Nothing helps to build excitement for something like countdowns and previews. At the time this post is going up, there are 43 days left until the Phillies play their first game of the 2017 season. The incessant march of time will whittle away at that number with no intervention necessary except for us to observe it. On the preview side of things, time will not do any of the heavy lifting. With that in mind, here’s a look at what 2017 season has in store for the hot corner and the not so hot corner.
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Aside from the Cliff Lee trade to Seattle for what might as well have been the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (because while fictional characters cannot help your team, they also lack the ability to make a negative impact. Cowabunga), the most reviled move Ruben Amaro made is the Hunter Pence trade to San Francisco. July 31, 2012 – One year and two days after paying a king’s ransom for the most energetic player in baseball, Amaro sent Pence packing for what appeared to be a peasant’s pittance – fifth outfielder Nate Schierholtz, High-A pitcher Seth Rosin, and catcher Tommy Joseph. Schierholtz was non-tendered after the season, and Rosin went from starter to reliever to no longer with the team. The team was optimistic about Tommy Joseph – he was purported to be the catcher of the future and the highlight of the trade package. Unfortunately, the physical demands of the position took their toll, and concussion issues put an end to his catching career. The decision was made in July 2015 to move Joseph to first base. The big question – would his bat hold up to the positional switch?
The answer – Yes. Joseph manned first base for 65 games at AAA, in which he hit .326 with 12 HR and 15 doubles. With Phillies first basemen hitting only .174 with a major league worst .235 OBP, Joseph made his debut on May 13, 2016. Splitting time with Ryan Howard, Joseph hit .257/.308/.505 with 21 HR in 347 PA the rest of the way. His walk rate was low, so while his power carried him to an above average year offensively, he’ll need improved patience to fix his below average OBP.
What should we expect in 2017? The team has moved on from Ryan Howard, so expect to see Tommy Joseph get the majority of the playing time at first. He has good power, as the average exit velocity of his batted balls in 2016 was 90.9 MPH (65th out of 247). With the high number of fly balls he hits, he should easily crest the 30 HR mark in 2017. As the 2016 season wore on, his BB% and K% improved, and there’s no reason to expect that to drop off precipitously. He should have a good offensive year. If he does, and couples that with strides forward defensively, we could have an answer as to who the first baseman will be the next time the Phillies are competitive.
The story of Franco begins in 2015. Considered the third baseman of the future and a critical part of the rebuild, his excellent play at AAA forced the front office to promote him to the majors (Note: His promotion was May 15. Joseph’s was May 13, but they were both on Friday. If J.P. Crawford gets promoted on a Friday in the middle of May, it’s officially a pattern). There would be no Dom Brown up-and-down treatment for Franco – he was up for good, and good he was. While he ended up missing all but 3 games after being hit by a pitch on August 11, his bat did some talking in the time he was healthy. 80 games, 14 HR, and a .840 OPS had fans excited about a potential All Star level 2016.
Sometimes, potential All Star remains “potential”. The 2016 season saw him take a step back. Every number across the board got worse. Walk rate? Lower. Strike out rate? Higher. Batting Average? OBP? Slugging Percentage? PA/HR? HR/FB%? All lower. At times it felt like he was offering at every pitch thrown his way, and the swing percentage numbers (% of time he swings at a pitch) back that up. Overall, whatever optimism was created by 2015 seemed to be undone by a much more average 2016.
What should we expect in 2017? On the surface, it seems that 2015 might have been a bit of a fluke. But his underlying numbers – BABIP, his exit velocity – point to 2016 being the aberration. The future is still very bright for Maikel Franco – a strong arm that carries him defensively, and a good bat for the hot corner. He possesses an all star ceiling, which hopefully he will reach – there is little in the minor league pipeline at third if he fails to pan out. Franco is just 24, so it will be interesting to see how the 2017 season develops. The power is there. Will the patience be?
We’re inching closer to the season. The first game of Spring Training is Thursday – an exhibition game against the University of Tampa Spartans. After that, it’s spring training games almost every day until opening day. Baseball is almost back. Baseball is almost back.