Mid-season thoughts, pt. 1: The future

There are a number of things to note about the Phillies as they currently stand.
It is unlikely they will make enough noise to make a serious run, though they’ve done crazy things before.

Here the focus is on different elements of individual players, in no particular order.
This post addresses seven Phillies who are less likely trade targets or not at all on the block – Revere, Brown, Howard, Delmon Young, Rollins, Hamels, and Kendrick.
See part 2 for notes on five players potentially on the trading block.

1. Ben Revere: his future

Ben Revere has quietly taken over the team lead in average. I noticed that yesterday afternoon right after he hit a 2-run triple with two outs. From Todd Zolecki:

While his slugging percentage is still slightly lower than last year, that isn’t necessarily as bad as some make it out to be (alright, his line was .295/.331/.342 at the day’s start — his average is .300 after 3 hits tonight).

What kind of hitter is everyone hoping Revere will become? A leadoff hitter. As long as he improves his OBP and gets timely hits like today’s triple, I’ll likely consider his slugging percentage more or less in passing.

Not only that, but he seems to be tracking the ball better in the field. That’s reassuring for the Phillies, who traded for Revere hoping he would be the center-fielder of the future.

2. Domonic Brown: a breakout year

Finally Domonic Brown has been given the chance to shine. After a monster May (I wrote about it here), Brown has cooled off just a bit. Brown has continued to contribute, however. With the home run and triple yesterday, his line improved slightly to .281/.326/.560.

Brown will participate in his first of hopefully many All-Star Games with the Phillies. If the Phillies think he will continue to produce at a high level, it may behoove them to start working on a deal now, because they don’t exactly have a great track record with his agent, Scott Boras.

3. Ryan Howard: the “Big Piece” in pieces

If the Phillies had any chance of trading Ryan Howard, it was likely contingent on his success during these next few weeks. Now that he’s on the DL again (for 6-8 weeks with a meniscus tear), it’s even more unlikely anyone is willing to deal for him. He’s become injury-prone and is not the hitter he once was. Count on that contract staying on the books.

4. Delmon Young: more or less meeting expectations

His fielding is still not great, but an interesting tidbit – his range factor (thanks, Baseball-Reference) is just about as good as it’s ever been for an extended period, at 2.15. Again, not great, but at least the Phillies are seeing a moderately better fielding Delmon Young than they could be.

Fielding aside, he’s starting to hit. Young entered today’s game .274/.325/.435, which is significantly improved from the kinds of numbers he was putting up earlier in the year. With those things in mind, an AL team with a need at DH could call. No teams currently come to mind, and teammate Michael Young would seem to fit that bill better (see part 2), but injuries happen.

Here are some thoughts I had when the Phillies signed Young. I noted others’ Hunter Pence comparisons, which aren’t actually very far off at this point in the season. Young has a slightly higher average, higher OBP, and moderately lower slugging percentage. Pence has more HR and RBI (and indeed RBI is an important stat) and has a better range factor and fielding percentage, but has fewer assists.

In fact, since they’re now playing the same position, it’s probably more of a fair comparison this year than it was in 2012. Pence is still more of a clutch hitter, but the comparison is not as flawed as previously thought. Keep in mind that Pence is making $13.8 million this year. Young’s total when the Phillies signed him, assuming he reached the built-in incentives, was $3.5 million.

5. Jimmy Rollins: power shortage

Jimmy Rollins has regressed in power; there’s not really a way around that. He’s still a great defensive shortstop, though, which has always been one of his strengths. Unfortunately, however, his baserunning has also fallen off. With only 9 stolen bases (including tonight’s game) and 6 times being caught stealing, Rollins has dropped off a long way, as he had 30 stolen bases last year.

That said, if someone is willing to take on what he’s owed in 2014 as well as the vesting option and give up some good prospects, it’s not totally out of the question for Rollins to be traded. Rollins is the longest-tenured Phillie, but if someone unexpectedly puts together a good package, there may be reason to think twice about keeping him.

