Phillies Final Key: the Youth Movement

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Aug 6, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco (7) hits a two-RBI double during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. The Dodgers won 10-8. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 6, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco (7) hits a two-RBI double during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. The Dodgers won 10-8. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadelphia Phillies rebuilding plan continues in 2016, but the club could surprise if a handful of key circumstances unfold their way.

I truly believe the 2016 Phillies can have a taste of success.  I am not predicting a World Series.  I am not even predicting division or wild card championships.  I am saying that with the moves they have made, and with proper management of the roster, this team has a chance to do some exciting things.

I have already discussed how the pitching is different this season, with a stabilized rotation and more established bullpen roles.  I have pointed out manager Pete Mackanin‘s personality and player relationships as a further key, and declared the definitive need for a first base platoon of Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf.

And now we have reached the final piece in this “Phillies 2016 Five Keys to Success” series.

The final key to the possible success in 2016 is something we have all been craving for some time: the Youth Movement.  We had the opportunity to see it happen before, about a dozen years ago or so, with the previous generation of Phillies. Some great players came up from the farm system in that time: Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Pat Burrell, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Madson, and more.

Their time has ended, and now we are moving towards the introduction of a new group of talented young players who can hopefully repeat the glory years that previous generation provided in the not too distant past.

#5 KEY TO SUCCESS – YOUTH MOVEMENT

Since the devastating ending to what had begun as a hopeful 2011 postseason, I have screamed for a rebuild. I wanted young blood flowing throughout the Phillies minor league system.

More from That Balls Outta Here

When Howard crashed to the ground with his devastating Achilles injury after making the final out against Saint Louis, the franchise’ run crashed down along with their star first baseman.

After a few failed attempts at a retool, the Phillies finally decided it was time for a full-throttle rebuilding period. That belated youth movement has now begun to overtake the franchise and matriculate on to a big league roster that was not long ago stuck in the quicksand of older veterans.

As that old blood has been donated to other MLB teams who could perhaps use them as one final piece for a playoff run, the new blood has started a transfusion into Citizen’s Bank Park.  In 2015, the first building blocks were put into place with pieces such as Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera.

Nola and Eickhoff are two names I discussed in the first piece of the series.  Both had successful rookie season debut stints, and will help to anchor and balance the rotation moving forward.  Nola looks to build on his success with consistency and poise, while Eickhoff will move forward using his strikeout ability.

They are not the only young pitchers who Phillies fans will have to look forward to as the team progresses through 2016.  I firmly believe by the end of July we are going to see a combination (if not all) of Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, and Jake Thompson implanted into the rotation.

All three pitchers came to the Phillies organization in the last six months.  All three have top of the rotation upside and will likely begin the season with AAA Lehigh Valley.  Their battle to rise to the big leagues will be a major piece of the youth movement that we all will want to pay attention to as the minor league season unfolds.

The Phillies are also hoping for Franco and Herrera to build on their 2015 successes. Franco came up in May, so he missed an entire month playing in the minors. Then a wrist injury severely limited his opportunities in the second half of the season.

The young third baseman slashed .280/.343/.497 with 14 home runs in his small sample size.  I believe 2016 will only show improvement for a player who is an obvious cornerstone in the Phillies future.

Herrera was a pleasant surprise.  When the Phillies took him in the Rule 5 draft in December of 2014, there was little question that he could hit.  There was question about whether or not the jump from AA directly to MLB would hold him back.  It didn’t.

Herrera was among the top National League rookies in extra-base hits (41) in his first major league season. He slashed .297/.344/.418 and showed glimmers of pop with eight home runs in 497 at-bats without every playing at the AAA level.  Oh, and all of this came while he transitioned to a new position as a centerfielder, where he also largely succeeded defensively.

The Phils also hope that outfielder Aaron Altherr makes strides in his progression when given everyday at-bats in the big leagues. He has flashed above-average glove work in 2015, but they hope he continues to improve his batting stroke, especially against lefties. Altherr struggled against southpaws in his brief 2015 stint with the big club.

Similar hopes go out for catcher Cameron Rupp, who is likely to replace Carlos Ruiz as the everyday backstop. Rupp’s opposite-field swing continued to develop last season, and he showed promise in being able to handle the pitching staff. But he will need to do a better job against righties if he wants to keep the starting job, or keep from getting platooned. There is depth at catcher knocking on the big league door, led by Andrew Knapp.

Knapp, the Phillies’ 2015 Paul Owens Award winner among position players, was drafted as a direct result of his ability to swing the bat.  While his defense has improved, he will need to show consistency behind the dish before getting his call.  He profiles as an above average bat for that position, so the Phillies would love to keep him there if possible.  His development can directly impact how long Rupp has control of the catching position in Philly.

Let’s not forget an intriguing newcomer, Tyler Goeddel, who the Phillies took with their number one overall Rule 5 pick this past December.  They are hoping to hit the jackpot twice in two years with the former Rays’ prospect outfielder, who has a high ceiling.

Goeddel is another player who will be making the jump directly from AA. The Phils hope he can build off some success there last summer, when he hit .279 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, 12 homers, 43 RBI, and 22 stolen bases.  In those stats, we can see a mix of power and speed (not to mention youth) that would be a welcomed sight.

Familiar names like Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez will fill out the Phillies lineup to start 2016, but changes will more than likely be on the way.

I expect to see J.P. Crawford, Roman Quinn, and Nick Williams at some point in 2016. All three have the ability to contribute this season if they succeed in their time on what should be a stacked AAA Lehigh Valley roster.  While all three have facets of their game to work on, they may find themselves learning at the big league level before this coming summer is over.

Crawford is one of baseball’s top prospects, just named our top Phillies prospect here at TBOH, with smooth defense and a major league ready approach.  If he can prove his ability to hit big league type pitching consistently without falling into ruts, we may see him at CBP before the end of July.

Quinn is an exciting player who has hit and run his way into many organizational top prospect lists, including our Top 10 here at TBOH.  If he is able to stay healthy, we should be seeing his name in baseball’s top 100 prospects this summer.

The potential dynamic of Quin’s speed at the top of the Phillies order has me salivating. If he does maintain that health, and has a strong performance with the IronPigs, we could see him in Philly in 2016 as well.

Williams, our #2 Phillies prospect here at TBOH based on his pure talent, is the player with the most risk, in my opinion.  While he has some incredible tools that make him one of my favorite players in the system, he needs to learn a better approach.  If he finds the right approach at Lehigh Valley, his contributions could help turn the Phillies around that much more quickly.

This coming 2016 season is certain to bring excitement back to the ballpark in South Philly.  With the new wave of talent beginning to find traction on the field and draw attention throughout the league, the Phillies are once again going to become an exciting baseball team. How long that will take to translate to wins is another question. With the right answers that could happen sooner than many think.

Next: Has Jamaal Charles Lost a Step?

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