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.

Allen Barra of The Atlantic interviewed Chapman for a piece just three years ago, asking “Is it true that you said those things to Jackie Robinson? You know, the names, the words, that everyone said you used?

Heck, yeah,” replied Chapman, per Barra. “Sure I did. Everyone used those kind of words back then. Heck, we said the same things to Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg.

Those things included calling DiMaggio names such as “Dago” and “Wop” on the field, and the Jewish Greenberg “Kike” as well.
It was all part of the game back then,” said Chapman. “You said anything you had to say to get an edge. Believe me, being a southerner, I took a lot of abuse myself when I first played in New York. If you couldn’t take it, it was a case of if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
The Phillies and their fans, however, became well-known for their vocal racial attacks on Robinson in his early years. As Philly.com’s Tricia Nadolny tells it, Chapman really laid into Robinson. 

“When the Phillies traveled to Brooklyn that 1947 season, Phils manager Ben Chapman led the bench in crude taunting of Robinson such as, “Go back to the cotton fields,” and “They’re waiting for you in the jungles, black boy.””

It was part of a questionable racial history for the team. It wasn’t until 1957, a decade after Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier, that the Phils added their first black player, shortstop John Kennedy.
Kennedy came into a game for the first time on April 22nd, 1957 as a pinch-runner in the top of the 8th inning against, ironically, the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was exactly 10 years to the day after Chapman had first verbally berated Robinson, who had retired after the 1956 season.
Philadelphia would go on to experience some questionable racial attacks by fans on 1960’s superstar Richie Allen during that decade as well. Today’s apology by the Philly city council may be specifically geared towards Robinson, but is certainly an attempt to begin overcoming those old unacceptable actions and attitudes as well.

Philadelphia was one of the most disappointing places where he experienced racism,” said Gym per Nadolny. “And I felt like it was important for City Council to acknowledge that, to acknowledge a great man. And that sometimes can start with an apology.

One way that the Phillies as a ball club have permanently chosen to acknowledge Robinson is to hang his number in Dodger blue upon an outfield wall, prominently displayed at Citizens Bank Park alongside greats of the franchise’ past, right next to the numbers of pitchers Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts.

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.

ALEC HANSEN – “Hansen stands 6’7 and weighs in at 235 lbs., a dominating presence on the pitching mound. His fastball can reach 100 mph and sits easily at around 95. He also features a solid change, and an improving curve that could evolve into a true out pitch.
DELVIN PEREZ – “Last month MLB.com did a profile on Perez where they quoted a scout who spoke highly of his elite defense and speed, and how his offensive development will determine whether he will become a perennial all-star in the big leagues.
RILEY PINT – “Pint finished his junior year of high school in the Kansas City suburbs with a 2.20ERA, along with 45 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched. Standing already at 6’5, 195lbs, he could potentially still add more to his frame as he continues to mature physically.
A.J. PUK – “Listed at #1 on Baseball America’s Top 20 Team USA Baseball Collegiate National Team prospect listin August, Puk throws a mid-90s fastball and features a change-up and slider as his secondary pitches. At 6’7, Puk is able to maintain good downward action, and he stays low in the strike zone.
COREY RAY – “Ray has excellent contact hitting ability, and power potential. He plays all three outfield positions well and has a strong arm. He also is considered a fantastic baserunner with plus speed.
BUDDY REED – “Reed is 20 years old, and will be completing his junior year at Florida prior to the draft. He is a switch-hitter with terrific contact ability, batting .305 for the Gators during the 2015 regular season. He also showed some pop with 4 homers, 18 doubles, and 5 triples.
BLAKE RUTHERFORD – “Rutherford could be the type of player to make a quick impact with a rebuilding team such as the Phillies. He appears to have the tools to be  a difference maker in a contending lineup.  If he continues to put up strong offensive numbers during his senior season, it would not be a surprise for the Phillies to take him at number one overall next June.

In addition to this regular series from Alexis, our own Ethan Witte took “A 2nd Look at A.J. Puk back at the beginning of March in which Ethan stated after watching Puk pitch that he “still needs a lot of work on his control and pitch selection.”
As we move through the spring, into the regular season, and draw closer to the actual MLB Amateur Draft, we will ramp up coverage by narrowing our focus to those players who emerge as clear front-runners in the next couple of months.

