The Phillies Won’t Contend in 2017 and That’s Okay

Sep 16, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; General view as the Philadelphia Phillies take batting practice before action against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; General view as the Philadelphia Phillies take batting practice before action against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

After another losing season in 2016, the Phillies answered some questions and raised some as well. They will still need 2017 to figure out who team’s future.

Coming into the 2016 Phillies season, we knew the team wouldn’t be very good. We accepted this in order to watch their young players find themselves in the majors leagues and develop. While this did happen to some extent, we still have a ways to go before we can even think about labeling the Phillies as “good”.

In terms of prospects, we saw the team’s best pitching prospect in Jake Thompson debut in the majors. Thompson struggled at first, but has since turned it around with a 2.45 ERA in his last four starts. Zach Eflin also had a strong start to his major-league career before injuries eventually derailed him.

However, there are still several Phillies top prospects who have yet to make their debuts. No. 1 team prospect J.P. Crawford along with outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Andrew Knapp, and pitcher Mark Appel stayed in the minors this season for various reasons. Many fans, myself included, expected all of them to see the major-leagues at some point this season.

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In addition, numerous question marks exist for the Phillies, especially in the rotation. Jerad Eickhoff is the only pitcher who remained consistent the entire year. Vince Velasquez flashed some serious potential, but he still has some major obstacles to overcome.

The aforementioned Eflin and 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola both sustained season-ending injuries. Eflin received surgery in August to repair his long-standing patellar tendinitis.

Nola eventually landed on the 60-day disabled list with what Phillies general manager Matt Klentak called a “low-grade sprain of his UCL and a low-grade strain of his flexor.” The ulnar collateral ligament is associated with Tommy John surgery, although the team hopes a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection will be enough to heal the righty’s elbow.

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With both of these injuries, the 2017 rotation is murky at best. The club hopes Nola and Eflin will be ready for spring training next year, but pitchers are fragile things that shouldn’t be rushed back into things.

In addition, Maikel Franco fell into a serious sophomore slump this season after a strong rookie year. While Franco clubbed 22 home runs to tie for the team lead, his average a meager .246 in 568 plate appearances this year. Franco’s wRC+ fell from quite above average at 129 in 2015 to below-average this year at 86.

The Phillies need Franco to be a key piece in the lineup, but it’s less certain now than it was this time last year. If anything is certain, it’s that we can’t take a player for granted.

Thankfully, at least there are some areas where the Phillies have a brighter future. Behind the plate, Cameron Rupp solidifed himself as the Opening Day starter this season. Meanwhile, prospects Knapp and Jorge Alfaro both will try to dethrone Rupp as the season progresses.

Hector Neris also showed the ability to be a top-tier reliever. Hector Neris ranks fifth on the team with 2.3 bWAR as he struck out nearly 32% of the batters he faced. Manager Pete Mackanin called on Neris in 73 games, including numerous high-leverage situations. Hopefully Mackanin won’t use Neris in that amount of games as the Phillies gain quality bullpen arms.

In addition, Roman Quinn’s presence in the majors helps cement the outfield’s future. Despite his second-half slump, Odubel Herrera collected nearly three wins above replacement this year. The two of them along with Aaron Altherr create one of the more dynamic outfields in the MLB.

Next: Maikel Franco: Analyzing the Phillies Third Basemans Struggles

As we go into 2017, our outlook on the season should be similar to this year’s. There are several young players who still have to figure out their role in the majors. While these players are developing, we can’t expect the team to be a serious contender for the playoffs. Some question marks will need to be answered, but there are several things that fans can still look forward to.