Oh how the times have changed. Just seven years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies won a league high 102 games. Since then, they have not won more than 81 games in a season. Five straight division titles from 2007-2011 have been followed by one mediocre season after another. Despite this, the Philadelphia faithful have stuck by their boys in pinstripes and have adopted the city mantra first spoken by the Philadelphia 76ers; trust the process. That process just may begin to payoff for the Fightin’ Phils in 2018.
After shedding the core of their 2008 World Series winning squad, the Phillies are finally set to begin a new era in 2018. The fans got a glimpse of what is to come at the end of 2017, and it is thanks in big part to the young man pictured above. Rhys Hoskins is the name, and after what he did to start his career last August, you should absolutely remember him. Hoskins burst onto the scene in the latter stages of last season, crushing 18 home runs in his first 34 games in the bigs. He “failed” to hit a home run in the final 16 games of 2017, but you can’t really ask for a better start to a career than he had. The baseball world has high expectations for Hoskins in 2018, and I’d bet he can handle the fame.
Hoskins isn’t the only bright spot on this young Phillies squad, as new manager Gabe Kapler has tons of young, raw talent to mess with. Philly has had one of the best farm systems in baseball the past couple of years and it seems that their top prospects are finally ready to all come together at Citizens Bank Park.
In the infield, the Phillies have four guys who if all are clicking at the right time could surprise some people. One of the surprise signings of the offseason was that of first baseman Carlos Santana. Santana has spent his entire 8-year career in Cleveland, but decided to take his talents to the City of Brotherly Love for the next 3 seasons. You can book Santana for 20 home runs and 80 RBIs this season, as he will undoubtedly bring a boost to the Phillies lineup. Santana’s signing was a surprise to many, as first base is the primary position for Rhys Hoskins, but Hoskins has seen some time in the outfield throughout his career, so he should have a smooth adjustment as the Phillies’ everyday left fielder.
At second base, the Phillies have an interesting decision to make. Cesar Hernandez will be penciled in as the Opening Day starter, and while he has shown the past two seasons that he is a more than reliable option, prospect Scott Kingery has shown he deserves a crack at the starting job. Kingery had a great season in the minors in 2017 and has turned quite a lot of heads in spring training. He boasts a .378 batting average and a 1.086 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in the Grapefruit League this spring. However, if the Phillies decide to wait until after April 13th to call him up, they will gain another year of control on Kingery. This is a no-brainer decision, but once he is called up, it will be hard to keep him off of the diamond after what he has shown this spring.
The left side of the infield is already set in stone for Philadelphia. At shortstop, long awaiting top prospect JP Crawford will finally be the everyday man. Crawford got a taste of the big leagues last September, and he seems more than ready to take over for Freddy Galvis, whom the Phillies traded to San Diego in the offseason.
The hot corner is occupied by the same man that has held it down for the past two seasons, Maikel Franco. As a Phillies fan, I like Franco, but damn does he make it hard sometimes. He often shows that he has all-star caliber skills, then other times he looks like a deer in headlights. With Manny Machado becoming a free agent next season and the Phillies being in contention to get him, you have to think this is Franco’s last shot to prove he can be the third baseman of the future in Philly. Phillies legend and greatest third baseman of all-time (slide into my DMs for debate) Mike Schmidt has high praise for Franco, and still sees MVP potential in him. Who am I to go against Michael Jack?
Behind the plate will be another young and promising player in Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro got the call-up last September and raked, batting .318 with 5 home runs and 14 RBIs. Alfaro has shown he can be a solid backstop in this league, and the Phillies hope they have their next Carlos Ruiz in the young Columbian.
The outfield for Philadelphia will be seen as a strong suit in 2018. We have already discussed the impact that Hoskins brings in left, but don’t count out the other two manning the outfield.
Odubel Herrera will command the outfield in center for a fourth straight season and will look to build on three impressive seasons to start his career. Herrera gets a bad wrap for being lazy sometimes, but he has shown that he is deserving of his 5 year, $30 million extension he signed back in 2016 with a .288 batting average and .344 on-base percentage in his short career.
Right field could be split between two promising guys who probably won’t mind splitting time, as long as one is trying to outshine the other. There isn’t much that separates Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr, as both of them have shown they are capable of being an everyday right fielder. Williams will more than likely get the bulk of the starts in right, making Altherr the de facto 4th outfielder, which if you’re the Phillies, isn’t a bad option.
The Phillies starting rotation has been nothing short of pathetic the past few years, but fans have high expectations for the staff in 2018. It starts at the top with ace Aaron Nola (pictured above). Nola has proved he belongs at the top of the rotation in Philly, and will be the workhorse of this staff for years to come. It would not surprise me if Nola finished top 10 in NL Cy Young voting this season, as he has shown flashes of brilliance on the mound, and appears to finally be 100% healthy for 2018.
Nola is followed by one of the biggest splashes of the offseason, 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta (pictured below). Arrieta comes to Philly on a 3 year deal following a 4 year run with the Cubs that is as impressive as any you will ever see. In those 4 years, Arrieta made 119 starts, had a 2.73 ERA, struck out 756 batters and as aforementioned, ran away with the 2015 NL Cy Young Award. Jake the Snake won’t be asked to throw 200 innings for the Phillies and won’t be asked to throw a no-hitter every start. He just has to go out there every 5th day and provide quality starts, as well as mentor the young arms in the organization.
After the one-two punch of Nola and Arrieta, there are some question marks in the rotation. Jerad Eickhoff was a shoe in to be the 3rd starter, but a strained lat muscle will keep him out until at least May. That leaves Vince Velasquez as the three to open the season, and while he has shown ace stuff in the past, injuries have stopped him from showing his full potential. Hopefully 2018 will be a healthy year for Vinny V.
As for the 4th and 5th starters, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, and Ben Lively will fight for the final two spots before Opening Day. My guess is that Lively will be the number four starter, and it’s anyone’s guess who wins the final spot in the rotation. All three guys will probably make the 25-man roster, it is just a matter of who will get starts and who will be in the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen briefly, there aren’t many expectations for these guys. The past few years have been awful from the bullpen, so the fans are really just looking for some consistency. Hopefully Hector Neris can solidify himself as the closer, and the Phillies will thank their relievers for helping them win games rather than blaming them for losing games. Oh how I miss 2008 Brad Lidge.
All in all, the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies could and should surprise a lot of people around baseball. They have a young core that is hungry to win, key veterans that will help lead in the locker room and a fiery new manager that is ready to go to war with his guys. Phillies baseball should finally be watchable in 2018 and I could not be more excited for it. A lot of “experts” are pencilling the Phillies in for an above .500 season and possibly a wild card berth after the signing of Jake Arrieta. I like to keep my expectations a bit more realistic and would be happy with a 77-80 win season. Regardless of the record come seasons end, like Harry always told us, we will forever have high hopes.