The Philadelphia Phillies opened spring training this week to begin what should prove to be an extremely interesting 2017 season.
The team has suffered through five consecutive non-winning seasons on the field. The front office has now completely turned over the roster of players from their previous winning era.
It is clear to every true Phillies fan, as well as to any honest member of the media covering the team on a regular basis, that it is time to let the kids play.
Those “kids” are the young prospects who have been accumulated by the club through trades and the draft in the last few years.
However, it appears that, at least at the outset of this coming season, the Phillies are planning to play mediocre veterans over upside youngsters at the corner outfield positions.
KENDRICK AND SAUNDERS TO MAN THE CORNERS
The Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick to be their starting left fielder. Then the club signed Michael Saunders to take over as their starting right fielder.
Kendrick will turn 34 years old at the coming MLB All-Star break. He has appeared in 11 big league seasons, and as he ages, his performance has suffered. Over the last two seasons, Kendrick has been just a 1.6 WAR player.
The former Angels and Dodgers second baseman has never been a power guy. He has just four double-digit home run seasons on the back of his baseball card. He has usually cracked double-digits in stolen bases, but barely.
Saunders now enters his 30’s, and has just one outlier 20+ season each in home runs and steals. Over his eight big league seasons, Saunders is just a 6.4 WAR player…total.
Those two players will enter the season as the corner outfield starters surrounding incumbent center fielder Odubel Herrera.
YOUNG OUTFIELDERS WAITING IN THE WINGS
It would appear that 26-year old Aaron Altherr and injury-prone 23-year old speedster Roman Quinn will open the season as the fourth outfielder and at AAA respectively.
Also opening at AAA will be still highly rated outfield prospect Nick Williams. For these youngsters, spring training will offer an opportunity to show the team that they are ready for prime time.
Saunders for one would appear to be entering the season knowing that he need only glance over his shoulder to see the talent coming up from close behind.
“I’m signing up for the long term,” Saunders said recently per Philly.com’s Matt Breen. “I want to see this through and be part of a winning club in Philadelphia. That being said, I understand the situation where there are a lot of older guys and veterans that are on one-year deals. If history repeats itself, everyone knows what happens with contracts like that. That being said, I think we have a club that can win here and I want to be a part of it.”
WHAT TO EXPECT AS 2017 UNFOLDS
What happens if the veterans continue to perform to their career norms, and the kids develop as anticipated? Then the starting corner outfield that ends the season for the Phillies could look very different from the one opening the season.
That has to be the hope for the patient fan base. This needs to be the season that at least one of these younger outfielders steps up and seizes a full-time big league role.
Down in the minor leagues, outfield prospects such as Dylan Cozens, Cornelius Randolph, Mickey Moniak, Jhailyn Ortiz, Carlos Tocci, and Jose Pujols are at varying degrees of advancement.
Each will be looking to produce and keep themselves pointed towards a future role with the Phillies as the team hopefully re-emerges as a contender in the coming seasons.
My prediction? The Phillies get mediocre results from Kendrick and Saunders, as well as middle infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez, and catcher Cameron Rupp.
This will open the door for the kids to begin moving in later in the year, including shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford. We might even see catcher Jorge Alfaro get a longer look later in the summer. That will almost certainly happen if fellow backstop prospect Andrew Knapp cannot secure a job.
Again, the closing chapters of the season should prove much more interesting to fans of the team. The Phillies are moving steadily towards their future. But there still may be a few months of treading water before those prospect floodgates fully open.