The rebuild of the Philadelphia Phillies, belatedly begun in late 2014, has been painful at times. They had the worst record in the league in 2015, and will have one of the top three picks in the draft next summer, thanks in part to an awful month of May that saw the team go 6-22.
But there have been some positives this season. Going into their final series of the year against the New York Mets the Phils have gone 35-37 since the All Star break, and 21-18 since August 18. This has been largely due to the influx of young talent from the farm system, which was finally restocked when the teardown began and has started to bear fruit.
Over the course of 2017 the Phillies have put together the beginnings of a core that, if it reaches its ceiling, could reach the heights of the Rollins-Utley-Hamels-Howard group that spurred the team’s halcyon days of 2007-11.
How do these young players fit into the Phillies’ future? Let’s take a look at some of the players who broke out this year—plus one bonus prospect—and see how they will be slot in next season and beyond.
All stats are as recorded going into the Phillies’ game with the Mets on October 1.
1 Rhys Hoskins
Rhys Hoskins had spent a season and a half obliterating minor league pitching before making his Major League debut against the Mets on August 10. Between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2016 and 2017, he hit 67 home runs and drove in 207 runs. He wasn't an all-or-nothing hitter either, hitting .283 over that span.
Hoskins started his career 1-13 in his first four games. The next day, August 14, in PETCO Park in San Diego, he hit his first two major league homers.
In the next 29 games, he hit 16 more. That's the fastest to 18 home runs (34 games, 145 plate appearances) in the history of baseball. He was the second-fastest player to 25 RBI (19 games) since the statistic was made official in 1920. Only one player in history drove in more runs (43) in his first 39 games—Albert Pujols. The man who used to be second on that list? Joe DiMaggio.
Hoskins has cooled off in the last two weeks of the season, but he has still come up big when it counts. In last week's four-game series against the Dodgers, he was 4-11 with two doubles, four walks and 6 RBI, including a clutch three-run double in the second game of the series that clinched the win.
Hoskins was never going to put up the kind of inhuman numbers he started with forever, but he has the hitting approach to be an elite power hitter for years. His emergence has made Tommy Joseph expendable. Barring something unforeseen he'll play first base for the Phillies for a long time to come.
2 Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola began his third season in the majors as a question mark. He was fantastic in the first half of 2016 before falling off a cliff and ending the year on the DL with arm issues. This year would be make-or-break. Could he stay healthy and effective?
While Nola did land on the disabled list again this year, the problem was his back, not his arm. When he returned from the DL, he showed why the Phillies drafted him in the first round in 2014.
Nola will finish the year 12-11 with a 3.54 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 168 innings pitched. He's struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings and strikes out 3.76 batters for every one he's walked. Over two months from June 22 to August 18, Nola turned in 10 straight starts giving up two runs or fewer—the first Phillie to accomplish that feat since the pitcher's mound was moved to 60'6" in 1893.
Boasting one of the better curveballs in the game—last year Fangraphs labeled it the best—Nola, who was considered a safe bet coming out of LSU, is now flashing major upside and could turn into a bona fide ace. Don't expect to see him as next year's Opening Day starter—the Phils have a history of keeping players who are bearing down on salary arbitration away from that honor to gain more leverage in hearings—but if he keeps on this trajectory, he'll be not just the best pitcher on the Phillies, but one of the best in the game.
3 Nick Williams
Not many people expected Nick Williams to be up for long when he was called up to make his major league debut on June 30. With Howie Kendrick on the DL, Williams was expected to be up for some experience and then sent back down once the veteran came back healthy.
The 24-year-old outfielder and crown jewel of the Cole Hamels trade quickly changed everyone's plans.
Williams has turned in an outstanding rookie season. His triple slash of .285/.334/.463 through 80 games is truly impressive considering he's struck out 90 times in 329 plate appearances. He's hit 11 home runs and driven in 52.
What's remarkable is those numbers are almost identical to his stats in 78 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley: .280/.328/.511, 15 homers, 48 RBI, 90 strikeouts in 306 plate appearances.
Players with Williams' long swing and propensity to strike out tend to struggle to make the step up to major league pitching. The fact that he has had such a successful season even after playing enough games for scouts to develop a book on him speaks to just how talented he is. He's adjusted to the league's adjustments to him, and when he hits the ball it jumps off his bat.
If he can maintain his batting numbers and bring a little more power to the table he can turn into an elite corner outfielder. Barring any major trades, Williams will be locked in to that position at Citizens Bank Park for years.
4 Aaron Altherr
It's been a wait for Altherr, but the Phillies' patience seems to have finally paid off.
After flashing in a cup of coffee in 2015, the Phils fully intended to give Altherr the starting job in left field in '16, but he tore a ligament in his wrist in Spring Training, forcing him to miss the entire first half of the season. He struggled mightily on his return, slashing .197/.300/.288 with only four homers and 22 RBI—fewer and as many, respectively, in 57 games as he had had in 39 the year before.
