“The teams that have gone through successful rebuilds have gone through periods much like we’re going through right now,” Klentak said last week in his office at Citizens Bank Park. “The Washington Nationals were the worst team in baseball for two straight years. The Houston Astros were the worst team in baseball for three straight years. The Chicago Cubs were among the worst teams for a handful of years. In all of those stretches, there were stretches very similar to what we’ve gone through in the last six weeks.”
He continued: “It doesn’t make it fun to go through. We’re trying everything we can to pull out of it. But we know this is one of the challenges of rebuilding. We owe it to our franchise, to our fans, to our ownership to make sure that we don’t deviate from what we know is the right thing for the future of the club.”
For this season, the Phillies believed that meant adding veteran placeholders who could, in theory, become trade targets for contenders. As a big-market team, the Phillies could offer to pay part of their salaries to get better prospects in return.
But starter Clay Buchholz got hurt; outfielder Michael Saunders struggled so badly that he was designated for assignment; starter Jeremy Hellickson has compiled a 6.17 earned run average since the end of April. Reliever Pat Neshek and complementary players like Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava have value but will not command a bonanza in return.
For fans, perhaps, it may be more troubling that the major league roster seems to lack future superstars. The team’s payroll shows as much: The Phillies have committed to just one player, outfielder Odubel Herrera, beyond this season. Ownership has shown it will spend when the time is right. But that time is not now, and the best prospects are not ready for a promotion.
“I think there are impact players coming in our system,” Klentak said. “From year to year, some players in minor leagues have better performances than others. They may shoot up a few places on a prospect list or fall a few places, but we’re confident that our system is going to produce players. And the combination of the players we produce internally — plus the financial resources that we’ll be able to devote to free agents or trading for big contracts in the near future — should bode well for the on-field success of this organization.”
Before this season, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus both listed shortstop J. P. Crawford as a top-10 prospect. Yet Crawford, 22, was hitting just .199 at Class AAA Lehigh Valley through Thursday, with an alarmingly low .258 slugging percentage. A top catching prospect, Jorge Alfaro, has been striking out prodigiously.
Among the starters, Aaron Nola and the rookies Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta have mostly held their own, but Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez have gone a combined 2-12 and are on the disabled list. The bullpen has been hit hard, and the offense has been anemic.
None of this should be surprising. The Phillies had a better record than seven other teams last season (71-91), but had by far the major leagues’ worst run differential, at minus 186. They are on track to draft first over all next June, as they did in 2016, when they took a high school outfielder, Mickey Moniak.
With prospects like Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins, Adam Haseley and Sixto Sanchez, Moniak is part of what Klentak believes could eventually be a wave of high-impact talent. All of the Phillies’ full-season farm teams are well over .500.
“There’s a difference between winning games in the minor leagues and developing players — those two things are not exactly the same — but there definitely is a correlation there,” Klentak said.
“We’re developing players in an environment where they’re accustomed to winning, and winning becomes a very big deal,” he continued. “That’s something we’ve been enormously successful at over the last year and a half. As we watch our minor league teams, you can see from level to level how winning becomes contagious.”
The major league team has not caught the bug. For the Phillies, the process is still unfolding.
Turning Height Into an Advantage
When Alex Meyer attended the University of Kentucky, people often mistook him for a member of the basketball team. He stands 6 feet 9, after all.
“It’s funny,” Meyer said, “because in my mind I was like, ‘You guys are the craziest basketball fans and you know every player on our team, so how do you not know that? No, I do not play.’”
Meyer loves basketball, but his skill on the Wildcats’ mound made him a first-round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2011 and a highly regarded prospect for the Minnesota Twins after a trade the next year. Now, after a trade last summer to the Los Angeles Angels, Meyer, at 27, is making good on his promise.
Before his start at Fenway Park on Friday, in which he gave up five runs and was chased in the fourth inning, Meyer had a 3.52 earned run average with 55 strikeouts in 46 innings. His 96-miles-an-hour-fastball is one of the hardest among starters, and his reach allows him to release it closer to the plate than most pitchers can, making the pitch seem even livelier.
“As he has harnessed his delivery, being able to repeat pitches a lot better, you see that his stuff plays,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Guys don’t get good looks at it. From where Alex was last year when we saw him to now, it’s light-years ahead. “
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