Being a Philadelphia Phillies fan over the past half decade hasn’t been easy. Losing seasons every year since 2013 mixed in with some especially deplorable performances in 2015 (63-99) and so far in 2017 (28-53) makes the team difficult to root for. The franchise’s recent malaise clouds the fact that Philadelphia was one of the best teams in baseball during the 2000s, securing a winning season every year from 2003 to 2011. The Ryan Howard-Chase Utley-Jimmy Rollins-led squad ran roughshod over the NL in the late 2000s, winning a World Series in 2008 and taking home an NL Pennant in 2009.
But Howard endured a precipitous decline in the 2010s shortly after signing a mammoth $138 million contract and was actually a negative WAR player for four out of the five seasons from 2012 to 2016. Chase Utley, amasser of an obscene 38 WAR from 2005 to 2009, began to break down in the 2011 season and has battled health issues ever since. Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, lost much of his hitting ability around 2010 and never gained it back. The proverbial ship had sailed, leaving the Phillies with an aging yet incompetent MLB roster.
Luckily, due to strong drafting and player development over the last several seasons, Philadelphia seems poised to compete for NL East supremacy by as early as 2018. While that might sound crazy to say about a 28-53 team, it turns out that the Phillies have the most underrated prospect system in baseball, with impact players ready to make the jump to the majors in a matter of months at every position.
Preseason prospect rankings showed the Phillies in good overall standing, but usually hovering somewhere in the top 10 and a long way off from teams like Braves and the Yankees in terms of prospect quality and depth. However, three months can change a lot, and the organization that currently owns the top hitter in the AAA International League as well as the AA Eastern League could challenge for the top prospect system in baseball if rankings were we redone today.
The most impressive things about the Phillies’ prospects, outside of their sheer quality thus far in 2017, is their breadth. While a bit light on pitching in the minors, Philadelphia has every position on the diamond covered by a prospect who could make an MLB impact in the next 12 months. Don’t believe me? Let’s check it out.
Catcher – Jorge Alfaro (24 / AAA)
Jorge Alfaro, originally a Texas Rangers product who came over to Philadelphia in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, is a name brand prospect, ranking 60th on MLB’s overall prospect list and third among catchers. Alfaro sailed through the Texas and Philadelphia minor league systems, posting solid batting numbers and displaying a tremendous arm from behind the plate. Unfortunately, the 24-year old backstop has had a rough 2017 first half, with a middling .686 OPS for the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. While Alfaro will never be a Gary Sanchez or Buster Posey behind the plate, it is reasonable to expect an average MLB batting line (which is an above average line from a catcher) and plus defense from Alfaro.
First Base – Rhys Hoskins (24 / AAA)
Fanboy alert: Hoskins might be my favorite prospect in baseball. The righty first baseman was drafted out of California State University in 2014 and has absolutely mashed minor league pitching since. Since reaching A ball in 2015, Hoskins has never posted a wRC+ below 159 or an OPS .904. Rhys is currently in the midst of his best season yet with Lehigh Valley, leading the International League in home runs, runs, RBIs, OPS, SLG and wRC+. Despite consistently terrific performance, Hoskins was criminally underrated throughout his minor league career, only sliding into Baseball America’s top 100 prospects in May. Although he’s blocked by Tommy Joseph at the MLB level right now, expect Hoskins to push for MLB at bats in the coming months.
Second Base – Scott Kingery (23 / AAA)
If there isn’t an award for the most improved prospect in baseball, I’m making one right now and calling it the Scott M. Kingery Trophy. Kingery scuffled through 2016 with the AA Reading Fightin Phils, posting a meek .606 OPS and .083 ISO. Sensing the need for a change, the diminutive Kingery added 10lbs of muscle to his 5’10” frame over the offseason and reworked his swing mechanics. The results? In 317 PA at AA in 2017, Kingery stroked 18 home runs, 62 runs, 44 RBIs, swiped 19 bags and posted the best OPS in the Eastern league at .987. Since a promotion to AAA Lehigh Valley two weeks ago he has hit four home runs in eight games. Kingery profiles similarly, in position, handedness, size and playing style, to Twins keystone star Brian Dozier. Expect him to bring similar production in Philadelphia prior to seasons end.
