By Jacob Bachman
An early push at the Winter Meetings, where the Philadelphia Phillies landed Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek was a sign of bigger things to come. After sitting out free agency for several years, the Phillies announced their intentions boldly and came away with right-hander Jake Arrieta on a very team-friendly deal. The switch has been flipped, and it is no longer rebuilding time in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Phillies are here to win, starting in 2018.
Trusting the Process has paid off for the Phillies, and they are armed with one of the deepest groups of young hitters in the league right now. Up and down the lineup, they will roll out 25-and-under studs. Led by Rhys Hoskins, who homered at a record-setting pace after making his MLB debut last summer. The Phillies have the potential to send out a potent lineup that can give opponents fits with speed and power.
It will be the starting rotation that makes or breaks the Phillies hopes in 2018. Arrieta was a huge get in the front office looking for a cornerstone to build a staff around. The former Cy Young steps in to lead a promising group that has not quite been able to make the leap from talented prospects to established big leaguers. Aaron Nola looks like a future ace after a strong 2017 season, but the key will be keeping Vince Velasquez healthy and finding stability on the back end.
All in all, the Phillies had an excellent offseason and are prepared to launch themselves back into the national conversation after a full-scale rebuild. It’s time for Philly sports fans to return with high hopes to Citizens Bank Park for the first time since 2011.
Best Case Scenario
With the way everything is going for Philly sports teams, the best-case scenario for the Phillies in 2018 would have to be World Series or bust. Putting the brakes on just a bit, there’s no reason this team cannot contend for a Wild Card if everything goes 100 percent according to plan this season. That means all the starting pitchers stay healthy and the young bats continue producing at a very high level.
For the Phillies to win, Jake Arrieta must not suffer any minor injuries and make every possible start, all the while helping Aaron Nola take his game to the next level. Vince Velasquez finally stays healthy and Jerad Eickhoff’s time on the DL is kept to a minimum. At the plate, the Phillies have more than enough young talent to make some noise in the NL East. Rhys Hoskins continues to hit like a superstar, with support from Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr in the outfield. Up the middle, J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery form the next great double-play duo in Phillies history, and Maikel Franco finally puts it all together for a full season.
The upside is there for the Phillies to make an unexpected leap like their NBA brethren across the street at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s not a stretch at all to call the Phillies a playoff contender this year.
Worst Case Scenario
The Phillies are still an extremely young team with a lot that can go wrong. The starting rotation behind Arrieta and Nola is very thin, and the team is counting on Vince Velasquez to stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his career. Obviously, in the worst-case scenario, that does not happen. Nola takes a step back, while Arrieta continues declining and three years for $75 million looks like a huge reach.
Offensively, the Phillies are counting on Rhys Hoskins to make a huge full-season impact, but what he did last year was hardly sustainable. Maikel Franco continues to be a huge disappointment and loses his starting spot to Scott Kingery by June. The Phillies front office will always regret rushing Franco to the big leagues, but there’s nothing that can be done about that now.
Philadelphia has raised expectations significantly by spending big this offseason, but let’s not get carried away. In any case, the Phillies will post their highest win total in years, but calling them a playoff contender is a stretch An easy schedule in the NL East will prop them up to at least 78 wins.
Rhys Hoskins — 1B/LF
The Phillies are overflowing with young talent, so much so that Aaron Altherr, who hit 19 home runs in 107 games last year with a .856 OPS, might not even crack the starting lineup on Opening Day. If Altherr does start, then Nick Williams, who homered 12 times in 83 games last year as a rookie, will not start. Around the infield, J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez will all fight for playing time.
With all of that talent, it is still Rhys Hoskins who stands out as the best player on the Phillies. His debut last year was simply epic — 18 home runs and 48 RBI in 50 games. Hoskins also drew 37 walks against only 46 strikeouts and showed phenomenal control of the strike zone. The 25-year-old will play his first full season in a much-improved lineup and could easily approach 40 home runs and 120 RBI.
The Phillies have a strong season, but ultimately do not have enough starting pitching to sustain a playoff push. The veteran leadership provided by Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter does go a long way to helping the youngsters grasp what it takes to contend. Although the playoffs aren’t in the cards this season, the Phillies will finish above .500 for the first time since 2011.
The 2018 season will go down as a major step in the right direction for the Phillies. While Rhys Hoskins will not sustain his epic numbers from the second half last year, he does have staying power as a 30-40 homer threat. This team has pieces to be excited about all over the diamond. There may never be a better time to be a Philly sports fan.