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2018 record: 80-82, third Place in NL East
SI's 2019 prediction: 92-70, first in NL East
Key additions: RF Bryce Harper, OF Andrew McCutchen, C J.T. Realmuto, SS Jean Segura, RP David Robertson
Key departures: C Wilson Ramos, 1B Justin Bour, 1B Carlos Santana, INF Asdrúbal Cabrera, INF J.P. Crawford
1. RF Andrew McCutchen
2. SS Jean Segura
3. LF Bryce Harper
4. 1B Rhys Hoskins
5. C J.T. Realmuto
6. CF Odúbel Herrera
7, 3B Maikel Franco
8. 2B César Hernández
INF Scott Kingery
C Andrew Knapp
OF Nick Williams
RHP Aaron Nola
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Nick Pivetta
RHP Zach Eflin
RHP David Robertson (closer)
RHP Seranthony Dominguez
RHP Hector Neris
RHP Pat Neshek
RHP Tommy Hunter
LHP Adam Morgan
LHP Edubray Ramos
RHP Juan Nicasio
RHP Vince Velasquez
Injured list: OF Roman Quinn
*injured, may not make Opening Day roster
Breakout Player:Aaron Nola was last year’s biggest breakout, going from above-average starter to Cy Young contender. Nick Pivetta is unlikely to make such a huge leap, but a big stride could be in his future in 2019. His peripherals are strong—a 27.1% strikeout rate and a swinging-strike rate of 12.0%, the latter of which ranked 18th among all qualified starters last year—and his stuff is nasty, with a fastball that sits at 94.8 mph and a curveball that spins more than a drunk on a merry-go-round. He has real upside.
Bust Player:Jake Arrieta’s steady decline continued last year, as he put up his worst ERA (3.96), ERA+ (105) and strikeout rate (19.1%) since he left the Orioles. An abbreviated spring thanks to his late signing probably didn’t help, but his peripherals are worrisome; his sinker doesn’t have as much downward bite and he hasn’t recovered the two miles per hour in fastball velocity he lost between 2016 and ’17. Arrieta’s days as an ace seem behind him.
Appreciate This Man!:César Hernández’s 2018 season was a poor one overall thanks largely to a rough second half (.228/.324/.333), though the veteran second baseman was apparently playing through a broken foot that whole time. Fully healthy, he’s a dependable presence at the keystone for the Phillies as a high-contact hitter with good plate discipline and should make for a spark at the bottom of the order.
A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan:No manager in baseball is under more pressure than Gabe Kapler. In his rookie campaign, he implemented a number of analytically-informed ideas, from aggressive shifting to chasing platoon advantages in save situations to all but eliminating sacrifice bunts by anyone but pitchers. Kapler’s willingness to buck convention was assailed by the media, the fans (who booed him at the home opener), and even his own No. 2 starter, Jake Arrieta. He wasn’t helped by a late-season free fall from the division lead to under .500 in just six weeks. For his sophomore season, Kapler has been gifted four new All-Stars in his lineup, including a pair of former MVPs in Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, and a new bullpen piece in David Robertson. The expectations in Philly are higher than they’ve been since 2011, and if the team doesn’t meet them, the blame will fall on Kapler.
MLB.TV Rating: 8.8
How the Bryce Harper Show plays out will be fascinating to watch, particularly now that he’s joined a team with real World Series hopes. All eyes will be on MLB’s resident phenom to be a superstar from Day One in Philadelphia. But the rest of the supporting cast is well worth your time too, from Nola on the mound to Rhys Hoskins’ nightly home run derby.
Keep an Eye Out For...Harper’s arrival creates a bit of a squeeze in the outfield for the Phillies’ homegrown outfield prospects—namely Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens. Both Williams and Altherr could make the team as reserves, while Quinn could enter the picture as the regular centerfielder if he can stay healthy and if Odubel Herrera continues to disappoint. Pitching-wise, trading Sixto Sanchez to Miami as part of the package for J.T. Realmuto robs the Phillies of their No. 1 pitching prospect, but young righty Adonis Medina will take up his mantle as the system’s resident top arm and best name.
A rival scout analyzes the Philadelphia Phillies heading into the 2019 MLB season.
