Another week has passed, bringing with it more baseball action and more glimmers of hope that this cold, meaningful-baseball-less time period will soon come to an end. While all of the Phillies (and some of the fans) are preparing for opening day, nine of the players are also preparing to represent their countries in the World Baseball Classic, which began at 4:30 AM EST. If waking up at 4:30 doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can always catch the game that begins at 10 PM…or wait until Friday at 6 PM, when Team America will play their first game of the tournament. You can find a brief summary here regarding which Phillies are playing. Not among those players anymore? Freddy Galvis, who was scratched after a groin injury. I don’t know what kind of groin injury prevents you from playing in the World Baseball Classic that wouldn’t prevent you from playing games in spring training. Perhaps something like this is more prevalent in the WBC.
But enough about the WBC. There are eleven players getting bored and picking dandelions in the outfield rather than being previewed. Let’s get to it.
After Shane Victorino’s excellent tenure with the Phillies, it’s sometimes easy to forget the truth about the Rule 5 draft – it doesn’t usually produce much. The field from which to pick is full of rotten fruit. It’s hard to salivate at the potential of minor leaguers with four or five years of experience that are left off a team’s 40-man roster. This deserves a post of its own, but in brief – from 2004 to 2015, 184 players were selected in the Rule 5 draft. 113 of these players were returned to the original team or traded to another team. A small percentage of the 71 players that were kept went on to make a positive contribution to their team. Odubel Herrera, then, is lightning in a bottle. Drafted by the Phillies in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, Herrera had almost exclusively played second base in the minors. So why not put him in the outfield? Better yet, play him in center, the most demanding outfield position. Things like that shouldn’t go well. And yet…it worked. Odubel impressed enough in spring training (and the Phillies were desperate enough) that he was the opening day center fielder. He rode a .387 BABIP and ugly-but-good defense to a 4.0 WAR season, which put him ahead of players like Adam Jones and Justin Upton.
That .387 BABIP had people skeptical of a 2016 reprise, especially combined with the plate discipline numbers (5.2 BB%, 24.0 K %). When you depend on the ball finding holes for offensive production, you can have trouble with consistency. As expected, the .387 BABIP did regress – but the .349 BABIP was coupled with a much improved approach at the plate. He cut his strike out rate to 20.4% and almost doubled walk rate to 9.6%. His improved offensive game earned him his first all-star nod, and a 5 year, $30.5 million contract extension. Not bad for a man that was considered expendable by the Rangers.
What should we expect in 2017? Odubel’s walk rate was an unreal 22.1% in April of last year (the very best in all of baseball, out of 274 players). Outside of that timeframe, his BB% plummets to 7.2% (168th in baseball). The reason for this drop is entirely within his control – he started swinging more aggressively. The below image (c/o Fangraphs.com) shows how Odubel was more selective with his swings in April vs. later in the year. Note the left and right edges of the zone in particular.
If Odubel adjusts back to his more selective and successful approach, then he could have another all star year. If he doesn’t, he’ll have a good (not great) year. And that’s fine – the Phillies are paying him like a good (not great) player. Anything beyond that is gravy.
Kendrick was acquired from the Dodgers in a trade on November 11, 2016. The price for Kendrick wasn’t set very high – the Phillies parted with Darin “Babe” Ruf (who was subsequently waived by the Dodgers and is now playing in Korea) and Darnell Sweeney (who the Phillies originally acquired from the Dodgers in the Chase Utley trade). Like Odubel Herrera, Kendrick is a converted second baseman. Unlike Herrera, Kendrick is in his mid-thirties and is below average offensively.
What should we expect in 2017? Looking at his batted ball tendencies, he pulls a lot of grounders and flies out to right almost exclusively. If you were worried that the departure of Ryan Howard meant that you wouldn’t get a chance to see many shifts, Kendrick should assuage those fears (if other teams are smart enough to employ them). He’s a stop gap veteran and a bounce back candidate that could be flipped at the trade deadline for prospects if his first half is valuable. Given his career BABIP (.337) and 2016’s BABIP (.301), it’s entirely possible he does bounce back to being an average major leaguer. For the team’s sake, let’s hope he does.
Baseball players make a lot of money. An obscene amount. Enough that the $9 million the Phillies spent on Michael Saunders was deemed “a good deal”. 9 million is an unfathomable number. If you were to start counting seconds during the Eagles’ first game of the season, counted for 24 hours a day, and only took a break during the bye week, you’d finish just in time for the last game of the season. If someone I knew won a $9 million lottery I’d ask them to buy me a beer or twenty. Win the genetic lottery and become a baseball player, and we’ll call $9 million “cheap”. Context is everything.
What should we expect in 2017? Saunders is an offense-first player, who’s positive contributions with the bat will be given back with the glove. His 2016 saw a sizzling first half (45% better than average offensively) and a terrible second half (31% below). He has a reputation to be injury prone, and that could a factor in his performance as the season wore on. We can’t expect a first half repeat, but with better health he should at least resemble that first half self. As with all of these short term veteran deals, expect calls for him to be traded in July if he’s worth anything. If they don’t manage to deal him or Kendrick, there is cause for concern regarding blocking prospects.
