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September 15, 2016

State of the Phils: GM Klentak addresses several hot topics with season winding down

The Phillies season will come to an end two weeks from Sunday, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any interesting news or relevant topics in October and beyond in what could be an active offseason.

Will Aaron Nola be ready for spring training? Zach Eflin?

Will the Phillies pursue a proven veteran bat in an effort to improve baseball’s worst offense? Are changes to the coaching staff necessary?

What’s the deal with top prospects J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams, who many believed would be in the big leagues by now when the season began?

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak addressed those topics and more prior to the Phillies game with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday. Here are the highlights:

Q: Is Aaron Nola (placed on disabled list with right elbow inflammation on August 3) going to throw anytime soon?

Klentak: “He’s doing fine, he’s on track. I think we estimated 4-to-6 weeks before he would start throwing again. I think we’re roughly at the 4-week mark right now. Hopefully sometime in the next week or two.”

Q: Is the plan for him to pitch in Instructional League in Clearwater?

Klentak: “He’ll start just by playing catch and then he’ll start to stretch it out, do some long toss, then get him up on a mound. And I think I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but the idea is before he goes into his offseason, he’s been up on the mound, he’s thrown to hitters, and everything feels good and he goes into his offseason feeling very confident. But we’re hopeful we’ll be able to time that with Instructional League, but if it stretches beyond that, we’ll have to figure it out.”

Q: Is Zach Eflin (tendinitis in both knees) still going to have surgery on the other knee, too?

Klentak: “That’s the plan. Zach is doing great. And we don’t have an exact date for it, but probably the first week of October, somewhere in that neighborhood I guess.”

Tom Mihalek/AP

Q: How much have Nola’s injury and Nick Williams' struggles at Triple-A this season set back the timetable of this rebuild?

Klentak: “I think that remains to be seen, right? We don’t know the full extent of what’s going on with Nola. If he comes back and is healthy and ready and able for Opening Day next year, that probably had minimal impact. It impacted our team for the final couple months of *this* year, but in the long run, it may not. And in Nick’s case, we’ve been talking about Nick all year long. And I keep falling back on the fact that he’s 22-years-old in Triple-A and realistically, not every player is going to have a - the curve of their development is not going to be a straight line. And he had some, he went through some spurts earlier in the year where he was as dynamic as anybody, and then he faded toward the end. I’m not ready to concede yet that’s a setback for him or the organization, it’s part of his development. And we’ll see where next year takes him.”

Q: Pete (Mackanin) said earlier this week that adding a veteran bat or two was necessary, even in helping the players who are here to develop. Will that be a priority this winter?

Klentak: “I think it’s no secret as we look at the 2016 season here that we’ve struggled to score runs for much of the year, and maybe more specifically, we’re last in on-base percentage. I the organizationally that is something we’re really going to need to focus on, not only for this season but for the foreseeable future. In the same way that we talk about controlling the strike zone on the mound, we need to do so in the batter’s box as well. Improvement in that area is going to be critical for us, and whether that comes in the form of promotions from the minor leagues, in the form of trades, or in the form of free agents, I think we’re going to have to consider all of that in order to make our team better. Adding veterans to a rather young club, I think that more often than not that’s going to be a good idea. As for the specifics of this upcoming offseason, we don’t know yet. We’re going to have a lot of meetings to conduct over the next several weeks, several months, and we’ll formulate a plan from there.

Q: How would you evaluate Freddy Galvis’s season? He has 19 home runs, plays great defense but has the lowest OBP in baseball.

Klentak: “I think Freddy, his defense has taken a step -- maybe not a step but several steps -- forward this year. He’s one of the most reliable, dependable shortstops in the league and we see it every night. It seems like every night he makes a play that certainly saves a baserunner if not a run. And he has 19 homers. Really for any position, but especially for a shortstop, to be approaching 20 homers in a season is pretty impressive. We talked about controlling the strike zone and getting on base, which ultimately leads to run production. We like to have players who can control the strike zone and get on base. Now realistically, we know every player’s not going to be able to do that. We know that. There are playoff teams that hit a lot of homers but don’t work counts especially well and there are teams that grind out at-bats and don’t hit a lot of homers. There’s a lot of ways to win in this game. But in the aggregate, we have to look at Freddy Galvis’ season as a very, very positive one this year.”

Q: Do Galvis’s plusses (plus defense at shortstop, some power) outweigh the on-base percentage?

Klentak: The key is production. Whether it comes in the form of singles, stolen bases or homers, it is all what are they doing in total to produce for the team. The answer to that question may depend on what the rest of the lineup is doing. If the other seven position players are all home run players, you may be able to get away with the eighth position player not hitting as many home runs versus a year when the team lacks power and you may need a little more power. It’s more about production in general and not whether singles doubles or homers are superior.

