Phillies

Roster review — Phillies just better than Mets, Marlins, Braves

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Roster review — Phillies just better than Mets, Marlins, Braves

The Nationals are obviously the class of the NL East. Most stars, best lineup, best rotation, much better bullpen than they opened 2017 with.

There's still a lot of offseason to go, but after the Phillies' Carlos Santana signing and Stage 1 of the latest Marlins fire sale, the Phils on paper measure up well with the other three teams in the division.

There still could be a trade in the Phillies' near future that turns an outfielder into a starting pitcher. If the Phils didn't have such a glaring need for starting pitching, one could see them entering 2017 with all three of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr in addition to LF Rhys Hoskins and figuring out the playing time based on hot/cold streaks and injuries. That need for arms to fill out the rotation, though, makes a trade more likely.

Knowing what we know now, let's take a trip around the NL East, excluding the clear favorites in Washington. This takes into account projected opening day lineups as of the first week of January. The Mets, for example, have Michael Conforto coming off shoulder surgery and Steven Matz recovering from elbow surgery. Neither is likely for the start of the season.

Infield
Phillies: 1B Carlos Santana, 2B Cesar Hernandez, SS J.P. Crawford, 3B Maikel Franco

Braves: 1B Freddie Freeman, 2B Ozzie Albies, SS Dansby Swanson, 3B Johan Camargo

Marlins: 1B Justin Bour, 2B Starlin Castro, SS J.T. Riddle, 3B Brian Anderson

Mets: 1B Dom Smith, 2B Wilmer Flores, SS Amed Rosario, 3B Asdrubal Cabrera

Freeman is by far the best player among these 16. Santana is next.

The Phillies have the best infield of this quartet, with above-average on-base skills at three positions and power at two. 

Outfield
Phillies: CF Odubel Herrera, LF Rhys Hoskins, RF Nick Williams/Aaron Altherr

Braves: CF Ender Inciarte, LF Nick Markakis, RF Ronald Acuña

Marlins: CF Christian Yelich, LF Martin Prado, RF Derek Dietrich

Mets: CF Juan Lagares, LF Yoenis Cespedes, RF Brandon Nimmo

The Marlins have the best centerfielder.

The Mets have the best leftfielder (though Hoskins could have something to say about that in Year 2).

Right field is between the Phillies and Braves. Acuña is a very intriguing 20-year-old who hit .325 with 21 homers, 31 doubles and 44 steals last season across the three highest minor-league levels.

In totality ... again, you have to give this edge to the Phillies. On-base skills at two of three outfield positions and power at two. 

Catcher
Phillies: Jorge Alfaro/Cameron Rupp/Andrew Knapp

Braves: Tyler Flowers

Marlins: J.T. Realmuto

Mets: Travis d'Arnaud

Realmuto is the stud of this group, an underrated catcher who's hit .290/.337/.440 the last two seasons with averages of 31 doubles and 14 homers. He also has good wheels for a catcher. He or Yelich would be next if the Marlins make another trade.

Alfaro has potential but a lot to prove, offensively and defensively. Still, he's not far behind the injury-prone d'Arnaud or longtime backup Flowers.

Rotation
Phillies: Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively

Braves: Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir

Marlins: Dan Straily, Wei-Yin Chen, Jose Ureña, Dillon Peters, Justin Nicolino

Mets: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo

First off, I'd be shocked if that is the Phillies' opening day starting rotation. At the very least, they'll grab one veteran with a better short-term upside than Pivetta or Lively.

Second ... this is clearly a drastic edge to the Mets. Everything — everything — went wrong for their pitching staff last season.

If the Phils add a decent No. 2 or No. 3 starter, they'd be on par with the Braves. Atlanta has more proven commodities, but let's not act like McCarthy or Kazmir are locks to make even 25 starts.

Bullpen (key arms only)
Phillies
: Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Luis Garcia

Braves: Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez

Marlins: Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough

Mets: Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins

Advantage goes to the Phillies after the offseason additions of Hunter and Neshek, two solid setup men you can pencil in for ERAs between 2.00 and 3.00. With the emergence of Garcia, the Phillies have a strong core four in the bullpen. They just still need a good lefty. (Can Adam Morgan carry a strong second half into 2018?)

The Mets have a solid back-end with Familia and Ramos, but the bullpens of the Braves and Marlins will likely struggle this season.

• • •

The Phillies' additions of Santana, Hunter and Neshek make a ton of sense when you look at the non-Nationals landscape of the NL East and consider the number of games there to be won — 57 in total against the Braves, Marlins and Mets.

The Phils went 39-37 against the division last season. That number should grow closer to the mid-40s in 2018.

Gabe Kapler eats a big steak, watches a big arm during trip to Reading

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Gabe Kapler eats a big steak, watches a big arm during trip to Reading

Gabe Kapler, manager of the 14-7 Phillies, took a busman’s holiday Monday and ventured up Rt. 422 to watch the Double A Reading Fightin Phils play the Akron Rubber Ducks. (Actual name.)

Before the game, Kapler enjoyed an “incredible” 20 oz. rib eye — medium rare — at one of Reading’s fine steakeries. (The name eluded him.) He then headed over to the ballpark, fedora perched stylishly atop his head, and watched the Fightins beat the Cleveland Indians’ Double A club, 8-4.

