Well, a few prospects are off to good starts. Here is a look:
Triple-A Lehigh Valley
- 3B Maikel Franco: He is hitting .323 (10-for-31) with five doubles, one triple, one home run, seven RBIs and a 1.045 OPS in seven games. Remember, he is unlikely to be promoted until mid to late May for the same reason the Cubs just promoted Kris Bryant to the big leagues: team control for an extra season. So, please, hold the, “I CANNOT BELIEVE THEY AREN’T CALLING UP FRANCO RIGHT THIS SECOND!” fits.
- CF Roman Quinn: He is hitting .478 (11-for-23) with two doubles, two triples, one home run, three RBIs, four stolen bases and a 1.408 OPS through six games.
- P Zach Eflin, Tom Windle and Jesse Biddle: Each pitched well in their first start of the season.
Class A Clearwater
- C Andrew Knapp: He is hitting .343 (12-for-35) with two doubles, one triple, four RBIs and an .808 OPS.
- P Matt Imhoff: is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA after two starts.
Class A Lakewood
- CF Carlos Tocci: He is hitting .387 (12-for-31) with two doubles, one home run, eight RBIs and a 1.021 OPS.
He had struggled through the season’s first eight games — not as much as Chase Utley, although he heard more about it — when Ryne Sandberg sat him Wednesday against Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese. It was the second time in nine games the Phillies had faced a left-hander and the second time Sandberg had sat Howard against a lefty. Howard said Wednesday he had talked to Sandberg and had received no indication he might be platooned at first base, although Sandberg left the door open.
“Kind of take that a series at a time,” Sandberg said.
Then last night Sandberg dropped Howard all the way to seventh in the Phillies’ lineup.
From possibly platooned on April 15 to hitting seventh against a right-handed pitcher whose fastball tops out at 88 mph on April 16.
“I’ve been in situations like this before,” said Howard, who had not his seventh since 2006. “This isn’t the first time that I’ve gotten moved down in the lineup or anything like that. For me, you just try to look at it as an internal challenge. Do I feel l can hit fourth? Yeah, I know I can. I’m not worried about it. I’m not trying to look too far into it or anything like that. If I’m hitting in the seven-hole, do the best I can that day.”
I must say I’m a little surprised Sandberg made these moves only 10 games into the season. I’m not saying Darin Ruf should not see more time at first base against left-handers (Ruf deserves more playing time, period). I’m not saying Howard should not have been moved from the cleanup spot. I’m also not saying these moves weren’t coming. Howard has struggled against lefties for some time and he struggled hitting fourth last season. I’m saying I thought Sandberg might wait a little longer, unless he told Howard before the season he would have an incredibly short leash. I’m also a bit surprised he dropped him all the way to seventh.
After all, if there was such little faith in Howard’s ability to produce why start the season with him in the cleanup spot in the first place? It is kind of the same thing with Ben Revere. He dropped from first to eighth after just seven games. Cody Asche also was benched a couple games last week after a slow start.
Clearly Sandberg is trying to find a lineup combination that works, but hitting also involves confidence and right now hitters might be thinking, “Boy, if I go 0-for tonight I might be dropped in the lineup or benched.”
That is not why they Phillies aren’t hitting, but I also think it comes into play if players never know where they stand.
Ryan Howard takes the heat, but Chase Utley is struggling worse than Howard through the Phillies’ first seven games. In fact, this is the worst start of Utley’s career through the team’s first seven games.
“It’s just a matter of time with Chase,” Ryne Sandberg said after yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Mets. “I have no worries there. He gets quality at-bats. Chase will be fine. We just need to create some opportunities with men on base for those guys in the middle of the lineup.”
I’m not sure if Sandberg is saying Utley and Howard are struggling because the No. 1 and 2 hitters aren’t getting on base enough, but that should not affect Utley or Howard at the plate that much. Will Utley be better than he has been? Yes, although he has not homered since Aug. 10. It is the longest homerless drought of his career, stretching to 175 at-bats. But he posted a 1.297 OPS in Spring Training, so he was swinging the bat well recently.
Is he the only reason the Phillies are struggling offensively? Absolutely not. But he is a big reason why the team has scored just 16 runs in seven games.
