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Phillies Nuggets: What will team's Opening Day infield be in 2018?

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

In the Philadelphia Phillies 9-1 win over the New York Mets Tuesday evening, the starting lineup perhaps offered a glimpse into the future.

Or maybe not. 

J.P. Crawford, making his major league debut, played at third base, rather than his natural position of shortstop. This allowed Freddy Galvis to remain at shortstop. Cesar Hernandez, who is hitting .284 this season, started at second base, though it's unclear what his future with the team is with Scott Kingery looming. And Rhys Hoskins, who has spent much of his early time in left field, played his natural position of first base. 

With a surplus of infield talent, yesterday evening's lineup makes you wonder what the team's infield will look like to open up the 2018 season.

First Base 

Is there really a question here? 

In the first 88 at-bats of his major league career, Hoskins has slashed .319/.419/.750 with 12 home runs and 27 RBIs. We know that he's not going to stay on a Barry Bonds-esque power pace for an entire season, but 30-35 home runs in 2018 seems like a fair expectation. 

Perhaps more encouraging than his power surge is how good of an approach he has at the plate. He's currently averaging 4.43 pitches-per-at-bat, which would put him among the league leaders if he were to continue that approach out for a full season. 

It's unclear what's going to happen with Tommy Joseph. It seems hard to imagine the Phillies keeping him as a bench piece, because Hoskins will seemingly play 150 plus games in 2018 and Joseph can't play another position. There seemed to be next-to-no interest in Joseph prior to the league's non-waiver trade deadline, but you get the sense that Joseph will probably be playing for an American League club in 2018. 

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Second Base

The debate at this position seems to be between Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery, though I'm not sure it's that simple. 

First on Hernandez: I think he's one of the 10 best second baseman in the league. I do think he's underachievered as a baserunner, because he's a great runner, but that hasn't translated to him being a great base runner. With that said, since the start of the 2016 season, I think he's been the team's most steady hitter (that's, of course, of players who have been on the team that entire time). According to FanGraphs, he's been the second best fielder at his position over the time, behind only Dustin Pedroia. 

But, I do think he's probably going to be traded this offseason, because Kingery has had such a great ascension through the upper levels of the minor leagues that one scout compared him to the aforementioned Pedroia

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It's possible that Kingery is the team's Opening Day starting second baseman next year, but it may be more likely that he starts the season in Triple-A. If the Phillies kept Kingery in the minor leagues to open the season, like the Chicago Cubs did with Kris Bryant in 2015, they could avoid him being on the major league roster for more than 171 days, which would give them one more year of team control over him. If they did that and didn't place him on the 40-man roster until he was finally called up, it would also keep them from using up one of his options

If that's the route the Phillies go and we assume that Hernandez is dealt, they will need someone to play second base until Kingery comes up. That could very well be Galvis, who has experience at second base. Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Neil Walker is a veteran that the team could possibly target this offseason on a one-year deal. 

Regardless of who starts the season at second base, expect Kingery to get the bulk of the playing time. 

Hernandez and kingery

Scott Kingery may push Cesar Hernandez out of Philadelphia. (Brandon Apter/SportsTalkPhilly)

Shortstop

Freddy Galvis is easily one of the 30 best starting shortstops in the league, but on a contending team, he's probably more likely to be a super-utility man. With this and mind, and a strong second half from J.P. Crawford, the safe money here is on Crawford. 

Unlike Hernandez, I do expect Galvis to be with the Phillies to open the 2018 season. He's an elite fielder, has become a leader in the clubhouse and if the coaching staff had their way, he would probably be their starting shortstop in 2018. 

With that said, Galvis is a below-average offensive player, despite the pop that he has. That's left the door open for Crawford to usurp him at short. 

If his first-half was any indication, Crawford isn't a lock to pan out. But he gets on-base at a high clip, which certainly pleases general manager Matt Klentak. Prior to his call-up to the majors, he also displayed some pop late in the season. He's not going to be as good of a fielder as Galvis is now, but Galvis was once a fielder with high upside that wasn't consistently making plays that he needed to in the field. Crawford isn't all that different, as we've certainly seen a few plays (here and here) that demonstrate the type of potential he has in the field. 

