Philadelphia Phillies 2017 Preview and Prediction

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Maikel Franco debuted in 2015 and hopes to push the Phillies forward

The Phillies will pack up their gear following their final Grapefruit League game on Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays. It will then be time to say goodbye to Clearwater until next February.

Equipment and personnel will then begin heading north for next Tuesday’s 2017 season opener at Cincinnati against the host Reds.
The lineup taking the field next week at Great American Ballpark should look very different from the one that will come to Florida next winter.
The Phillies rebuilding program is largely winding to a close. In the 2015 season, a Rule 5 draft pick named Odubel Herrera became a spring sensation. He would become the first piece of the longterm lineup rebuild.
In 2016, Maikel Franco took part in his first full season in the big leagues. Tommy Joseph was promoted in May, and platooned at first base with the now departed Ryan Howard. He will get his own first full-time shot this year.
Those three are the only players likely to be in the 2017 Opening Day lineup who have any shot at being a part of the next winning Phillies team. Instead, for a fifth consecutive season, fans of the Fightin’ Phils will be watching a ‘placeholder’ lineup. At least to begin the season.

At the corner outfield spots surrounding Herrera will be Howie Kendrick in left field and Michael Saunders in right. The middle infield will again find Cesar Hernandez at second base and Freddy Galvis at short. Cameron Rupp will once again be behind the plate as the catcher.

PHILS FANS SHOULD KEEP ONE EYE ON LEHIGH VALLEY

Phillies fans will be watching these players when they head out to Citizens Bank Park or turn on their TV sets. However, it may be just a matter of months before at least a few of those players are being pushed for their starting jobs.
Fans should be paying close attention to the happenings at AAA Lehigh Valley, where the IronPigs will feature a number of players doing their minor league finishing work.
J.P. Crawford has been the club’s top prospect for the last three years. It would be a setback for the organization if he isn’t pushing Galvis for the starting job by at least the MLB All-Star break.
Outfielders Nick Williams and Roman Quinn should likewise be showing that they can improve on their maturity (Williams) and health (Quinn), and push for a role in Philly.
Finally, catcher Jorge Alfaro, who may be the most talented hitter of the bunch, will be trying to show that he is ready as well. Alfaro might take longer, but he should see the big leagues again at some point this year following a 2016 cup of coffee.

PHILLIES PITCHING ROTATION SEEMS TO HAVE DEPTH

On the mound, the Phillies starting rotation will feature three building blocks and a pair of short-timers. The building blocks are right-handers Jerad EickhoffAaron Nola, and Vince Velasquez. Nola has to prove himself healthy in order to retain his place.
The rotation placeholders are Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz. Those two veterans, if healthy and reasonably effective, will be trade bait by July at the latest.
Waiting at Lehigh Valley for their shots at the Phillies rotation will be a handful of talented arms. In order, getting a shot in Philly would likely be Jake ThompsonZach EflinBen LivelyNick Pivetta, and Mark Appel.
By the end of the 2017 season, the Phillies hope to have at least five arms from that group ready to come to camp a year from now as their 2018 rotation.

THE BULLPEN HAS OPTIONS – WHO STICKS LONGTERM?

Bullpens are far trickier to speak of in terms of the long run. Jeanmar Gomez probably starts the season in the closer role again. How long that lasts is anyone’s guess.
Righties Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos would appear to have roles for the longer term. Left-hander Joely Rodriguez will try this season to show that he can be counted on.
The rest of the pen is likely to be pieced together on a year-to-year basis for the next couple of seasons. Lefty Elniery Garcia and right-handers Ricardo Pinto and Alberto Tirado could push their way to Philly soon. Anyone from among the current starters who don’t secure a rotation spot could also factor in with the big league pen.

PHILS SHOULD BE SELLERS AT TRADE DEADLINE

I don’t see the Phillies as contenders, and thus as potential buyers at the trade deadline. To me, they are more likely to be sellers. The big pieces would be Hellickson, Buchholz, Kendrick, Saunders, and Galvis.
Depending on the development of the top minor league prospects, and their own production, you could also see someone like Rupp or Gomez on the block. Rupp will be backed this year by Andrew Knapp, who will be trying to prove that he can at least fill that longterm backup catcher role.