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
Starting pitching depth and consistency, whether all those kids with good arms can take a step forward. A side issue, any time you bring in this many new players, developing the right chemistry is important.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
Jake Arrieta was last year. When you pay $25 million a year and you've got a big start in Atlanta late in the year and you last two innings, that's not what you paid for. On the position player side, they invested a decent amount of money in Odubel Herrera and the returns have been really bad because of his inconsistencies, a lack of hustle and boneheaded mistakes.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
César Hernández. The Phillies hold him in pretty high value, and it's one of the reasons they haven't been able to trade him, because the rest of the industry doesn't see the value in him. But this kid can do a lot of things on the field. He still lacks consistency, but he's a pretty darn good player. He gets looked past all the time.
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
Rhys Hoskins. He has a chance of being a middle-of-the-order impact bat. He's got great makeup, and getting him out of the outfield, he should really flourish, especially now with the protection he has in that lineup.
What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?
Maikel Franco. Three years ago, he was being mentioned in the crop of young third basemen with Manny Machado, Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado. He hasn’t really flourished at all. He had some holes, and [pitchers] exploited them. I think he got a little complacent after the first good year, he gained some weight. I also know that the Phillies really don't like him because he's not a disciplined hitter. That's something they stress and try to teach. Late last year, he was leading the team in home runs and couldn't get on the field the last two or three weeks, which shocked me.
Who gets the most out of his talent?
Aaron Nola and J.T. Realmuto. I have a report on Nola, the first time I ever laid eyes on him, that I put him as a possible Greg Maddux-type starter who knows how to dominate hitters, has unbelievable poise, and an unbelievable feel for pitching. When you break his stuff down, he is throwing a little bit harder because he has gotten stronger. But when he was coming up, he was a 90–93 [mph] guy, but now he's more 91–95, and his curveball continually gets better. He's developed a plus changeup to go with it. His command is off the charts. It's not like he's throwing 97. He doesn't have Justin Verlander's stuff, but he can be every bit as dominating because of his ability to pitch, and he understands how to use change of speed and location and move eye levels. That's what gets him into the Cy Young [race]. His stuff's not even close to Jacob deGrom's either.
Realmuto is very athletic and brings a ton of energy to their catching. I'm a big believer that catchers make their pitchers better, and Realmuto reinforces a good pitcher, he gives them shit when they make a bad pitch, and he takes control of the whole game. He can throw. At the plate, he doesn't give away at-bats. He's a really good baseball player. I'll take Realmuto over Gary Sanchez any day.
Who gets the least out of his talent?
Herrera and Vince Velasquez. I saw Velasquez’s 16-strikeout game three years ago, you're like, ‘this is Verlander-type stuff’ and you're going, ‘holy s---, this guy's going to be really good.’ But every year he's pushing a 5.00 ERA. Some guys never figure out how to pitch. It's not about how hard you throw every pitch, it's where you throw it and sequencing them and being smart enough to make smart pitches. He's just never developed in that area.
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
Seranthony Domínguez. Nola, when he's right, can stiffen you up at 95 and then throw a well-above-average curveball that buckles your ass and come back and ride you up in the zone with 95 again, and you go, ‘holy s---.’ But Domínguez's pure stuff is pretty incredible.
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
Nola and Realmuto.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
They just bought one guy [Bryce Harper], and Hoskins can light you up pretty good too.
Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.
Nola and Hoskins.
Name the guy (or guys) on this team you would never want in your clubhouse
Herrera. I'm an old-school guy who likes guys who run balls out and run off and on the field and are focused on playing the game the right way. From what I understand, it was a controversial signing internally. What they've gotten out of it is a [player] who's hurt them more than helped them.
Whose effort could use a jolt?
Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?
Bryce Harper and Nola. Harper craves the spotlight but he also relishes it, and he performs in it. I think he chose Philly because he told a mutual friend of ours that he could hit 45–50 [homers] a year there. He is a baseball historian. He wants to be that historical all-time player. I think he's going to play hard. The only thing is that when he goes bad, those fans will turn on him. They can be brutal.