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.

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.

Stumpf, who was profiled at TBOH just yesterday by our Mike Azzalina in an ongoing series on the Phillies bullpen candidates, has been the arm that the club has been trying to evaluate the most during the spring. 
He has pitched a pen-high nine innings, allowing 10 hits and four earned runs with a 9/3 K:BB ratio.
The 25-year old Stumpf was the Phillies’ 2nd round choice in December’s Rule 5 Draft from the Kansas City Royals organization. 
He must remain on the big league roster all season, or the Phils would need to either offer him back to Kansas City or try to work out a trade in order to keep him.
LaFromboise has been outstanding to this point in spring. The 29-year old has yet to allow a hit or run over his first six appearances and 7.1 impressive innings. He has also registered an effective 8/3 K:BB ratio.
The Phillies originally added LaFromboise back at the end of January in a move that caused them to release former prospect Jesse Biddle, who just signed with the Atlanta Braves organization. 
He has appeared in parts of the last three seasons with both the Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Russell is by far the most experienced of the left-handers in this fight. The 30-year old has tossed 330.1 innings in Major League Baseball across parts of six seasons spent mostly with the Chicago Cubs. 
He has pitched little this spring, allowing two hits over just three innings with a 4/0 K:BB ratio.
The Phillies want to see more of Russell now that the season is fast approaching. They have scheduled him for a starting appearance on Saturday afternoon at Bright House Field against the Detroit Tigers in what will be an opportunity to give him at least two innings of work.
Mario Hollands is another left-hander who could eventually push himself into consideration for a role at some point in the 2016 season. 
The 27-year old Hollands is getting set to make his way back from Tommy John surgery last spring, will start out in the minors, and should be ready at some point this summer. 
He tossed 47 innings over 50 appearances with the Phillies back in the 2014 season.
At this point, I would rank the Phillies left-handed options in this order: Oberholtzer, LaFromboise, Stumpf, Russell, and Araujo. 
The middle three arms are so close at this point that performances and health over the final two weeks of spring could become the decisive factor. 
Araujo appears headed to the AAA Lehigh Valley bullpen come April.

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. 

The new duo has been unable to help reverse that decline. In fact, their limitations as players is contributing to the team becoming the worst in baseball.
Taking over for Rollins as the starting shortstop has been the now 26-year old Freddy Galvis
About to begin his 5th big league season with the Phils, his 2nd as the full-time anointed starter, Galvis hit for a .263/.302/.343 slash line last year across 559 plate appearances. He produced seven homers, 50 RBI, 63 runs scored, and stole 10 bases.
Cesar Hernandez will turn 26 years old in late May of the coming season. This will be his 4th big league season with the Phils, and the first in which he enters with a starting job pretty much sewn up. 
He became the full-time starter following Utley’s trade last year, and hit for a .272/.339/.348 slash line across a career-high 452 plate appearances in which he produced 35 RBI and 57 runs scored, stealing 19 bags.
Galvis and Hernandez are no Rollins and Utley. No one really ever expected them to perform at that level. 
The Phillies have top prospect J.P. Crawford coming from the minor leagues, hopefully sooner than later. He is expected to be the real heir apparent to the JRoll legacy.
Meanwhile, 2nd base may remain a challenge for the Phillies. Hernandez plays sound defense and has speed. 
There is hope that, given everyday playing time, he can become at least dangerous enough offensively to score 80+ runs and steal 30+ bases. If so, he could be the answer. If not, he could be pushed by Darnell Sweeney as the short-term answer.
If neither player is good enough to take ownership of the position, that answer could ultimately be provided by last year’s 2nd round draftee Scott Kingery, who will turn 22 years old in late April. 
But this will be Kingery’s first full professional season, and he is not likely to be ready until 2018 at the earliest.
One thing is painfully obvious, the Phillies will not be receiving the type of offense from the middle infield over the next couple of seasons that they enjoyed in their glory days run of division crowns. 
We all look forward now to the arrival of Crawford, who carries with him the hope that the Phils can begin to return at least half of that production.