CLUB HOPES TO IMPROVE OVER 2016 FINISH

The Phillies finished at 71-91 a year ago, good for fourth place in the National League East Division. It was an eight-win improvement over their 2015 last place finish, but two games worse than their 2014 cellar season.
While fighting out of the NL East basement may have seemed like an accomplishment last year, it wasn’t much of one.
The last place Atlanta Braves finished just 2.5 games behind the Phils in 2016, and were hot at the end. The Braves have also improved their team for the coming season as they enter a new ballpark.
Meanwhile, the Phillies staggered to the finish. They lost six straight and eight of nine at the end of the year before winning the season finale.
If the Phillies are to improve on last season, it won’t be because of any of the outsiders that they added. Improvement for this team will only come with individual improvement from the insiders.
Franco especially has to step up and become a more complete player. In 630 plate appearances at age 23, he hit for a .255/.306/.427 slash line.
That is unacceptable. He needs to show a little more discipline, not giving away so many at-bats. If he does, he can become a 35+ homer, 100+ RBI producer in the middle of the lineup. The Phillies really need him to do just that.

THE 2017 PREDICTION

If completely healthy across their roster for the bulk of the season, the Phillies could conceivably battle the Braves and Marlins. They could make a run at a .500 record and a third place finish in the division.
But teams rarely go without roster challenges. The more likely scenario is that the Phillies are once again a below .500 squad – but one with even more hope coming from the minors.
If the lineup is turned over in the second half, inserting two or three more exciting youngsters. If the pitching staff finds two or three more talented young arms forcing their way into the picture. Those things happen, then Phillies fans will really have hope for a better outcome in the 2018 season.
For the 2017 season, I am calling it a 72-90 finish for Pete Mackanin‘s squad, and a last place finish in the National League East standings.
But if the kids do bring excitement to the ballpark in September rather than last year’s deflating finish, it will be worth one more bottom-dwelling campaign.

Major League Baseball 2017 Predictions

Opening Day in MLB is always the single most sure sign that spring has fully sprung. Ballparks across America will be filled to capacity in the coming days.
At last, Major League Baseball returns for the 2017 season.
Over the next seven months, excitement and drama that we can’t even imagine today will take place. 
While we cannot foresee the details, we can take a stab at a few predictions.
Some things are fairly certain based on the 2017 MLB season schedule. For instance, we know that the first game is scheduled to begin at 1:10pm EDT on Sunday afternoon.
The New York Yankees take the field against the host Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Since ‘The Trop’ is a domed stadium, chances of weather interruptions are almost non-existent.
Chris Archer of Tampa Bay is scheduled to throw the season’s first official pitch. Digging in at the plate as the Yanks’ leadoff hitter will be left fielder Brett Gardner.
Later that same day, two more games are scheduled to take place. The San Francisco Giants send ace lefty Madison Bumgarner to the hill. He will face the NL West rival Arizona Diamondbacks and their ace righty Zack Greinke. That game is scheduled to start at 4:10pm EDT at Chase Field in Phoenix.
The day’s action is scheduled to wrap with an 8:35pm EDT classic. The defending world champion Chicago Cubs visit their arch-rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.

BEYOND THE FIRST DAY

Those three games will be followed by a dozen more scheduled to take place on Monday. Thus the full 2017 MLB regular season will be underway.
But where will it all end? Which players and teams will excel this season? Who will shine as the biggest, brightest individual stars of 2017? Which teams will overcome adversity and reach the postseason of October?
With prognosticators across the game making their predictions, it’s time for me to take my turn. Here go my picks for the final standings in each division. I will also make my postseason predictions. And you will also see my choices to take home the major awards from this coming MLB season.

Phillies Legend Dallas Green Dies

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Phillies announced the passing of an organizational legend. Dallas Green (82) had been a player, scout, manager, and front office executive with the team.
The Phillies released an official statement announcing the sad news
“We mourn the passing of Dallas Green. The Phillies have lost a great man and wonderful friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
As a young pitcher, Green was 6’4″ and possessed a fastball nearly as big as his height. He was signed for the Phillies prior to the 1955 season out of the University of Delaware by legendary scout Jocko Collins.
Making his big league debut in 1960, Green would pitch in the big leagues for eight seasons. For the first five of those years, Green helped the Phillies go from doormats to near-pennant winners.
Green went 20-22 over 167 games in that stretch, making 44 starts. He compiled a 249/186 K:BB ratio in allowing 602 hits over 528 innings.
Green would appear in parts of three more seasons, one each with the Washington Senators and New York Mets. He then closed out his playing career with the Phillies in 1967.

