Biggest Surprise of Spring Training: Phillies
Coming into the 2016 season, the Phillies weren’t expected to have a lot going for them. Yes, they have the first pick in this year’s draft, but they’re still a team that lacks experience in their current roster. They’ve done surprisingly well in Spring Training thus far; going 13-5 in their first 18 games and sitting in third place in the Grapefruit League. While this is Spring Training, and, therefore, shouldn’t be taken too seriously, the Phils are still playing much better than anyone would have guessed coming into the year. Here’s why:
The Phillies currently have a plus (+) 28 run differential through 18 games; scoring 122 and allowing 94. While the 94 runs allowed is not the most glamorous stat, putting Philadelphia in the bottom five of that category in the Grapefruit League, their 122 runs scored is second in the league, only behind the Tigers (131).
Thus far a genuine stud of the Phillies offense has to be their third baseman, Maikel Franco. Franco has hit a Grapefruit League-leading seven home runs through the Phillies first 18 games, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Franco played just 80 games in 2015; however, he was able to provide 14 home runs over that span while batting .280. If Franco continues to play like this, it would be no surprise to see him at the starting third base spot for two weeks when the regular season begins. It will be interesting to see where manager Pete Mackanin places the young slugger in the line up. While Ryan Howard has not played his best baseball in the past couple years, he has still predominantly occupied the four-hole of the Phillies order. I don’t see any reason for that to change, but I would be very surprised to see Franco hitting somewhere outside the heart of the order (the three-through-six holes).
Backup first baseman, Darin Ruf has also done a respectable job at the plate up to this point. Ruf is hitting .294 and has three home runs in his appearances this spring. While the numbers are not the gaudiest, Ryan Howard only has two homers up to this point.
On the mound for the Phils, it’s been an interesting turn of events. Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola both had their strongest outings of Spring Training in their last starts. Hellickson went five hitless innings against a very strong Astros offense while Nola went 4.2 innings of two-run ball against the Rays. Charlie Morton has also been precisely what was expected of him thus far, providing solid innings of work without the flashy numbers.
These figures do need to be taken with a grain of salt, a lot can happen between now and the regular season, and strong preseasons don’t always transfer into strong regular seasons. But, the Phillies are showing that their offense is capable of providing run support, which will be very critical in a league with such strong pitching. Hopefully, this offensive production will continue to carry these Phillies arms until they are acclimated and up to their full potential.
The Phillies are currently second place among their NL East rivals in the Grapefruit League, just a game back of Washington. This result should be looked at with some hesitation, however, as the Mets have gone through the majority of this preseason battling injuries on key players (Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright). But overall, the Phillies are showing the potential to make like difficult for these projected top NL East teams. Only time will tell if Philadelphia can keep this sort of offensive production up in the regular season, but at the very least it shows that the talent will be there a couple of seasons down the road.