Sandberg said he is not considering any significant changes to the lineup. I think that could come in time, but seven games into the season is not the time to bump Utley and Howard. I know nobody likes to hear this, but a big part of managing is managing people. You don’t take two long-time Phillies and in one day move them out of the spots they have been hitting their entire careers. They deserve a little more time. How much time? I’m not sure, but certainly more than seven games.
They received strong starting pitching performances in four of six games. The pitching staff as a whole has a 3.38 ERA, which is 11th in baseball. They showed some fight as Ryne Sandberg said following today’s 4-3 loss in 10 innings to the Nationals. The Phillies overcame a seventh-inning deficit to win Friday, an eighth-inning deficit to win in 10 innings Saturday and tied the game in the seventh inning yesterday. They gave up two runs in the 10th, but made things interesting with a run scored in the bottom of the inning.
But the gigantic red flag that flapped in the wind in Clearwater, Fla., planted itself at home plate in Philadelphia:
The Phillies are 28th in baseball with a .563 OPS, a percentage point or two ahead of the Mets (.563) and Twins (.515). They have scored just 16 runs in six games. Only the Twins (13) and Nationals (13) have scored fewer. They have hit just two home runs. Only the Twins (1) and Marlins (1) have hit fewer.
Everybody knew the offense would be an issue, which is why we have seen Sandberg use six lineups in seven games (including today’s game). He is searching for a winning combination, trying to find decent match ups and hot bats whenever they are available, although it will be interesting to see how he balances what is supposed to be a developmental year with his desire to win that night’s game. For example, he benched Cody Asche on Friday and Saturday for Andres Blanco. Sandberg said he liked the spark Blanco provided, but the Phillies should want to give Asche as many opportunities to play as possible this season. He could be part of the Phillies’ future, either at third base, left field or wherever. Blanco is not.
The same holds true for Ruf, who snapped an 0-for-11 slump with a pinch-hit homer this afternoon, and others.
A lot of people are unhappy with Ryan Howard, who struck out four times in four at-bats today. But you might as well relax because he is going to continue to play. First, who is he holding back? Ruf had 12 at-bats this week, which should be enough to show what he can do. And even if Maikel Franco were the hottest hitter in Triple-A, he would remain there until the end of May for the same reason Cubs prospect Kris Bryant opened the season in Triple-A: team control for an extra year. Second, it’s one week. I’m not suggesting Howard will return to MVP form with more time, but it doesn’t make sense to pull the plug on somebody owed $60 million just one week into the season.
The team is going to to struggle and Howard might struggle along with it, but he should get a good look.
He watched those efforts fail repeatedly last night in a 3-2 victory over the Nationals in 10 innings, but he remains as determined as ever to make it part of his team’s game.
The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in the third and fifth innings and twice tried to sacrifice bunt to advance their base runners. But Freddy Galvis bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the third and Ben Revere bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the fifth with the lead runner thrown out both times. (A batter earlier in the fifth, Cole Hamels reached base when he attempted to sacrifice a runner to second. He bunted the ball in front of the plate, but an errant throw to second allowed both runners to be safe.)
That’s 3-for-3 on bad bunts on a team that vowed bunting would be a big part of its game this season.
The Phillies also had a runner on second and no outs in the ninth, but Revere missed the sign to sacrifice bunt. He struck out swinging.
“We have to get the bunts down,” Sandberg said. “It’s a priority. We need to improve on that. We could have made it much easier on the offensive side of things with Cole out there on the mound and with the pitching we had.”
But the Phillies would have been better served swinging away in those situations … yes, even knowing the end result of Revere’s at-bat in the ninth. Baseball Prospectus’ Runs Expectations data from 2014 showed a team’s chances to score decreased when a team gave up an out to advance a runner.
Teams averaged 1.4023 runs with runners on first and second and no outs last season.
They averaged 1.2714 runs with runners on second and third and one out.
In other words, the Phillies had a 9.3 percent better chance to score with Galvis and Revere swinging away in the third and fifth innings. That might not seem like a lot, but every percentage point counts for a team that acknowledges it will struggle to score runs this season.
A single home run might not make a hitter hot, but Jeff Francoeur’s three-run home run to left-center field in the sixth inning of a 4-2 victory over the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park might earn him another start tonight. They were the first runs the Phillies scored this season, snapping a 14-inning scoreless streak following Monday’s shutout loss on Opening Day.
