The Philadelphia Phillies have surprised a number of people this season. Pleasantly, if you’re a Phillies fan.
Last season, the Phils finished with a 63-99 record, one loss away from hitting the century mark for only the 15th time in the team’s 126-year existence. This season, the predictions for the team were mixed. Some predicted them to match their win record from last season, while others pegged them to finish under the 60-win threshold. Through 147 games, they have already surpassed their 63 win total from one year ago, and they are in reach of 70 wins.
A big part of their surprising success this season has been breakout outfielder Odubel Herrera. “Bubble,” as he is referred to, has vastly improved over his level of play from last season. I don’t necessarily want to deem him as the “Most Improved Player” on the team, as his production last year was very good. However, it’s difficult to imagine any other Phillie who has shown the level of improvement that Herrera has. Through 147 games last season, Herrera hit .297/.344/.418 with eight home runs, 41 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases. His least impressive statistic, though, was his lackluster K:BB ratio of 129:28. During the offseason, Herrera spent time honing his craft, and it showed big-time in the early going of this season. For the season, Herrera’s batting .280/.358/.408 with 13 homers, 42 RBIs, 21 swiped bags, and a K:BB ratio of 119:60.
While Herrera showed large levels of improvement this season, the majority of that came in the early portions of the year. Through the first two months of the season, Herrera held a .319 batting average, with five home runs, 17 RBIs, an OBP of .393, and a K:BB ratio of 40:34. Since the month of May, though, Herrera’s numbers have started reverting back to that of his 2015 stat line. Odubel has not hit over .300 in a month since May, hitting .276 in June, .227 in July, .282 in August, and currently .243 in September. His strikeout numbers have increased by month, while the amount of walks have started to gradually decrease. Herrera has been clinging to an average hanging around .280 since mid-July, and the longer that he remains relatively undisciplined at the plate, the more his average is going to suffer.
The drop in Herrera’s level of play has not only resulted in a number of benchings by manager Pete MacKanin, but it has also led to speculation of a potential offseason trade. Initially, the reaction to such a thought was far from positive. As time has progressed though, the idea seems to have some merit.
Herrera currently serves as the Phillies best outfielder. However, that distinction might be short-lived, as there are a number of youngsters down in the minor leagues who could get a look later this season, into next season. One of the more popular names being discussed is Nick Williams, who is having a decent season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, hitting .258/.287/.427 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs. Williams struggled at times this season, and suffered the same fate as Herrera, by being benched for a lack of hustle in the field. The benching seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the kid, as he set the International League ablaze over the summer. As to be expected with most young prospects, Williams has battled with some maturity issues this season. Like most youngsters, though, maturity comes with age and experience. Regardless, Williams possesses the talent to become an elite outfielder.
Another name that comes to mind, is one that many may not be aware of, and that’s Dylan Cozens. Cozens is not exactly the prototypical outfielder, standing at 6’6″ and tipping the scales at 235 pounds. Nevertheless, he has torn the Double-A level to shreds this season, hitting .276/.350/.591 with 40 home runs, 125 RBIs, and a staggering 21 stolen bases. At 235 pounds, it’s almost unheard of to see an outfielder of that size compile 10 stolen bases, let alone 20. Cozens is expected to open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, although he should also get a look from the big-league team in spring training. If he can put everything together, his ceiling could be that of former New York Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry.
The final name that comes to mind when thinking of an outfield competition, has actually seen time in the majors this year, and that is Roman Quinn. Quinn, 23, made it as far as Double-A before making the jump earlier this month. During his time in the minors, Quinn earned quite the reputation for being a speed demon, with 30 stolen bases serving as the fewest he’s ever swiped. Over his five seasons in the minors, Quinn swiped 181 total bases, for an average of 36.2 per season. For as fast as Quinn is, he’s also garnered a reputation for being injury prone. In 2013, Quinn broke his wrist, causing him to miss the second half of the 2013 season. He tore his Achilles tendon that offseason, causing him to miss part of the 2014 season, and then he tore his left hip flexor last June. So, it’s clear to see that his health could be an issue. Despite his injury history, Quinn has proven to be quite effective when healthy. He won’t provide much in the way of power, but he’s got the ability to put the ball in play often, and he can also be a nightmare on the base path. Through five games in the majors, Quinn seems to be impressing enough to address the idea that he could begin next season with the big-league squad — a move that could possibly spell trouble for Herrera.
In addition to the three youngster breathing down his neck, Herrera must also be aware of fellow big-league outfielders Aaron Altherr, Tyler Goeddel, and Jimmy Paredes — all of whom have shown flashes of promise at times this year.
Now, I’m aware of what you’re currently thinking. What type of return could Herrera net? Given the Phillies’ past areas of focus in trades, it’s reasonable to assume that they would target young, controllable starting pitching.
Looking around the league, a few teams that are in need of a center-field upgrade come to mind. The Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, and Seattle Mariners are the first that I thought of. In order, those teams are currently rolling with J.B. Shuck, Cameron Maybin, Teoscar Hernandez, Jake Smolinski, and Leonys Martin as their center-field options. Herrera would not only provide an upgrade in age, but also an upgrade in talent. In the case of some of those teams, that talent upgrade could be sizable.
I’m not going to sit here and speculate about a specific pitcher who could be targeted in a potential deal. All I’ll say, is that each team has a number of possible targets that could make sense for the Phillies to target.
In closing, it’s important to re-emphasize how important Herrera’s been to the Phillies success this season. His improved discipline at the plate, the new-found pop in his bat, his solid fielding ability, it’s all been a major part in the team’s play. However, as Herrera begins regressing back to his 2014 self, and the plethora of Phillies outfielders begin to rise up the ranks, it may be worthwhile to at least look at the possibility of moving Herrera — both for his benefit, and for the team’s benefit.