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I'm back, baby! Phillies observations from the past two months
by Scott Butler 3/5/17

 

Hi Everyone! Things have been a little quiet around here lately, haven’t they? Don't worry, I’m not dead (thanks for your concern).

For the past 10 weeks or so, I have been working on a Phillies trivia book. It was a really tight deadline and that little book has pretty much consumed every free moment of my life since Christmas. It’s been tough completely ignoring the blog, but I think it was time well spent and I hope even more that you consider it money well spent.

So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan? is the title and it's’s more of a story book than it is trivia, with 120 questions based more on the answers than the questions. The official publish date hasn’t been announced, but you can pre-order books on Amazon now.

Enough with the shameless plugs, let's talk some Phillies! Here are a few observations from the last couple of months:

The Phillies are stocked at second base.

So far in Grapefruit League action, second baseman Scott Kingery has been the story in Clearwater. Kingery was never mentioned along with top prospects like Crawford, Williams, and Alfaro, but anyone who watched him closely over the last year or so knew he was just a legitimate a prospects as anyone. A gritty player who plays a mean second base, Kingery had a fine season at high-A Clearwater - he batted .293 with 3 homers and a .770 OPS in 94 games - which resulted in a promotion to double-A Reading.

He fizzled out in Reading, batting .250 in 37 games, but the Phillies were still high on Kingery. Now everyone is high on the 22-year-old, including manager Pete Mackanin.

"I can't say enough about Kingery," Mackanin said. "He's a good-looking player, boy. And, I'll tell you what, I really like what I see. To be as composed as he is in his first big-league camp after just getting a taste of Double A. He really has made a great impression."

That's especially high praise, as Mackanin does not dole out the endorsements all too often. Kingery is batting .500 with two home runs and 1.622 OPS so far this spring.

Kingery might be on the fast track to the majors, but he has to leap frog Jesmuel Valentin first, who is slated to begin the season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Mackanin saw things he liked in Valentin, too.

"He showed really good base-running instincts, and I think that's the way he was advertised," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's got real good instincts on the basepaths. We're going to put him at shortstop a little bit to see what he can do over there."

The Phillies see Valentin as a potential bench option, which prompted the look at shortstop - he will need to demonstrate the versatility of playing both positions in order to head north with the big squad. A promotion for Valentin also opens the door for Kingery at Lehigh Valley.

Neither Valentin nor Kingery will begin the season as the Phillies starting second baseman. That job belongs to Cesar Hernandez...

Look for a big year out of Cesar Hernandez

Cesar's mid-season surge last year was one of the most important developments of the 2016 season. Hernandez was hitting .248 with a .293 on-base percentage on June 20 when Larry Bowa had a talk with him. Since that time, Hernandez batted .327 with a .419 on-base percentage. He had 16 walks in his first 245 PA's and 50 in his last 377 - that's over three times as many walks.

How Hernandez performs in 2017 may play a large role in determining the direction of the rebuild. Do the Phillies lock him up like they did with Odubel Herrera as a core piece for the future? Does he play himself into a trade at the deadline? Or does he regress? It makes for an interesting storyline this season.

This might be the year for Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco was maddening to watch last season, but he says he is committed to improving both mentally and physically this season. Stay tuned for more on that tomorrow.

Matt Stairs is going to be a great hitting coach

The Phillies new hitting coach once said, "In hockey, you shoot as hard as you can, so I've always figured, why not swing as hard as I can?" That is the same man who pounded two beers at Wing Bowl.

"My whole career, even back in the early days, my approach was try to hit the ball out of the ballpark," Stairs said. "In batting practice, I try to hit every ball out of the ballpark. I'm not going to lie - it's fun. I try to hit home runs and that's it. I'm not going to hit a single and steal second base."

Not exactly the type of quotes you would expect from a guy who will be teaching other guys how to hit. But Stairs was much more cerebral than he let on as a player, which we all saw for ourselves during the telecasts over the last couple of seasons. Stairs brings a wealth of knowledge and an ability to point out the technical flaws in a swing.

Stairs also has a sound philosophy of seeking the fastball, having a plan at the plate, and not giving away at-bats. For any of that to matter, though, he has to get his players to listen.

"The two biggest things are being positive and communication," Stairs said. "I don't know what happened in the past. I don't care. My job, at the end of every day, after BP, is give high-fives, give knuckles and walk out of that cage with something positive."

It's also important to be able to cater whatever he says to the skill set of each individual player. He offered a good example of that in describing what he wants for speedsters like Roman Quinn and Cesar Hernandez:

"You want to drive the ball through a shortstop or second baseman. If I tell Roman Quinn, 'We don't want you hitting the ball in the air, we want you hitting ground balls.' … We don't want you hitting ground balls. What happens is you start guiding the ball through the zone and you top it and kill the ants and worms in front [of the plate], or you carve it and hit fly balls.

"The approach we have this spring is the first two rounds [of batting practice], I want you killing the second baseman and shortstop, up the middle and hard. Don't think about hitting the ball on the ground. Think about having that good top hand, driving the ball through the infielders on a good line drive. And if you clip it a little bit, now you have gap power."

The Phillies have a really good farm system

The different MLB farm system rankings don't think all that highly of the Phillies. Keith Law of ESPN ranks the Phillies' farm system as the 14th best, Bleacher Report ranks them 8th, and the Phils didn't make MLB Pipeline's top ten (I don't think they released their rankings of other teams). Much of that is due to several players graduating off lists: Alec Asher, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Jerad Eickhoff.

The Phillies also lack any true blue chip prospects. That's OK, though. While there may not be any Bryce Harpers in the mix, the list of players with legitimate big league potential is huge: Crawford, Alfaro, Quinn, Williams, Kingery, Moniak, Cozens, Hoskins just to name a few, not to mention players at the major league level. Some feel that the Phillies are the strongest in the lower ranks of the minors.

Prospects are prospects, and my opinion is that an organization is better off having depth than a few high ceiling guys and little else. Consider this: Dominic Brown was a top draft pick and J.A. Happ almost won a Cy Young award.

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