With the signing of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders this offseason it was unclear where Altherr would fit in to get playing time, but an early season injury to Kendrick saw him get an opportunity, and he ran with it. He hit .300 with six homers and 22 RBI in May, and over the entire season has exhibited impressive abilities in the clutch. According to Baseball Reference, his performance in high-leverage situations this season has been exemplary—a .333/.402/.667 slash line with six homers and 26 RBI. For the year he's slashed .272/.342/.518 with 19 homers and 63 RBI.
Altherr's future is a bit murkier than that of Williams. If the Phillies' outfield stays pat this winter, Altherr is the obvious starter in left. But if the Phils start getting more aggressive with trades—there are major rumors involving the Marlins' Christian Yelich—he could find himself on the bench or even on another team. He's certainly an asset for the team, but where he'll wind up isn't 100% clear.
5 J.P. Crawford
It's been a roller coaster year for J.P. Crawford.
The shortstop entered the year as a top-level prospect. Baseball America ranked him #12 coming into the year, MLB #7 and Baseball Prospectus #4.
But all was not well for Crawford. He had played the majority of the 2016 season with bone chips in his knee and missed 10 more days in June with a leg injury. All that led to a lot of on-field struggles. He hit just .229 in 615 Triple-A at bats ranging from his midsummer promotion last year to July 12.
That was the day that Baseball America dropped him almost 80 spots in their midseason prospect rankings and the publication's editor, John Manuel, told a CSN podcast that they no longer saw Crawford as an impact player.
Crawford took that as motivation, and, finally healthy, hit .292 with 13 home runs the rest of the season until he was brought to the big leagues as a September call-up. The highlight of his season was an inside-the-park grand slam that was punctuated by a crazy slide that got him under the tag after the throw to the plate beat him by a mile.
Crawford has hit .209 against his first taste of big league pitching, but has shown fantastic defensive skills—especially when you consider that he's played at three different positions since his debut in an effort to get him at bats.
Crawford's strong second half has re-solidified his place in the organization, but where he goes from here is a bit of a question. It's always been taken for granted that he will replace Freddy Galvis someday, but Galvis is a Gold Glove-caliber defender and has improved as a hitter this year.
He has played 13 games at third base (as opposed to nine combined at short and second), a clear sign that the Phillies are challenging Maikel Franco to improve next year. Crawford has the defensive ability to play third, but he doesn't have the power traditionally associated with the position, so it will be interesting to see whether the Phillies accept that as a trade-off.
Crawford certainly has a future in Philly, but it may not be fully clear until we get a better picture of where a few other players might be after this offseason.
6 Jorge Alfaro
Another part of the Cole Hamels trade, Alfaro took a few years to cook in the minors after the deal, but he's finally looking like the Phillies' catcher of the future.
Called up after Andrew Knapp fractured his hand in early August, Alfaro has slashed .318/.360/.514 with five home runs and 14 RBI. What's stood out most is just how strong this kid is—most of his homers have been tape measure jobs.
Alfaro still has things to learn about defense and handling a pitching staff, but as a hitter he looks to have progressed quite a bit. He's likely to be on the major league roster out of Spring Training next year, either as the backup or the starter.
7 Scott Kingery
And now for our bonus prospect.
That Scott Kingery is attracting attention on the farm isn't a shock—he was a second-round pick in the 2015 draft. But the leap he's made from 2016 to 2017 is astounding.
Kingery made a splash in Spring Training, when he hit .286 with two homers and three RBI in 10 games. He started the season at Double-A Reading and obliterated the Eastern League, slashing .313/.379/.608 with 18 home runs and 44 RBI in 69 games. He also hit 18 doubles and five triples. He more than earned his promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and when he got to Allentown, he picked up right where he left off. He hit safely in eight of his first 10 games for the Iron Pigs, and hit two homers in his second game against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He put together two extended hitting streaks, a 16-gamer in July and, starting the day after that one was snapped, a 23-gamer that lasted almost the entire month of August.
The thing that stands out about Kingery is the development of his power. Last year between High-A Clearwater and Reading his slugging percentage stood at .388. This year he slugged .530 between Reading and Lehigh Valley. His home run numbers dropped when he left the offense-heavy Eastern League, but his doubles and triples were about the same.
Kingery's performance had fans clamoring to see him on the Phillies this year, but that was never going to happen. The team doesn't need to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter, so there was no point in putting him on the 40-man roster when another prospect could be protected. But if he keeps things going he's going to be in the major leagues next year. Whether that is at second base, where he is currently blocked by Cesar Hernandez, or another position (third?), we'll see him in a Phillies uniform in 2018, and probably for a long time after that.
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