6. Cole Hamels: 2009 again?

Remember the last time Cole Hamels had a great year, followed by a not-so-great year? Okay, it’s not the best of comparisons; Hamels was still a great pitcher in ’09, but getting a lot of bad breaks. The bottom line, though, is that Hamels is better than he’s currently pitching, and that will return. Hopefully the team can provide him enough consistent run support to allow him the space to return to his former self. He’s in the first year of a huge deal, and he will get better again and play closer to the caliber the contract commands.

7. Kyle Kendrick: consistency for the middle of the rotation

Amidst all the woes the Phillies have seen this year, Kyle Kendrick has been fairly solid. With an ERA of 3.90 — on par with how he finished last year — and has had two complete games, including a shutout. He’s inducing plenty of groundouts and keeping his team in games. Kendrick has done what is asked and expected of him as a reliable mid-to-late rotation arm. Kendrick has given up a large number of runs a few times this year, but also has 7 quality starts. He isn’t striking out a lot of guys, but his walk total has gone down. If Kendrick can become more consistent, he will continue to be valuable to the club.


Brown’s Hot Stretch

Ten days ago, Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown entered game two of a series against the Nationals with a .256 average and 8 home runs, following a 2 for 3 night.

Not only has Brown hit 9 home runs since, with 2 multi-home run games, but he’s raised his average 35 points. He now leads his team in hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS, also leading the National League in home runs. His line:

17 HR, 42 RBI, .291/.329/.592/.921

One cause for concern is his walk total – he only has 11 walks on the season. In fact, Brown’s walk frequency has gone down during his hot stretch. In his NL player of the month May, he was not walked at all, though he hit 12 home runs. He became the first player in history to hit 9+ home runs in a month without being walked.

While a lack of walks may cause problems later, when a player is mashing baseballs like Brown is right now, it’s not a time to tell him to start taking pitches. Besides, he’s still young, and it’s something Steve Henderson will likely work on with him at some later date.

Some around the web have suggested that Brown is juicing. It’s ludicrous. Brown is 6’5″ and 200 lbs. For reference, I’m 6’3″ and about the same weight, and considered a bean pole. Care to enlighten me on how someone can be both using and a taller, skinnier guy than me?
Regardless, it’s sad that this comes up with everyone who starts hitting the long ball. It’s a reality of the modern game – such things will doubtless remain around the game as long as it is competitive. People look for a competitive edge, sometimes illegally. That’s reality.

But back to Brown. His hot streak has kept the Phillies afloat during a 5-5 stretch. Todd Zolecki points out:

While Brown is hitting .329 with six doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, 36 RBIs and a 1.053 OPS since April 23, he only truly has gotten everybody’s attention in the last 10 games. He is hitting .447 (17-for-38) with one double, one triple, nine home runs, 17 RBIs and a 1.712 OPS in that stretch.

Zolecki points out that lower attendance and the lateness of his power surge has kept him off the list of leaders for the All-Star vote. However, he could certainly make the team as a reserve. In fact, if he keeps up this streak, Brown could be offered a chance to participate in the Home Run Derby.

Brown had not received much consistent playing time in the majors until this year. The time he has spent in the bigs this year, in addition to a shorter (yet still vicious) swing that gets to the ball quicker, has paid off. With a plethora of injuries, illness, and under-performance, Brown’s success comes at a truly needed time for the Phillies.

2013 Phillies Outfield Projections

There are some major questions about the Phillies outfield for the 2013 season.
The team is searching for a corner outfielder, and while you never know what Ruben Amaro Jr.  may do, don’t count on it happening. The Phils have made relatively small moves so far this year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the personnel is the same as it is now come spring training.

Counting Ruf as an outfielder, there are 8 outfielders on the 40-man roster. Only 6 have a legitimate shot at outfield positions this year, but here are some projections for all 8 players:

Ben Revere – starting center fielder
There’s not really a question here. The Phillies traded a respectable amount of talent to acquire Revere, and he’ll have the starting job. Of all the outfielders on this list, he’s the most ready.
Expect good defense; he also could be competing for the leadoff spot.

