This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.
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An electric debut for Rhys Hoskins, who nearly led the team in home runs despite playing only 50 games, overshadowed continued strong production from the up-the-middle duo of Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera, plus injury comebacks by Aaron Altherr and budding ace Aaron Nola. With some intriguing talent moving its way up the pipeline, and possibly the most payroll flexibility in the sport, 2018 looks like a platform year for a return to the spotlight.
Offseason in Review:
Key Additions – Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek
Neshek is a bit of a retread, as he was dealt to the Rockies over the summer, but he and Hunter are strong additions to what is suddenly a formidable Philly bullpen. The Phillies had four relievers contribute at least 1 WAR in 2017 (including Neshek, who put up 1.5 WAR in just 40 innings). Meanwhile, Hunter has quietly been one of baseball’s most effective relievers since converting full-time in 2013; over that span, he’s thrown the 24th-most innings of any RP and put up a respectable 3.4 wins. The Santana signing is a bit more confusing, as Hoskins seemed entrenched at first and the NL-bound Phils can’t exactly use a DH, not to mention the loss of their second-round pick and $500K in international bonus money. $60M over three years is affordable for the Phillies, and Santana has been one of the most consistent and healthy performers in recent memory, but in retrospect, it’s difficult to imagine Philadelphia wouldn’t like a re-do.
Key Losses – Freddy Galvis
As is typical of a rebuilding club, the Phillies had few prominent free agents leave following the 2017 season. Swapping Galvis to the Padres removes a useful, but not irreplaceable component, as glove-first shortstops are not the most difficult to find (and they almost got away with Engelb Vielma, too). Top prospect J.P. Crawford turned in a fine season at Triple-A and will likely take over at short, making this a likely upgrade.
The projections see the Phillies as more of a bad team than a terrible one, befitting their position in the win cycle. It’s likely too much to hope for legitimate contention in 2018, though they should keep an eye out for unexpectedly rapid improvement, perhaps mirroring Milwaukee’s successful season last year. Hoskins’ debut should be proof that sometimes things work out a little better than you expect, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Phillies making some noise in a very weak NL East.
We’ve been dancing around him all night, and now it’s time to get down to business. Rhys Hoskins exploded onto the scene in 2017, with a late-season call-up resulting in 18 homers, a .359 ISO (third in MLB minimum 200 PA), and the hopes of Philly residents rising once again. He’ll have to adjust to left field in deference to Santana, but 85 dingers in two seasons should make everyone sit up and take notice. Future Cy Young winner (editor’s note… HA! Not this again!) Aaron Nola is coming off 168 innings and 4.3 WAR; he’s done nothing but pitch well since turning pro and could easily be a top 10 starter by next winter. Former rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera looked lost to start the season but hit .323/.378/.551 in the second half to actually out-produce Hoskins in nearly identical playing time.
Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:
Persistent top prospect J.P. Crawford finally debuted in 2017 after a solid run at the highest level. A combination of OBP and excellent glovework should make the shortstop an above-average contributor immediately. Future double-play partner Scott Kingery is mildly blocked by Herrera, but contributes on both sides of the ball and should force his way into the picture. The window is much wider for Jorge Alfaro if he can ever turn his incredible tools into production, as it’s hard to go wrong with lots of homers and great defense out of your catcher, and he’ll likely be given the job at some point no matter what.
The Phillies’ history of ineptitude returned with a vengeance in 2013, just a season removed from a franchise-record 102 wins, and credit to them, it would appear that the best is yet to come. After five seasons playing under .500, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for an increasingly talented Phillies team that may make a major play for one of 2019’s premium free agents.