The Philadelphia Phillies are on pace to finish last in the National League East. It would complete their steady downfall since 2008, when they won the World Series. Philadelphia has taken a step back each year since then: In 2009, they lost the World Series. Next season, they were beat in the NLCS. The following year they lost in the NLDS. They missed the postseason in 2012, finishing exactly .500, and then they missed the postseason with a losing record last season.
The general impression in and around baseball is the Phillies need change—and a lot of it. Regardless of what they do with the likes of Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd and other aging veterans, the future is brighter than it seems.
I think the young core four the Phillies have will lead them back to the postseason in a few years.
When the Phillies drafted Aaron Nola with the seventh pick in this year’s draft, they knew exactly what they were getting. After his superb junior season at LSU, Nola was named National Pitcher of the Year. When Philadelphia selected him, there were many individuals who projected Nola to reach the Majors before any other pick.
He’s a 21-year-old right-handed starter that the Phillies desperately need to complement Cole Hamels at the front end of the Phillies’ rotation.
While he isn’t quite ready yet, he hasn’t disappointed in the minors.
After pitching well at Class A Advanced with a 3.16 ERA in seven games (six starts), he posted a 2.63 ERA in five starts at Double-A. He’s a 21-year-old right-handed starter that the Phillies desperately need to complement Cole Hamels at the front end of the Phillies’ rotation. Nola can hit 95 MPH, and he’s proving he is on the fast track to Philadelphia—possibly as soon as early 2015.
Eventually, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will retire. The two will undoubtedly leave a leadership void. Philly fans won’t have to wait long, though, before the future leader emerges.
Jul 13, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; USA players Michael Taylor (left) and J.P. Crawford celebrate after defeating the World during the All Star Futures Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Shortstop J.P. Crawford will become the Phillies leader. He’s only 19, but he’s considered mature for his age. Crawford was promoted to Class A Advanced this summer and played well, hitting .275 in 63 games. He’s solid defensively, has the ability to steal bases and figures to hit around .300 consistently at the big-league level.
He should bat somewhere in the top three slots in Philadelphia’s order when he reaches his prime. I think he eventually bats out of the No. 3 spot, for he should be the Phillies best all-around hitter. Crawford also has the ability to be a 20-20 player.
The Power Hitter
Maikel Franco recently made his Phillies debut. At 22, he has a lot of potential to be a good source of power, especially with the dimensions at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies need power, especially from the right side.
Mar 16, 2014; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco (74) bats in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a spring training exhibition at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
Last year, in 134 games between Class A Advanced and Double-A, Franco batted .320 with 31 home runs and 103 RBI. Then this season, he struggled early on at Triple-A. But he came around and posted a .257 average with 16 home runs and 78 RBI in 133 games.
He’s the obvious candidate to bat cleanup in a couple more seasons. The main question that needs to be answered is his position. Franco is a quality third baseman, but the Phillies currently have Cody Asche there. So it’s either move Asche elsewhere, or get rid of Howard and let Franco handle first.
When your team has a bullpen arm that can hit 100 MPH, that’s a luxury. When that pitcher can control that kind of heat, well, that’s even better.
I think Ken Giles will assume the closer role once Papelbon is out of Philadelphia.
Giles got called up earlier this season and has pitched extremely well. In 36 2/3 innings, he has a 1.23 ERA. He’s walked nine and struck out 54, allowing just one home run. Opponents are batting just .187 against Giles. He has impressed manager Ryne Sandberg so much that Giles has assumed the set-up role.
He’ll be 24 soon, and he should see the ninth sooner rather than later.