Thursday, March 31, 2016

Can Phillies Be Surprise 2016 Contenders?

I'm going to be honest with you right from Jump Street here. I'm an old glass-half-full guy, and even I don't really believe that the Phillies can actually contend for the National League East crown in the 2016 season.
Going further, I don't believe that the Phillies can contend for a Wildcard playoff spot. I don't even really believe that the Phillies are going to finish at or above the .500 mark in the 2016 season.
However, on that last point, I am willing to hedge my bets a little.
Buoyed by the performance of the team in the Grapefruit League, where the club finished with an encouraging 15-10-3 record that included some offensive outbursts that seem on the surface to be unsustainable based on the present talent, I have to admit to some optimism.
Now for it all to come together, and the team to actually make a run that sees them approaching that .500 mark come September, a few things have to happen. 
I am going to have a full prediction breakdown on the 2016 season in the coming days, but here are a few things that must break the Phillies' way in order to experience a fun September.
First, the Phils need to get greatly improved pitching over the 2015 version of the team. I see no reason that cannot happen. 
Just look at the starting rotation of Jeremy HellicksonAaron NolaCharlie MortonVincent Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff. You cannot tell me in all honesty that it isn't measurably better from 2-5 than what the club was preparing to run out this time a year ago, aside from the ace in Hamels.
Next, the bullpen needs to improve. The group saw tremendous increased competition this spring as GM Matt Klentak brought in any experienced relief arm that he could lay his paws on to try out for a spot. 
The incumbents were clearly up against it, and the team appears to be headed into the season with a much better relief cast, as well as more experienced and talented depth available to promote from AAA should a need arise.
I sincerely believe that the total pitching staff is improved when looked at as a whole, top to bottom. There is no one anywhere near the class of Hamels as an ace. But there is much more talented depth all the way through the rotation, and through the bullpen.
But the biggest key to taking a true run at the .500 level in 2016 will be the offense. Two major keys, guys who must come through with strong seasons if there is any hope of a better offensive attack, are Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco.
These two were studs a year ago in a mostly punchless lineup, and they need to take the next step forward in 2016. Franco can be an All-Star as soon as this year, and could quickly develop into an NL MVP candidate.
If the Phillies can get enough offense to support the improved pitching, they have a chance to run at the .500 mark later in the season, and possibly push the Marlins and Braves for a 3rd place finish. 
If they can get to August, call up 3-4 of the better prospects, then it could really get interesting come September.
Longshot to contend this year? Certainly. Longshot to take a run at .500 and 3rd place? Most major prognosticators would answer in the affirmative. 
Me? I'm going to remain glass-half-full. Give me this current team with health, and I think they have a real shot at just such an overachieving year. It might not even be actual overachieving, but simply the beginning of a breakout for the franchise.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Racist Phillies Episode Earns City Apology

Today, the Philadelphia city council voted to pass a resolution which had been introduced by Councilwoman Helen Gym. 
The resolution was basically a formal apology from the City of Philadelphia to Jackie Robinson for words and actions which baseball's racial trailblazer experienced while playing here against the Phillies.
The resolution reads as follows:
"Be it resolved by the Council of the City of Philadelphia, that City Council hereby recognize, honor and celebrate April 15, 2016 as a day honoring the lifetime achievements and lasting influence of Jackie Robinson, and apologizing for the racism he faced as a player while visiting Philadelphia."
The date of April 15th is significant in that it intentionally coincides with what Major League Baseball has traditionally celebrated as "Jackie Robinson Day" across the game. All players wear his uniform number, a number that is retired across the game, on that day.
Beginning in Robinson's rookie season of 1947, the first black player in MLB in over 60 years was subject to taunts, derogatory comments, and outright racist harassment by some fans and opposition players across the National League.
Nowhere was that harassment more offensive than here in the City of Brotherly Love, where Phillies' manager Ben Chapman infamously attacked Robinson with racist verbal barbs that would make a sailor blush.

Phillies Early 2016 MLB Draft Preview

Over the course of the off-season, Alexis Girardo at TBOH has been examining many of the top high school and college prospects being looked at closely by the Phils in anticipation of that top selection.
Below is a link retrospective to those pieces, in case you missed any or all when first released, to help you become better acquainted with the possible new Phillies impact prospect.
Also provided below are links to other draft related content provided by myself and other writers here at TBOH in anticipation of that #1 draft selection.
Enjoy the candidates that we have examined to this point. I have included a descriptive snippet of the player from each piece. Click on their name to read the entire piece. The prospects are presented in alphabetical order by last name.

