Philadelphia Phillies:8 Reasons Fans Should Look Forward to Next Wave of Players
One of the hardest things for a fan to accept is when their team's winning ways seem to be coming to an end. For the Phillies, as their players age and begin to reach the twilight of their careers, this winning could be coming to an end. As some have already said, the window to win another World Series could be closing and could be closing in as soon as a few years.
With recent successes maybe coming to an end, fans, just like the team, will be going through a transitional period. As new players make their marks with the club, fans will have to adjust to a new style, a new dynamic and a new set of names worth learning.
Change is coming and fans can breathe a sigh of relief because this change will no doubt bring a great deal of excitement to a team and a fanbase that seems to have dwindled.
The nearly 300 game sellout streak may have ended when the losing began, but the future is bright and will bring a new sellout and winning tradition along with it.
It may not come right away, but it will be in the future. This team is built to make another run in five-ten years and if the prospects coming up are as good as advertised that run could mean championship glory once again.
So sit back, relax and enjoy the future of Phillies baseball.
1. Excitement of Watching the Next Core Being Born
All Phillies fans woefully remember the time when the team wasn't exactly playoff bound almost every season. Most remember the days following the exciting Pennant race of the '93 Phillies as a very dismal and unexciting time for Phillies baseball. In fact, since 1993 and prior to 2007, the Phillies had just five winning seasons, none of them coming prior to 2001.
Slowly the team said goodbye to Mitch Williams, Darren Daulton, John Kruk and rest of the gritty players from '93, they drafted, yet were unable to sign, J.D. Drew and they sunk to the bottom of the division multiple times.
Sure, there were bright moments such as the opening of Citizen's Bank Park in 2004 and the drafting of Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins in the late '90s, but for the most part, the magic the Phillies briefly held in the early '90s had all but disappeared.
Things for the Phillies began to turn around in 2001 when they posted their first winning season since 1993. In 2003, Jim Thome became the first major free agent in that same period of time to sign with the team and of course, between 2003 and 2006, this was when Phillies fans got to see the core being born.
For the 2012 Phillies and beyond, this is once again what fans are going to see. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are now moving on, getting older and finding that injuries are starting to affect their careers. Just like the two before them, Placido Polanco and Jim Thome, they will soon have to get out of the way to allow their replacements to come into their own.
Phillies baseball might not be all about wins and losses right now, but even if the team does fail to make the playoffs consistently in the next five or ten years, there is still going to be excitement in watching the next generation of Phillies talents coming up; just as it was exciting to watch the careers of Utley, Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels take shape.
As the old core slowly dismantles, rest assured that a new core will be born and maybe in a few years, it could even do something no one thought the young Phils could do in '08: win a World Series.
2. 2008 Is Still Fresh in Their Minds
When you look at young, up-and-coming minor league stars, it is important to take note of the hunger, the drive and the passion they have to not just be good, but to be great. Also while looking at this, you have to realize which players want to win the championship more than others.
For the current crop of new Phillies coming in to 2012 and beyond, they have an advantage that some prospects don't. The team they are playing on or for those that haven't yet been promoted, the team they will be playing on, is not that far removed from a World Series title.
It might not seem like a big deal, but for these players to have actually been alive and to have been old enough to watch the 2008 World Series, knowing that they have the opportunity to play with some of the members of that very team, really will go a long way to maxing out the talent and passion of these individuals.
Compared to other teams like the New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves, the Phillies don't exactly have a storied history of playoff successes. What they do have however, and something the Braves don't, is recent playoff success.
For this reason, the new players coming in are not walking into a history book filled with memories of the past and what could have been.
No, they are walking into a clubhouse that although it may not have a long tradition of winning or string of titles, it has one now. They are walking into a clubhouse that is still yearning to capture past glory but in their case, the past is only four short years ago.
3. Younger Players = Less Wear and Tear
There is something to be said of the peak of an athlete's career. For a baseball player, it is typically in their mid-twenties to early thirties. It is the time when their bodies are in peak physical condition and when they have the right amount of experience to really excel at playing the game of baseball.
Unfortunately, for the Phillies, they are currently in the transitional stage that is seeing their best stars passing this period of greatness and ultimately entering into another stage of a baseball player's career which is the inevitable decline.
Let's be honest, no one, not even an athlete can stop their body from going through the inevitable change of age. Bones get weaker, years of hardened and gritty play start to take their toll and on top of that, you have to come to the realization that you can't do everything you used to do.
What came with ease before, now takes more work and unlike when you are a kid, getting up in the morning to play a day game after a night game the day prior, isn't exactly easy on your muscles and joints.
