Phillies 2016 Grades: Infielders

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Jul 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Franco (7) and first baseman Joseph (19) celebrate a victory against the Kansas City Royals at Citizens Bank Park. The Philadelphia Phillies won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies received much of their 2016 offensive production from their infield group.

When the 2016 season opened there were many question marks across the infield, with 3rd baseman Maikel Franco the only player who seemed a reliable source of production.

But as the season unfolded, the infielders mostly answered those questions in a positive fashion. In fact, Franco may have been the most disappointing player among the regular performers.

Back in spring training there was hope that a platoon of veteran Ryan Howard and perennially underachieving Darin Ruf would provide combined solid production.

In the middle infield, no one knew what to expect out of 2nd baseman Cesar Hernandez besides perhaps a 20+ stolen base year, and Freddy Galvis was just keeping shortstop warm until the arrival of top prospect J.P. Crawford.

As it turned out, there was a very productive 1st base platoon. But it was the pleasant surprise of Tommy Joseph, called up in May after a hot start with the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who produced from the right side of that platoon with Howard.

In the middle, both Hernandez and Galvis upped their offensive games, though Hernandez often was as maddening on base paths as he was dangerous to the opposition.

Those five players received the overwhelming majority of the playing time in the infield. Only one backup player, Andres Blanco, received enough time to warrant a final grade here.

So let’s take a look at the 2016 grades for Howard, Joseph, Hernandez, Galvis, Franco, and Blanco.

I am guessing that it will be the last Phillies grade that I ever bestow on “The Big Piece”, who is going to be leaving as a free agent. Because of his place in club history, I will grade him last.

Sep 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Joseph (19) runs the bases after hitting an RBI double against the Chicago White Sox during the third inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

TOMMY JOSEPH

Joseph came to the Phillies as a catcher in the Hunter Pence trade back at the 2012 MLB trade deadline, but it seemed like longer ago than that as his minor league career became derailed by repeated concussions.

Moved out from behind the plate, Joseph was finally able to remain healthy, and the move seemed to unlock his tremendous offensive potential.

The 25-year old Joseph was raking from the moment spring training opened, and continued that into the regular season with Lehigh Valley.

With the Pigs, Joseph hit for a .485/.585/.848 slash line with six home runs and 17 RBI over his first 100 plate appearances during the season’s first month. It was the classic case of a player being so hot that the Phillies couldn’t help but take notice.

Joseph was called up and made his big league debut on May 13th, and four days later cracked his first home run with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

The rookie had a multi-homer game on June 10th in Washington, and has never really gone into any prolonged power slump while almost evenly splitting the playing time with the veteran Howard.

Joseph is hitting for a .259/.309/.511 slash line across 340 plate appearances over 102 games in his freshman campaign, with 93 of those games at 1st base, 73 as the starter.

He has provided the team 21 home runs, 15 doubles, 47 RBI and 47 runs scored in what amounts to a half-season of regular work.

Defensively he still needs work, as his seven errors reflects. He and Howard have combined for 18 errors, by far the most at the position in all of Major League Baseball.

He possesses a strong arm, which his former catching career would suggest should be the case. But how often do throws by a 1st baseman actually come into play? Not often.

He needs to improve defensively, and should get that opportunity. Much as with Herrera in the outfield, he is still learning to play the position.

There may have been no more pleasant a surprise for these improved 2016 Phillies than the completely unexpected performance of Joseph, who clearly deserves a shot at the everyday 1st base job against all types of pitching in the 2017 season.

GRADE: B+

Sep 17, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Hernandez (16) slides safely into home during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

CESAR HERNANDEZ

Hernandez entered the season regarded as possessing just one tool on offense, his speed. But if he couldn’t get on base at a decent clip, that one tool wasn’t going to play up well enough for him to secure a long-term role with the team.

As the season winds to a close, he has upped his on-base game and his overall offensive game, but a number of baserunning gaffes continue to cause reluctance among many fans to anoint the now 26-year old as the long-term future at the Keystone position.

Hernandez has hit for a .293 average with a .369 on-base percentage, leading the Phillies in both categories.

His 17 stolen bases is second on the club, down from 19 a year ago. The main reason for this extremely disappointing decline is a troubling penchant for getting thrown out. Hernandez has been caught stealing 13 times, after being caught just five in all of 2015.

He has upped his total extra-bases from 25 a year ago to 31 this season thanks to six home runs. He hit just one a year ago.

Defensively, Hernandez leaves much to be desired. His fielding percentage of .980 is just 18th among regular MLB 2nd basemen, his 12 errors tied for fourth-worst in the game.

He has turned 97 double plays, which is tied for 6th in the game, and is 9th in total chances. Range isn’t the problem, nor does he have a weak arm. Hernandez simply makes too many mental errors, both in the field and on the base paths.

Ethan Witte recently put forth a scenario at TBOH to improve the position for the 2017 season, suggesting that the Phillies make a move on Tampa Bay Rays’ 2nd baseman Logan Forsythe. Though highly speculative in nature, it’s frankly not a bad idea.

Down the road, possibly for the 2018 season, the club’s top prospect at the position, Scott Kingery, might be ready for his shot to unseat Hernandez. There has even been speculation about bringing Odubel Herrera back in to give his old position another try.