JASON GROOME – “Groome is committed to play college ball at Vanderbilt, but all that could change if he is selected early in the June 2016 MLB draft.  Fangraphs had him listed at #1 on their Top 15 prospects in the 2015-2016 draft showcase this past summer. Groome is 6’6 and 220 lbs, and touches 97 mph on his fastball with ease. He also features a solid curve and change-up as secondary pitches.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Phillies Settle on Vincent Velasquez as 5th Starter

That battle began as a four-man scrum among the righty/lefty incumbent pair of David Buchanan and Adam Morgan, and the righty/lefty newcomer pair of Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer.
Buchanan was knocked out early, as his Grapefruit League performances only served to remind everyone that he is a mediocre big league option at best. The club decision-makers then made the choice to go with Oberholtzer as a left-handed option out of the bullpen.
Those moves left the battle as a head-to-head one between Morgan and Velasquez. Both have pitched well throughout the spring, and Morgan was left-handed, so there were some who saw him as having the inside track.
However, the club decided to go with the power arm of Velasquez over the organizational pitcher Morgan.
"It was a very tough decision," manager Pete Mackanin said per Philly.com's Matt Gelb
"It was a nice situation to have to decide something because we think the world of Morgan. He pitched very well this spring. We like both of them. We like Velasquez' power arm. We want to see him in the big leagues. We know what Morgan is capable of doing. Nobody ever stays with five starters the whole year so he's going to be back in the big leagues this year."
Morgan battled back from shoulder injuries to finally make his big league debut last season. The 26-year old had been the Phillies' 2nd round pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft.
Velasquez came in the big Ken Giles trade with Houston as one of the centerpieces of that deal. Many have seen him as a future bullpen arm, possibly a closer. 
But at least for now, the 23-year old who was the Astros' 2nd round pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft has earned a rotation spot.
Morgan did nothing to lose the battle. Over nine Grapefruit League innings he has allowed just four hits and two earned runs. 
However, Velasquez has been overpowering at times. He has allowed just 15 hits in 20 innings, with a 24/7 K:BB ratio.
The Phillies would love to think that they can get through the season with the starting rotation of Jeremy HellicksonAaron NolaCharlie MortonJerad Eickhoff, and Velasquez, but that is unrealistic. 
Whether due to injury, ineffectiveness, or trade, there will be openings and opportunities. Morgan is putting himself front and center for the first shot.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Phillies 2016 Lefty Bullpen Options

Somewhat surprisingly, the Phillies have announced that starting rotation candidate Brett Oberholtzer is being moved to the bullpen, leaving the 5th starter battle as a head-to-head showdown between Adam Morgan and Vincent Velasquez.
Besides the obvious effect on that rotation battle, the move of Oberholtzer to the pen also muddles an already intense battle for relief pitcher spots. 
Other lefties who have been fighting for a role include incumbent Elvis Araujo and newcomers Bobby LaFromboiseDaniel Stumpf, and James Russell.
Oberholtzer would appear to be a lock to head north once the regular season opens. He has big league experience, is out of minor league options, and his experience as a starting pitcher would suggest that he could provide multiple innings in an emergency.
Assuming that Oberholtzer has a spot as a left-hander, the club would appear to have room for no more than one or two more southpaws. To this point, the three newbies have clearly out-performed the holdover Araujo.
Araujo has allowed five earned runs on four hits across 4.2 innings over five Grapefruit League appearances to this point. He has walked three and struck out three thus far.
The 24-year old made his big league debut with the Phillies last season and was mostly effective, allowing just 29 hits over 40 appearances in which he threw 34.2 innings with a 34/19 K:BB ratio.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Phillies Need to Develop Better Middle Infield Options

