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Phillies 2017: An opening day season preview

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With spring training wrapped up and summer right around the corner, the MLB season is upon us. While the team’s roster is set in stone for opening day, the players who make up  the Philadelphia Phillies are hoping that they can make even more progress ever since they started their rebuild in 2012.

Last year, the Phillies finished the season 71-91, which was better than most fans would have ever expected. When Matt Klentak was hired as the Phillies general manager in 2015, everyone thought that getting into contention would take much longer, but in reality, the team is only about two years away from seriously competing in the NL East.

“I used to watch the Phillies every day after school,” stated junior John Nicoletti. “In recent years, I’ve been greatly disappointed with their sub-par performances as major league ball players. However, I’m greeting this upcoming season with optimism, and I hope the Phillies dare to be better this year than they ever have in the past.”

During the winter months, the Phillies made a number of key acquisitions to the roster. Instead of signing a load of big name players, they took the route of signing veteran players who could mentor the stacked farm system. Two of notable names the team added were outfielder Michael Saunders and utility player Howie Kendrick.

“These were big signings for the Phillies,” junior Will Dolezar stated. “Since we lost our big name players a couple of years ago, we haven’t had anybody who could really make an impact. With these two players, they add depth and they can mentor the younger guys.”

Michael Saunders, 30, is coming off a career high season with the Toronto Blue Jays. By the end of the season, he ended up hitting the most home runs he’s ever had, with 24. He was also announced as the Final Vote winner for the 2016 all-star game. He was crucial in helping his team get to the playoffs. Saunders will most likely end up being the opening day starter in right field and will be a middle of the order hitter.

Howie Kendrick was acquired by the Phils on November 11, 2016. Although he is 30 and he is getting older, Kendrick still has the ability to have an influence in the games. On the Los Angeles Dodgers, he wasn’t getting much playing time and coming over to the Phillies will give him a chance to once again prove himself. With Cesar Hernandez at second base, Kendrick will be another outfield piece in left. At the top of the order, Kendrick will make his presence felt on the base path.

The last outfield piece is Odubel Herrera. In 2014, Herrera was drafted by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft. Ever since then, Herrera has proved himself to be one of the most valuable pieces of the team. His ability to track down balls in center field is insane and he has the clutch factor every team wants. He got his first all-star appearance under his belt last season and led the team in hits at 167. At only 24 years old, Herrera is one of the few players on the Phillies who will be here for years to come.

In the infield, the most likely starters will end up being Tommy Joseph at first base, Cesar Hernandez at second base, Freddy Galvis at shortstop, and youngster Maikel Franco at third base. With Ryan Howard’s departure, Joseph will have the opportunity to step in and cement his spot on the team. After being called up in the middle of the season from Triple-A, he still managed to hit 21 homers, right behind Franco’s 25.

Franco did end up having somewhat of a disappointing year after showing a ton of potential in his 2015 rookie season, but after tearing up spring training once again, he will be the player to look out for. Franco has the ability to put up huge numbers with his power and will be the cornerstone for the future.

One of the things people should look out for is the rotation. Even though the pitching staff was awesome last year, they simply didn’t get enough run support. With Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, Vincent Velazquez, Jeremy Hellickson, and newly signed Clay Buchholz, the team has a lot to look forward to. The only issue with these players is that they are injury prone. Velazquez started out hot last year, but slowed down a bit towards the end. Eickhoff led the team in ERA and was a bright spot last season. Nola, a first round pick out of Louisiana State University, was on the verge of an all-star berth but was shut down for the season with an injury. Hellickson signed back with the Phillies on a 1-year deal and will be the opening day starter. Buchholz, coming over from the Red Sox, has a ton of experience and will be an important piece towards the back of the rotation.

In the bullpen, Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris will once again be a dynamic duo. With the signings of Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, the Phils now have some depth. Edubray Ramos and Joely Rodriguez will also be in the pen this season and could be effective if put in the correct circumstances.

“The pitching staff’s definitely looking a lot better than last year,” junior Dom Young stated. “The Phillies are known to develop a lot of good arms and this year should be no different. The team has a lot to look forward to if they just get their innings in.”

Last Sunday, when the roster was trimmed down to 25 men, first baseman Brock Stassi and outfielders Daniel Nava and Aaron Altherr made the cut. In an interview with the team, Stassi showed a ton of emotion, holding back tears after finding out the news. In spring training, he showed up and proved the haters wrong. Although Tommy Joseph will be the starter, Stassi’s bat is too good to pass up on and could end up being a pinch hitter late in games.

With Ryan Hanigan being released, the catching battle was finalized. Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp are the two catchers on the roster and will most likely split time. Jorge Alfaro was sent down to the minors and his development is key. In the World Baseball Classic a few weeks back, the Columbian showed up and took several pitchers deep.

The farm system will be something to watch out for. The Phillies have some of the best young players in the league and though they may not have an impact right out of the gate, there is no reason to worry. With top-10 shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford getting time with the Lehigh IronPigs, there is a chance he might get called up in the middle of the season if there is an injury. Outfielder Dylan Cozens led Double-A with 40 homers and should be major league ready in a few years. As for fellow outfielders Nick Williams and Roman Quinn, their development will be crucial. Some of the notable pitchers fans should watch out for in the minors are Zach Eflin, Mark Appel, and Jake Thompson. First overall pick Mickey Moniak will continue to progress through Single-A and the future looks bright.

“Our farm system is loaded with talent,” junior Dan Jurgelewicz stated. “That’s the one thing I’m going to watch for this season. The players down there are gonna have people talking soon. In my opinion, the Phillies could be back to where they were in a year or two.”

Compared to other rosters, the Phillies don’t have the star power but they do have a core of young guns. The development of its players is important if they are going to contend beyond this year. With the amount of depth they have, the Phillies could make a push for second or third in the division behind the Washington Nationals. Although fans shouldn’t expect it to happen, the Phils could make a push for the wild card as well. In a couple years, the Phillies will have the money to splash in on a superstar, which could take them to the next level.

“I’m excited for the future,” Dolezar stated. “I really do think this could be a turnaround year for the team and they could end up shocking a ton of people.”

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