The Philadelphia Phillies have left sunny Florida and come north to begin the 2016 MLB regular season.
The Fightin’ Phils aren’t expected to make a playoff run this year, but they have enjoyed a surprisingly successful spring training. They finished the Grapefruit League season with a 15-10-3 record, which was good for fifth place in the Florida spring standings.
Fangraphs has projected that the Phillies will once again finish with the worst record in baseball, and ESPN has predicted that they will also be the 30th of 30 MLB teams this season. But if the club can carry their spring training success into the regular season they could be a surprise team, and make things interesting in the NL East.
The biggest contributor to their Grapefruit League success was the hot bat of 3rd baseman Maikel Franco, who hit .295 with 8 homeruns and 20 RBIs this spring. If he can maintain that sweet swing during the 2016 regular season he will surely be pushing for an NL All-Star spot, and we might hear his name in the NL MVP discussion come awards season.
Another hitter that put up some strong numbers for the Phils this spring was Odubel Herrera. Herrera was a steal of a pick for the Phils in the 2014 Rule 5 draft. He had an excellent rookie season in 2015, sporting a triple slash line of .297/.344/.762 to accompany his solid (and interesting) defense in the outfield.
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Herrera battled a small injury and struggled for a few games this spring, but on Easter Sunday he went 3-3 and finished with a batting average above the .400 mark.
Newly acquired outfielder Peter Bourjos also had a nice spring, batting for a .304 average. Cameron Rupp also put up some nice numbers in the Grapefruit League with 3 home runs and a gaudy .414 batting average.
On the other side of the ball, the Phils received some excellent pitching performances this spring. Vincent Velasquez, who was acquired from Houston in the Ken Giles trade, has put up monster numbers this spring. He has a 2.25 ERA with a 24:7 strike out to walk ratio in 20 innings pitched this spring. His strong showing helped him to win the 5th starter spot over Adam Morgan.
Velasquez has been consistently throwing in the mid 90s and striking out more than a batter per inning this spring. If he can carry that into the regular season he will not be known as a back of the rotation starter for long.
Jeremy Hellickson has also put together a nice spring, and his been named the team’s Opening Day starter. Hellickson made his final spring start yesterday against Houston, giving up 3 runs over 4.2 innings to finish the with a 3.31 ERA.
Young sophomore Aaron Nola, coming off a solid rookie campaign, struggled in the Grapefruit league with a 5.28ERA in 15.1 innings pitched. However, Nola began to shake off the rust in his last couple of starts. Hopefully he can get off to a good start to the regular season. He is expected to start the home opener for the Phils against the San Diego Padres on April 11th at Citizens Bank Park.
Some minor league players also left a good first impression during their short stint in big league camp this spring. Speedy outfielder Roman Quinn hit .300 with a homer, 3 triples, and 2 stolen bases over 11 games. If Quinn can stay healthy he should receive a call to the big league team at some point this summer. Quinn’s speed and contact ability could be a game-changer at the top of the lineup.
Catching prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp also had a nice spring while with the big league team. Alfaro batted .294 in 6 games, while Knapp hit just .250, but managed a homer, double, and four RBIs in just 8 games.
The team’s top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, struggled a bit at the plate with the big league team. While he hit just .150 in 11 games, he played solid defense. At just 21 years old J.P. still has plenty of time to put the finishing touches on his game in the minors and possibly get a call up to the show in late 2016. Todd Zolecki of MLB.com called Crawford a prospect to watch this year.
Tonight the Phillies top prospects faced off against some of the big league team in Reading. Crawford, Quinn, Alfaro, and Knapp were all on hand, along with other top prospects like Nick Williams. Fans got a chance to see some potential future Phils show why they are considered top prospects. The action will be repeated at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.
The 2016 Phillies are off to a good start after a strong spring showing. While no one expects them to fight for the division crown, there is a lot to look forward to during the regular season. It’s likely that at least one of the young and talented prospects the Phils have been developing will get a call to the show later this summer.
And even with all that hope coming, there is still more, as this June we will finally find out who the Phillies will select with the #1 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. Things were Sunny in Clearwater this spring for the Fightings, let’s hope they quickly become sunny in Philadelphia as well.