Phillies majority owner John Middleton is my hero. He made former manager Gabe Kapler the Giants’ problem and brought in an experienced manager in Joe Girardi. Below are my observations where the Phillies system stands as the team heads into the Winter Meetings this week.
The Phillies have signed free agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal. It pays to “finish strong” as Wheeler did last season for the Mets. He has the potential to be a No.1, if he can put it all together for a full season. The first half of the 2019 season for the Mets he went 6-6 with a 4.69 ERA. In the second half, he went 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA, just the opposite of the current Phillies No. 1, Aaron Nola, when the Phillies lost his last seven starts of the 2019 season.
Still, the Phillies now have what should be two strong top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers with Nola and Wheeler. If Jake Arrieta can rebound from last season and Zach Eflin continues to develop all the Phillies needs is a strong fifth starter. My choice is Spencer Howard.
Howard has not pitched with the juiced up major league ball but who knows what the 2020 baseball will feel like. Howard is the real deal and major league ready. His stuff is similar to Wheeler’s stuff. Wheeler’s four seam fastball averaged 96.8 mph. We watched Howard’s four-seam fastball sit in the high 90’s for the Clearwater Threshers last season. Though he has pitched no higher than AA, Howard is easily the fifth best starter the Phils have in the organization.
The Phillies need a left handed power bat to go with Bryce Harper to provide balance to a right handed hitting heavy lineup and they need another infielder now that Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez have been cut loose. Free Agent shortstop Didi Gregorius fits the bill. Put Scott Kingery at third and Jean Segura at second and the Phillies would add some pop in the infield with Gregorius. Don’t forget that the rumor mill says that the Phillies are prepared to go over the $208 million Competitive Balance Threshold to try to get free agent Anthony Rendon to play third.
At the same time, I would groom 2019 No. 1 draft pick Bryson Stott as the third baseman of the future and have him start the season at Lakewood. Then, move him quickly to Clearwater. After watching Stott hit one of the longest line drive home runs I have ever seen hit at Spectrum Field during Fall Instructs, I have little doubt he will become a power hitter at the hot corner. Eventually, Stott becomes the Phillies third baseman down the road.
I would not give up just yet on Luis Garcia as the Phillies shortstop of the future. I want to take a closer look at him this season in Clearwater. My second baseman of the future would be Kendall Simmons. Anyone who can hit 12 homers in only 171 at bats in 51 games as he did last season for Williamsport should have a spot on a future Phillies team.
At first base, if Rhys Hoskins continues to hit .165 as he did over the last two months of last season, I would take a look at Darick Hall or Alec Bohm at first base sooner rather than later. Hoskins has to produce or it is time for him to move on.
In the outfield Harper is in right field forever and Andrew McCutchen is in left. They proved a powerful duo until the season ending injury to Cutch costs the Phillies a chance for the post season. My centerfielder would be Adam Haseley. He showed enough last season that he deserves the starting job in center
I like Simon Muzziotti as the Phillies center fielder of the future. Muzzy showed me last season in Clearwater that he can do it all. I watched him blast two long home runs, steal some bags, run down long drives, throw out baserunners and finish fifth in the Florida State League in batting average. What more can any team want from a 20-year-old?
They can always move Scotty Kingery to left to eventually make room for Stott at third. I am still hoping that Jhailyn Ortiz can get it together and take over in left in a few years. Ortiz showed me he can field and has a great arm as he displayed playing right field for the Threshers last season. On the other hand, he hit only around .200 all season but he can hit a ball long way when he squares it up. He finished second in home runs in the FSL with 19 last season. I want to see what he can do at Reading in 2020 hoping he becomes the big, right handed, power bat in left field in the Greg Luzinski tradition at some point.
Of course the Phillies must extend J.T. Realmuto. He is the best catcher in all of baseball but right now they control him for only the upcoming season. The best catcher I saw in the farm system last two seasons was Rodolfo Duran. He has long ball power and the best arm in the system. He hit 27 home runs combined in 160 games over the last two seasons, including the 2018 SAL playoffs, despite sitting out the last six weeks of the FSL 2019 season with an injury.
I still can not get over Duran and J.T. each having thrown out about the same number of runner in base stealing attempts over the last three regular seasons. Better yet, Duran has caught two of Spencer Howard’s no-hitters including his nine-inning complete game in the 2018 playoffs for Lakewood. Last season, he caught both the Howard and Kyle Glogoski five-inning no-hitters for the Clearwater Threshers. What more does Duran have left to prove? Watch below Duran catch the strikeouts in the Howard and Glogoski no-hitters last season.
In addition to Howard, the Phillies do have other starting pitching prospects but if Howard is not ready yet, neither are they. I like, as future Phillies starters, left-handed pitchers David Parkinson (Reading) and Erik Miller (Lakewood). They were both drafted out of college and Ethan Lindow (Clearwater), drafted out of high school. Other good, right handed, starting pitching prospects I saw last season were Connor Seabold (Clearwater/Reading) and Glogoski (Clearwater).
Watch Lindow and Seabold strikeouts in Clearwater starts last season:
Work remains to be done for the Phillies to compete for a playoff spot in 2020 but they have made a strong start. The Winter Meetings this week are likely to be only a continuation of what has been an interesting Phillies offseason so far.