GREEN’S POST-PLAYING CAREER

Green moved into coaching in the Phils system upon his retirement. Then in 1972 he became the head of the Phillies farm system.
As the Farm Director, Green oversaw the drafting and/or development of many of the players who would form the core of the great Phillies teams of the mid-70’s through mid-80’s.
With the club floundering to a fourth place finish in the 1979 season, Green was called upon by GM Paul Owens to take over as the manager. This was essentially in order to assess the players on the roster. But he was kept on for the 1980 season, and the rest is history.
In 1980, Green drove a veteran, underachieving Phillies team to reclaim the NL East crown. Against the resourceful Houston Astros, he piloted the club to a thrilling comeback victory in five games in what many still consider the greatest NLCS in history.
In the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, Green’s squad bolted out to a two games to none lead. The Royals then battled back to even the series up. But the Phils captured Game Five in Kansas City to take a 3-2 lead in the Fall Classic.
Back in Philadelphia on October 21, 1980 the Phillies would down the Royals by a 4-1 score at Veteran’s Stadium. Green had skippered the club to the first world championship in their 97-year history.

GREEN HEADS TO THE WINDY CITY

He left after the 1981 season to become General Manager with the Chicago Cubs. In that role, Green orchestrated one of the most infamous trades in Phillies history. In the deal, Green obtained veteran shortstop Larry Bowa for Ivan De Jesus. But Green also got the Phils to toss-in a minor league infielder by the name of Ryne Sandberg.
Green would raid the Phillies for coaches such as Lee Elia and John Vukovich. He swung trades with the Phils for Keith MorelandDickie NolesGary Matthews, and Bob Dernier.
It all resulted in one big season, with the Cubs capturing the NL East crown in 1984. The Cubs trounced the San Diego Padres by 13-0 in the 1984 NLCS opener. Then they moved out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. But the Friars roared back to take three straight and win the series.
The Cubs never recovered, disappointing their fans over the next three seasons. Green, who had by then become club President, would resign following the 1987 campaign.
But during his tenure on the North Side, Green continued to do what he does best. He rebuilt the Cubs farm system from top to bottom. During his time the club added prospects such as Greg MadduxJamie Moyer, and Mark Grace.

OFF TO THE BIG APPLE

Green was hired as the New York Yankees skipper for the 1989 season. But the Yanks went just 56-65, and Green’s fiery personality clashed with owner George Steinbrenner. He was fired by Steinbrenner with the team in last place.
In 1993, Green was back at the helm of a team in the Big Apple, hired as the Mets manager. He would last for parts of four seasons, compiling a 229-283 record. His 1995 club would finish in second place in the NL East, but with a losing record.
That would be Green’s final big league managerial opportunity. Overall between his time with the Phillies, Yankees, and Mets he compiled a 454-478 record in parts of eight seasons.

RETURN TO PHILADELPHIA

He was then hired back with the Phillies, and would remain in the club’s front office from that point forward. Green served as an advisor to the club’s General Managers, including Ed Wade, Pat GillickRuben Amaro Jr, and most recently to Matt Klentak.
Phillies
Per Frank Fitzpatrick for Philly.com, the local members of the Baseball Writers Association of America established the Dallas Green Special Achievement Award for meritorious service by a player or other member of the organization in 2004.
In 2006, Green was elected to the Phillies Wall of Fame. There he joined his former GM and mentor Paul Owens, as well as his 1980 players Mike SchmidtSteve CarltonTug McGrawGreg LuzinskiGarry MaddoxBob Boone, and Larry Bowa. Vukovich would be so honored a year later.
In his excellent piece, Fitzpatrick quoted Bowa, who played under Green, and became the Phillies manager and a coach with the team during his later advisory tenure:
“Dallas was what Philly is all about: toughness, honesty, and fairness. Without Dallas, the Phillies would not have won the World Series in 1980…He was a huge impact on my career as a player, manager, and coach. He will truly be missed.”

