Improving Defense Long Term

The Phillies’ offense and pitching has been a focal point of discussion from spring training to this point as the club continues to near the trade deadline where the obvious decision to sell should be made by GM Ruben Amaro and team ownership.  Philadelphia’s offense ranked eighth worse in the league at 3.86 runs per game entering Sunday and everyone healthy is in the lineup with the exception of catcher Carlos Ruiz.

There have been no major injuries unless you count the loss of third baseman Cody Asche for a few weeks as a casualty. Their bench is putrid and they strikeout at a rate of 21.1%. While teams like the Braves and Giants make up for the absence of that with power, sporting a .136 and .148 isolated power. The Phillies rank 24th in the league at .126, only above Tampa Bay, Texas, San Diego, the, St. Louis, Kansas City and the New York Mets.

The bullpen is improving and they have cost controllable assets there for the next few seasons. That is one of the few parts of this team fans can get exciting about. Starting pitching is a problem following Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. A.J. Burnett has his moments, but walks too many batters to establish consistency.

This takes us to an underrated and less talked about issue, the Phillies’ defensive play. The standard numbers like fielding percentage put Philadelphia’s defensive play on the field in a good light, but it’s a major problem. Ryan Howard’s two error game Saturday afternoon put the Phillies in a tailspin in just their second game of an eventual four game sweep by the Atlanta Braves.

Their best defender in the infield is 35 year old Jimmy Rollins, who still has a great arm in the hole, but his range has diminished over the years. Chase Utley struggles to get to some balls and Ryan Howard has never developed into even an average fielder. The Phillies rank 28th in defensive runs saved at first base this season (-6), 11th at second base (1), 20th at shortstop (-2) and 26th at third base (-10).

Their outfield is putrid all around, with Dominic Brown lacking any range in the outfield, along with continuing to misread balls and not use angles efficiently to get to the ball. Marlon Byrd is the only close to average outfielder in the starting lineup and he even lacks range from the right field position. The Phillies’ outfield ranks 24th in defensive runs saved.

There are options long-term as the Phillies prepare to start a rebuild, whether it’s a fire sale or just a few pieces going down. A position breakdown offers some hope for a better product in the future, at least defensively speaking.

Catcher- Deivi Grullon

Grullon is currently playing for Williamsport in the Penn league and could be an above average defender someday. He’s a good receiver and has an outstanding arm.

First Base- Maikel Franco

With a more in-depth look at Franco below, he’s the main guy who will join the Phillies at the first base position over the next few years. Ryan Howard will remain here until his contract runs out, with Darin Ruf getting some opportunities there as well when he returns. Ruf should never play another inning in the outfield again. Franco to first base makes a whole lot of sense when that time comes with a lack of surrounding options in the future.

Second Base- Cesar Hernandez

The defensive ability of Chase Utley continues to fall and Hernandez could fill in for the best second baseman in Phillies’ history if Utley is dealt at the trade deadline. Hernandez isn’t going to hit for power at the major league level, but has shown a more aggressive approach at the plate lately. The team has tried to make him a more versatile player at other positions, but he belongs at second. He has pretty good hands and a strong arm for his size.

Shortstop- J.P. Crawford

Philadelphia’s first round selection has all the tools to become an everyday regular at shortstop. His development has been outstanding to this point, but his defensive game is still a work in progress. Crawford is very athletic and has the tools to become an above average fielder. He has good range and a strong arm. He likely won’t become a gold glove type shortstop, but should definitely become a top ten fielder from that position years down the road.

Third Base- Maikel Franco, Jan Hernandez

Franco, the club’s second best infield prospect, has had a tough year adjust to life as a young player at the Triple A level. It’s unclear whether he’ll fit in at first base or third base at the major league level, with a lot of moving parts in the Phillies roster down the road. His bat could potentially fit at first base. Cody Asche has struggled at third base at times with charging the ball, fielding cleanly and transferring to throw. I believe he can become an average fielder at the third base position however.

Hernandez has struggled defensively this season for Williamsport, after being selected in the draft last season. Crashburn Alley describes Hernandez here: “He could be an above average defender at the hot corner, with a plus arm, soft hands, and the actions and athleticism to get there. One thing Hernandez will have to work on defensively is his footwork, which, as he approaches balls, can get choppy and slow him down.”

Outfield- Aaron Altherr, Carlos Tocci, Roman Quinn

Altherr, Tocci and Quinn are three of the most exciting outfield prospects in the system. All have the physical tools to be solid defenders at the major league level. Tocci and Altherr may not hit well enough to become everyday regulars, but both should find a way to become bench options and late game defensive replacements at the major league level.

Developing a team that can play strong defense does a lot. The pitching feeds off of the defense. A.J. Burnett was aided by elite defense in Pittsburgh, he plays with far less aptitude this season. A rebuild should be mandatory and finding athletes that have strengths is of utmost importance.

Author: Matthew Speck

Matthew is based in Central Pennsylvania and hopes to capture Phillies prospects information effectively for the fans. He covers high school sports for the Lebanon Daily News along with the Washington Capitals organization for The Hockey Writers.