Domonic Brown – starting right fielder
Sending Brown to AAA for yet another year may not be an option at this point. It’s time for Brown to prove he can produce in the bigs for a full year. The Phils owe him a legitimate shot at the starting position, and the signs point to him getting that spot. It’s finally time to see how the man who was untouchable in the Roy Halladay trade can adjust to the major league level.

John Mayberry (Jr.) – backup outfielder & first baseman
A big reason Mayberry is on the team is his versatility. The club is confident enough in his ability to play center field that Manuel can trot him out there for a game here and there. He also can play for Ryan Howard when a tough lefty is pitching or simply to give Howard a break. Mayberry should end up being a reserve again this year.

Laynce Nix – backup/platoon with Ruf
Laynce Nix is owed $1.35 million this year, which makes him the most expensive guy on this list. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Nix will make the roster. He’ll be at least a pinch hitter. If Ruf (see next) gets the left field job, Nix could be simply a backup. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a platoon in left field even though the Phillies haven’t done too much of that recently.

Darin Ruf (listed as an infielder) – left fielder/platoon with Nix/AAA
In a small sample of big league time last year, Ruf looked impressive. It may be time to see if he can produce anything close to what he did in AA last year. If the Phillies make no more moves and he has a decent spring playing left field, he has the starting role.

It will be interesting to see how he transitions to the outfield. If he has one particularly strong asset (like Pat Burrell‘s arm – both accurate and strong), it could make up for a deficiency elsewhere. At this point the club is probably looking for average defense from Ruf. Again, one option that’s been tossed around the web is a platoon. I’m not sure how likely it is, but it’s a possibility. Regardless, at 26 (Howard was a rookie at 25), it would be nice to see Ruf contributing consistently from left field.

Ender Inciarte – pinch runner & backup/back to Arizona
The casual fan may or may not know about Inciarte yet. The Phillies claimed him from Arizona in the Rule 5 draft the same day they traded for Ben Revere. Interestingly, his assets are similar to those of Revere.

Inciarte could make the team, especially if another player gets injured. He will really have to stand out, though, because the Phillies aren’t likely to carry 6 outfielders. To keep Inciarte for sure, the Phillies would have to keep him on the major league roster for the whole year. He’s not a power bat, so with the present situation there isn’t a whole lot of incentive to keep him. I don’t think he’ll make the team; instead, Philly will offer him back to Arizona (as part of the Rule 5 provisions). Whether or not the D-Backs reclaim him may depend on what he does in Spring Training.

There’s always a chance for another Shane Victorino scenario, but don’t count on it.  For those unfamiliar with this stipulation of the Rule 5 draft, when Victorino didn’t make the team, the Phillies offered him back to the Dodgers, who declined taking him back (which would be at $25K); then the Phillies kept him in their system. Of course, that’s the point. A team takes a risk by using a roster spot for the acquired player, which the Phillies may well not do. That being said, it’s a fair guess that Inciarte could be headed back to the Diamondbacks system in a few months.

Tyson Gillies – AA/AAA
This is an important year for Gillies. It’s time for him to prove that he can be healthy and produce, otherwise he may not make it to the bigs.

He’s had his struggles in the Phils’ minor league system, but this is the year he needs to stay healthy and produce. If he has a good spring and improves on his AA R-Phils success, it will be a huge boost to his major league prospects. Baseball has a way of forgiving many mistakes, if the player shapes up and produces. Look for him to start the year at AA Reading. If he puts up the numbers, the club could advance him to AAA.

Zach Collier – AA
Collier is 22. He’s been in the Phillies system for five years, but his age gives him some more time.
He lost a year in 2010 to hand and wrist injuries and was suspended for 50 games last year, but the Phillies still hope he can eventually be a part of the big league club.

There is definitely pressure for Collier to produce, but placing him on the 40-man roster was a vote of confidence from the organization that he is able to do so. He may start the year in AA. It’s up to him to start progressing into a player who can crack the 25-man roster in a year or two.