A headline declaring "Phillies Grab Whatever Roberto Hernandez is", per Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, reaffirms the sad state of affairs at 1 Citizens Bank Way. With a roster in flux and a determination to disappoint in 2014, the Philadelphia Phillies will have to rely on some prospects at some point in the upcoming season.
Naturally, the estimated time of arrival for the following prospects is hard to predict. Philadelphia's front office is obstinate in making the roster work with its current configuration. No matter how humdrum the lineup appears, David Montgomery, Bill Giles and Ruben Amaro, Jr. will trot a band of 30-something's out onto the diamond under the illusion that the team is built to be a contender now.
Most folks don't have the wool pulled over their eyes though.
The fact is the Phillies are not on the same level as the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals. Outside of their own division, other squads, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds appear much more viable as National League Wild Card contenders than the Phillies.
Still, hope remains in Philadelphia. The hope which engulfs Phillies Nation is banking on some of the up-and-coming prospects overachieving and proving the analysts at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs wrong.
If any of the following prospects emerge as efficient and productive Major League Baseball players, then the Phillies will be able to counter their apparent dismal roster construction with younger talent. However, finding space on the 25-man active roster for the following prospects will be tough with how it is projected to be assembled.
Let's take a look at who could possibly help the Phils in 2014.
LHP Jesse Biddle
Widely regarded as the organization's best pitcher, Biddle projects to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter. A local product born in Philly who attended Germantown Friends School, Biddle was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft.
With a four-pitch repertoire, the lefty has the savvy to be a force on the mound. His fastball and curveball grade out the best, but overall, his command has been iffy. Regarding his mechanics, many suggest Biddle still has some work to do. At 22 though, he still has some room to grow, especially since the Phillies added the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona.
Expectations for Biddle will likely be as high as they once were for Cole Hamels. While Biddle isn't necessarily the prospect that Hamels was, the fact that Biddle is a local product from Mount Airy won't suppress the excitement of his arrival.
RHP Ethan Martin
Martin landed in Philadelphia via the Shane Victorino-to-Los Angeles Dodgers trade in 2012. He was the first high school pitcher selected in the 2008 MLB draft. Martin appeared in 15 MLB games this past season where he proved his command was fallible. While putting up an earned run average of over six, Martin still managed to average more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
With a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, Martin can cruise through an at-bat so long as his pitch count remains low. The longer he is on the mound, the dicier he gets. The late break in his curveball shows promise, but Martin's best secondary pitch is his changeup.
Martin is likely to see the majors before Biddle this year. GM Amaro Jr. recently stated that Martin is expected to be "stretched out" during the spring, per Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, implying the Phillies are planning to use Martin as a starting pitcher. At the same time, Martin is likely to make his money as a reliever in the majors.
3B Maikel Franco
The Phillies will give Cody Asche every opportunity to win the third base job this spring. While Asche could be considered a prospect, the fact he had 179 plate appearances last season removes the title from before his name. Still, as promising as Asche has looked at times, it is Franco who could be the better player. Only time will tell though.
As a right-handed hitter, Franco mashed 31 home runs in the minor leagues last year. The highest level of development he reached was Double-A though. With a strikeout percentage that is less than half of what Ryan Howard's is, Franco does show some promise at the plate. Ironically enough though, Franco only walks 3.4 percent of the time.
For an organization short on right-handed hitting talent, Franco is a lock to get an opportunity to shine in spring training. However, he is expected to begin the year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If Asche fails to present himself as a viable everyday third baseman, Franco's chances of being promoted increase drastically, so long as Franco himself continues to display power.
At the end of the day, the Phillies farm system isn't awash with talent. Roman Quinn, a speedy shortstop who showed tons of promise at the lower levels, ruptured his Achilles tendon early last month. One of the better prospects for Philadelphia, Quinn will take a major step back as he could miss all of 2014.
J.P. Crawford, the Philllies' first overall pick of the 2013 MLB draft, is still a couple years away from the big leagues. He did win the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting crown, showing promise for the future.
Catcher Tommy Joseph is a virtual unknown as this point. While he appeared to be a strong candidate to open 2014 with the big league team, a concussion last May set him back considerably.
Lefty Adam Morgan has an incredible slider, but that appears to be it. He was expected to be rushed along but with his faulty command and control, could see the entire 2014 season in the minors.
Carlos Tocci is another prospect who is much closer to Single-A than he is to the majors. Despite considerable upside in his bat and defense, the talk of him being a five-tool player is a bit premature. Signed when he was 16, he still has a long way to go.