It was Francoeur’s first home run in the big leagues since June 16, 2013, when he played for the Royals.
“I hit (15) in El Paso last year,” Francoeur said. “It was nice. It was a lot of hard work last year. It makes you appreciate being back up here and getting those opportunities. And you don’t want to miss them. It’s a lot of fun.”
Francoeur hit a combined .204 with a .536 OPS in 256 plate appearances with the Royals and Giants in 2013 before spending most of 2014 with Triple-A El Paso. He signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies in November.
He hopes this is the beginning of something.
So do the Phillies. They need the help offensively.
“A lot of hitting is getting confidence,” Francoeur said. “You get beat down, man. 2013 took a lot out of me to be honest with you. I sucked and I thought I sucked and everybody told me I sucked. You start believing it. Even last year just go out in Triple-A, but just to have fun again and play again. Like I said, when I hit that one today it was pretty cool just for the whole fact that you grind and you battle in this game, and when you get an opportunity you try to make the most of it.”
Why? Because Ryne Sandberg actually had him in the lineup against the Red Sox.
Ruf has hit .251 with 21 doubles, one triple, 20 home runs, 48 RBIs and an .805 OPS in 447 career plate appearances with the Phillies. He is the only Phillies player with 400 or more plate appearances from 2012-15 with a .787 OPS or higher.
Ruf also has an .839 OPS against left-handed pitchers, which might help a power-starved team of mostly left-handed hitters.
But Ruf has had a difficult time finding an opportunity to play. The Phillies front office and coaching has often cite his defense in the outfield, although the organization just a couple years ago gave Delmon Young an opportunity to play every day in right field. They said then Young’s offense would outweigh his defensive shortcomings. In fact, they almost completely downplayed Young’s defensive issues.
They do not say the same about Ruf, but if he hits, who knows?
“If there’s a hot bat, I’ll have trouble taking a hot bat out of the lineup,” Sandberg insisted.
Baseball Prospectus’ 2015 player projections actually have Ruf as the fourth-most productive player on the Phillies roster with a 1.4 WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), despite only 334 projected plate appearances. Only Chase Utley (3.9), Carlos Ruiz (2.9) and Ben Revere (2.5) are projected to be better.
But Ruf has been relegated to backing up Revere in left field and Ryan Howard at first base. For whatever reason, the Phillies prefer Grady Sizemore (0.1 WARP projection) and Jeff Francoeur (-0.1 WARP projection) in right field over Ruf, who has played there in the past.
Sandberg said that could change.
“That’s an option,” he said. “I think there’s versatility and some spots wide open as far as that goes if a hitter wants to get hot. (Ruf) has a little bit of history in right field. Not a lot, but he actually didn’t have a lot of history in left field and I thought that he’s taken to that pretty well. I would say that remains an option for him.”
It should be noted that teams are not beating down the Phillies’ door to acquire Ruf. Scouts generally view him as a part-time player with some power. And I’m not saying Ruf is an All-Star in the making, a guy that would hit 35 home runs if only afforded the opportunity. But on a team begging for offense and talking about small ball like it it something that could actually work, semi-regular at-bats for a right-handeded power bat makes some sense.
If this was 2009 and the Phillies’ outfield included Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth there is no question Ruf should be on the bench. But Revere, Odubel Herrera and Sizemore might not combine for 10 home runs this season. Ruf can’t get some semi-regular at-bats knowing that?
A baseball source confirmed an ESPN.com report that the Phillies have agreed to terms with right-hander Dustin McGowan.
McGowan, 32, went 5-3 with a 4.17 ERA in 53 appearances (eight starts) last season with Toronto. He is 25-27 with a 4.57 ERA in 158 appearances (68 starts) over parts of seven seasons with the Blue Jays.
He had a 6.75 ERA in seven Cactus League appearances this spring with Dodgers, who released Tuesday. He would have made $1 million had he made the Dodgers.
The Phillies must finalize their Opening Day roster before 3 p.m. tomorrow. Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman entered the weekend as locks to make the Phillies’ bullpen. (There is no indication Giles is going to open the season on the DL, despite a recent back issue and his fastball hitting 94 mph today.) The team selected the contracts of Jeanmar Gomez and Cesar Jimenez today, putting them in the bullpen.
That makes six relievers.
Rule 5 Draft pick Andy Oliver had been outrighted to Triple-A, but he elected to become a free agent.
Right-hander Luis Garcia remains in camp. He has options remaining. The Phillies also could elect to carry an eight relief pitcher until they need a No. 5 starter April 12.
He said Monday following an 18-4 loss to the Pirates that he hoped to play his Opening Day lineup at least once before next Monday’s season opener against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. So today’s lineup appeared to offer some clues with the exception of backup catcher Cameron Rupp playing over Carlos Ruiz.
Left fielder Ben Revere and center fielder Odubel Herrera hit first and second, respectively, which made sense.
“It’s a possible combination,” Sandberg said.
Revere and Herrera both offer speed and the possibility of respectable on-base percentages atop the lineup. Revere hit .306 with a .325 on-base percentage and 49 stolen bases last season. Herrera, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick, won batting titles in the Double-A Texas League and Venezuelan Winter Ball. He entered Thursday hitting .328 with a .355 on-base percentage in the Grapefruit League.
“(Freddy) Galvis is another guy in the No. 2 spot,” Sandberg said. “He’s another option depending on that day’s lineup.”
Galvis has hit .218 with a .259 on-base percentage in 550 career plate appearances with the Phillies. He has hit .246 with a .291 on-base percentage in 2,631 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues.
Asked if Galvis has enough hitting ability to warrant the No. 2 spot, Sandberg said, “Playing the game the right way. Setting up base runners, moving the runners and doing some things for the three, four, five hitters. That’s what Freddy has done so well this spring. He fits that mold very well, too.”
But the occasional opportunity to potentially advance a base runner might not benefit the lineup as a whole. The No. 2 hitter in baseball last season averaged 731.8 plate appearances per team. The No. 8 hitter averaged 628 plate appearances.
That is a difference of 103.8 plate appearances in a season.
It is going to be very difficult for the Phillies to score runs this season. Every out counts. So it goes without saying they should have their best hitters at the top, whether or not they play small ball as effectively as Galvis.
Here is a look at the average plate appearances per spot in the lineup in MLB last season:
- 750.4 plate appearances
- 731.8 (-18.6 fewer plate appearances than spot above)
- 716.3 (-15.5)
- 700 (-16.3)
- 684.3 (-15.7)
- 665.1 (-19.2)
- 647.1 (-18)
- 628 (-19.1)
- 608 (-20)
Galvis has hit a bit better this spring. He entered today hitting .288 with a .309 on-base percentage. If he can keep up that pace perhaps some time hitting second works. But if he hits like he has in the past that spot is better reserved for Revere, Herrera or somebody else.
Here is an extended version of the Q&A:
Question: So for fans thinking about coming to the ballpark this year, what’s your sell?
Gillick: It’s going to be a little bit different. I think what I think is going to be exciting about it is the fact that we’re going to have some new young players on the field. As we’ve talked here in Spring Training, we had a core of players, the Rollins’, the Utleys, the Howards, Pat Burrell, etc., we’re trying to develop a new core. I think it’s exciting to see these young players develop. We think many of them will develop. There will be some that won’t develop. But again, I think it will be an interesting, energetic, energy filled club that we’re going to put on the field. I’m not saying we’re going to win every game and we’re going to have a challenge probably scoring runs, but I think it’s going to be a team that’s going to go out and certainly try to win every game.
Question: From what you’ve seen this spring, do you think the rebuild if further away than you anticipated, closer or still in that 2017-18 window?
Gillick: I think it’s probably somewhere in that window. We’ve had some good acquisitions, I think. Some of the trades that Ruben (Amaro Jr.) made over the winter have brought us some good pitching talent. We were fortunate enough to pick up two or three other people along the way. We don’t know if it’s going to work out, but certainly (Andy) Oliver and (Odubel) Herrera and (Elvis) Araujo, we’ve picked up in addition to the players we acquired in the (Jimmy) Rollins deal and the (Marlon) Byrd deal. They all look like they’re going to be in Phillies uniforms at some point.
Question: How do you assess the rebuilding process to date?
Gillick: The one thing that we really have to concentrate on is more bats and more position players. The players that we’ve received back in the different deals that we’ve made and the drafts we’ve made it’s more pitching. Pitching and defense are very important, but at the same time we’re going to have to score some runs. I think the next wave that we have hopefully it’ll bring us some position players.