Phillies

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Another old friend joins Phillies' spring coaching staff

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AP Images

Another old friend joins Phillies' spring coaching staff

Another old friend is joining the Phillies' coaching staff as a guest instructor in Clearwater this spring.

Bobby Abreu will make his coaching debut, while Larry Bowa, Brad Lidge, Charlie Manuel, Dan Plesac and Mike Schmidt will all be back to assist in spring training.

Gabe Kapler has a lot of experience on his side as he prepares for his first camp as a major-league manager.

Abreu was a polarizing player in these parts, drawing criticism from fans for a perceived lack of hustle and not nearly enough praise for hitting .303/.416/.513 in his nine seasons with the Phils. He was one of the most complete players in the game during his peak from 1998 to 2006.

The Phillies' first workout with pitchers and catchers is Feb. 14 in Clearwater. Full-squad workouts begin on Feb. 19.

Big rise, big fall for Phillies prospects on Baseball America list

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AP/USA Today Images

Big rise, big fall for Phillies prospects on Baseball America list

Baseball America is out this week with its annual ranking of what it considers the top 100 prospects in the game.

The always interesting list offers a glimpse at just how fickle the ranking of prospects can be.

J.P. Crawford, who will take over at shortstop for the Phillies in the coming season, ranks 16th on the list, not far off from his standing as BA's 19th-ranked prospect a year ago, but dramatically higher than No. 92. That's where he was on BA's midseason list in July. Crawford had slipped that far after a poor first half. He recovered in the second half, played in the majors in September and ascended to the starting shortstop job after Freddy Galvis was traded in December. Now, he finds himself in better standing with BA.

The Phillies are well represented with five players on BA's list. Atlanta leads the way with eight players. Milwaukee, San Diego, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees have six each.

After Crawford, the Phillies come in at No. 25 with right-handed pitcher Sixto Sanchez, No. 31 with second baseman Scott Kingery, No. 84 with right-handed pitcher Adonis Medina, and No. 100 with outfielder Adam Haseley.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed strike thrower who projects to pitch at High A Clearwater with a good chance to get to Double A Reading in 2018.

Kingery, 23, projects as the Phillies' second baseman of the future. He will be in major-league spring-training camp, but is expected to return to Triple A for at least a couple of months before arriving in the majors sometime in 2018.

Medina, 21, is another power arm. He is expected to open at Clearwater.

Haseley, 21, was the Phillies' top pick in last year's draft. He was selected eighth overall out of the University of Virginia. He has strong on-base skills and projects to open the season at Clearwater, as well.

Notably absent from Baseball America's ranking is Mickey Moniak. The 19-year-old outfielder was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. He ranked 46th on the list a year ago, but struggled in his first pro season, hitting just .236 with a .284 on-base percentage in 123 games at Low A Lakewood, and dropped off the list. 

Phillies officials remain high on Moniak and he has plenty of time to climb the list. Nonetheless, third baseman Nick Senzel, picked by Cincinnati with the second pick in 2016 draft, one spot behind Moniak, ranks No. 7 on BA's list. 

Braves' outfielder prospect Ronald Acuna is No. 1.