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The SportsTalk Shop: Three Phillies Issues

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Last week we took a look at the Nationals’ first 30 games of the season, analyzing their first six weeks and previewing the road ahead.  Clearly, the Phillies have a different set of priorities and goals for this season.  There has  been some positive news…and the next few months still could be very interesting as we watch the franchise’s “future” unfold.

Here are three observations about the Phillies season:

  • Despite the record, there is reason for optimism, among both young and older players!  First, the play of Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera has given fans hope that examples of a future winning ball club is not years off in the distance in the prospects currently in the lower-to-middle minor league levels.  Galvis, Hernadez and Herrera all found themselves entering spring training in various “play-well-or-go-home” modes.  Galvis struggled mightily offensively last year—even struggling at the plate when he was sent down to Triple-A.  Yet he has not only proved he can hit at the Big League level (currently leading the team by far with a .816 OPS), he’s become one of the most productive shortstops in the league (his batting average and on-base percentage currently lead all National League shortstops).  Hernandez was out of options and was one of the last players assured a spot on the Opening Day roster.  So far, I’m been impressed with his working counts (his .390 OBP is second on the team) and he’s hitting a very respectable .270 despite not getting regular at-bats.  Herrera was a Rule 5 pick who had never played above Double-A and has to remain on the roster all season or be returned.  Even though he’s learning to play a new position at the toughest level, he has a great looking swing and has been able to handle Major League pitching so far.  All three players have made the most of their opportunities and should warrant more playing time for at least the rest of this season.

There’s also been quality performances on the mound by young Ken Giles, Luis Garcia, Justin DeFratus and Elvis Araujo.  All four look to be key pieces of the bullpen going forward and the first three have weathered pitching in higher-pressure situations.  While a slow start by southpaw Jake Diekman has been disappointing, the Phillies feel he can bounce back and strengthen an already strong—and young—core of relievers.

  • The fireworks may not be far off.  The play of veterans Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and even Ryan Howard have not only helped the Phillies win games this season, but more importantly has enhanced each player’s trade value, which potentially could fetch more young prospects as we move closer to the trade deadline.  We’ve already seen the Phillies make some minor moves, optioning Dom Brown, David Buchanan and Cody Asche (although Cody was sent down to learn a new position) to shake things up a bit.  If Asche transitions successfully to left field—as I believe he will—it will make for an ultra-crowded outfield, and the Phillies will have to start making some more significant decisions.

Their potential outfield would then consist of Asche, Revere, Herrera, Brown, Grady Sizemore, Jeff Francoeur and Darin Ruf.  Clearly, not all of these players will be on the roster throughout the summer, and I’m not sure if more than two or three of these names have a future in the organization.  With one of the few outfield prospects doing well in Double-A (Roman Quinn) and a promotion to Triple-A probably looming before too long, it’s obvious that the team will look to move one of their outfielders before season’s endif not sooner.  Revere is the most likely candidate to go, as he’ll command the most in return.  Between Revere, Hamels, Harang, Papelbon and perhaps one or two others, there could be some trades made over the coming weeks—and a chance for the team to pick up another young piece (or pieces, if you deal Hamels) of the puzzle for future seasons.

  • The “Chase” may be coming to an end.  I truly am not saying this just in passing or to be in vogue with what others are now saying.  In fact, in all my years as a sports journalist, I probably got more angry messages over a minor criticism I made about Chase Utley several years ago, and I’m sure I’ll take a hit again this time.  But unless he starts swinging the bat with more success—and soon—it does NO ONE good to see him continue to play every day…and that includes Utley himself. 

The biggest issue for the current team is that he is blocking the road of young talent.  Is Hernandez the Phillies second basemen of the future? Probably not, but we have no way of knowing until he gets a chance to play at least 75% of the time, something they can’t do with Utley playing five nights a week.  The questions remain about Brown, Ruf and a few other players that right now look like role players but do you really want to give up an extended look at these players, and possibly lose them at season’s end, to have them go somewhere else and have success (and haven’t we seen too much of that over the last several years?).  Furthermore, continuing to play Utley every day with his batting average light-years below the Mendoza line is a disservice to Chase himself.  There is no way he’s going to take himself out of the lineup—he has too much pride.  Heck, he’d probably fight to stay on the roster even with a torn ACL.  But someone – Ryne Sandberg, Ruben Amaro Jr., Pat Gillick – anyone in charge of this franchise, is seriously going to have to take time very soon and have a chat with this greatest second baseman to ever wear a Phillies uniform.  Right now, his legacy is taking a beating, and if things don’t improve over the next few series, his mighty image might be weathered for a longer period than it should be.

Here’s a look at the upcoming schedule for Philadelphia, with a few additional important dates that are really more significant to the team’s future than who their opponents will be.

May 18-21       at Rockies
May 22-24       at Nationals
May 25-27       at Mets
May 29-31       vs. Rockies
June 2 – 4        vs. Reds
June 5-7           vs. Giants
June 8-10         MLB DRAFT*
July 2               International Free-Agent Signing Period Begins
July 31             Non-waiver Trade Deadline
Aug. 31            Final Trade Deadline

*Programming Note: We’ll have a preview of the MLB Draft on the June 4th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (Thursdays, live, 7-8 pm), which will include an ESPN analyst breaking down the top draftees, along with insights on what both the Phillies and Nationals will do in this year’s draft.

Which Phillies players have you been impressed with so far?  Which do you feel will be the first ones to be traded?  Email you sports opinions to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com at any time.  We’ll continue to provide updates on both the Washington and Philadelphia franchises throughout the summer here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our weekly “SportsTalk” program.
A quick reminder, be sure to come out to see “RCN SportsTalk” as we broadcast live from Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape Street in Whitehall, PA, this Thursday from 7-8pm.  This will be the first of several live shows we’ll broadcast from Buffalo Wild Wings this summer.   Keep checking the RCN-TV website for updates on these special programs as SportsTalk “goes wild” this summer!