For more than a decade from May of 2004 through the 2014 MLB trade deadline, fans of the Phillies were treated to perhaps the best middle infield combination in all of baseball, and easily the best combo in the history of the franchise over such a long period of time.
It was in May of 2004 that 2nd baseman Chase Utley received his final promotion to the big leagues. 
He joined the already established but young shortstop Jimmy Rollinsto form a middle infield that would become the core of five straight NL East champs, back-to-back National League pennant winners, and a World Series championship.
They were not only a strong defensive combination with tremendous chemistry in that aspect of the game, but each was a gifted offensive performer. 
Utley was a six-time NL All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger. Rollins was a three-time NL All-Star, four-time Gold Glover, and the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player, also winning a Silver Slugger that season.
Both players naturally aged, and in the last two seasons it became time for them to move on. Each was ultimately dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers, J-Roll in December of 2014 and Chase the following summer. Replacing them was going to be difficult, if not impossible.
At least in the short-term, the replacements at each position are nowhere near the same quality of player. The Phillies performance in the standings deteriorated as age did the same to the former greats. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Phillies Should Stand Pat in the Outfield in 2016

The projected right fielder, Aaron Altherr, went down with a left wrist injury suffered last week. 
He will miss anywhere from four to six months, which means that he will be out for most, if not all, of the coming 2016 season.
There has been speculation from a number of sources, most notably MLB insider Jayson Stark, that the Phillies are keeping their eyes open for possible corner outfield additions.

Another thing we mentioned on the podcast: Phillies looking for a veteran OF with Altherr out. Willing to take on $.https://twitter.com/Josh_Macri/status/709755413303058432 

While the addition of some “veteran OF” would not necessarily be a bad idea, it is my opinion that the addition of any outfielder at this point is not necessary, and might in fact prove detrimental under the current Phillies circumstances.
Whether you agree with or like the term “tanking” in regards to the Phillies 2016 season plans, the fact remains that this is at best a 2nd division team, and at worst once again one of the worst teams in baseball.
What the Phillies need more than anything else right now is to fully evaluate as much of their in-house talent as possible. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Phillies 2016 Wall of Fame Nominee Fred Luderus

Voting for the Philadelphia Phillies 2016 Wall of Fame honoree is now underway.

The Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Fame is a wonderful tradition of honoring the great individuals who have made Phillies baseball more enjoyable for fans of the team over its 133-season existence.
Beginning with Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts in 1978, the Phillies have honored one player, coach, or other individual each season with a place on the Wall with a plaque, similar to those received by inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The location for display of these plaques was originally a section of wall on the inner concourses at Veteran’s Stadium. 
The construction of Citizens Bank Park included a more distinctive place, an actual specially built Wall of Fame, which can be found just off Ashburn Alley in the center field concourse.
In its current format, the Phillies allow fans to vote online from a group of a dozen candidates, specially selected for their service to the team. 
These nominees must have spent at least four years with the team, and be retired at least three years. 
Consideration is given by the team for longevity, ability, character, statistics, special achievements, and contributions to the Phillies and baseball.
Fans vote from that list of a dozen candidates for their top three choices. The results of that fan voting are then sent on to a special panel, which chooses the actual final Wall of Fame honoree. 
That fan voting ends at 5pm on Monday, March 7th this season at the Phillies website.
Last year, the Phillies honored Pat Burrell with that place on the Wall of Fame. While “Pat the Bat” is certainly a deserving honoree, he was not my selection for that honor at this time. 
I firmly believe that, while he would have made it eventually and deservedly, it was too soon to be honoring a player who recently retired when a number of deserving individuals have waited far longer.
Leading that list remains Fred Luderus, who I championed last January in the run-up to the fan voting. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sneak Peak at Phillies Future in Today's Grapefruit League Game

The Philadelphia Phillies will take on the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon in Dunedin, Florida.

Manager Pete Mackanin‘s announced starting lineup for the second Grapefruit League game could give Phillies fans an exciting peak at the team’s highly acclaimed rebuilding program.
Unfortunately for those fans, the vast majority will not get a chance to see that lineup. The game is not being televised, and the only radio broadcast that is available will come from the MLB.com website.
So in order to see that exciting glimpse of the future, you would pretty much have to be there on Florida’s Gulf Coast. 
For fans of the team who have made the trip down for the first week of games, it’s a short trip. Dunedin is only about a 15 minute drive north of Bright House Field, the Phils’ own spring training home.
That exciting lineup begins with the trio of center fielder Roman Quinn, shortstop J.P. Crawford, and 3rd baseman Maikel Franco
In a perfect Phillies world, that is the team’s first three at some point late in the 2016 season, and for years to come.