This is the situation Jimmy Rollins (33), Chase Utley (33), Carlos Ruiz (33), Ryan Howard (32), Placido Polanco (36) and Roy Halladay (35) are starting to experience. In the past two years, each of these players has been injured and has missed time on the DL.
Unlike when younger, the injuries Utley, Rollins, Howard, Ruiz, Halladay and Polanco are getting do not just go away. They have become nagging injuries helped along by age and weakening muscles.
This is where the benefit of the young players comes in.
Most of them have played less than three years in the majors and most don't have the wear and tear on their bodies. Most are also relatively young and in their early twenties are entering the majors at the peak of where their bodies will perform at their best.
Likely this means less injuries and, at the very least, less nagging and prolonged stints on the DL. Fans should be excited because not only will youth be served but it will also come, be healthy and be ready to take on the game of baseball.
4. Energy, Energy, Energy
If every young player played the game of baseball the way the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper does, you wouldn't be able to look away for fear of missing something.
Yes, some perceive him as overly cocky and he probably is. It's an understood feeling in the sport that you have to earn cockiness with years of performance and results. Essentially, if you are cocky, you need the body of work to back it up.
Now being a rookie with little to no minor league service time, Harper certainly doesn't have the body of work to come off as cocky. That said he is a confident ball player who knows his abilities and knows exactly how to use them.
Sure, that is going to tick off, annoy and maybe even force other pitchers to bean him a few times, but on the face of it, isn't it this kind of style of play that baseball is missing?
I mean look at the Cincinnati Reds and their base stealing machine in Billy Hamilton. He has stolen over 100 bases in the minors this year and has been known to score from second on a sac fly. That kind of speed hasn't been clocked since Ricky Henderson and I could guess that Reds fans are salivating of the possibility of him coming up and stealing bases.
On top of that, they've got Aroldis Chapman, who when he pitches, it's really blink and you'll miss it (it being the 101 MPH fastball he is going to blow by you).
When young players with this kind of talent rise through the ranks, it is hard not to watch.
Sure, the Phillies don't have a guy with the internal swagger of Harper or the base stealing prowess of Hamilton, but they do have guys with energy.
They have a guy by the name of Darin Ruf, who just finished a minor league season at Reading that saw him blast more home runs than Howard ever did there in a season. Call him Mr. August because in the Double-A season's final month he was absolutely indescribable.
Before that there was Tyler Cloyd, who had a near perfect year managing to show off a Jamie Moyer type of pitching style that got batters out without blazing speed. He already got the promotion and could, in a few years, be someone sitting behind Hamels as the second best pitcher on this team.
Fans have to be excited about this next generation of players for the players. If for nothing more than the fact that they will and looking at the surge the Phillies have made late this year, that they already have reinvigorated this team with a shot of energy.
5. A Little Something Called the "Baby Aces"
As much as fans don't want to admit it, the current staff of dominating aces won't be with the Phillies forever. In fact, of the "Big Three", only Cole Hamels is locked up long term. Roy Halladay will likely be gone after 2013 and Cliff Lee could once again find himself on the chopping block.
It is due to the impending departures of these two that there is even more anticipation for a few pitchers in the minor leagues known as the "Baby Aces."
Drafted at the same time and currently rising through the minor leagues together, three of the four original baby aces are still with the team. The most promising of these aces was Trevor May, but with a weak showing at Double-A Reading this year, he may not be ready as soon as the Phillies originally thought.
Then there is Jonathan Pettibone and Julio Rodriguez, two pitchers that have some potential, but that are still not quite major league ready. Joining them is Ethan Martin, who was acquired as part of the Shane Victorino trade the Phillies made earlier this season. He was a top prospect and on the season had a very good showing with his time at Double-A.
Although some of the hype about these aces has calmed a bit based on their recent performances, fans can still be encouraged by the potential starting staff these four can provide if and when they reach their full potential.
Plus, if the baby aces aren't enough to get the fans excited, the Phillies also have the newly named, "Baby Baby Aces" waiting in the wings. Leading the field at Clearwater this season was Jesse Biddle, who surged to strong outings throughout the season.
Adding to Biddle, the trio that can be considered the minor league version of the "Big Three" is rounded out with recent Single-A graduate Austin Wright and Clearwater Thresher, Adam Morgan. With Pettibone and Rodriguez receiving promotions to Triple-A and May probably not far behind, it would not be surprising to see Biddle and Morgan join Wright at Reading some point in the 2013 season.
6. The Team Has a Chance to Fix the Mistakes of the Past
One of the biggest mistakes the Phillies found themselves making since the 2008 World Series was getting into dangerous situations when it came to contracts. Even with ridding themselves of the contractual obligations of Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Hunter Pence, the Phillies have $132 M locked up in just nine players for 2013.
