Now What? Assessing The Phillies' Rookie Position Players
For the Phillies, a successful 2017 season was never contingent upon winning. The sole objective for the organization was to determine the growth and potential of their prospects, while assessing how each will or won’t fit into the bigger picture moving forward.
The initial prognosis is encouraging, as those prospects helped lift the Phillies from a 29-58 first half disaster to a respectable 37-38 second half. While the pitching performance remained static throughout the season (4.87 runs per game in the first half dropped slightly to 4.77 after the break), most of the positives came on offense. The Phillies scored 26 more runs after the All-Star break (4.77 runs per game) than they did prior to it (3.82 runs per game). What’s more, they accomplished this feat in 12 fewer games.
But what about that bigger picture? Six Phillies position players made their Major League debuts in 2017. A seventh player, Jorge Alfaro, played in six games as a September call up in 2016. Where do each of these players stand as the team heads into the next stage of its rebuild? Let’s have a look.
The Good: Much was written a year ago about Williams’ struggles with attitude and hustle at Lehigh Valley. So much for that. I’m not sure that anyone played harder than Williams once he arrived on the Phillies back in late June. This looks like hustle, no?
This Nick Williams inside the park home run was fun to watch. https://t.co/wxOdZspQSM
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) October 1, 2017
After struggling offensively with the Iron Pigs late in 2016, the 23-year-old rebounded this season with a .280 average, 15 homers, and .839 OPS in 78 games to earn a Major League promotion. Williams didn’t slow down once he arrived in Philly, batting .288 with 12 homers and 55 RBI in 343 plate appearances. Williams displayed gap power, 30 home run potential, and above average speed. He’s a sparkplug type of player and has a chance to become a fan favorite.
The Bad: Williams strikes out nearly five-times more than he walks. He’s an aggressive hitter who likes to swing early in counts. That’s fine, but the Phillies would like to see him be more selective at times. Walking once every 17 plate appearances is a concern. Williams also consistently struggled with handling high fastballs. His aforementioned speed hasn’t translated into stolen bases. He only attempted three steals and was thrown out twice.
Defensively, Williams is adequate outfielder who possesses an above average arm and decent range. He needs to improve his reads and tracking.
The Bottom Line: Williams is a starting corner outfielder and is probably best suited to hit between the five and seven spots as the team completes its rebuild.
The Good: Perhaps the most encouraging part of Crawford’s season was his ability to overcome adversity. He crashed down Baseball America’s prospect list amid a wretched start to the season, but he rebounded nicely to earn a September call-up. The word has long been that Crawford has an advanced approach at the plate. He led the International League with 79 walks. Once in Philadelphia, he drew a walk once every 5.44 plate appearances in September with the Phillies, a large reason he posted a .356 OBP and finished the season with a 0.9 WAR in limited action.
Defensively, he was basically given two weeks to learn third base before his call-up and he played it like a seasoned pro. He didn’t make an error in 84 chances with the Phillies, while splitting time at third base, shortstop, and second base. There’s no doubt the 22-year-old can pick it.
The Bad: Crawford hit 15 home runs at Lehigh Valley, but that’s not his game. Still, a bit more pop than the five extra-base hits he registered with the Phillies would have been nice. He did have an offensive midsummer resurgence, but still only hit .243 with the Iron Pigs and posted a .214 average in September with the Phillies. Meh.
The Bottom Line: If Crawford can improve his hitting, he has a chance become one of the best top of the order hitters in baseball. He posted that .356 OBP despite hitting a shade over .200. That’s impressive. Crawford, at worst, is an above average defender and good on-base guy who should man shortstop here for the next decade. At best, he has a chance to be a multi-time All-Star.
The Good: Hoskins can flat-out mash. There was some concern that his 38 homers and .943 OPS in 2016 at Reading were a product of a hitter-friendly park. Nope. His 47 homers between his stints in Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia quickly quieted that concern. After a slow start with the Phillies, he went on a historic run, hitting 18 homers in his first 34 games, while posting a 1.247 OPS. He demonstrated a patient approach at the place, posting a .396 OBP, aided by 37 walks in 210 plate appearances.
— Dunn (@JMDHeisman) September 15, 2017
The Bad: He was hitting .314 in mid-September, but plummeted to .259 by season’s end. He collected only seven hits in his final 52 at-bats, and did not homer in his final 16 games. Here’s why I wouldn’t be too concerned.
The Bottom Line: He’s not quite what we saw over his first month in the Majors, but Hoskins is a legitimate middle of the lineup bat. It’s more than reasonable to expect Hoskins to post above a .380 OBP, hit around .270 and bang 35-40 home runs. He’s that good. He’s the Phillies’ starting first baseman moving forward.
The Good: The Phillies acquired Jorge Alfaro in the Cole Hamels deal for his offense. He made them look smart over 114 plate appearances, posting a .318 batting average and .874 OPS. He showed some pop with five home runs, too. There’s no doubt that Alfaro can flat-out hit. He’s also a well above average runner for his position.
The Bad: Unlike Hoskins and Crawford, Alfaro shows almost no patience at the plate. He walked only three times with the Phillies. Additionally, after a good April at Lehigh, his offensive numbers dramatically declined. He posted an ugly .649 OPS, and, frankly, didn’t earn his promotion. He’s also bad behind the plate. Alfaro has a terrific arm, but he needs to greatly improve his framing, blocking ability, and overall feel for the catching position. At one point after a loss in mid-September in which Alfaro was particularly bad, Larry Andersen told fellow team broadcaster Ben Davis that he should be offering help to the young catcher. He was serious.
MacPhail: "We don't think as an org. our catcher framing is very good…we think that's an area that needs improvement, significantly"
— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) October 3, 2017
The Bottom Line: Alfaro has demonstrated that he can be a well above-average offensive catcher, but his long-term ability to stick there will be based on if he improves defensively. Alfaro has the physical tools to play first base and right field, but that’s not the ideal outcome. Alfaro should be the opening day catcher in 2018.
The Good: It wasn’t so long ago that many thought Knapp could be the team’s catcher of the future. That plan has changed, but there’s reason believe he will be around for a while. He doesn’t have nearly the same offensive talent as Alfaro, but he posted a .257 average and a solid .368 OPS. He can work a count. Knapp is an average defensive catcher and had occasional hiccups blocking pitches behind the plate.
The Bad: He had only 12 extra base hits in over 200 plate appearances. He threw out 8 of 41 runners (20%), which is below the league average of 27%. He doesn’t have the ceiling that you want out of a former second round pick.
The Bottom Line: If Alfaro is the starter, the Phillies would probably prefer a better defensive catcher as the backup. Fortunately for Knapp, Cameron Rupp is not that player. He’s likely the team’s backup catcher in 2018.
Cameron Perkins and Brock Stassi
The Good: Both have been good minor league players for the Phillies and earned a shot at the big league level. They both seem like good guys.
The Bad: Neither player does any one thing exceptionally well and each struggled mightily with the Phillies.
The Bottom Line: Perkins and Stassi are good players to have in the organization as stop gaps for short-term injuries, but neither player is likely to make the team out of spring training next year.