MY PERSONAL FEELINGS ON GREEN

I was a 17-year old Phillies fan when Green took over from former skipper Danny Ozark in that 1979 season. I recall not being happy with the move at the time, thinking that Ozark was being cast aside for one bad season after helping turn the Phils into perennial division favorites.
But I came to respect Green, and to see the difference that his confrontational, no-nonsense, combustible style meant to what had become a complacent group of talented Phillies players.
We don’t always like people who tell us what we need to be told, when that is a difficult truth to hear. Green was never afraid to give anyone the honest truth. And his judgement was rarely wrong.
Starting in 1955 and continuing over much of the next six decades, Dallas Green was a vital part of the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
He will always be remembered in this town as a Phillies legend. May he rest in peace, and may his family and close friends find comfort in this difficult time of loss.

WBC 2017: Who Are The Netherlands?

When the 2017 World Baseball Classic began, the team representing The Netherlands was certainly not considered to be among the tournament favorites.
After all, we’re talking about The Netherlands. You know, the Dutch?
Isn’t that Holland? When you think of them, wouldn’t you tend to think of windmills, dikes, tulips, and chocolates more than hardball?
On the grander world stage, The Netherlands that most people think about refers to the main constituent nation in Western Europe.
They may be one of the smallest nations in Europe, but The Netherlands are tremendously influential. For instance, it is home to Europe’s largest seaport at Rotterdam.
At The Hague, the nation is a host city to the United Nations, and home of the World Court. The official capitol city of Amsterdam is one of the most populous regions in Europe, and gave us the likes of Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh.
But the nation of The Netherlands is also a “kingdom”, a constitutional monarchy which also encompasses countries of the Caribbean region, including Aruba, Curacao, and St. Maarten. They are part of an area often referred to as The Netherlands Antilles.

DUTCH CARIBBEAN BASEBALL INFLUENCE

Many of the top players with The Netherlands national team in the 2017 WBC hail from these islands. They include MLB all-stars in shortstop Xander Bogaerts from Aruba and closer Kenley Jansen of Curacao.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, shortstops Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorius, and IF/OF Jurickson Profar are all from Curacao as well.
A member of the coaching staff is very familiar to American baseball fans. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven is from Utrecht, the fourth largest city in The Netherlands that lies about 32 miles south of Amsterdam.
Former Atlanta Braves star Andruw Jones is from Curacao. He played with The Netherlands teams in both the 2006 and 2013 World Baseball Classic. Jones is another coach with the 2017 version of the squad.
The manager for The Netherlands is Hensley Meulens. He was the 1990 AAA International League Most Valuable Player while with the Columbus Clippers in the New York Yankees farm system. Meulens enjoyed a seven-year big league career. He has spent the last seven seasons as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach, helping the club win three World Series championships.

NETHERLANDS INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCES

Starting play in Pool A of this year’s WBC, the Dutch went 2-1 against South Korea, Israel, and Chinese Taipei. Advancing to the second round, the club again went 2-1 against Japan, Israel, and Cuba.
That overall 4-2 performance in Pool play allowed The Netherlands to advance into the semi-finals of the WBC for the second consecutive time. The Dutch were eliminated in the first round in 2006, and the second round in 2009.
In 2013, the team simply couldn’t overcome Japan. They were mercy-ruled by the Japanese by a 16-4 score in the second round. Reaching the semis, Team Japan again dumped The Netherlands, though this time by a more competitive 10-6 final.
Despite last night’s extra-innings defeat at the hands of Puerto Rico, The Netherlands can still medal in this competition. If Japan (6-0) defeats the US (4-2) in tonight’s other semi-final, both the Americans and the Dutch would finish 4-3. The two would finish tied for 3rd place. If the US wins, The Netherlands finish in fourth place.
In other international competitions over the years, The Netherlands have fought hard. The Dutch won the 2011 World Cup. They finished fifth at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. They have captured 22 Gold Medals at the European Championships, and are the defending champs.
So as you can see, while The Netherlands might not have been the first nation that you thought of when figuring on WBC favorites, they are certainly capable of putting a talented baseball team on the field.