Aaron Altherr was drafted in the 9th round of the 2009 MLB amateur draft. The prototypical “toolsy athletic guy” that the Phillies were drawn to, he steadily worked his way up the minor league ladder. After a brief 2 game taste of the majors in 2014, he made his way into 39 games in 2015. Those 39 games were ones in which he impressed, which made it painful to hear that he needed wrist surgery and would miss 4-6 months to start 2016. Upon his return, the power was completely sapped from his swing, and his ground ball rate increased to the point of being detrimental. A sad turn of events for a promising young player.
What should we expect in 2017? While Kendrick/Herrera/Saunders make up what is likely to be the opening day starting outfield, expect Aaron Altherr to be the first off the bench. Wrist injuries are notorious for sapping a players strength, so we’ll have to keep an eye on his batted ball profile and batted ball exit velocity (92 MPH average in 2015 vs. 88.5 MPH average in 2016) to see if he’s finally healed up and worth inserting into the starting nine again.
Major league baseball scouts will rate a player’s tools on a 20-80 scale, with 50 representing average. Roman Quinn is one of the few prospects in the minors blessed with 80 speed. Unfortunately, he is as speedy as he is fragile. A quick Google search for “Roman Quinn DL” brings up his extensive injury history. In spite of all that, he’s still considered one of the Phillies’ better prospects. He made his major league debut in 2016 and stole 5 bases in 15 games. That extrapolates to 50 stolen bases in a season, which is amazingly not unrealistic to expect one day.
What should we expect in 2017? His goal for 2017 is to stay healthy. If he can, he should have a good shot at a bench job, especially with his potential as a pinch runner. Until Saunders or Kendrick gets traded, that’s all we can expect. Given his past DL stints, a lesser role might be a good thing.
A 2nd round draft pick from 2012, Dylan Cozens is mule strong. In 2016 at AA Reading, Cozens set a new franchise single season record with 40 HR hit. Despite his below average speed (your prototypical fast runner usually isn’t 6’6″ and 235 lb), he manages to steal a good number of bases thanks to a good jump and great instincts (think Chase Utley). KATOH (a system that projects minor leaguers based on their stats) ranked Cozens as the number one prospect in all of baseball. While scouts will point out his flaws (largely a 32% strikeout rate), there’s definitely something there.
What should we expect in 2017? Cozens will likely start the season at AAA. Depending on roster moves and Cozen’s performance (Cozens has been well above average offensively at every level), he could potentially make the team at some point this year.
Another Rule 5 pick, the Phillies failed to capture lightning in a bottle twice in a row with Goeddel. He was clearly overmatched by major league pitching, as his low power/low average/low everything would point to. He did manage to be one half of the most exciting play in 2016, and in the sense that baseball is nothing but entertainment, he had a successful 2016. In every other sense, it wasn’t pretty.
What should we expect in 2017? Now that he has spent a season at the major league level, the Phillies are free to let him develop in minors. He’ll spend most of, if not all of, the year at AAA.
Nick Williams was a key part of Cole Hamels trade. Like Cozens, Williams was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. After being acquired by the Phillies, he spent the rest of 2015 at AA Reading. His offensive output earned him a promotion, and in 2016 he was only a step away from the majors. That last step is a doozie. Even though he has great bat speed, decent power, and plus defense, his achilles heel is his plate discipline. His walk rate was 3.6%, and unless he develops patience, this is something that could get exploited at the major league level.
What should we expect in 2017? There are reports this spring about how his work with new hitting coach Matt “in case of emergency, use” Stairs is already paying off. If so, that could be great news for the Phillies organization. Nick Williams will likely be at AAA this year, but there’s a non-zero chance that a strong spring could get him in the majors. The talent is there.
Chris Coghlan/Daniel Nava/Cameron Perkins
These players aren’t entirely similar, except that they’re unlikely to make it to the majors any time this year with the Phillies. Coghlan is 31 years old and fresh off winning the World Series with the Cubs (his playoff contributions – 1 walk in 8 plate appearances. The Cubs went 2-4 in games he appeared in). Nava is 34 years old and a few seasons removed from winning the World Series with the Red Sox. Aside from squeezing out some World Series magic from these players, there isn’t too much to expect from these players. Cameron Perkins is 26 years old and topped out at AAA so far. 26 is (depressingly) on the older side for a prospect, given that 27-29 is seen as a player’s “peak”. As such, Perkins failed to make it onto top organizational prospect lists this year.
What should we expect in 2017? Nava and Coghlan will either provide depth in the minors or be granted their release. Perkins will continue to play in the minors. There’s a chance that there’s room on the bench for one of the veterans, but I don’t expect to write about any of these three players again this year.
There are some nice spring training stories (Brock Stassi and Scott Kingery in particular have been impressing), but remember that even Ben Francisco hit .361 in the spring of 2011, before a season in which he hit .244. It’s likely that all of the position players that are likely to make the team have been previewed. That leaves us with pitchers, which we will get into next week.