The Philadelphia Phillies organization and fan base have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
That statement might seem a bit misguided considering that the Phillies finished with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball during the 2015 season, finished in last place in the NL East for a 2nd straight season, and finished with a losing record for a 3rd straight season.
However, there are very real signs that the organization problems may have bottomed out. While real, measurable, on-field improvement may still take another year, there is now hope for the future.
First, consider the major changes in the management and ownership situations. We began the 2015 season with Pat Gillick still in charge on behalf of an old-school mentality ownership. Ruben Amaro Jr, who had overseen the demise of the club at the Major League level, was still the general manager. Ryne Sandberg, who seemed unable to make a real connection with his players, was still in the dugout.
Flash forward to the end of the season, and the two months since it drew to a close. New, aggressive ownership has stepped forward with the public emergence of John Middleton as the face and voice of the group. Andy MacPhail has taken control as team president. Matt Klentak has been hired as a young, new-wave, Ivy League educated general manager. Pete Mackanin has been given the opportunity to skipper a team into spring training for the first time in his career.
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Every one of these developments is a positive one for fans to bank on moving forward. We will no longer see the same old mentality. Performance and production will rule the day, not who you may know, or how long you may have been around, or what you may have done in the past, no matter how glorious.
But the changes in the front office and in field management are not the only reason for fans to be excited. On the field, there is real, observable young talent emerging, and even more promising to come over the next couple of years from a vastly improved minor league situation, as well as a strong draft position.
Maikel Franco is just 23 years old, is the 3rd baseman now, and should be a strong corner infielder with big offensive production for years to come. Odubel Herrera turns 24 years old as the year ends, and is a speedy, exciting, naturally gifted hitter who could be the longterm answer at either center field or 2nd base.
On the mound out of the bullpen, Ken Giles is 25 years old, and already one of the most exciting young closers in baseball. He is likely to stay, despite growing trade rumors. But even if he is dealt away, it would be a for a couple of players who would bring measurable upgrade to the minors system.
In the starting rotation, Aaron Nola is 22 years old, and looks like he will be at least a strong #3 starter, possibly a #2 for years to come. Jerad Eickhoff is 25 years old and was a revelation after coming in the Cole Hamels deal from Texas. He looks to have at least the same ceiling as Nola. Adam Morgan finally was healthy and emerged as a solid back-end option, and turns just 26 prior to spring training.
In the minors, top prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford turns 21 years old in January, and should be ready by later in the 2016 season. Outfielder Roman Quinn is 22 years old, has speed to burn, and could force Odubel back into the infield next season at some point. Nick Williams is 22 years old, and should push for a big league corner outfield job in 2016.
Jake Thompson turns 21 in January, and should push for a rotation role at some point next summer. Andrew Knapp turned 24 years old this month. The catcher and Paul Owens Award winner should be in the big leagues during the 2016 season. Franklyn Kilome is just 20 years old, but if he continues to develop at the pace that he has been, he could push for Philly by the end of next season.
The Phillies farm system is greatly improved, the club owns the top pick in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft, there is new management in place, a new controlling owner calling the shots, and the new Comcast cable contract kicking in soon.
These are not yet the heady days of the mid-late 2000’s by any means. But after a couple of seasons wandering in the dark through the wilderness at the bottom of baseball, the fans of the Phillies can be thankful that their organization is finally on the right track.