Prospect lists are an easy way to take a glimpse into an unknown future. If any player has made the majors, their stay has been short enough to not give us much. The problem with prospect lists is that they do not give a complete look into the young talent in an organization, and consequently its long term health. Enter the under 25 list, looking not for unproven youth, but a generation of talent.
The 2015 season was the first to make this a relevant concept for the Phillies, as they graduated their first big time prospect since Domonic Brown. It turned out that that prospect, Maikel Franco, was only not alone with regards to his high prospect status, but he was joined by other graduations, as the Phillies have built something representing a core. In addition to those that donned red pinstripes this past summer, the Phillies added another top young player in trade to the host of prospects that graced the Top 50. This leaves the Phillies’ farm system as the best it has been in a long time, and it also puts the young talent in a position to propel this franchise forward.
I chose to cut this list off at 15, because it combined a couple of things. First, it represents close to a lineup’s worth of players. Second, and less romantically, it is the point at which it more or less tracks my top prospect list. Without continuing to allude to a list and not actually showing it, here is how I rank the Phillies’ under 25 talent:
- J.P. Crawford
- Maikel Franco
- Aaron Nola
- Nick Williams
- Odubel Herrera
- Vincent Velasquez
- Jake Thompson
- Mark Appel
- Jorge Alfaro
- Cornelius Randolph
- Franklyn Kilome
- Aaron Altherr
- Jerad Eickhoff
- Roman Quinn
- Andrew Knapp
The Top Three:
Even when the group is expanded, J.P. Crawford remains the pinnacle of the organization as a potential perennial all-star shortstop. Franco then jumps Nola, reuniting the 2014 Top 3 once more, albeit in a slightly different order. Franco’s defense remains a liability, but his bat took huge strides forward as his increased selectivity allowed for power and walks. Aaron Nola was no slouch and arrived in the majors about 13 months after signing, and while he was not dominant, he showed an ability to consistently get hitters out.
Reinforcements from Texas:
The Hamels trade helped reinforce the Phillies’ system greatly, but that group of 6 only had one player who surpassed the Rangers’ prospect they already had added. Nick Williams’ upside is huge, and the lefty outfielder came in as my #2 prospect. Odubel Herrera was the biggest surprise of the 2015 season, and while he won’t show the same BABIP he did in his rookie year, he does have a great feel for contact and, finally, a defensive home at a premium position. Vincent Velasquez joined the organization in the Ken Giles trade from the Astros, not the Rangers, and while he ranks lower on this list than Giles would have (Giles would have ranked above Herrera), he was good pitching in the majors for a team that reached the ALCS. Jake Thompson does not have the biggest fastball or sharpest command of any pitching prospect, but a solid five pitch mix topped with a wipeout slider makes a potential stalwart.
Talented But Not Quite There:
Much like they did on the Top 50, the next four players are in no man’s land. Mark Appel has the pedigree to be a top end starter. So far that has not happened, but he has enough left to be a solid player for the future. Jorge Alfaro’s upside is a perennial All-Star catcher, but there are some that worry he won’t have a major league role. Randolph has a great base for a hitter, with a great feel for contact and future power potential. However, he was just drafted this year and only has a Gulf Coast League season of at bats. Few pitchers can match Franklyn Kilome’s upside, but the big Dominican righty has not yet shown that upside in on field results.
Being Older Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Break Out Too
Sometimes players never get their glory at the top of prospect lists, because they got their shining moment in the majors. Aaron Altherr has always been some sort of prospect in the Phillies’ system, but the athletic center fielder finally put it all together at the plate in 2015, slugging his way from AA to the majors. He is a defensive asset in any outfield position, but there may still be struggles at the plate ahead. Altherr may not be a long term starter for the Phillies, but he will be a major leaguer for years to come. Eickhoff mimicked Altherr’s 2015 season, only from the mound. Eickhoff showed an improved slider and command in 2015, to compliment his already solid fastball and curveball, and really blossomed in the majors. He greatly exceeded expectations and only just graduated from the prospect list. However, there are still flaws in Eickhoff’s game — his fastball is more average and his changeup nonexistent. Much like Altherr, if he can fix his flaws he can be a regular for the Phillies. If not, he still will be a valuable contributor to them in a less prominent role.
Bring On the Prospects
Roman Quinn and Andrew Knapp round out this list. Much like the larger prospect list, these two players are more a part of the large next wave of Phillies’ prospects. This does not make them any less important to the future. Quinn’s biggest flaw has been his health, but he is one of the fastest baserunners in baseball and has more power than his small size might suggest. Knapp’s struggles behind the plate are well documented, but it was his year at the plate that got him onto this list. Few players can boast a month like Knapp’s August, and even fewer catchers can match his offensive ceiling.
What does this mean for the Phillies?
Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, Jerad Eickhoff, and Aaron Altherr will all reprise their roles for the Phillies this season. Vincent Velasquez will get his shot at the major league rotation, and even if he does not make the team, he will be in the conversation for a role shortly. Outside of the immediate contributions, we can start to dream of these players filling out a team; with Crawford and Franco forming the left side of the infield for the next 6 years, Altherr/Williams/Herrera/Quinn being a dynamic outfield both at the plate and in the field, Knapp and Alfaro battling it out behind the plate, a Nola/Velasquez/Thompson/Appel/Eickhoff rotation striking everyone out, and Randolph and Kilome ushering in a second wave of talent. It is not hard to get caught up in dreams about righting the wrongs of 2009 onward.
The Phillies will rank higher on organizational prospect rankings this year than they have in a long time. The rise of the young talent will be a point of pride for future, and both Klentak and Amaro will get credit for building the farm. Last year, this team graduated 5 intriguing rookies and acquired another for one of its other young talents, and these players will serve just as great a role in the future of the organization as those who have yet to put on a major league uniform.
World Series titles are not guarantees, and my goal here has not been to say the Phillies will win one soon. They will not be the only team with young talent and a pile of cash to spend. However, no team in baseball had a bleaker future than the Phillies did before June 6, 2013.
Photo by Cheryl Pursell