Phillies fans have no shortage of reasons to gripe. The offense has ranked somewhere between non-existent and spotty, only ahead of other disappointments like the Nationals, Dodgers, White Sox and Marlins. The pitching has been almost as bad, ranking 22nd of the 30 MLB teams. So it’s not surprising that the Phillies are under .500 and 5 1/2 games back.
And while Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick have been dominating, the loss of Roy Halladay to shoulder injury and the struggles of Cole Hamels (who has actually been much better than his numbers suggest) have undermined what looked to to be the Phillies' biggest strength.
But the biggest complaints Phillies fans have is that this team is old and declining. Of the regulars, catcher Carlos Ruiz, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman are all 34. Michael Young is 36, and Ryan Howard is a relative kid at 33. And the fans are right. Though none of them are hitting hideously, they aren’t stars anymore, and defensively they’ve all lost a step.
Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Kevin Frandsen
But it’s not just the infielders who’ve disappointed. The outfield, with the exception of Dom Brown, has pretty much been dreadful and hasn't been able to add any offensive.
So with the team struggling, it's not surprising that fans are looking to the farm system to see just what’s coming down the pike. And while some would say that the cupboards were bare, the truth is that the Phillies system isn’t that bad. Admittedly much of the best position player talent is at the lower minors, but there are plenty of guys who’ll at least rear their head in 2013 and 2014 and transform the team.
With that in mind let’s take a look at the players who’ll be taking over for some of the old guys.
1B/LF: Darrin Ruf is a slugger, pure and simple. While he’s a natural first baseman, the large contract of Ryan Howard and the likely inability of the team to move him has forced the team to try him out in left field where he’s so far looked to be at least adequate. He’s pretty much ready now and the more the team struggles the sooner he’s likely to get his shot. Expect him mid season.
2B: Cesar Hernandez is light on power but looks to be a solid top of the order hitter who should hit for average and throw in some speed to boot. He’s a slick fielder and should take over for Utley by the end of 2014, but could shift across the infield to take over for Rollins if the Phillies opt to move him by the deadline this year. If he learns to read pitchers better and develops some running smarts he could turn into a viable leadoff hitter.
3B: Cody Asche doesn't look quite ready yet. He possesses a dynamite arm, but doesn’t have a lot of range and has below average hands. He’s still very much a work in progress, but one with some upside. He looks to be a batter who’ll hit for average, and while his power is on the light side, he’s got time to grow into it. If his defense is adequate, he’ll take over the job from Young. Right now he’s not going to wow anyone, but he’s got plenty of time to take a step forward. Some scouts profess that he’ll morph into a David Wright type (with less speed) but nothing in his history is really suggesting that he’ll be more than an average player.
C: The Phillies have two catchers who could make an impact soon, but the more likely one is Tommy Joseph, who was acquired for Hunter Pence last season at the trading deadline and is one of the better catching prospects in the game. He’s got power and his average looks to be adequate for a catcher. But it’s his leadership skills and baseball smarts that might be his biggest asset. It’s been suggested that he’s athletic enough that he could move to first or third. If they decide to do that, they have a catcher in the John Buck-type mold in Sabastian Valle who could hit for power and low average while playing decent defense for the team.
P: Where the Phillies look to be rich is in pitching. They have at least half a dozen pitchers who’ll be ready to step into the rotation and bullpen by the middle of next season. Jonathan Pettibone has already made his debut and an impression, but Jessie Biddle, Adam Morgan, Ethan Martin, Justin De Fratus and Austin Wright are all coming.
None of them look to be the next Halladay or Lee, but they should fill the middle of the rotation and offer the Phillies depth from which to trade if they decide to bring in some more experienced, younger players to take over from the “old” nucleus.
It’s more likely that the veterans will be the ones on the block in trades the team hopes will yield some top prospects. Still there look to be a couple of guys here who could be diamonds in the rough. At least Phillies fans and management will cross their fingers and hope so.