“I thought it was the right thing to do to support (Reading manager) Greg Legg and the work that he is doing,” Kapler said of his trip to Reading. “Our player development staff is so incredibly invested in what we’re doing here and they deserve a lot of credit for the start that we’re off to. Their fingerprints are all over this major-league club and we’re in this together. Player development is an unsung department in an organization and those guys deserve a lot of love and credit for what is happening here.”

Kapler was impressed with several of Reading's players.

“I saw some cool things,” he said before the big Phillies got back to work Tuesday night. “Zach Coppola and his effort on the bases. He drove a ball to left-center field with a beautiful swing. And he gave his body for the club on defense when he crashed into the wall full speed. That was really impressive.

“I saw (Zach) Green hit a home run.

“And Seranthony was sensational. It was nice to see him.”

Seranthony Dominguez, a 23-year-old power-armed right-hander from the Dominican Republic, is making the transition from starter to reliever this season. He has opened the season with 18 strikeouts and two walks in his first 12 innings. He pitched a perfect inning Monday night with Kapler looking on.

Dominguez, a potential closer down the road, had previously impressed Kapler during a stint in big-league camp this spring.

Kapler was asked if he believed Dominguez could help the big club this season.

“He’s definitely got the talent,” Kapler said. “He’s definitely got the demeanor. And one of the things I mentioned yesterday as I was watching him was when we went out for mound visits (during spring training), this was a guy that was completely composed, in some ways similar to the way Scott Kingery’s heartbeat is. He was always very cool, calm and collected. Then to come up and dial up 97, 98 (mph) with a nasty slider — those two things in combination lead me to believe he can make an impact.”

A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

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A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

The spectacular beginning of Rhys Hoskins’ major-league career can be traced to a conversation he had with two members of the Phillies’ player-development department back in September 2014.

Hoskins had arrived in the Phillies organization earlier that year as a fifth-round draft pick out of Sacramento State University. That summer, he made his professional debut at Williamsport of the New York-Penn League. He hit .237 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 70 games.

Phillies instructors liked what they saw of Hoskins that summer. They loved the potential. But something was missing.

“He didn’t consistently get his weight back,” director of player development Joe Jordan recalled. “His legs weren’t in his swing every night. The timing, the bat speed and swing path were all good, but they weren’t consistent every night.”

After the Williamsport season ended, Hoskins reported to the Florida Instructional League in Clearwater. He was hitting off a tee, by himself, in a batting cage early one morning when Jordan and Andy Tracy, the team’s minor-league hitting coordinator, approached him with an idea.

“What do you think about making a change to your stance?” Jordan asked Hoskins.

Hoskins, thoughtful, respectful, mature, coachable, eager to learn and just as eager to succeed, was all ears.

“I was open to anything,” he said.

On that September day in 2014, during a conversation in a batting cage in Clearwater, Hoskins’ left leg kick was born.

He has used it to trigger his swing ever since.

And …

“It’s made all the difference in my career,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

The Phillies, off to a 14-7 start, enjoyed an off day Monday. That provides us with a neat little checkpoint on Hoskins’ big-league career, which is just 71 games old, less than a half-season. He arrived in the majors on Aug. 10. Since then, he ranks first in the majors in RBIs (67) and pitches seen (1,376), third in walks (56), fourth in OPS (1.038) and times on base (126), and sixth in extra-base hits (36). His 22 home runs rank fifth in the majors in that span behind J.D. Martinez (27), Giancarlo Stanton (25), Aaron Judge (23) and Matt Olson (23).

Hoskins was no slouch at Sacramento State. He was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 2014, the year the Phillies drafted him. But even his college coach admitted last summer that the leg kick had taken Hoskins to a new level (see story).

There are a number of benefits to the leg kick, Hoskins said. Among them: It slows him down a little. If he gets his leg up early, it allows his eyes to work and that helps his pitch recognition. It helps his rhythm and timing. It gets him on his backside and gives him a loading mechanism that translates into power when he fires through the ball.

“I had no prior experience with it before Joe and Andy mentioned it,” Hoskins said. “I had no clue what I was doing with it. I was super spread out in my stance. I would get to a point where I would start my swing, stop and have to start it again. Those precious milliseconds are huge. I was late a lot. A lot. The room for error that I had was slim to none.”

When Jordan and Tracy first proposed the leg kick, they asked Hoskins to exaggerate it.

“The first thing Joe said was, ‘Try to hit your chin with your left knee,’” Hoskins recalled.

Hoskins experimented with the size of the kick for a couple of weeks in batting practice and in games. Then one day he hit a home run in a game against the Yankees’ instructional league team.

“The pitcher was throwing pretty hard and I was able to get to a ball that was in and I hit it for a home run,” Hoskins said. “I said to myself, ‘Hmmm, this is probably something to stick with.’”

Jordan and Tracy encouraged Hoskins to use the leg kick during his wintertime workouts after the 2014 season. He did. He made it part of him and his bat carried him on a quick trip through the Phillies’ minor-league system and into the middle of the big club’s batting order.

Amazing what one little bit of coaching can do when it finds a talented and willing student.

“Our entire staff watched Rhys that first summer and came up with a great plan for him,” Jordan said. “Those guys did it and Rhys nailed it. He took it home that winter, worked at it and it’s become his normal ever since.”