Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Future at first, outfield should be competitive for Phillies

Cozens (L) and Hoskins (R) pushing for a shot with Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies moved yesterday to DFA both reliever Jeanmar Gomez and outfielder Michael Saunders. This should prove to be the beginning of a changeover in the roster and lineup.
The baseball industry has recognized for more than a year now that the Phillies minor league system has greatly improved. Talent is going to begin flowing to the big league team soon, likely at some point this summer.
Once that talent really starts pushing to Philadelphia, there are going to be some interesting decisions for the club to make. That is going to be especially true in the outfield and at first base. Three of those four spots appear taken, at least in the short term.
Center field is currently manned by 25-year old Odubel Herrera. A 2016 NL All-Star, ‘El Torito’ was signed to a contract his past winter that is guaranteed through the 2021 season.
With the Saunders trade, 26-year old Aaron Altherr should begin to see even more regular playing time. He has been perhaps the Phillies best all around player this season. Altherr is hitting for a .278/.352/.531 slash line. He leads the team with a dozen homers and 37 RBI, and his 32 runs scored is second on the club.
At first base, Tommy Joseph is second on the club with 10 home runs. After a slow first month, Joseph has gotten his hitting game together. Since May 1, the 25-year old is hitting .290/.348/.519 with 19 exta-base hits and 25 RBI.
The Phillies are giving time right now to veterans Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava. They also have a pair of players recently up from the minor leagues. Those two, first baseman Brock Stassi and outfielder Cameron Perkins, are seen more as reserve/role player types.

NICKIE AND THE BASH BROTHERS

The Phillies AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs squad is 47-24, and is one of the most talented teams in all Minor League Baseball. The Pigs have players pushing right now for a big league opportunity at both first base and in the outfield.
At first base, 24-year old Rhys Hoskins is having a sensational year. He is hitting for a .290/.382/.592 slash line and leads the IronPigs with 17 homers, 55 RBI, 37 extra-base hits, and 49 runs scored.
In the outfield, 23-year old Nick Williams seems to finally be putting it all together. He is hitting .279 with 14 home runs, 41 RBI, and 39 runs.
Also pushing for a shot is 23-year old Dylan Cozens. He and Hoskins have come up together through the system over the last couple of seasons. Their longball exploits have earned them a “Bash Brothers” nickname.
Cozens has 16 homers, 49 RBI, and 40 runs scored. A big knock on both he and Williams is that both strikeout a lot. Williams has been punched out 80 times already, Cozens 82 times. Those are far and away the highest totals in the Lehigh Valley lineup.

EVEN MORE OPTIONS COMING

Another outfielder at Lehigh Valley is probably the most ready, and would likely already have received a promotion. The problem is, as it always seems to be, an injury issue for speedy Roman Quinn.
The 24-year old Quinn has a UCL injury to his non-throwing (left) elbow. He received an injection, and is already rehabbing. Quinn is expected back in game action in mid-late July.
The injury to Quinn and the strikeout issues plaguing Cozens and Williams could keep them at Lehigh Valley into September. That is, barring some disastrous injury situation in Philadelphia.
But as early as that final month of the 2017 MLB season, and certainly no later than next spring, the positional battles will be played out.
There is nothing to say that the Phillies future at first base will go to either Joseph or Hoskins. The club could very well give someone like Altherr or Cozens a shot there as well. That would depend on trades, their own development, and the development of the other players.
There has also been talk of moving Maikel Franco across the diamond at some point. If it is determined at any point that Franco is not the long-term answer at third base, it has to be considered a true setback for the organization. That is, unless they can fill the void with a big free agent signing. Manny Machado anyone?
An outfield battle royale is shaping up involving Herrera, Altherr, Williams, Quinn, and Cozens. A couple of those guys could eventually join a first base battle that already will include Joseph and Hoskins.

BEST TALENT MAY BE THE YOUNGEST

None of this takes into account younger prospects. Mickey Moniak is arguably the top prospect in the Phillies minor league system already. Though just 19 years old, Moniak could move fast, and might push for a big league role as early as the summer of 2019.
Cornelius Randolph just turned 20 years old earlier this month. The 2015 first round draftee has struggled often at times thus far, but remains very young. He probably doesn’t challenge for a role much before the 2020-21 seasons.
And just last week the Phillies made 21-year old Adam Haseley their first round pick at eighth overall in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft. It is believed that the lefty swinger can reach the big leagues quickly, possibly pushing for a spot by 2019 at the latest.
And even further, the evaluation of these young players doesn’t consider outside help. The Phillies are in an enviable financial position. They should absolutely be in the hunt for big name talent such as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout over the next few years.
There will be a lot of young talent fighting for playing time in Philadelphia in the coming months and years. The decisions made by the Phillies front office on these players will go a long way towards determining whether and how quickly the Phillies can return to contending status.

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