2017 MLB Preview: NL East- Philadelphia Phillies

2016 Record: 71-79 (4th Place)

Manager- Pete MackaninScreen Shot 2017-03-20 at 4.03.48 PM

The Phillies exceeded expectations last season finishing with a 71-79 record, after many had projected had them to be among the worst teams in baseball. Most of this can be attributed to their hot start to the season, as they would fail to finish any month with a record above .500 after April. Their biggest struggle was scoring runs, as they scored an abysmal 610 runs all season. This was the fewest in baseball by a good margin.

The team kicked off the 2017 offseason by acquiring 33-year-old Howie Kendrick from Los Angeles, who despite coming off somewhat of a down year still carries an impressive .289 career batting average. They also added a much-needed left-handed bat in Michael Saunders, coming off a year in Toronto where he hit a career-high 24 home runs.

The Phillies are hoping that these acquisitions can bring some life to their lineup, offering their star 24-year-old third baseman Maikel Franco some more protection. Franco demonstrated his power last season after hitting 25 home runs in 152 games, an upward trend that could very well turn into the monster season the Phillies front office has been waiting for. Cesar Hernandez was a pleasant surprise at second base, leading the club with a .294 average and swiping 17 bags. His ability to get on base in the leadoff spot paired along with his speed makes him a valuable asset to the lineup, in addition to his defensive versatility.

The team also got a surprising amount of production from Tommy Joseph, a former top catching prospect that many had labeled as a bust after struggling with an abundance of injuries throughout his minor league career. Yet Joseph proved his worth in his rookie season, making the team as a first baseman and hitting 21 home runs in just 107 games. With Ryan Howard out of the picture, the 25-year-old Joseph will get a chance to showcase his power over the course of a full season. The 28-year-old catcher Cameron Rupp will get a similar opportunity with longtime Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz out of town, as Rupp hit 16 home runs in just 105 games last season.

One player who proved he could produce in an everyday role was 25-year-old Odubel Herrera, who finished 2016 with a .286 average and 15 home runs while stealing 25 bases. Acquired before the 2015 season in the Rule 5 draft, Herrera will look to establish himself as a mainstay in the middle of that Phillies lineup.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis knows he isn’t a mainstay in their lineup, despite hitting 20 home runs last season.

The Phillies await the arrival of their top prospect in shortstop J.P. Crawford, who MLB.com has ranked as the 6th best prospect in baseball. The Phillies will likely want the 22-year-old to spend more time in Triple-A before calling him up, as he continues to develop his power and elite defensive abilities. The Phillies lineup isn’t the only part of their roster with young talent, as their rotation has a similar amount of upside in its youth.

After a promising rookie season in 2015, Aaron Nola struggled in his sophomore season finishing the year with a 6-9 record and a 4.78 ERA in just 111 innings, while ending his season in early August with an elbow strain. Still just 23-years-old, there’s no reason to believe that their former first round pick won’t show improvement.

Jerad Eickhoff proved to be their top young pitcher, leading the team in ERA (3.65) and innings pitched (197.1). Acquired as part of the Cole Hamels deal back in 2015, Eickhoff could establish himself as a top of the rotation starter if he puts up similar 2017 numbers. Vincent Velasquez got off to a red-hot start to the season, only to struggle with durability issues as the season progressed. He still managed to put up an 8-6 record with a 4.12 ERA, yet the Phillies will hope to get more than just 131 innings out of the 24-year-old Velasquez come 2017.

Meanwhile Jeremy Hellickson earned himself a qualifying offer and the top spot in the Phillies rotation, ending the season with a 12-10 record with a 3.71 ERA over 189 innings. Turning 30 in April, this was arguably his best season since he won rookie of the year back in 2011, as he kept his ERA under 4.00 for the first time since 2012. Clay Buchholz will put on a new uniform for the first time in his career, after being acquired from Boston early on in the offseason. 2016 was a year to forget for Buchholz, who went 8-10 with a 4.78 ERA and eventually found himself in a bullpen role. This wasn’t even the worst year of the 32-year-old’s career that has been defined by inconsistency, which makes a comeback year a distinct possibility. Yet Buchholz will be under plenty of pressure, with the Phillies top-pitching prospect Mark Appel nearing the major leagues.

Jeanmar Gomez wasn’t great in the closers role last season, going 37/43 in save opportunities while posting a 4.85 ERA. He will be on a much shorter leash this season, with the free agent additions of veteran relievers Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.*

Bottom Line: The Phillies enter 2017 with a lot of upside in their rotation, but will ultimately be hurt by a weak bullpen and a lineup that could use a few more big bats. A wild-card run might not be out of the question here, but overall the Phillies current roster will have them out of the discussion to contend.

*Stats and Info from Baseball Reference

-Featured Image from MLB.com