SOMETIME NEAR the end of last winter, I wrote that in Philadelphia we were experiencing the "Winter of Our Discontent." None of our four professional teams looked as though they would be making the playoffs anytime in the near future. But one of the things that is great about sports is that things can change, sometimes at warp speed.
Less than a year later, things are looking up. Really looking up! Our Eagles are off to a good start and as you know if you read my last column, I predict they will make the playoffs this year.
The Flyers and 76ers have an array of exciting young players and both have a decent chance to be back in the playoffs this year or, at the latest, next year. And what about our Phillies? They still possess the worst record in Major League Baseball and they seem to be many years away from being a contender again. But, as Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast!"
In fact, I believe the Fightins' outlook has become dramatically brighter. If you've been down to the Bank recently to see Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro and, of course, the next Babe Ruth, Rhys Hoskins, you've seen the beginnings of this transformation with your own eyes. And if you've seen any of the Phillies' minor league teams in action you know more help is on the way from exciting prospects like Sixto Sanchez and Scott Kingery (who as a second baseman may lead the minors in home runs). If you haven't been to the Bank, you should try to get down there in the last two weeks of the season because it will fill you with hope and optimism.
The Phillies will have some decisions to make next year and may be tempted to sign a few free agents to mix in with these young prospects to try to achieve a fairly decent record. I say, record be damned! Nobody really cares if we win 70 games or 75 or 81. With the playoffs still a bit of a longshot next year, I think our roster should be made up solely of our current young players and prospects. If some need further development, let them develop here. In fact, manager Pete Mackanin said it best when he said, "You can develop here. Ideally it's best to develop here." Pete's right. So here is my suggestion for next year's team:
Catcher - Jorge Alfaro. Give him a year to see if he can be an adequate MLB defensive catcher.
1B - Rhys Hoskins. Put him there for the next 15 years. In his first 34 games, he has hit 18 home runs. At that pace, he'd hit 85 homers if he played a whole season, which would break the big-league record by 12.
2B - Scott Kingery. Let's watch him too for the next 15 years.
SS - Freddy Galvis. Accept the fact that he is a better big-leaguer than J.P. Crawford ever will be. Crawford simply is not good enough defensively to make up for his offensive shortcomings.
3B - Maikel Franco. At 25, he is too young to give up on. He clearly can hit 25-plus HRs a year. Let him play all of 2018 and see how he does.
LF - Aaron Altherr. Clearly, he has the potential to be a big-league hitter playing a full season and can easily hit 20-plus HRs with an average in the .280 to .290 range. He is also an excellent fielder.
CF - Odubel Herrera. Another year of Odubel might cause Pete Mackanin to quit, but he is just too talented offensively and defensively to give up on.
RF - Nick Williams. This 24-year-old has proven conclusively this year that he can be a standout major leaguer at bat and in the field.
SP - Aaron Nola. This 24-year-old has demonstrated that although he may not be an ace, he can certainly be a productive top of the rotation starter. There have been some games that he has looked absolutely brilliant, and at the very least he can be a quality start machine.
SP - Jerad Eickhoff. Hasn't had a good year as his 1-9 record will attest but when you look at his performance in 2016 when he won 11 games with a 3.65 ERA, odds are he can be a reliable starter.
SP - Ben Lively. Ben has been up and down between Philadelphia and Allentown but he has started 12 games for the Phils this year and in 10 of them, completed six innings or more. His ERA is 3.86 and he too has proven that he can be an effective big-league starter.
SP - Nick Pivetta. He has also been up and down between Philadelphia and the minors and although he hasn't had as much success as Lively, he has shown some flashes of brilliance. Consider that in June he outpitched Boston's Chris Sale in a 1-0 Phils' win going seven innings giving up only four hits and striking out nine. Or that in July, he went seven innings again beating the Mets 7-1 and giving up only one hit. In August, he lost to the Padres 3-0 but struck out 11 in five innings. He clearly has big-league stuff.
SP - Vince Velasquez. Speaking of big-league stuff, his is electric. He has also been up and down in his results, but with that "stuff," he should be in the rotation for a full year if he is healthy so we can make some decisions about him.
SP - Zach Eflin. Zach's first four starts for the Phils this year were brilliant. In five innings against the Mets, he gave up three hits and two runs. In seven innings against the Braves he gave up three hits and one run. In seven innings against the Dodgers, it was four hits and two runs. In seven innings against the world champion Cubs, he gave up nine hits, but only allowed three runs. In May, he went into a tailspin and was sent back to the minors. He came back in August and pitched seven innings of two- run ball against the Braves in a Phils' victory. Once again, in 2018 we ought to see this 23-year-old on our roster so we can find out what his long-term future will be.
SP - Jake Thompson. This 23-year-old was once considered our best pitching prospect and he dominated in the minors. He has had mixed success in the big leagues but 2018 is the time to find out what he can do.
You may notice that there are two people missing in this lineup. Tommy Joseph and Cesar Hernandez. If we do trade Odubel, I would see if Hernandez could be switched to the outfield, but we should certainly make a trade packaging two of the three to get some really good prospects. You will also notice, I didn't talk about the bullpen because I am not sure that a contending major league team could have any of our current arms in a bullpen. But, we can add to the bullpen after the 2018 season.
The 15 players that I have designated above average 24.6 years of age. Think of how exciting it would be to watch these talented youngsters playing an entire season. We could watch them develop before our eyes. I believe they make up a nucleus that could give us winning baseball again for the next decade!