By now, you’ve probably seen the story about how Sports Illustrated predicted that the Houston Astros would win the 2017 World Series… all the way back in 2014. If you haven’t, here’s the picture of the cover. An original copy of the issue is selling for hundreds on eBay.
And while this sort of prediction, regardless of the outcome of the World series, is quite a remarkable one from SI, it’s not totally absurd to see why they would predict such a thing. Jose Altuve was in the midst of what would be his first of 4 straight 200 hit seasons and was hitting over .330 when the issue was released. Dallas Keuchel was in the middle of his breakout season, and would later win Cy Young the very next year. Young stud rookie George Springer had an OPS above .800 and 2 WAR in half a season before a quad injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. And, most importantly, the Astros system was stacked, including ALCS Game 7 standout Lance McCullers and the #2 prospect in all of baseball Carlos Correa, who has blossomed into arguably the best shortstop in Major League Baseball.
And what the Astros had in 2014 then is what the Philadelphia Phillies have now; a young core, top prospects, some dough, and a bright future. Here’s the general makeup of the 2020 World Series Champion Phillies.
Ingredient #1: A young, dynamic IF
C – Jorge Alfaro
The Phillies newcomer made quite an impression in his first stint in the MLB, hitting .318/.360/.514 in 107 AB, good for 0.9 WAR in just 29 games. Alfaro has well-known issues, however, including suspect defense and a career full of low walk rates, so I question what kind of major leaguer he’ll actually be. But at the very least, Alfaro should hit a little with good power from a position that is rather vacant of any offensive value.
Predicted WAR in 2020 – 2.1 WAR
1B – Rhys Hoskins
Hoskins made history in 2017, hitting 18 HR in his first 34 games after being called up. No, obviously the power Hoskins showed this season was not sustainable (unless you think 60 HR is doable). But Hoskins has a very long MiLB track record of not only massive power, but a good plate approach as well, with a career BB% of over 11% and OBP over .375 in Philadelphia’s system. He figures to be the ever reliable 1B in Philly for a long time.
Predicted WAR in 2020 – 3.3 WAR
2B – Scott Kingery
Yes, I know, Kingery is still a prospect. And I get it, not all prospects pan out the way they should. But unlike most prospects, I’m not concerned in the least with Kingery’s ability to be a potential All Star down the line. He has plus-plus speed and a plus glove; any semblance of a hit tool, and those alone give Kingery a decent floor as a major leaguer. But Kingery also hit much, much better this season, fueled by a change in swing stride. The increased use in his lower half not only helped Kingery hit better, but tap into more power, hitting 26 HR this season between AA and AAA after hitting just 8 in the 2 seasons prior. He could afford to walk a little more, but a good hit tool, good power, a plus glove and plus speed from 2B set Kingery up for a very good major league career.
Predicted WAR in 2020 – 3.6 WAR
SS – J.P. Crawford
Crawford has been a top prospect in the league for what seems like forever now, but it’s finally his time to shine. Backed by an amazing glove at SS and a knack to get on base, Crawford figures to be half of one of the best middle infields in baseball by the time the Phillies are contenders again. I don’t think Crawford will explode into the majors like the once comparable Francisco Lindor did, but it isn’t out of the question. He is but yet another young SS that could become a household name around the league.
Predicted WAR in 2020 – 5.2 WAR
3B – Maikel Franco… maybe
I truly think there is a semi-decent player in Maikel Franco somewhere. It may take a change of scenery to unlock it, but he’s in there… I think. Regardless of if/when/how Franco become a productive major leaguer, I don’t think Franco is in the Phillies future plans. He is arbitration eligible through the year 2021 season, so it isn’t out of the question, but I don’t think he makes it that far. With the Phillies money and upcoming free agent 3B in the next 2 years, I think this is a position the Phillies are already beginning to explore.
Predicted 3B in 2020 – Josh Donaldson (age 34). Predicted WAR – 4.1 WAR
Ingredient #2: Cheap, controllable, solid OF options
Odubel Herrera, Aaron Alther, Nick Williams
Now, the three listed above won’t “wow” anyone. In fact, there’s a good chance that none of them ever see an All-Star game outside of Herrera’s lone appearance in 2016. I’m not as convinced as some others that Herrera will be a perennial 3-4 WAR player. Seeing his walk rate regress back to his 2015 BB% after a significant jump in 2016 is spearheading that. Still, for a player who has accumulated 10.3 WAR in just 3 seasons, the 5 year, $30M contract for the former Rule 5 Draft pick is great value for the Phillies, whether Herrera is a 2 WAR player or a 4 WAR player. Aaron Altherr has had a quietly had a good start to his career, worth 3.2 WAR over the last 3 seasons (in only 203 games) and looks much more like the .260/.340/.500 player he was in 2015 and 2017 than the abysmal player he was in 2016, putting him closer to a 1.5 WAR player. Rookie Nick Williams posted a good .811 OPS in his first half a season, but advanced fielding metrics didn’t love the way he played right field, pulling his value down. Williams has had a roller coaster minor league career and many are still convinced he isn’t fit to be a starter. But at the very least, he’s a 4th OF for the Phillies, an overlooked but frequently important role. They also have speedster Roman Quinn and slugger Dylan Cozens in their system, who could each be impactful in their own way.
