PHILADELPHIA (AP) Playing meaningful games in September seems attainable for the Philadelphia Phillies.
That’s a big step forward for a team with five straight losing seasons. Philadelphia won only 66 games in 2017 and finished last in the NL East for a third time in four years.
A decade after winning the franchise’s second World Series title, the Phillies have a solid group of young players ready to make summers at the ballpark fun again the way Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins did from 2007-11.
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Slugger Rhys Hoskins, shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielder Nick Williams and catcher Jorge Alfaro proved they belonged in the majors and will get a chance to showcase their talent over a full season.
Outfielders Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr and second baseman Cesar Hernandez have been productive for a few years. Veteran first baseman Carlos Santana got big money in free agency to complete a lineup that has a chance to be dynamic.
It will be up to new manager Gabe Kapler to maximize their potential. Kapler replaced Pete Mackanin, who moved into a front-office role. Kapler was an unconventional choice for the Phillies after spending the past three seasons as the director of player development for the Dodgers. He has limited managerial experience but is a progressive thinker.
General manager Matt Klentak is modeling the Phillies after the Astros, Dodgers, Cubs and Indians.
”These are among the most progressive organizations in baseball,” Klentak said. ”I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those are the four teams that have played in the World Series the last two years. That’s where the Phillies need to head, and Gabe Kapler is going to be a huge asset to us as we try to progress to the future.”
With a ton of money available and a slew of prospects, the Phillies should be an attractive destination for free agents and they’re poised to make a run at big-name stars after the season. Bryce Harper or Manny Machado could be the final piece they need to win another championship.
This season is about proving how close they are to getting there.
NEW LOOK: Santana, who signed a $60 million, three-year deal, gives the lineup versatility and provides an example for young players on unselfishness. Santana has a .365 career on-base percentage and can bat leadoff or hit cleanup. The bullpen got a big boost in the offseason, too. All-Star right-hander Pat Neshek (1.59 ERA for Phillies and Rockies) returns after being traded to Colorado last July and Tommy Hunter (2.61 ERA) came over from Tampa Bay. Six-time All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez signed a minor-league deal and will get a chance to make the club. The Phillies will need a new clubhouse leader after trading shortstop Freddy Galvis to San Diego.
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hoskins, Crawford, Alfaro, Williams and right-hander Aaron Nola have All-Star talent. Outfielder Roman Quinn can be an exciting top-of-the-lineup player if he stays healthy and finds a spot at a crowded position. Minor-league infielder Scott Kingery is pushing for a promotion.
THEY’RE SET: Hoskins, Herrera, Williams and Altherr are everyday players in the outfield and Quinn could be another guy to add to the mix. Any combination of three should give the Phillies plenty of production.
THEY’RE NOT: The rotation lacks a proven ace and veteran. Nola has the stuff to be a No. 1 starter. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are trying to rebound from disappointing seasons. Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Jake Thompson will compete for the final two spots.
ON DECK: Kapler is a fascinating guy so it’ll be interesting to watch his first spring training as manager. The talented young players should make it exciting.
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