Short Stop – JP Crawford (22 / AAA)
Hyped up shortstop JP Crawford kind of fits in as the anti-Hoskins and Kingery in the Phillies organization. While the latter two received little to no fanfare prior to this season, Crawford ranked as the fourth best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Crawford, a first round pick in 2013, cruised through minors up until AAA, where he’s hit a stumbling block over the past two seasons. While Crawford owns advanced pitch recognition (2017 BB/K ratio of 0.90), his bat is bereft of power, with a meager .305 slugging percentage and .631 OPS this season. Crawford’s youth and solid skillset, consisting of above average speed, fielding ability and plate discipline, will ensure he makes the MLB in some capacity, however fans should temper the expectations raised by all the hype he’s received.
Third Base – Mitch Walding (24 / AA)
Mitch Walding’s progression has been slow and steady, debuting in the Phillies’ minor league system in 2012 and inching his way up to AA in 2016, where he resides today. A Three True Outcome player, Walding has delivered a strikeout, walk or home run in over 50% of his plate appearances with AA Reading thus far in 2017. His 20 home runs and .332 isolated slugging percentage both lead the Eastern League. Unfortunately, his 86 strikeouts are tied for second. Walding won’t see the majors in 2017, and is fairly old for AA ball at 24, but his power potential looks real. Expect a full season in AAA in 2018 with a possible MLB call-up sometime later in the year.
Right Field – Dylan Cozens (23 / AAA)
Cozens teased the power potential highlighted by his 6’6″, 235lbs frame for several years in the low minors before busting out to the tune of 40 home runs and 125 RBIs with Reading in 2016. In spite of his size, Cozens is extremely athletic, flashing plus speed (21 steals in 2016) and a solid glove in right field. Cozens struggled a bit with AAA Lehigh Valley at the start of 2017, however he has since rounded into form, with his 18 home runs tied for second in the International League behind teammate Rhys Hoskins. Plate discipline continues to plague Cozens, with 30%+ strikeout rates the last two years, however the MLB is suited for high home run, high strikeout players now more than ever.
Center Field – Roman Quinn (24 / AAA)
Roman Quinn is a slap hitter that relies on elite speed to get on base. His strikeout rates are higher than one would like for someone with little power, however he has shown the ability to maintain a decent average by making the most of the balls he puts into play. Quinn made his MLB debut with the Phillies in 2016 and acquitted himself nicely with a .263 AVG / .373 OBP / .703 OPS across 69 plate appearances and has followed that up with a decent albeit unspectacular season with AAA Lehigh Valley in 2017. Quinn will never light the world on fire with his bat, however plus speed and gold-glove caliber defense could make him a valuable major leaguer.
Left Field – Nick Williams (23 / MLB)
Nick Williams, a rangy 6’3″ corner outfielder, was one of the many pieces that the Phillies acquired in the lucrative Cole Hamels trade from July 2015. Owner of plus power, decent speed and good batted ball skills, Williams has made quick work of every minor league level along the way. After a strong full season with Lehigh Valley in 2016 and a dominant half season in 2017, where he swatted 15 home runs to the tune of a .511 slugging percentage, Williams earned a call-up to the big leagues in late June. While Williams will likely struggle with strikeouts to start his career, all the tools are there for a successful MLB career.
The aforementioned prospects canvassed the most MLB ready in the Phillies’ farm system. These are all players that can make a real MLB impact within the next 12 months. 2016 first overall pick Mickey Moniak is one of the best prospects in baseball but was excluded because he won’t see MLB time until 2019 at the earliest. 23-yer old left fielder Andrew Pullin, who was recently promoted to AAA, was also excluded but could easily challenge Nick Williams for the starting left field gig in the near future.