This season was always going to be one of transition for the Philadelphia Phillies but there is an argument to suggest there have already been more positives from this year than 2014. The franchise's last-place finish in the NL East might be replicated again this year, but the Phillies’ farm system looks a lot stronger than it did last season, and there are a host of prospects coming through the ranks who could help bring the good times back to Philadelphia after a gloomy few years. There were times last season when it looked as though there wasn't much of a bright future in the Phillies ranks, but that has all changed this season, with three young players in particular giving hope to Philadelphia fans that the future could be bright.
While some of these prospects will have an impact this season, it might be next year when these exciting youngsters are really able to have a say in turning things around at The Bank. This season, Maikel Franco has been the real stand-out prospect to break into the Phillies team, establishing himself as a starting third baseman and impressing everyone with how he's adapted to the majors. In the franchise's farm system, shortstop J.P. Crawford and pitcher Aaron Nola look to be the next in line to make the step-up into the Philadelphia team, and both have been tearing up the Double-A with the Reading Phillies.
Maikel Franco: After being called-up to the majors in May, Franco has gone on to live up to all the hype that has surrounded him ever since his arrival in 2010. Following a brief stint in the Phillies’ starting line-up in 2014, the 22-year-old has now gone on to establish himself as the starting third baseman, becoming the first player in the franchise's history to record successive five RBI games. During his 33 appearances for Lehigh Valley, the Dominican youngster helped himself to 12 doubles, four home runs and an impressive batting average of .384, and it didn't take long for Franco to exhibit his incredible power in the big leagues. Coming up against Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman, Franco smashed a 98 mph fast ball out of the park, one of the 10 homers the prospect has helped himself to this season, and the youngster is showing little signs of slowing down.
Photo by Keith Allison / flickr
One aspect of Franco's game that has looked a little suspect has been his lack of patience at the plate. In his 163 appearances this season, Franco has been struck out on 24 occasions, gaining a reputation for swinging at the first pitch rather than settling into things first. The Phillies management will need to work on that part of Franco's game for him to become the complete player, but the youngster still has plenty of time to work on his deficiencies over the next few seasons. In the field, the third baseman has been as solid as you'd like, proving he is much more than a slugger. While this might not be a particularly special Phillies team, Franco is showing all the signs that he could well end up being a particularly special player, and possibly one who could play a major part in leading the franchise back to where they need to be after a tough few years in which they have rarely been seen among the betting favourites to win the NL East with the likes of betfair and other bookmakers.
J.P Crawford: Having been selected 16th overall in the 2013 MLB draft, Crawford was always going to be a player who the Phillies rated highly, boasting above average batting attributes and some lightning glove-work. At just 20 years old, the youngster might be a couple of years away from being ready to make the move into the majors, but Philadelphia will be delighted with where Crawford is at this stage in his career. When he does make the transition into the big leagues, the Phillies will be confident the prospect has all the tools tobe a real success in the MLB.
After suffering an injury at the start of the season, Crawford has starred in the minors and definitely put himself in contention for a call-up should the Phillies suffer a couple of injuries. Starting the season in the high A with Clearwater, the youngster achieved a batting average of .392 with 31 hits in 21 games before being fast-tracked into the Double-A with Reading. In his 27 appearances, the shortstop has 33 hits at an average of .289, proving just why so many rank him as highly as the seventh best prospect in all of baseball, and a player who could be a crucial part of the franchise's future.
Aaron Nola: Young pitching prospect Nola has been a real star for the Reading Phillies this season, justifying his seventh overall draft selection last year. Having gone 7-3 with a 1.88 ERA during his time in the Double-A with Reading, Nola was promoted into the Triple-A with Lehigh Valley, and the pitcher hasn't looked out of place in the international league, going 2-0 and striking out 14 batters during his short spell so far. Possessing an intimidating 92-94 mph fast ball, the 22-year-old has the speed to keep his opponents on their toes, and the youngster is always adding new weapons to his arsenal.
Expected to be a number two or three pitcher for the Phillies when he does make it to the majors, Nola has an outside chance of making it into the big leagues at some point this season if the Philadelphia bullpen suffers an injury or two. For the time being, however, the right-armer will be looking to continue his impressive form in the minors and further strengthen his claim for inclusion before the end of the season. Either way, the early signs suggest Nola has a bright future ahead of him, and the Phillies will be well aware of the importance of carefully managing the pitching prospect.