t have Cole Hamels as their Opening Day starter anymore, but Aaron Nola looks ready to step up and fill the void. Nola joined Herrera and Franco in having outstanding rookie seasons. The former seventh overall pick is on the illustrious path of transforming from a top draft pick to a top prospect to a top major leaguer. Nola hasn’t slipped up once in the minors. With a well-balanced repertoire and strong command, Nola could be on his way to becoming one of the best pitchers in the game.
Nola is just the tip of the iceberg considering all of the high-upside righties in Philly’s system. Jerad Eickhoff will be the guy immediately replacing Hamels in the rotation. If his strong rookie debut is any indication, Eickhoff could outproduce Hamels in a couple years as Hamels enters his mid-30’s. However, his impressive rookie season is an outlier compared to his lackluster track record in the minors. His repertoire suggests regression is coming, but if Eickhoff’s new slider is for real, he could settle in as a quality mid-rotation starter.
Eickhoff wasn’t the only righty with upside they received for Hamels. President Andy Macphail insisted on Jake Thompson becoming a Philly to seal the deal. Thompson cruised through Double-A after the trade with a spectacular 1.80 ERA. As he gets closer to the show, he’ll need to loosen up his delivery and throw his curveball more consistently. With three pitches flashing above-average (fastball/curveball/slider), Thompson looks to become one of the team’s top pitchers.
Neither Thompson nor Eickhoff has the highest ceiling among Philly pitchers though. That distinction belongs to 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel. Appel’s stock has taken a steep decline since being drafted, but the same electric stuff is still there for him to impact the game. A change of scenery could be just what Appel needs to get back on track and develop into the pitcher executives envisioned when he was taken first overall.
While Appel will get his time to shine at some point in 2016, Jeremy Hellickson will be in the team’s rotation from day one. Acquired in November for RHP Sam McWilliams, Hellickson is a proven commodity with a Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove award already on his resume. After two strong seasons to begin his MLB career, Hellickson has faltered to a 4.86 ERA over the past three years. Elbow problems have harmed his career, and now he’s just a back-end piece to the rotation.
The Phils also brought in Charlie Morton to be a veteran presence amongst the abundance of inexperienced starters. Morton and Hellickson will both enter the market after the 2016 season once Philly declines their side of Morton’s $9.5MM mutual option.
Philadelphia’s restocked farm system was mostly fueled by the trades of Cole Hamels and Ken Giles. In addition to Mark Appel, Philly also acquired Vince Velasquez and Thomas Eshelman. Both players look to be a part of the future in Philadelphia’s rotations with Velasquez having a chance of joining Appel as a quality mid-rotation starter. Velasquez showed a glimpse of his potential last year by posting a 9.0 K/9 over seven starts with Houston. A well mixed repertoire should keep Velasquez in the rotation for years to come.
Franklyn Kilome is another high-upside righty in Philadelphia’s system. Kilome has the size (6’6”) and velocity (mid-90’s) scouts love and is starting to hone his command. If he can ever consistently locate his pitches, Kilome could skyrocket up prospect rankings as a future frontline starter.
Nick Pivetta, Alec Asher, Zach Eflin, Ben Lively all have limited potentials. They could possibly catch on in the bullpen, but they’ll never catch on in Philly’s crowded rotation. Ricardo Pinto could even have a hard time getting starts, and he projects to be a reliable No.4/No.5 starter some day.
Future Outlook: Endless options
If there’s one position the Phillies could use as trade bait, look no further than right-handed starting pitchers. From Aaron Nola to Ricardo Pinto, GM Matt Klentak has obtained a wealth of viable options going forward. Nola, Mark Appel, Franklyn Kilome, Vince Velasquez, and Jake Thompson all have the potential to be No. 3 starters or better. If all five pitchers are still in Philadelphia come 2020, the Phils could have one of the best rotations in baseball. For good measure, the team also has the services of Jerad Eickhoff, Ricardo Pinto, and Thomas Eshelman which could pay off if any of the aforementioned hurlers get injured.
