Having a glut of talented young players at a given position is never a bad thing for a baseball team. Especially in the game’s new era, young players are the game’s most precious commodity. Players coming off their primes tend to drop off harder than players did at the height of the Steroid Era, and the economic structure of the game allows teams to pay a productive youngster peanuts compared to established veterans. Having a lot of young players at one spot allows a team to take advantage of the most productive years of the ones they like the best while dangling the rest as trade bait to upgrade the team.
The Philadelphia Phillies have such a situation right now in the outfield. Between the big leagues and the minors, the Phils have almost a dozen young outfielders that have the potential to be—or already are—impact players.
That’s a fantastic position in which to be. While we must remember the old adage that no prospect is ever certain to produce at the major league level, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak will have his pick of outfielders to plug into the major league roster while having plenty of ammunition for the trade market should the opportunity arise.
Who will the Phillies keep and who will they dangle to the rest of the league? Let’s look a little deeper to find out.
The glut of outfielders starts at the major league level, where Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, and Rhys Hoskins will jockey for playing time.
We’ll get Herrera out of the way first because he’s not going anywhere. After three years in the show, the former Rule 5 draft pick has developed into one of the game’s better center fielders and he’s on a team-friendly contract that will pay him a maximum of $49m through 2023. The only way he leaves the Phillies is if South Jersey boy Mike Trout decides he wants some home cooking in 2021.
It’s the corners where things get interesting. The acquisition of Carlos Santana to play first base has again pushed Hoskins, a natural first-sacker himself, back into left field. Hoskins also won’t be going anywhere for the time being, which means Altherr and Williams will battle for playing time in right. A platoon currently seems like the most likely solution, but the rotation-needy Phillies were heavily connected with several pitchers in the trade market, from Mike Montgomery to Chris Archer and beyond, and a good young outfielder with a major league track record, however small, is a good thing with which to start the conversation.
But it’s not just the major league roster. The farm has been turning out a bumper crop of outfielders. According to MLBPipeline, three of the Phillies’ top 10 prospects, and six of their top 20, are outfielders. That includes a trio of top 10 draft picks in Cornelius Randolph (10th overall in 2015), Mickey Moniak (first overall in 2016,) and Adam Haseley (eighth overall last summer), as well as long-term prospects Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens (both second rounders in 2011 and 2012, respectively) and 19-year-old international free agent Jhailyn Ortiz, who vaulted up the prospect list this winter after an excellent season as one of the youngest players in the New York-Penn League.
That’s a lot of dudes for only three places in the major-league starting lineup.
Who stays, who goes?
With so many good young outfielders, and with the team seemingly turning the corner on their rebuild, it’s almost certain that some of these players will be used as components in trades to add some of the final pieces to the process.
So who should be the ones to go? Between the two likeliest candidates for trade on the major league roster, it’s a tough call. Altherr has a longer track record, and his approach at the plate is much better than Williams’ at this stage. Last year, Altherr struck out 104 times and walked 34 times in 107 games. Williams struck out 97 times and walked only 20 in 83 games at the major league level and had 90 strikeouts to 16 walks in 78 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Williams was incredibly successful last year given those strikeout numbers, slashing .288/.338/.473 with 12 home runs, 14 doubles, four triples, and 55 RBI. But those numbers surprised people given how much he struck out and are questions as to whether or not that kind of production is sustainable if he continues to whiff at such a high rate. He probably has a higher ceiling than Altherr but unless he changes his approach, he likely has a lower floor as well.
Klentak will have to decide which of those he will gamble on. If it were me, I’d keep Williams and bet on his development. If he doesn’t pan out over the next few years, Ortiz, who MLBPipeline estimates will be MLB-ready in 2021, could be waiting atop the Phillies’ prospect list.
Ortiz is the only one of the minor league outfielders that should be considered untouchable for the time being. He’s young and still needs to cook on the farm for a while yet. If you consider trading him, it’s better to do so later when his development gives a better idea of what he might be worth. He could also become a puzzle piece when Santana’s contract ends and Hoskins potentially returns to his natural position.
As for the rest, it’s hard to argue against including any of them in a major deal right now. Cozens and Quinn are closest to being Major League ready—particularly Quinn, who showed flashes as a September call-up in 2016 before injury ruined his chance at a roster spot last season, while Randolph, Moniak, and Haseley are all exercises in potential that can add somebody to a trade deal.
One thing is certain: the Phillies have a lot of options in the outfield for the foreseeable future—and for a rebuilding team options are the best thing to have.
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