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January 20, 2017

Additions of Saunders, Kendrick keep Phillies' rebuild on course

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060316_Quinn-Crawford_AP Ryan Lawrence/PhillyVoice

Phillies outfield prospect Roman Quinn, watching batting practice with J.P. Crawford during spring training, is almost certain to begin the 2017 season at Triple-A with the team's acquisition of Michael Saunders.

As Pete Mackanin has opined more than a couple of times this week, the addition of Michael Saunders (along with the earlier offseason acquisition of Howie Kendrick) should improve the Phillies regular offensive production in 2017.

But what also shouldn’t be lost is how those additions won’t affect the team beyond the upcoming season.

For one, both Saunders and Kendrick (who will make a combined $19 million in 2017) can become free agents again after the season, meaning the Phillies will again have payroll flexibility heading into 2018. Additionally, the moves to bring in Saunders and Kendrick allow the Phillies to stay the course on their rebuild and not rush some of their higher caliber outfield prospects, like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, and Dylan Cozens, all of whom played at Double-A or above in 2016.

“We won’t feel like we have to push them,” Mackanin said. “Hopefully they’ll push us to force the issue. And I think that’s a good position to be in. … I think it behooves us to be a little more cautious, especially at this point in the rebuild.”

Adding two proven outfielders means it’s almost a certainty (barring an injury) that Quinn begins the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The 23-year-old Quinn, a former second-round pick, made his MLB debut in September and impressed with his game-changing speed and athletic overall game.

But Quinn has also had durability issues throughout his pro career (he played 71 games at Double-A Reading in 2016 and has yet to play more than 88 games in any full season) and jumped right from Double-A to the big leagues last September.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple-A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game-changer.”

Quinn will almost surely star in a prospect-studded infield in Allentown with Cozens and Williams. Since he has yet to play a game at Triple-A, it’s difficult to call being sent back to the minor leagues a setback.

Maikel Franco was also once a September call-up (in 2014) who began the next season (2015) at Triple-A. Franco forced the Phillies hand that spring when he hit .355 with a .923 OPS in his first 33 games that season at Triple-A.

As with Franco (and with Tommy Joseph last year, when he hit .347 with a .981 OPS in his first 27 games of the season at Triple-A), the Phillies will look for Quinn, Williams, J.P. Crawford, and others to earn promotions in 2017.

“Hopefully some of them if not all of them force us to make a move,” Mackanin said.

And if so, will it lead to a similar situation at last year, with Joseph sharing time with Ryan Howard? Can Mackanin find regular playing time, say, for Quinn, Saunders, and Kendrick?

“Probably,” Mackanin said. “That’s a good option to have. It depends on how well we’re doing and the needs that arise. I’m anxious to get to spring training and see what we’ve got.”

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