Now long contracts aren't always a problem but in the case of the Phillies, it has been the fact that most of these contracts are back loaded that has been a source of concern.
Ryan Howard is contracted through 2014. He is owed a sizeable amount of that $132 M and, as a result of his contract, the Phillies have limited flexibility. Had they wanted to go after a younger first baseman such as Prince Fielder in the 2012 offseason it would not have been a possibility because of Howard's contract.
Chase Utley is locked up until 2013 and is also owed a nice chunk of change. In the past few years of his contract, however, Utley has been injured and has spent a good deal of time on the DL.
Cliff Lee is owed the most of the nine as the Phillies really needed to step up the betting market in order to complete his improbable signing a few seasons ago. This year, however, he has been incredibly inconsistent leaving the Phillies to wonder how he will perform in 2013.
So far these contracts have seemed to hurt the Phillies in small ways. With the next wave of players, however, the Phillies will have a chance to start fresh and to avoid investing so much money in so few players.
If guys like Kevin Frandsen, Domonic Brown, Tyler Cloyd, Darin Ruf, Philippe Aumont and Justin DeFratus make the major league roster next year, they will be owed very little money. They will have entry level contracts and none of them should have a salary exceeding $2 M a year. Even that is a little high, but I have a feeling the Phils might overpay Brown.
These players may never pan out to be like Utley, Howard or Lee, but that is fine and good. The Phillies will be in a transitional stage and their players will be paid as such. This is something to look forward to because it opens the possibility for future free agent signings. With the next wave of players, money will be freed up and the Phillies will have opportunities to invest it, hopefully learning from contracts they are currently faced with.
7. It Will Be a New Age of Phillies Baseball
As I mentioned before, a new wave of players means a variety of different things. Fans will have the opportunity to watch young players develop on the big stage, the team will have the ability to work with very flexible contracts and the anticipation of seeing a new generation of stars will certainly excite everyone.
Even with all of that though, there is something else a new crop of players brings and that is a new age of Phillies baseball.
Watching the current Phillies, it is clear this team was built around the power they knew they were getting from Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Chase Utley. The team was not built around speed and it certainly was not built around playing small ball.
Some of these things may change, some may not, but what is certain is that new players will bring a completely new attitude, new spirit and new overall dynamic to the team.
Darin Ruf may hit like Howard, but his playing style could be completely different. Freddy Galvis obviously plays defense as good as anyone in the league, but his offense is still a work in progress. It can be tinkered with until his strengths are discovered.
This new generation of players will be coming in to replace a collection of players that fans really fell in love with.
They came to love Utley's gritty style of play, Rollins' swagger, Howard's confidence and Hamel's California cool. It won't be easy to fill these shoes, but, at the same time, it wasn't exactly easy for Hamels and company to come in and fill the shoes of the '93 team or the World Series Champions from 1980.
That said, fans eventually opened up to a new gang and the same will inevitably happen with the next crop of players. It might take time but this is part of the exciting part of watching new players and in watching the unique intricacies these players add to the game of baseball.
8. Prospect Watch Points to Bright Future
To sum everything up, there is a bright future waiting in the wings for the Philllies. Fans might have to wait some time, but with patience will come a new generation of All-Stars, MVP candidates, Cy Young winners, gold gloves, silver sluggers and maybe even World Series Champions.
Right now, the current crop of youngsters coming up are definitely talented and will of course be fun to watch. The real meat of this team's future success however may come a little further down the line.
I've mentioned Jesse Biddle of the baby, baby aces, but there is more than just pitching down in Clearwater. Larry Greene, the Phils top draft pick from 2011, has already been identified as having raw power that is hard to find. At just 20 and straight out off high school, the Phillies are hoping he can be their power hitting outfielder of the future.
Then there is Sebastian Valle, catcher currently with Reading. His offense has never been the issue and his defense has been improving. Valle is joined in Reading now by another top catching prospect in Tommy Joseph, acquired via the Hunter Pence trade earlier this year.
Despite trading away so many of their top prospects, the Phillies have slowly been building their farm system back up. It can no longer be considered barren although it is still a long way from getting back to where it was at the peak of the Phils' success.
That said, there is talent in each level of the Phillies' minor league systems and all of these players are hopeful their time will come in the majors. Most of them are names you've probably never heard, but they are guys who no doubt you should pay close attention to.
Part of the fun of baseball is following the minors and seeing the stars of the future. Some of these guys are currently cracking the surface of the majors, others are climbing the minor league ranks and some are developing their raw skills and talents.
The Phillies may be in a transitional period but make no mistake, the future is bright and it is just a short distance off on the horizon.