With the departures of Jonathan Papelbon and Ken Giles over the last year, the bullpen could see a huge drop-off in production in 2016. Other than those two premier closers, only one reliever pitched at least 35 innings while maintaining an ERA below 3.50. Jeanmar Gomez, 28, gave Philadelphia 75 strong innings last year. Now that Papelbon and Giles gone, Gomez immediately becomes the favorite for the closer role. Racking up saves would help Gomez substantially in arbitration the next two winters before he hits the market after 2017.
In his rookie season, Hector Neris made quite an impression over 40 innings. A sterling 4.10 K/BB ratio combined and a 1.190 WHIP showcased Neris’ productivity in 2015. He’ll be setting up games for Gomez alongside David Hernandez. The 31 year-old Hernandez signed with Philly on a 1yr/$3.9MM deal after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015. If he can stay healthy, he should land on a multi-year pact when he retests the market after 2016.
In addition to Gomez and Neris, Luis Garcia and Elvis Aruajo were the only productive relievers from 2015 to return after throwing more than 25 innings last season. Considering their minor league track record, Garcia is the likelier one to stay on the big league roster while Aruajo might be sent down every now and then for more seasoning.
Dalier Hinojosa only pitched in 23 innings for the Phillies last year, but was the best reliever on the team upon his arrival. It might have been a small sample size, but a 0.78 ERA in the bigs doesn’t go unnoticed. The Cuban import will look to keep that going once he gains a full-time role in Philly’s bullpen going forward.
Andrew Bailey was once a Rookie of the Year closer with a very bright future ahead of him. After being traded to Boston, Bailey had a career meltdown and hasn’t been the same since. The Phillies inked him on a minor league deal to minimize the risk, but if he can find the same stuff that helped him dominate earlier in his career, the reward could be big.
Philadelphia has three younger pitchers in their organization with a future in the back of the bullpen. Jimmy Cordero and Edubray Ramos could make their debut sometime in 2016, while Victor Arano will likely need another year or two before he’s ready for the show. Cordero and Ramos both throw high heat, but don’t have the command or offspeed pitches that could elevate them to being a successful closer. Arano doesn’t have the velocity of either of those players, but he does have a three-pitch mix that could lead to his own success.
Future Outlook: Nothing Was the Same
Over the next few years, the bullpen will be completely revamped, and nothing will be the same. Jeanmar Gomez is a solid reliever, but the fact that he’s the team’s closer just goes to show how little of an emphasis the front office put on fortifying their bullpen in 2016. It’s clear what the Phillies are doing: investing their resources into the future and not prioritizing winning in 2016. That might make for a great team a few years down the road, but this year the Phillies have the worst team on paper, and the bullpen is a part of the problem. When the team gets closer to contention expect Andy Macphail to acquire much more established arms that he can peg in the back of the pen. As for now, the team is just going with the flow.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Perennial contender to annual finishes in the cellar
Earlier in the decade, the Philadelphia Phillies were a sure bet to reach the playoffs, and even entered multiple seasons as World Series favorites. Those days are a thing of the past as seasons of 90+ losses appear to be a thing of the future. Philadelphia has finally committed to rebuilding after years of hanging on to older veterans past their prime. Now the Phillies own the second youngest team in the majors with an average age of 27.8.
The remainder of the 2010’s look like a lost cause after the old front office tried to stretch their window of contention. However, a quartet of J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera, and Maikel Franco could lead Philadelphia back into contention as we get closer to the 2020. The Phillies will need to make pitching a priority in the draft to construct a rotation that resembled the Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels trifecta from their only 102+ win team in franchise history (2011). The long list of high-upside righties in the organization helps their cause, but they need to develop them into premier starting pitchers. The Phillies have a lot of question marks surrounding their current team. They’ll have to keep acquiring promising, young talent to get the answers they need in order to construct their next championship caliber team.