This was supposed to be a down year for the Philadelphia Phillies. They were supposed to be transitioning from the years of mistakes that Ruben Amaro, Jr. (who incidentally went from GM to first base coach for the Boston Red Sox) made. They were supposed to be a few years away.
One full month into 2016, only four teams in all of baseball have a better record? What is going on in the City of Brotherly Love?
The Phillies can’t get ahead of themselves. This same thing happened to the Atlanta Braves last season. They came out of the gates hot, and even pulled some pieces off the table at the trade deadline when they were “still in it”, like Jason Grilli for example.
These Phillies are good, primarily because they have gotten rid of some of the old and brought in a lot of new. They have to keep that game plan and realize that they are not done yet. They can actually get better.
It started when they moved Jimmy Rollins. The Phillie Pholk legend (see what I did there?) was shipped out to the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 2015 season and while there was a gaping whole at shortstop and in the heart and soul of the franchise, the Phillies got better. Zach Eflin is weeks — if not days — away from getting called up and making this rotation even stronger and more exciting. He is currently 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in Lehigh Valley.
Chase Utley‘s fate was next as he reunited with his old double-play mate out in Hollywood. While they didn’t really get anything in return for him (Darnell Sweeney may be serviceable in the future), the move did help advance their vision: out with the old. It opened a hole for Cesar Hernandez to start regularly and it further separated the Phillies from their old identity. That identity was one of pride and power and domination of the NL East just a few years ago. The past few seasons, however, saw those sam faces bring the entire organization down with them. Instead of holding on to aging fan favorites, the Phillies showed prowess and parted ways.
The Cole Hamels deal has made this franchise stronger and it hasn’t even shown yet. That’s because the three biggest pieces of that deal are a year away. That’s right, these same Phillies are a year — two tops — from being a sick team.
Hamels brought them Jorge Alfaro who is a top catching prospect in baseball (No. 3 to be precise) and will help fans quickly forget about Chooch. For those of you who don’t pay attention to Minor League Baseball, Alfaro is batting .500 after the first month of the season. For those that don’t like metrics, allow me to inform you that is a very good stat.
It also brought in Jake Thompson (RHP) and Nick Williams (OF). They happen to be the second and third rated prospects in the Phillies system, and will likely be in the bigs by August, if not sooner. The Phillies current fourth starter Jerad Eickhoff also came over in that deal. While he has struggled to start the season, he is still a mere 25-years old and at the very least is holding a spot down while some of the younger arms get ready.
Then they pulled off the heist of the century. The traded Ken Giles for a bunch of prospects, primarily Mark Appel and Vincent Velasquez. Giles is currently a struggling set-up man and Velasquez is part of one of baseball’s most surprisingly exciting rotations. Appel? We all know his story. He was the Astros No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft and was expected to be the ace of their staff right now as one of baseball’s top prospects. He floundered with inconsistency in Houston. Right now, he sits at 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in Triple-A. If a change of scenery was all Appel needed to reach his potential, the Phillies may have scored two aces.
Last season saw the emergence of Maikel Franco as he quietly etches his name into the short list of top third basemen in baseball. It also saw the breakout campaign of Odubel Herrera. The importance of his rookie campaign can’t be overlooked . Much wasn’t expected out of the former Texas Rangers middle infielder. Thus far, he has embraced the Phils switching him to the outfield and his small sample size of 2016 has shown that last season was no fluke. They have themselves an everyday centerfielder.
This season, it will be the Aaron Nola show. He is the ace of a Phillies pitching staff that is bringing the heat, leading baseball with 272 strikeouts over 242.1 innings. They have walked a mere 78 combined batters, which translates to less than three a game. Adam Morgan, who was once considered one of the future anchors of the Phillies rotation is quickly becoming an after thought. Next season could see a Nola, Velasquez, Appel, Eflin, Thompson rotation. Talk about getting value for veterans.
The bullpen has been solid as well as Jeanmar Gomez is making the Giles trade seem even worse for the Astros. Hector Neris and Elvis Araujo seem like those right set-up guys to fill the gap from starter to closer… and they, too, are young.
We haven’t even mentioned J.P. Crawford yet who is the most exciting prospect in the Phillies system. Considered the top shortstop prospect in baseball (have you seen the shortstops that have come up through the pipeline the past season and a half?) and top five overall, Crawford will become the modern day Jimmy Rollins. This Phillies team is a year away from being scary good.
But for now, they need to stay the course. Their division alone is stacked with two good teams and the Phillies, despite surprising baseball right now, will run into difficulties. This is a young team, they will likely hit speed bumps along the road that either see long dry spells midseason or fatigue near the end of it.
That’s why they should continue to unload at the deadline. Now may be the time to dump Ryan Howard for anything they can get, even taking on some of his ludicrous salary. Now may be the time to move Freddy Galvis who would be a welcomed addition to any team hunting down a pennant in late July. They have a few other veterans they can move and get even more pieces for the final stages of rebuilding a dynasty that was a mere five years in the past.
That’s not to say this team isn’t good. They simply are going to be way better. They need to keep that focus and work on improving this team for next season. They have gone from a roster of old men to young kids in one season. Let them play this year and the National League East may see a changing of the guard in 2017.