If you’re a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, the past month has been absolutely brutal.
Through their first 20 games, Philadelphia seemed to be living up to the expectations that many fans had for this season — a near .500 campaign, that would result in impressive progress of their young players, and perhaps some prospect debuts. However, since April 27, the sun has not quite shined so bright. Over their last 28 games, the Phillies sports a 6-22 record.
Before their current skid, the Phils’ offense ranked eighth in runs per game and was top-10 in batting average. Fast forward by one month, and their production has dropped by nearly a run and they’ve lost 10 points on their batting average. Many would probably wonder how a team that had a seemingly explosive offense could possibly be sitting at nearly .500? Well, the answer is simple — shoddy pitching.
Through the first month of the season, the team’s ERA sat at a 4.18, which was ninth-worst in the majors. One month later, and their ERA is 0.6 runs worse, currently sitting at 4.78, fifth-worst in baseball. Perhaps the more disturbing statistic lies in the number of home runs the team is giving up. On April 28, their HR/9 was a putrid 1.46, third-worst in the league. As of this writing, it’s a league-worst 1.53. Clearly, they weren’t happy with not being the worst of the worst.
So, here I am, describing everything that has gone wrong for Philadelphia. Yet, I still believe a bright future awaits the only team that I’ve known since I could walk. The question that is likely going through everyone’s mind, is why am I so optimistic? To quote WWE Superstar Colin Cassidy, I’m….
1) Prospect Growth
Arguably the biggest reason for optimism is one that fans were hoping for entering the 2017 season — growth from the team’s prospects. Perhaps the two most impressive prospects to date have been slugger Rhys Hoskins and breakout second baseman Scott Kingery. Hoskins has demolished Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .327/.429/.673 batting line, with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs. Meanwhile, Kingery has developed into one of the most electric players in Double-A, sporting a .301/.381/.659 triple-slash, with a career-high 15 homers, 29 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases. What makes Kingery’s production all the more impressive is the fact that he has already tripled his previous career high in long-balls.
Additionally, the Phillies have seen progress from other prospects such as Nick Williams, Ben Lively, and Jorge Alfaro, and consistent improvement from 18-year-old hurler Sixto Sanchez. Sanchez burst onto the scene last year with a 5-0 record, 0.50 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts in 54 innings of work. This year, he’s back at it with a 3.70 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. Possibly his most impressive statistic, though, is that he has yet to allow a home run in his professional career. While fans have expressed frustration with the lack of prospects making the jump to the majors, the progression is there.
2) Reinforcements on the Way
With the eighth overall pick in this year’s amateur draft, the Phillies are expected to snag a pitcher. Experts are just split on whether it’s a college talent such as North Carolina’s J.B. Bukauskas, or a high-school talent like Shane Raz. Regardless, they’ll land a great talent. That said, many fans expected the Phillies to take a step forward this year, perhaps even reaching the .500 benchmark. It hasn’t worked out the way that fans hoped it would have thus far, but there’s a definite silver lining once you sit down and look at the big picture. As of this writing, the Phillies are on pace for (at least) a top-three pick in the 2018 draft — a class that is beyond loaded. This gives them the opportunity to land a game-changing talent, such as right-hander Colton Eastman. Previously drafted in 2015 by the Minnesota Twins, he opted to attend college at Cal State Fullerton. In his freshman year, the right-hander cruised to an 8-3 record, with a 2.24 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 100.2 innings of work. In 2016, opposing batters hit just .218 against Eastman.
Another name to watch in advance of the 2018 draft is high-school hurler Kumar Rocker. Rocker, 16, has garnered quite a fair amount of buzz in scouting circles. Standing a 6’5″, 230 lbs, Rocker has been able to consistently pitch between 91-93 MPH, occasionally clocking in at 96 MPH. For a kid of his size, the ability to pitch in such a manner is incredible. Rocker’s tools are still developing at the ripe age of 16, meaning that improvement is likely in his future. To what degree he improves, that will determine his standing in next year’s draft. Many believe that he could find himself as the best prospect in next year’s draft.
3) Cohesion Takes Time
Perhaps the biggest complaint among fans this year has been the lack of cohesion that the Phillies have shown. Entering this season, there were a number of new faces donning the red pinstripes. Names that included: Pat Neshek, Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Clay Buchholz, among others. Neshek, much like the rest of the bullpen, has failed to find his footing. Meanwhile, the latter three have spent a large portion of the season on the disabled list, with Saunders being the only one of the three to play in more than 10 games. Yes, while the team looked like it improved on the surface, the results just haven’t been there, yet. The calendar is just turning to June. Give the team so time to gel, and they may surprise us.
4) Sophomore Slump
Maikel Franco and Aaron Nola were the two players fans expected to see take that next step in 2017, but it just hasn’t come to fruition. In the case of Nola, it can be attributed to the ol’ “sophomore slump” theory. Yes, it’s true that he made his debut in 2015 — although, he pitched more than half of the season in the minors. I count 2016 as Nola’s true “freshman” season, which didn’t go all that swimmingly. 2017 hasn’t fared better for Nola, though. Currently sitting at 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA, Nola spent some time in May on the DL. With that now behind him, the 23-year-old looks to right the shaky ship.
Franco has been a curious case, to say the very least. In his first 80 games, he cranked out 14 home runs. The following season, in 2016, he whacked 25 long balls. This year, he’s already got six. What’s concerning though, is his declining average. 2015 saw Franco sport a cool .280 average, while it dropped 25 points down to .255 in 2016. This year, he’s struggled mightily, hitting an anemic .212. Fans have wondered what the problem is with Franco, leading some to even wonder if this is what the true Maikel Franco is capable of. As Section 215 points out though, his failures appear to be a byproduct of his footwork. If Franco can figure out his footwork issues, this sophomore slump could easily become a thing of the past.
It’s not easy to play the waiting game, trust me on that. However, the results of a lengthy waiting period can be one of the sweetest experiences in your life. This strikes me as one of those cases. Having just started their rebuild in 2016, the Phillies are in the middle of year two. Yes, they might be a mess. Although, I’ve learned very quickly that rebuilds can be a long, trying process. Just look at the Chicago Cubs, for example. They were the third-worst team in 2013, but they broke through to end their 108-year curse last November. I’m not saying that will be the case in Philadelphia, but I am urging the fans to relax. Good things come to those that wait.