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Reason for optimism in Philadelphia, Part One

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How soon can the Phillies turn things around?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After every major league season, we hear the same old talk: such-and-such team is rebuilding, so-and-so is a key free agent and is on the move, etc. Sometimes there is evidence to support a "rebuild" philosophy. Other times, not so much.

From time to time, let's face it, it's a complete snow job. Sometimes, you just have to give the fans some hope to cling to for just one more season, until better prospects or affordable free-agent stars fall in your lap.

On the surface, the 2017 season would seem like one that the Philadelphia Phillies would like to forget. At the big-league level, however, there is already enough talent to build a contending team, and though it will take some time it will surely be worth the wait. It's not always easy to be optimistic about a team that barely avoids the 100-loss mark, but there's an awful lot of talent in this organization.

There were obvious highlights: Rhys Hoskins is one (.284, 29, 91, .966 OPS in Triple-A Lehigh Valley; .259, 18, 48 in 50 ML games), to be sure. Dylan Cozens certainly got his share of the ink (27 HR, 75 RBI), though his 194 strikeouts at Triple-A are clear evidence that he has plenty of room for improvement.

The outfield of Aaron Altherr (.272, 19, 65, 24 doubles, .859 OPS), Nick Williams (.288, 12, 55, .811 OPS in 83 games), and Odubel Herrera (.281, 14, 56, 42 doubles, .778 OPS) were all positive notes, and are likely to form part of the core of a resurgent Phillies lineup.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies
Aaron Altherr
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Third baseman Maikel Franco had something of an off year, offensively (.230, 24, 76, .690 OPS), as did shortstop Freddie Galvis (.255, 12, 61, .690 OPS). First baseman Tommy Joseph (.240, 22, 69, .721 OPS), despite fair numbers in an offensively-starved batting order, finished last on the team in WAR (-1.3). At age 25, Joseph's numbers stand to improve along with the rest of this young lineup. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez was steady, if unspectacular (.294, 34 RBI, 41 XBH, 15 SB), and led the team with a 3.1 WAR and runs above average with fifteen.

On the mound, Aaron Nola (12-11, 3.54), Hector Neris (3.01 ERA in 74 games, 26 saves), and Luis Garcia (2.65 ERA in 66 games) certainly carried their own weight, but both Vince Velasquez (2-7, 5.13) and Jeremy Hellickson (6-5, 4.73) lost roughly half the season to injury, and the other half wasn't so great, either.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Jerad Eickhoff's 2017 (4-8, 4.71 in 24 starts, 53 walks in 128 IP) was a disappointing follow-up to his 11-14, 3.65 showing in 2016, but he also lost time to neurological issues in his pitching arm which cost him all of September and could have affected him well before then. If he's going to remain in the rotation, he'll have to develop a third pitch of some kind.

Jake Thompson showed promise (3.88 ERA in 11 appearances, 8 starts), but it's way too early to tell how he'll do over a full season at the major-league level. Mark Leiter (3-6, 4.96 in 90 2/3 IP) continues to live and die with his splitter, and in most any other scenario he wouldn't have been forced into a ML rotation. Healthy starters will push Leiter back into the 'pen, where he could be consistently effective if not dominant. Lefty Hoby Milner posted an outstanding 2.01 ERA in 37 appearances as a specialist, but his 1.47 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9 and 6.3 K/9 are large red flags.

All of these were core players for a team that finished 66-96 and firmly ensconced in last place in the National League East. There is little argument to be made here: as the roster currently stands, this isn't a playoff-bound team.

However, there is a lot of upside in the lineup, a possibility clouded by a combination of off-year production and multiple injuries in the pitching corps. But it's also a very young roster (average age 26.5), and players like Franco, Altherr and Herrera could be very close to their peak-offense seasons. Hoskins turns 25 in 2018, and while he will likely face those sophomore-year adjustments as pitchers get wise to his approach at the plate, his bat will be all he needs to force his way into the everyday lineup.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the future in Philadelphia, and it's a potentially bright future that may arrive sooner than one might expect.

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies
Odubel Herrera
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports