The Philadelphia Phillies rebuild will continue in 2016, and the battle for outfield time should be particularly interesting.
On April 6th, 2015 for Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies starting outfield consisted of Ben Revere in left, Odubel Herrera in center, and Grady Sizemore in right field.
Six months later, on October 4th, the Phillies closed out the season hosting the Miami Marlins with a starting outfield of Darin Ruf in left, Aaron Altherr in center, and Jeff Francoeur in right field. During the game, Altherr slid over to left, and Herrera came on to play center field.
During the course of the 2015 season, Cody Asche started 61 games and played in 63 out in left field. With the trade of Revere to the Toronto Blue Jays at the July trade deadline, that made Asche, who began the year as the starting 3rd baseman, the player who had seen the most action at the left field position.
That 2015 outfield mix was a major change from the previous season. In 2014, the Phillies started Marlon Byrd in right field for 149 games, Revere in center for 141, and Domonic Brown in left field for 127 games.
Now as the club prepares to report for spring training in Clearwater in just three weeks, the outfield is again poised for significant changes. Gone are Byrd, Brown, Francoeur, Revere, and Sizemore. The outfield has been a disappointing mess for the Phillies at least since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were dealt away at the 2012 trade deadline.
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The Phillies are going to be picked for last place in the National League East by every resource as those prognostications are released in the coming weeks. The Nationals and Mets are the clear favorites. The Marlins will get a healthy Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton back in their rotation and lineup.
While the Braves finished just four games ahead of the Phillies in the 2015 NL East standings, an evaluation of the two likely opening rosters still shows Atlanta with arguably better talent than the Phils will put out on the field. Even if you want to hope for a 4th place finish, it will still come with a record that is likely to be at least 20 games below the .500 mark.
One of the main reasons that the Phillies will not improve measurably this coming season, and may not for a couple more, is the state of that outfield. There are no players who are likely capable to hit even 20 home runs or steal 20 bases. Only Herrera appears capable of hitting in the .290-.300 range.
While Altherr finished out the 2015 season as the starting left fielder, there is a good chance that he will become the new everyday right fielder this coming season, with Herrera sliding over to left, and newcomer Peter Bourjos starting in center field.
That alignment would appear to upgrade the Phillies defensively, and that is an important part of the game to be sure. I am a huge proponent of defensive excellence contributing to a winning ball club. However, be honest: does a Herrera-Bourjos-Altherr outfield excite you in the long-term? Does that look like a postseason alignment to you?
Back in early December, manager Pete Mackanin was quoted by CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury regarding the 2016 outfield alignment: “We really have three centerfielders, no matter where they play.” He and GM Matt Klentak will watch the players perform in spring training before making any final plans.
However, it is clear that Mackanin realizes the offensive limitations of this group, and so will focus on improving the team defensively. “Defense is a very important part of the game, and I’m very happy that we’ve got some outfielders that can cover a lot of ground and they are sure-handed outfielders,” Mackanin told Salisbury.
Both Asche and Ruf are likely to be back in the lineup mix, though Ruf is most likely to see his time as part of a platoon at 1st base with Ryan Howard. He is a defensive liability when used in left field, and his bat is only truly functional against left-handed pitching. Asche is a solid athlete, but is much more suited to a utility role, backing up in left field and at 3rd base.
The Phillies just signed former Orioles outfielder David Lough as insurance, and also selected former Rays prospect Tyler Goeddel with the top pick in the Rule 5 Draft. Both players will get a shot to show what they can do in the spring, and Goeddel will have to be kept in the big leagues all year, unless the Phils decide to return him or work out a deal with Tampa Bay.
Given health and anticipated production, the 2016 Phillies outfield is likely to be Herrera-Bourjos-Altherr, with Asche backing up in left, and Goeddel all across the outfield. We are likely to see Altherr play at least on both corners at one point or another, and Herrera will likely see some center field.
The wild card for the current group is Goeddel. The Phillies liked his potential enough to make him that top Rule 5 selection. It is possible that he could play himself into a much more significant role during spring training.
In the future, the real excitement will come from the minor leagues. Nick Williams is the team’s #4 prospect, and is likely either the right or left fielder of the future. That future should begin for the 22-year old at some point in 2017, though he could push for a September call-up with a strong performance at Lehigh Valley.
Further down the line, 2015 top MLB Amateur Draft pick Cornelius Randolph is seen as a premium hitter who is likely to be a left fielder. That would mean Williams becomes the right fielder eventually. If spring training for the 2018 season doesn’t include Williams and Randolph as the likely starters in those roles, it has to be seen as a developmental disappointment for the club.
Of course, much of the future could also change based on the team spending money in free agency. As the young pitchers develop, and shortstop J.P. Crawford reaches the big leagues and develops as an infield compliment to Maikel Franco, ownership may decide that it’s time to open up the wallet and spend. Bryce Harper is due to become a free agent following the 2018 season, and Mike Trout after the 2020 campaign.
While Phillies fans can feel free to dream on those young, proven studs, the more immediately important and much more realistic situation is to sort out the options currently available. The team needs to find out if either or both of Altherr and/or Herrera is for real as a longer term option, and needs to get Williams to the big leagues.