By Sarah Berkowitz
This has been a long and lonely winter for the Phillies, and the buzz has been mostly negative thanks to the trading of legend Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, and the gossip about trading Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard.
Not to mention Jonathan Papelbon, and the less mentioned about him the better.
But pitchers and catchers are due in Clearwater in 10 days and the position players in 15, and with them will be the prospect of a new day with new stars.
The Phils won the 2008 World Series thanks to a lot of prospects they signed and developed in the monors. The Phillies need another run of talent like that if they expect to contend anytime in the near future.
Help is on the way. MLBPipeline.com ranked three Phils among baseball’s Top 100 Prospects: shortstop J.P. Crawford (21st), right-hander Aaron Nola (37th) and third baseman Maikel Franco (55th).
Crawford, 20, is Rollins’ heir apparent, although he might not be big league ready for at least another season. But the talent is there. Philly selected him in the first round of the 2013 draft. Crawford hit a combined .285 with 23 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .781 OPS in 538 plate appearances with Class A Lakewood and Class A Advanced Clearwater.
“It’s not pressure for me,” Crawford said about the expectations to replace Rollins, who was traded to the Dodgers in December. “It’s a good challenge for me to try to be as good as [Rollins].”
The Phillies selected Nola in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. It would not be a shock to see him in the big leagues at some point this season, although there is no need to rush him.
Nola, 21, went a combined 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 12 games with Clearwater and Double-A Reading. He will be in big league camp this spring with a chance to impress the Phils’ front-office officials, manager Ryne Sandberg and the rest of the coaching staff.
“Definitely excited,” Nola said. “I’m ready to meet those guys and be around those veterans and get their input on the game and pick their brains.”
Franco, 22, got a taste of the big leagues in September, but he struggled at the plate. He could open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley for more seasoning. This spring, Franco will be competing with Cody Asche to be the team’s third baseman, although Asche is considered the favorite for the job.
But Franco is hitting the ball very well in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, which should boost his confidence entering camp.”Maikel is going to be fine,” Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said. “Once he calms down, he’ll just take what the game gives him. He’s going to be an offensive player for us. He’s going to produce. He’s going to help us on both sides of the ball.”