Philadelphia Phillies: 2019 is all about the players who’ve been here

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Forget Bryce Harper and Manny Machado; The fate of the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies will be determined by those that have been here before.

As the world of Major League Baseball awaits the free agency decisions of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the Philadelphia Phillies remain hopeful that one of the two chooses south Philadelphia as his next home. Harper and Machado, each of whom met with Phillies brass this offseason, are extremely talented players that would significantly bolster the lineup, likely bringing a few extra wins to a team that finished third in the division with 80 wins a season ago.

Regardless of where each superstar lands, the fate of the 2019 Phillies will largely fall on the developing shoulders of its existing core.

2018 was a polarizing year for the team. Through Aug. 7, the Phillies held one of the best records in baseball at 15 games above .500 and in command of their postseason fate. Then the next seven weeks came, and well… you know the rest.

More from Philadelphia Phillies

Finishing at or near the bottom of the National League in many key offensive categories, Phillies hitters struck out at a record-breaking rate, struggled to manufacture runs, and seldom delivered a timely hit. Even worse was their defense. You might be asking yourself, “What defense?”  At times it was like watching Little Leaguers masquerading around as professionals, though that might be a knock to Little League ball players everywhere. Perhaps the Phillies could have learned some pointers while attending the Little League Classic.


In a season marred with inconsistencies – Aaron Nola’s dominance and Gabe Kapler’s gum-chewing aside – the team did manage to play competitive ball till the end. Unfortunately, when things started to fall, they fell hard and fast.

Yet there is hope.

The key to championship baseball is quality pitching, good defense, and timely hitting. And while 2018 provided glimpses of some and not so much for others, there is reason to believe that this group of young Phillies players has what it takes to succeed.

For different parts of the past few seasons, the Phillies offense has been carried by a handful of young guys. Whether it be Aaron Altherr belting home runs at a historic clip, Odúbel Herrera serving as an enigmatic offensive catalyst, or Rhys Hoskins introducing himself to the league with thunderous bombs, the talent exists. They just have to put it together – mentally and collectively – as a team.

The most interesting player to watch this spring will be outfielder Roman Quinn. Can he secure a starting spot? In what turned out to be a disappointing second half to last season, Quinn’s emergence was perhaps the most significant bright spot. His combination of athleticism, speed, defensive prowess, and hustle sparked an injection of energy in what was left of a dying team’s heart. If he’s able to remain healthy, he’s a dangerous weapon moving forward.

In addition to growing as players, there needs to be growth from an organizational perspective, which seems to be happening. After the failed experiment that was Hoskins in left field, general manager Matt Klentak sent incumbent first baseman Carlos Santana to the Mariners as part of the trade that netted the Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. Hoskins, who looked awful at times while playing out of position, returns to his natural position of first base. Meanwhile, the Phillies have an immediate defensive upgrade with free agent acquisition Andrew McCutchen poised to patrol the left side of the outfield.

Like many of his players, Kapler is learning how to manage on the fly. Despite the first-year manager’s fair share of struggles, he remained consistent with his positive approach throughout the season, and that bodes well for player development. Kapler is an analytics-driven guy, and last season provided valuable data regarding the intangibles of game management. Now with experience to rely on, expect him to grow in-game management.

And this brings us to the strength of the team: the pitching.

Nola, a legitimate Cy Young contender, has quietly become one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. There’s no reason to believe he won’t perform at that same high level in 2019. Veteran Jake Arrieta provides necessary leadership while stabilizing the young staff. If new pitching coach Chris Young can expand on last year’s development of youngsters Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, the Phillies and their fans will have plenty to sing about in 2019. (That song, of course, will be “High Hopes.”)

Another promising emergence from last year’s Phillies team is their group of young relievers. Much like the trio of starters rounding out the Phillies rotation, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, and Hector Neris showed the ability to dominate late in games last year. With a little consistency and continued development, they have the potential to shut down opposing hitters in crucial situations. While not household names yet, if the Phillies are to go anywhere in 2019, their relievers will be a big reason why.

On paper, this year’s squad is already more talented than last. With the additions of shortstop  Segura, a 2013 NL MVP in McCutchen and reliever David Robertson, GM Matt Klentak appears to have the Phillies headed in the right direction. But the most important addition will be maturation from their young core.

Sure, Machado, Harper and even Dallas Keuchel are intriguing names, but the Phillies must rely on growth within if they want to take the next step. With the exception of the Marlins, each team in the NL East improved this offseason. No one expected the Phillies to be relevant last year, and for the majority of the season they were. There’s every reason to believe that the upward trajectory continues in 2019.

Next. Significance of Roy Halladay’s Hall of Fame selection. dark

And while a big free agent splash would be nice, I’ll settle for waves of continuous development for the players already on the Philadelphia Phillies’ roster.