Phillies Newbies Look to Make an Impact
By Ryan Gerstel
Chase Utley was the latest Phillies veteran to pack his bags and find a new home. It’s sad, but it was necessary for a team that is looking to add young talent. The Phillies’ roster is now flooded with young talent, and that hasn’t been the case for some time.
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Of the players currently filling out the team’s 25-man roster, 10 of those players are aged 25 or younger, and 18 are under the age of 30. The rebuild is in full-swing and has been ever since the club traded Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers last December.
Fans have seen Odubel Herrera, the young Rule 5 outfielder whose inexperience results in some exciting adventures out in center field. Everybody has seen 22-year-old Maikel Franco, who can hit a ball as far as anyone in the game, and who was in the conversation for the game’s best rookie before falling victim to a wrist injury.
Phillies fans have gotten a look at the player who potentially could be Utley’s replacement at 2nd base in Cesar Hernandez, who has shown an uncanny ability to get on base at the top of the lineup. These position players have been the catalysts for this youth movement that is sweeping the Phillies’ roster.
On the mound, fans have seen rookie performances from Aaron Nola, Severino Gonzalez, Adam Morgan, and others. Nola in particular should be a future key, and Morgan is making a case of his own for long-term back-end rotation consideration.
There are others, more youngsters who are even more recent additions to the team. We saw one, outfielder Aaron Altherr, come up from the minors and record his first major league hit, RBI, and home run in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Since being promoted from AAA Lehigh Valley, the 24-year-old Altherr has recorded three hits, all for extra bases, in nine at-bats along with two walks, good for a .455 OBP. His .293 batting average in the minors this season has translated well so far in the big leagues. His swing, which he altered since a brief stint in the Majors last season, is more smooth and fluid than ever.
Another youngster is Darnell Sweeney, acquired in the Utley deal. The 24-year-old was promoted to take Utley’s spot on the roster, and made his MLB debut in a pinch-hitting appearance in which he popped out. He followed that last night with his own first MLB hit, driving a home run to help beat the Marlins.
Sweeney was the Dodgers’ 13th-ranked prospect in their farm system, and projects to be an infielder/outfielder similar to Herrera. In 116 games with the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City, Sweeney batted .271 with nine home runs, 49 RBIs, and 32 stolen bases.
With the rest of the season serving as a stretch of development for the younger players, Sweeney should see his fair share of playing time, although interim manager Pete Mackanin told reporters Thursday that it’s “not a priority” to give Sweeney such playing time.
Jerad Eickhoff, who the Phillies received as part of the huge package from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade, was fantastic in his Major League debut on Friday night against a Miami lineup that had killed the Phillies this season.
The 25-year-old is currently considered the Phillies’ 15th-ranked prospect, and can consistently throw in the mid-90s, occasionally touching 97 mph. His off-speed pitches, particularly his changeup could use a little more work, but if he can fix that, he could develop into a solid number three or four starter.
In 133.1 innings-pitched in the minors this season, Eickhoff posted a 3.85 ERA with 126 strikeouts and just 39 walks. At the worst, Eickhoff should be a solid power-arm out of the bullpen in the longer run.
With just 41 games left in the 2015 season, these youngsters will get a shot down the stretch to prove they can make a difference for the Phillies, not just this season, but beyond as well. The youth movement has taken Philadelphia by storm, and it hopes to propel this franchise back to baseball’s promised land sooner rather than later.