With Galvis eligible for free-agency after 2018, it makes sense for the Phillies to hold onto him into next season. If Crawford pans out, the team can either trade him or begin to utilize him as a super-utility player. If Crawford doesn't pan out, they have a competent alternative. 

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Third Base

This might be the most interesting one. 

Though Crawford played third base last night, we're operating under the assumption that he's going to be playing shortstop next season. That would mean that, assuming he is still on the team, this would be another position that Galvis may see some time at. 

If the Phillies don't trade Hernandez, he or Kingery could eventually get a look at third base in 2018 as well. 

But the Phillies are likely to give Maikel Franco one last chance to earn being the team's starting third baseman to open the season. Some have suggested that the Phillies trade Franco this offseason, but the idea of trading someone with the ceiling that he has after what's been a dreadful season makes little sense. 

With that said, Franco is going to have a short leash. Despite still hitting for some power, he's slashing .223/.278/.387, has a -24.5 oWAR and despite occasionally flashing some leather at third, is probably more cut out to be playing at first.

What he showed in 2015, and even in a disappointing 2016 season, will probably buy him one last chance to open the 2018 season as the starter. But if he doesn't make good on that, he'll probably find himself on the bench in favor of Galvis or someone else. 

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The Nuggets

  • Jesmuel Valentin, had he not had shoulder surgery in May, likely would be with the team now because he's on the 40-man roster. The 23-year-old, assuming he's healthy, will likely replace Andres Blanco on the team's bench in 2018. 
  • We've started a new weekly feature on our Facebook page: The forgotten 2000s Phillie of the Week. You can read about this week's player, Jose Offerman, here.
  • A lot has been made of the fact that the Phillies called J.P. Crawford up this week, instead of keeping him with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs for the playoffs. While Crawford may have gained something from playing in the International League playoffs, he got a chance to do that (albeit, briefly) last year. The Phillies don't have a ton of time to figure out their long-term situation at shortstop, so I think it made sense to call up a hot Crawford now and get him his first experience at the major league level.
  • Pete Mackanin seems to have weathered a 6-22 record in May and what will likely end up being a 100-loss season, because there hasn't been any inkling from a local or national reporter that the Phillies plan to have any debate about whether he will return in 2018. The team did extend him through next season in early May, which probably didn't hurt his case. 
  • Matt Stairs should be safe as the team's hitting coach. First of all, changing hitting coaches every year would seem to be an exercise in futility. Secondly, I think him suggesting Aaron Altherr lower his hands helped him when he was healthy this year and will continue to pay dividends next year. We'll see what Stairs can do as he gets more talent to work with.
  • If any change is made on the coaching staff, it would seem likely that it would be at pitching coach.
  • Rhys Hoskins is hitting .400 in the 20 at-bats that he has had while playing first base. He's hitting .279 in the 68 at-bats he's had while playing in left field. The moral of the story is that while Hoskins has held his own in left field, he's a first baseman and that impacts him more than just in the field.  

Comments

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JIM

Phillies need to get 2 free agent pitchers at minimum. And shore up bullpen 30 Plus one run game loses clearly shows the need.


If and it might be a big if , the Phillies get the number 1 pick they should still go for a hitter .

Beer ranked #3 might be that guy , Singer would take 2/3 years to reach majors most likely and if he is like Biddle the last #1 he will never pan out. Nola took 2 years and he is at best a 3/4 starter.

Stanton , is available and he would be a nice pieces Mike don't know the spelling of his last name , Royals 3 Rd baseman would also be a nice pick up.

They have money and some good young pitchers in A ball like Romero. Fatia , at Lakewood another left handed pitcher is coming. Sánchez , I thought might be good but I think he has attitude issues. He certainly has talent but bombed at Clearwater.

He is young for league , Monika faded playing 120 games , hopefully he bounces back. Randolph and Hasley are several years from being major league ready.

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