Hernandez is likely to return as the starting Phillies 2nd baseman for the 2017 season. There is no one on the immediate horizon to unseat him within the organization, so to upgrade the club would need to sign a free agent or make a deal such as Ethan suggests.

GRADE: C

Sep 17, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon (9) steals second base ahead of tag by Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Galvis (13) during the first inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

FREDDY GALVIS

Galvis apparently began eating spinach this season. It’s the only thing short of taking some PED that I can think of to explain his sudden burst of Popeye-like power.

After hitting a grand total of 20 home runs over the first 1,153 plate appearances of his career across parts of four big league seasons, Galvis has cracked 20 this season alone in 608 plate appearances.

Turning 27 years of age this coming November, the switch-hitter has produced a .243/.275/.402 slash line with the 20 homers, 67 RBI, and a career-high 15 stolen bases.

Defensively, Galvis is a human highlight reel who legitimately could win a National League Gold Glove this season. His .987 fielding position is 2nd in the NL, 3rd highest-in all of baseball.

Galvis has made eight errors, two more than the only NL shortstop ahead of him in that fielding percentage ranking, Asdrubal Cabrera of the New York Mets.

However, Galvis has also played in 22 more games than Cabrera, and handled over 200 more chances.

He and Hernandez are each just 13th in baseball in Range Factor at their respective positions, but Galvis also has a shotgun for an arm, which makes up for some of his modest shortcomings.

When the season began, most Phillies fans anticipated that Crawford would be ready at some point in the season for his big league debut. It never happened.

While Crawford struggled through some injuries and in adjusting to more experienced pitching at AAA Lehigh Valley, Galvis thrived in Philly.

Entering spring training, the Phillies will be in the same exact position they were earlier this year back in Clearwater. Galvis will be the incumbent, looking over his shoulder at the progress of Crawford in the minors.

Assuming health, it would be a major upset if Crawford were not ready at some point in 2017. His arrival might portend a position shift for Galvis, with he and Hernandez having to battle over the regular role at 2nd base.

GRADE: B

Aug 29, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Franco (7) makes a throw to first base during the seventh inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals defeated the Phillies, 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

MAIKEL FRANCO

The anticipated offensive leader of the team when the Phillies opened play for the 2016 season, Franco has lived up to that expectation to a degree.

His 25 homers and 87 RBI both lead the team, and his 101 strikeouts over 605 plate appearances are entirely acceptable in the modern game.

However, his .251/.304/.431 slash line is disappointing for the second-year player who turned 24 years old back in August.

Franco is still young, and clearly has regular 30 home run and 100 RBI potential as he grows in experience.

If he can become closer to a .270 hitter with a .340 on-base percentage, something that his talent suggests is possible, he can become an NL MVP contender in future seasons.

Defensively he grades out as marginal. His fielding percentage of .959 is 12th in baseball, and his range factor rates out as just 18th in the game.

Some have suggested that Franco’s long-term future might be at 1st base. But it says here that would be a setback for the organization. Joseph needs that full-time playing opportunity, and Franco has the tools to improve here as well.

GRADE: C+

Sep 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Howard (6) looks on in the dugout before the game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

RYAN HOWARD

For years, Howard was “The Big Piece” in the middle of the most exciting and powerful lineup in Phillies franchise history.

He was the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, 2006 NL Most Valuable Player and Silver Slugger at 1st base, and the 2009 NLCS MVP.

Howard was also a 3x NL All-Star, and won the Home Run Derby in that 2006 MVP campaign. In addition to the win, Howard finished in the Top 10 of NL MVP voting for six straight seasons from 2006-11.

In that time, Howard was the cleanup hitter, usually in front of 2nd baseman Chase Utley, with Pat Burrell hitting behind him, and the trio would take turns driving in players such as Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth.

Halcyon days, Phillies fans. The team would win five consecutive NL East crowns, back to back National League pennants in 2008 and 2009, and the 2008 World Series.

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August 10, 2012; Philadelphia, PA USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Howard (6), second baseman Utley (26) and shortstop Rollins (11) applaud former Phillies teammate Mike Lieberthal (not pictured) who was inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame.

As all Phils fans know well by now, it all came literally crashing to the ground when Howard crumpled at the plate after making the final out of an extremely disappointing 2011 NLDS loss to the Saint Louis Cardinals.

While the Phillies lineup began to age and slowly deteriorate, Howard never fully recovered his former glory after finally recovering from the ruptured Achilles injury suffered at the end of that NLDS.

Over the last couple of years, the other members of what was the Phillies “Core Five” all departed. First Rollins following the 2014 season, then pitcher Cole Hamels and Utley a year ago, and finally catcher Carlos Ruiz last month.

Howard is now the last man standing from that glorious era. He is going out with a power burst, leaving fans with a few final glimpses into that once dominating power.

This season, Howard has hit for just a .192 average and worked a .254 on-base percentage. However, the power is still there, as his 23 home runs and 52 RBI over just 343 platooned plate appearances demonstrate.

Howard has said that he wants to play again in 2017. It won’t be with the Phillies. The club holds a $23 million option that it will never pick up.

Instead, they will pay him a $10 million buyout and let him drift off into free agency in search of a late career title and some final moments of glory in another uniform.

You have six more games over this final week to enjoy Ryan Howard in a Phillies uniform. Especially this coming weekend, when he is sure to receive plenty of playing time at Citizens Bank Park, fans of the team can be expected to send him off well.

GRADE: (a generous) C

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