PHILADELPHIA — The toughest part of the rebuild is over for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Despite finishing last in the NL East for the third time in four years, the Phillies (66-96) have reason to be optimistic about 2018 and beyond. They have a group of talented, young players who brought excitement to the ballpark after coming up from the minors and helping the team go 37-38 in the second half.
Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and J.P. Crawford proved they belong in a big-league lineup. Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Cesar Hernandez had productive seasons. Freddy Galvis improved at the plate and could win a Gold Glove at shortstop. Maikel Franco finished strong.
“We’ve put a pretty good product on the field these last couple months and I think there’s reason for fans to be excited for what’s to come,” said Hoskins, who set a rookie record by hitting 18 home runs in his first 35 games. “There’s talent coming behind us and that’s only going to add to what we’re able to do on the field.”
First thing general manager Matt Klentak has to do in the offseason is find a new manager. Pete Mackanin was pushed out after 2 1/2 seasons in the dugout. Mackanin will serve as a special assistant to Klentak next year.
“We have reached a turning point in this rebuild,” Klentak said. “We have turned over this roster considerably over the last two years and especially in the last few months. We see our roster right now is littered with young players who look to have a very, very bright future.”
Here’s a look at the past season and upcoming offseason:
Offensive highlights: LF/1B Hoskins hit all 18 of his homers in a 30-game span and should anchor the middle of the lineup next season. OF Williams (.288, 12 homers, 55 RBIs in 313 at-bats), CF Herrera (.281, 14, 56, 42 doubles), OF Altherr (.272. 19, 65) and 2B Hernandez (.294, .373 OBP, 15 steals) were solid. 3B Franco led the team with 24 homers and 76 RBIs. SS Galvis (.255, 12, 61, 14 steals) became the 11th player in franchise history to play 162 games.
Pitching highlights: RHP Aaron Nola (12-11, 3.54 ERA) was the No. 1 bright spot. He’s a No. 1-2 starter. RHP Nick Pivetta (8-10, 6.02) gained valuable experience. So did RHP Ben Lively (4-7, 4.26). LHP Adam Morgan developed into a key reliever (3-3, 4.12). Closer Hector Neris (3.01 ERA 26/29 saves) was consistent. RHPs Jerad Eickhoff (4-8, 4.71) and Vince Velasquez (2-7, 5.12) were plagued by injuries, but are penciled into the rotation heading into the offseason.
Infield depth: Hernandez and Galvis have been an underrated double-play combination for two seasons, but there’s no guarantee they’ll return. Crawford, a 2013 first-round pick, played SS throughout the minors and also can play 2B and 3B. Prospect Scott Kingery (.304, 26, 69, 29 steals in Double-A and Triple-A) is a natural 2B and can also play 3B. Franco is a slugger with too much potential to give up on yet. 1B Tommy Joseph (.240, 22, 69) lost his job to Hoskins down the stretch.
Biggest needs: Before he lost his job, Mackanin made it clear the team needs proven veteran starters. They might not pursue big-money free agents like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish, but Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb would fit nicely in the rotation. Klentak also could use the infield surplus to acquire a top starter in a trade.
Next manager: Dusty Wathan managed most of the team’s young players in Double-A and Triple-A should be a top internal candidate. Former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, Astros bench coach Alex Cora, White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing and Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. also could be on the list.