The toughest 2017 dilemma for those who oversee the Phillies always was how to decide when it’s best to move forward. The roster is littered with players who, in all likelihood, will not be in Philadelphia when the Phillies are winners again. But that should not diminish their contributions; these are, after all, humans who reached the highest level of their profession and overcame various odds to achieve that status.
Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph, Cesar Hernandez, and Freddy Galvis have been lineup mainstays for at least a year and, in Galvis’ case, far more. All four players entered the season with an established job, but nothing more guaranteed because younger players in the majors could steal their jobs.
“In the big picture, this year — just like last year — is to determine who’s going to be part of the future,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “I made the comment in the spring; I said the guys that are here with us, they need to show improvement over what they did last year. If and when they do that, that will determine whether or not they’re in the plans.
“We need guys to improve over what they did last year. So far, they haven’t, but there’s better than half a season left.”
There is a convincing argument that the current infielders should not be replaced in 2017 — and the evidence is less about the current players in the majors and more about the prospects. Catcher Jorge Alfaro is beset with defensive and plate-discipline problems. Second baseman Scott Kingery has experienced a week of triple-A baseball. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, his strong on-base skills notwithstanding, has not hit for even a modicum of power.
Then there is first base, a spot that no one within the Phillies organization wants to discuss these days. It is an awkward conversation to have. Rhys Hoskins is ready; he could be in a major-league lineup tomorrow and not appear overmatched. “He’s the only prospect giving them a professional at-bat every night,” opined an American League scout, who watched the IronPigs for two series in early June.
Hoskins does everything the new front office, under Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak, has espoused. He reaches base at an exceptional rate. He does not strike out often. He hits for power. He has done all of this for more than one minor-league season; his on-base percentage and slugging percentage are both higher at triple A than at double A, which is a notable accomplishment.
He is 24 years old. He will play in the Futures Game later this month at Marlins Park as the oldest member of the United States roster. Just one other player in the game, a 26-year-old Marlins reliever at double A named Tayron Guerrero, is older than Hoskins.
It was not hard to read between the lines earlier this month when Klentak addressed the situation.
“Rhys is a full-time first baseman,” Klentak said. “We play in the National League, where we don’t have the DH spot. … He’s doing the things we want him to do — he controls the strike zone, he hits for power, he uses all fields. We like everything he does, but the major-league-readiness of a player’s performance has to align with a major-league opportunity. That’s certainly a factor for Rhys.”
Hence, the dilemma. The current Phillies have dozens of problems, and Joseph, who will turn 26 later this month, is not really one of them. His slugging numbers are down from a season ago, but he has shown a tick of improvement in his plate discipline. His .761 OPS entering the weekend was a smidge above the league average of .747. His defense has not been great, but it has not been bad. He is regarded as a solid presence in a young clubhouse.
He was once a high-rated prospect not because he played a premium position, catcher, before concussions derailed him. Evaluators always liked Joseph’s bat. Still, he never produced the sort of minor-league offensive numbers that Hoskins has for almost three full seasons.
So, if Joseph is a solid player, does he deserve the benefit of more than 180 games in the majors? What if the Phillies, in their evaluations, have deduced that Joseph projects as a solid everyday player on a second-division team while Hoskins possess a higher ceiling? Is that enough to prompt a switch? What is fair?
Could the Phillies market Joseph this month, maybe package him with another trade piece, and turn to Hoskins? What if they just swapped Hoskins for Joseph? Does that send the wrong message to others in the Phillies clubhouse who have performed worse than Joseph but would keep their jobs?
Indeed, a dilemma.
Updates on three
1. Pat Neshek: He probably makes the most sense for Boston, which has received decent surprises from unproven middle relievers but could benefit from the addition of an experienced arm. Again, Neshek won’t fetch more than a high-risk, A-ball player or two.
2. Luis Garcia: The Phillies will spend a majority of their allotted international bonus pool on Garcia, a 16-year-old Dominican shortstop. His bonus could top $3 million. Garcia is regarded as a strong defender, and Phillies scouts were willing to wager on his bat improving. The new international amateur signing period will begin Sunday.
3. Sixto Sanchez: At this point, he’s their best prospect, and it’s not close. You can’t pin hopes on a teenager, especially a pitcher, but Sanchez is the organization’s best shot at an “impact” talent. He has struck out 46 and walked four in 45 1/3 innings. He throws 100 mph. All the Phillies can do is cross their fingers and hope his arm doesn’t blow.