And however relatively unsexy a starting outfield trio of Herrera, Altherr, and Williams may be, these 3 are exactly what a championship team needs; production for very cheap. In 2020, these 3 combined could still be worth just 4-5 WAR. But if it comes for less than $10M combined, then the production still heavily outweighs the cost. And if Herrera, Altherr, and/or Williams continue to improve and grow, that could be an 8-9 WAR OF by the time the Phillies are contenders again, it very well could be the best value outfield in baseball.
Ingredient #3: Good starting rotation outlook
The Ace – Aaron Nola
One of the biggest shames of the 2017 season is how little I heard about Aaron Nola. And it’s a shame because under everyone’s nose, Nola has become one of baseball’s best pitchers at just 24 years old. Nola had the 13th best SP WAR in the MLB this season, and on a per inning basis, was actually the 9th best, just ahead of well-established studs such as Zack Grienke, Chris Archer and Jacob deGrom. His curveball this season was second to only should-be-Cy-Young Corey Kluber. Nola will be arbitration eligible through the 2021 season and should continue to pump out great seasons if his health permits.
Predicted WAR in 2020 – 6.6 WAR (if he stays healthy)
The Prospects – Sixto, Adonis, JoJo, others
They don’t get the recognition of the Braves and Padres farm system (understandably so), but the way the Phillies have stacked arms in their minors in a similar way is admirable. Sixto Sanchez is the focal point, throwing 100 mph consistently at just 18 years old. Adonis Medina is a kid I may even like better than Sanchez and features quite the fastball himself. JoJo Romero is a command artist with a dirty changeup. But a single elite pitching prospect or even three good pitching prospects isn’t what the Phils have currently; it’s depth. Along with these three, the Phillies have Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez, and 2017 3rd round pick Connor Seabold, all of whom could some day make some sort of impact at the major league level. When it comes to pitching prospects, sometimes quantity can just as valuable as quality. The Phillies have both. It isn’t a complete solution to filling a rotation, but a lot can (and will) change between now and 2020.
Predicted WAR in 2020 for all pitching prospects – 4.2 WAR
Ingredient #4: Money
Heading into the 2018 season, the Phillies have ONE player on contract not still on their rookie deal or going through arbitration. ONE, and it’s Herrera, at a measly $3.35M. This means, heading into next season, the Phillies have roughly $160M below the luxury tax to play with.
Expect them to use it.
As noted above, the Phillies have obvious holes as of right now: third base, the rotation, the bullpen, and, to a lesser degree, the OF. This opens Philadelphia to sign just about any of the following over the next 2 offseason periods:
Third base: Mike Moustakas (2017 FA), Josh Donaldson (2018, 33 y/o), Manny Machado (2018, 26 y/o)
Outfield: Michael Brantley (2017), Lorenzo Cain (2017), JD Martinez (2017), Brett Gardner (2018, 35 y/o), Charlie Blackmon (2018, 32 y/o), Adam Jones (2018, 33 y/o), AJ Pollock (31 y/o), Bryce Harper (2018, 26 y/o)
Starting pitching: Jake Arietta (2017), Yu Darvish (2017), Alex Cobb (2017), Patrick Corbin (2018, 29 y/o), Dallas Keuchel (2018, 31 y/o), Drew Pomeranz (2018, 30 y/o)
And these are just the free agents if some other big names do not opt out, which is also very possible. Needless to say, there are numerous high profile names that will be available via free agency now and in the future. I won’t speculate who makes sense or how Philly will use it’s money, but with $160M to play with, they’re in a position to offer numerous massive contracts to high impact players.
Note: I referenced the bullpen a few times, including noting it as a need, but trying to predict a team’s bullpen 3 years down the line is a fool’s errand. Looks at the 2016 WS Champion Cubs. Of the 9 RP that pitched 25+ IP for the Cubs in 2016, only 5 were with the team in 2013, and of those, one was starting (Travis Wood) and one had just been drafted (Carl Edwards). Only Rondon, Strop, and Grimm were in the cubs bullpen in 2013. That said, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia, and Hoby Milner had very good seasons for the Phillies in 2017 and are all controlled through at least 2020. JD Hammer, the reliever the Phillies received from the Rockies in the Pat Neshek trade, is beginning to look like a late inning bullpen piece. With their few pieces and bottomless wallet, they’ll scrape together a serviceable bullpen by the time 2020 rolls around.
So there you have it. The Philadelphia Phillies are your 2020 World Series Champions. And when the prediction comes true, tell your friends that Six Man Rotation had it first.
(Photo: Rich Shultz/Getty Images)