Last year's [Nationals] hitting coach got him back into trying to be a good hitter, and if you look at his splits, be became a better hitter during the second half. [Phillies hitting coach John Mallee] is a big launch angle guy, and I worry, because Harper is a controlled violence guy. He's had the most violent swing, but it's under control, and he's always had the ability to hit the ball really hard to all fields. Last year, he was trying to pull everything. Maybe that was symptomatic of knowing that he was going into free agency and wanted to be the first $40 million-a-year player. But he was a better hitter in the second half. He has a tremendous eye. He'll take a walk, and he's not afraid to hit with two strikes either.
Who don't you want in that situation?
On the mound would be Nick Pivetta. He has really good stuff, but I think he gets overly anxious in big-pitch situations and makes a lot of bad pitches. [At the plate] we're going to bring Odubel up and pitch to him, because he's going to get himself out.
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
I really like Enyel De Los Santos, the kid they got from San Diego for Freddy Galvis. If one of their starters falters, he can step in and do a really good job, or if someone gets hurt in their bullpen. God forbid, if Realmuto got hurt, I thought they did a good job signing Drew Butera. He'll stabilize the game for them.
Is the current manager one you would hire to run your club?
No. Hopefully Gabe Kapler makes some adjustments and lets his players play a little bit more. I think he micromanages players and the game. He doesn't let it breathe. I scouted them [in September] last year, and he was f------ Dr. Frankenstein when he got a 40-man roster. It was ridiculous some days. He pinch-hit for Scott Kingery before he got his first at-bat in the game one time, which is absolutely horrible for a kid’s confidence. He started matching up in the third inning in games where starters had given up one run. Let the game breathe! He hardly watches the game because he's got so much data in front of him.
What is the ceiling for this team this year? What about the next three years?
They're definite contenders for the playoffs all three years.They're in a good place. I'm not a big Matt Klentak fan, but I'm also intellectually honest enough to admit he did a really good job this winter. I thought acquiring Jean Segura for what he gave up was a really good deal, and being able to sneak Realmuto in was a really good deal. And David Robertson adds some veteran bullpen depth to go along with Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. That's a really deep bullpen, and you need that with this lunatic who manages.
Emptying the Notebook:
I think you're going to get what you got last year with Andrew McCutchen: a very professional at-bat and a guy who's still a good outfielder. Their defense was so horrendous last year, and now it won't be. You put Harper and McCutchen in the corners, you have Herrera, and they have the young centerfielder, Roman Quinn, who if you put him out there can go get the ball as good as anybody in the game. They also have Aaron Altherr who can play centerfield better than Herrera. McCutchen is certainly going to help them, he just doesn't do the big damage he used to ... From a developmental standpoint, it may help Kingery to go back to Triple A, play second base every day, hope César Hernández gets off to a decent start and move him for a starting pitcher, and you can bring Kingery up when he's more confident. He makes the team, they give him that big contract, which I didn't understand, and he's trying to learn how to play six or seven different positions every day. Then J.P. Crawford gets hurt, and you go, well, I know you haven't played shortstop since high school, but now you're going to be our everyday shortstop, and now you have to learn how to hit in the big leagues. It's a hard thing to do. You just don't do that to a kid you love.
Nick Williams is having a pretty good spring, and it's going to be between him and Altherr as to who makes the team as an extra outfielder. It'll be interesting to see what they do with [Williams], because he does have some ability, but I do know that he hates the manager and hates what the manager did to him late in the year, not playing him when he thought he was capable of playing. He's a streaky hitter, but when he gets hot, he can do some damage ... I'm a Zach Eflin fan. That's another situation that was the beginning of their downfall last year. He'd had a great June and July, they went on a west coast trip and optioned him to Triple A and pissed him off because they had a couple off days and Kapler wanted 20 pitchers in the bullpen to show the Dodgers how many moves he could make, I guess. Eflin got pissed off and was never the same the rest of the year. But he has really good stuff. If he and Pivetta and Velasquez actually learned how to pitch a little bit, this could be a team you don't want to face. Those guys on a given night are throwing 95–97 with some pretty good secondary stuff, and they can overmatch you if they stay out of the middle of the zone and stay ahead ... I think Hector Neris will add to that depth to get from the sixth to the ninth every night. You really respect the fact that he was the closer at the beginning of the year, got sent to Triple A, and he showed up the next day and pitched. He went down there and made some really nice adjustments. He's at his best when he only uses his fastball and his splitter, and I think he's finally learned not to get beat with his third-best pitch.