Predicting the Phillies Opening Day Roster

Club management with the Philadelphia Phillies, itself the object of much change, has spent the past couple of years shaping the organizational talent for the future.
Some of that young talent has already reached the big leagues. This is most especially true on the pitching staff.
In the everyday lineup, the very best prospects in the Phillies system are nearly ready for their first full-time shot. The 25-man roster that opens the 2017 regular season in just over two weeks is going to look very different by the end of the season.
But let’s not get that far ahead of ourselves. This will be a look not at the Phillies of July or September, but the club that will travel to Cincinnati for that 2017 Opening Day.
The players who begin the season in a Phillies uniform include a number who are on borrowed time. That is because the club has intentionally signed a few players specifically with the knowledge that they will likely (hopefully?) step aside later in the year as the prospects become fully ready.
One major caveat here is that the players listed remain healthy. A minor injury at the start could delay a player who would normally make it. This would provide an opportunity, even if temporary, to someone else. But injuries aside, this is how I see things breaking with Pete Mackanin‘s club at this point.

PHILLIES 2017 INFIELD AND CATCHERS

On the right side of the Phillies infield the starters will be Tommy Joseph and Cesar Hernandez. On the left side it will be Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco.
The infield should again include Andres Blanco as backup. Another spot should go to Brock Stassi, who really is just a first baseman. However, the Phillies will probably try to get Stassi some corner outfield and pinch-hitting work as well, ala Cody Asche in the past.
Cameron Rupp will be the Phillies starting catcher once again. While 25-year old Andrew Knapp has not hit well enough to win the backup job, I have to believe that he is ready for the opportunity. His age, minor league experience, and 40-man roster spot give him the nod over veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday.

PHILLIES 2017 OUTFIELD

Across that outfield the starters are slated to be Howie KendrickOdubel Herrera, and Michael Saunders. Expect Aaron Altherr to see plenty of action as the fourth outfielder.
I can also see Tyler Goeddel returning to the big league club this season. He handled himself well last year. The club is going to choose between Goeddel or Jesmuel Valentin playing everyday at AAA Lehigh Valley is my thinking.
If we assume that Stassi makes it and is slated for some corner outfield work, the club really has no need for another outfielder. But it’s the Phillies, and they seem to like the idea of a veteran backup outfielder. So I’m going to call it Chris Coghlan over Daniel Nava here.
Keeping Coghlan and Stassi means that the Phillies are going to need to drop two players from the 40-man roster, but they have a few reasonable options there.
That makes for a dozen position players, leaving room for 13 pitchers to begin the year. Five of those make up the rotation, with an eight-man bullpen.

2017 PHILLIES PITCHING STAFF

The Phillies starting pitching rotation is likely to be made up Jeremy HellicksonJerad EickhoffClay BuchholzVince Velasquez, and Aaron Nola.
As long as Nola is healthy, and so far it appears that is the case, then he has a spot. But the Phillies may want to ease him along in the fifth starter role. This would enable them to wait until April 9th, a Sunday afternoon at home.
In such a scenario, Nola would start his season with a game against the Washington Nationals. Starting everyone on normal four days rest, he would have to make no more than three April starts.
Right-handers out of the pen should include Jeanmar GomezHector NerisPat NeshekEdubray Ramos, and Colton Murray.
For me, the lefties would be Adam Morgan and Sean Burnett. A long man role could be filled by Alec Asher, who could also serve as an emergency starter along with Morgan. The inclusion of Burnett would mean another drop from the 40-man roster.

CHANGE COMING TO ROSTER AS 2017 MOVES ALONG

So there is my current prediction for the Philadelphia Phillies 2017 Opening Day 25-man roster. I’m sure to be wrong on at least a couple of these picks in the backup and bullpen roles. And injuries can always crop up to put a dent in the best laid plans.
As the season moves along, look for Jake ThompsonRoman QuinnJ.P. Crawford, and Nick Williams to push for the big leagues.
Pitcher Zach EflinNick PivettaElniery Garcia, and Joely Rodriguez could earn promotions. And catcher Jorge Alfaro could also play his way to Philly.
Hellickson, Buchholz, Saunders, and Kendrick all have to be considered as being on borrowed time. Each can hopefully produce, and make themselves a trade option by July at the latest. The Phillies and their fans have to be hoping that this scenario is exactly what plays out.