Q: Does Galvis’s season affect at all the notion that J.P. Crawford is the franchise’s shortstop of the future?

Klentak: “We’re focused on these major league players until there are other players that come up here and change our mind. Right now, Freddy has certainly had a strong enough season that he’s our shortstop.”

Q: How do you evaluate J.P. Crawford’s season?

Klentak: “We challenged him. Even a 21-year-old at Double-A but certainly Triple-A is aggressive. I think he’s proven at both levels that he still has the ability to control the strike zone as well as anybody in our organization and probably the best in Minor League Baseball. I think his defense has taken a step forward. He’s still 21 years old. He still needs to get stronger. He still has some things he needs to work on. As I said all along, players are not always going to excel at every turn. They’re going to have bumps in the road and they’re going to have to overcome them. I’m confident J.P. will.”

Q: Are you open to moving Odubel Herrera to one of the corner outfield spots this winter/next spring?

Klentak: “I am open-minded to whatever makes our team defense the best -- really whatever makes our team the best. I think Odubel’s a good centerfielder. I think Roman Quinn’s a good centerfielder. I think Aaron Altherr’s a good centerfielder. I think whatever makes us the best team is hopefully what we’ll run out there next year.”

Q: Not every September call-up is necessarily major league-ready, but could you see Roman Quinn in your lineup on Opening Day?

Klentak: “We’re watching it every night like you are. He certainly doesn’t look overwhelmed at all this first week in the big leagues. Ultimately if he’s on the team next year in April or sometime later in the year, that’s going to be up to him. First he has to stay healthy; that’s been a struggle for him for much of his professional career. But if he’s healthy and he’s playing like this, he will likely be in the big leagues. But we’ve got a long way to go before that. Like all young players, the league will adjust to him and he’s gonna have to prove that he can adjust back. We’re happy that we get a chance to watch him at this level for an extended period this September.”

Q: What’s your evaluation of Mackanin’s first season and his staff?

Klentak: “I think our group as a whole has done a really nice job this year. We talked a lot in spring training about the energy level, staying positive, particularly with a young group. And we’ve had one of the youngest rosters all year long. The effort level of this team and this staff has been very good. I won’t say we’re going to commit to anything at this stage for next year, but at the end of the year Pete and I will sit down and talk about it. Generally speaking, I’m pleased.”

Q: Will possible changes be your call?

Klentak: “Pete and I will talk about it together.”

Q: How about hitting coach Steve Henderson (and his this offense has performed)?

Klentak: “That’s a challenge in any organization, separating process from results. As I said just a second ago, the effort level has been there, not only from Steve, but from the whole staff. They can only play the players that are on the roster. Some players are going to naturally be better at certain things than others. It’s just the reality of business and the way things work. I agree with what Pete has said. It’s certainly not for a lack of effort.”

Q: Similar to Galvis, Tommy Joseph has the power numbers but the on-base numbers aren’t great. What do you think?

Klentak: “By and large Tommy Joseph has been a very pleasant surprise and a success story this year to come from not even on the roster to hitting 20-plus homers in his first year in the big leagues in a time-shared position no less. I think it’s pretty impressive. We can win with players that are not on-base machines, it’s possible. But in order to be a key cog in a lineup you’re going to have to hit the ball out of the park, literally and as long as Tommy can continue to put up the power numbers he’s doing, that can work. Now I’ll say all that, it would be great if he and the team in general could become more patient and work some more walks. We’re going to work with the personnel that we have and put together the best team we can to win as many games as we can with the guys we have.”

Q: Has Cesar Hernandez’s season been a pleasant surprise?

Klentak: “A very pleasant surprise. I shouldn’t say a surprise, but I would say his development. His defense has improved from everything I had heard and our scouting reports had said. He became a very dependable defensive player at second. He turns the double play well. He’s certainly has plus arm strength at the position. And in the second half, seeing him control the strike zone and spit on pitches that are borderline pitches and work counts. In the second half, he’s done a really nice job.”

Q: How about Cameron Rupp’s leadership role and status going forward?

Klentak: “I love the way that Cam Rupp plays the game. He’s full of energy and enthusiasm. I think it rubs off on his teammates. I think the fact that he hits home runs and throws out runners at the rate that he does, it makes him among the best catchers in the National League. Some of my opinions at the beginning of the year were based on what I heard and read and not so much of what I’d seen. I think without question, Cameron Rupp has taken a step forward next year.

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