At 65-82, the Phillies’ season may not stand out as a as one that many fans would consider a significant step forward. That Philadelphia is in the midst of a significant rebuild was a widely known fact entering the year, and few expected a major improvement in the standings this season. However, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, hired to that post just last year, spoke to reporters (including Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com) before yesterday’s game to explain that the organization feels that there was plenty of progress made in 2016.
Among the players to draw praise from Klentak were catcher Cameron Rupp, first baseman Tommy Joseph, second baseman Cesar Hernandez and shortstop Freddy Galvis. While Klentak acknowledged that players like Galvis and Joseph (and really, most of the team) need to continue to work on developing their approach at the plate in order to work counts and boost on-base percentage at an individual and at a team level, he also noted the unexpected pop from each player — Joseph due to his status as a non-roster player entering the season and Galvis due to a lack of track record of power — has been a boon for the Phillies.
“Really for any position, but especially for a shortstop, to be approaching 20 homers in a season is pretty impressive,” said Klentak shortly after praising Galvis as “one of the most reliable, dependable shortstops in the league” from a defensive standpoint. While he didn’t directly state the fact, Klentak suggested that he’s cognizant of the fact that Galvis has never walked much and may never do so, explaining that lineups can contain such players as long as it’s not a trait from top to bottom. “The answer to that question may depend on what the rest of the lineup is doing,” the GM responded when asked if Galvis’ defense and power outweighed his .270 OBP.
Galvis’ future standing with the club, of course, has a direct impact on the team’s plans for top prospect J.P. Crawford — the former No. 16 overall draft pick that has risen to become one of the game’s consensus top 10 prospects. While Crawford is viewed as a potential franchise cornerstone at the position, Klentak didn’t shy away from stating that Galvis performed well enough in 2016 that, “Right now … he’s our shortstop.”
The first-year GM pointed to the fact that Crawford still has work to do to develop in the minors, even though he impressed as one of the youngest players at both the Double-A level and Triple-A level in 2016. “Even a 21-year-old at Double-A but certainly Triple-A is aggressive,” said Klentak. “I think he’s proven at both levels that he still has the ability to control the strike zone as well as anybody in our organization and probably the best in Minor League Baseball. I think his defense has taken a step forward. He’s still 21 years old. He still needs to get stronger. He still has some things he needs to work on.”
Klentak offered a similarly patient viewpoint of top outfield prospect Nick Williams — a key piece to last season’s Cole Hamels blockbuster that struggled to a .258/.287/.427 batting line at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year. Citing Williams’ age (22) and advanced minor league placement, Klentak stated that the 2016 campaign shouldn’t be viewed as a setback for the organization and suggested that Williams still has the ability to develop with another round of exposure at the Triple-A level.
Williams’ lack of a step forward in 2016 may raise some questions about the outfield composition next season, though Klentak indicated that the team has an encouraging mix from which to draw with Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr each capable of playing center field. Altherr has struggled in his return from a wrist injury that cost him the first four months of the season, though, and Quinn is only in his first week at the Major League level.
With that in mind, and with the fact that Klentak offered so much praise for a number of his infielders and for his catcher, it’s worth at least wondering if the Phils will look to add a veteran outfield bat this winter. Manager Pete Mackanin recently voiced to Lawrence that he’d like to see at least one, if not two veteran bats added to the roster this winter to help take the pressure off some of his younger players in the middle of the lineup. Klentak’s comments on Thursday indicated that the organization will indeed be open to adding a bat (and from my personal vantage point, the outfield seems to be the most logical spot for an upgrade).
“Organizationally [on-base percentage] is something we’re really going to need to focus on, not only for this season but for the foreseeable future,” said Klentak. “In the same way that we talk about controlling the strike zone on the mound, we need to do so in the batter’s box as well. Improvement in that area is going to be critical for us, and whether that comes in the form of promotions from the minor leagues, in the form of trades, or in the form of free agents, I think we’re going to have to consider all of that in order to make our team better. Adding veterans to a rather young club, I think that more often than not that’s going to be a good idea.”
Looking at the upcoming class of free agents, players like Dexter Fowler, Jon Jay and even Jose Bautista would all fit within Klentak’s stated goal of injecting some on-base percentage into the batting order and increasing the lineup’s ability to work counts, though there’s always difficulty in selling a free agent on joining a rebuilding club. Both Ian Desmond and Martin Prado have been reported as potential offseason targets for the Phillies as well, and either versatile veteran could give the team an upgrade in the infield or in the outfield.
Phillies fans and anyone interested in tracking the team’s progress through its rebuild are highly encouraged to read Lawrence’s piece in its entirety, as it’s posted in Q&A format and is rife with comments from Klentak regarding the organization’s direction, the health status of pitchers such as Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin, and the performance of Mackanin and some members of the coaching staff.