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October 12, 2016

The state of the Phillies' rebuild: The Outfield

For a two-week stretch in September, a period that began with the start of the NFL season and thus the attention waning (if there was still any) on the Phillies, fans that stuck with the local nine were rewarded with a real treat: a young, dynamic corner outfielder that changed the complexion of the starting lineup.

When his 15-game audition in the big leagues came to a conclusion, Roman Quinn’s numbers weren’t eye-popping. Small sample size and all, but he batted .263 with a .373 OBP, eight walks and 19 strikeouts in 57 at-bats. But it went beyond numbers.

In his brief stay, Quinn showed off more tools than any Phillies outfielder has had since Shane Victorino. For a 23-year-old kid that could pass for Jimmy Rollins’ little brother (he’s not a big guy), Quinn showed a little pop at the plate, a plus arm in the outfield, the ability to put the ball in play and get on base, and speed on the bases that would probably put him up there with the Billy Hamiltons and Trey Turners of the National League.

Quinn may or may not be ready for a full-time big league job when the 2017 seasons begins. But he’ll have an opportunity to prove he’s ready in spring training.

Of course, his ability to stay healthy over the course of any season will continue to be Quinn's biggest hurdle no matter what level he plays at, and he won’t shed that label until he plays in 90 or more games in a season for the first time since being drafted in 2011. But, at least he has the tantalizing talent fans and the front office can get excited about, which has been hard to come by lately in Philadelphia.

Area of Need: Corner Outfield Production

This is where Quinn, a natural center fielder who played right field while Odubel Herrera manned center in September, showed his value. And it’s a value that the Phillies have been downright desperate to find in the last half decade.

But, first, let’s look at 2016.

The quintet of Peter Bourjos, Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel, and Jimmy Paredes combined for 1,106 at-bats this season. Among that group, Bourjos led the way with five home runs.

The Phillies often opted for defense over offense in the outfield all season. And while defense obviously helps a young pitching staff, it's difficult to be OK with the tradeoff when it's coupled with production in both left field and right field the was arguably the worst in baseball.

Phillies ranks among MLB's 30 teams in offensive production from LF and RF in 2016:

 LF.615 ( 29th)13 (26th)  41 (28th) .332 (29th)50 (22nd) 
 RF.634 (30th) 8 (30th)  44 (29th) .348 (30th)  37 (26th)

But it wasn’t exactly a shock that the Phils struggled to find production in the corner outfield spots since that’s basically been the case since the Jayson Werth-Raul Ibanez days ended a half dozen years ago. The Phillies have had a new Opening Day left fielder and right fielder for six years in a row.

Here are those Opening Day duos and their WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) in each of those seasons:

2016 Cedric Hunter (-0.8)   Peter Bourjos (0.1) 
2015  Ben Revere (2.0)Grady Sizemore (-0.9)  
 2014Tony Gwynn Jr. (-1.0)  Marlon Byrd (2.7) 
 2013 Domonic Brown (2.5) John Mayberry Jr. (-1.0)  
 2012John Mayberry Jr. (0.6)  Hunter Pence (0.8) 
2011  Raul Ibanez (-2.0)Ben Francisco (-0.9) 

And that revolving door does not include a long list of others who came and went without much contribution, including Delmon Young, Nate Schierholtz, Juan Pierre, Roger Bernadina, and Casper Wells, among others. 

The good news is the Phillies have their largest collection of outfield prospects in a long time, led by Quinn, Nick Williams, and Dylan Cozens (all considered among their top 10 prospects overall), underrated hitter Andrew Pullin, and four other promising-but-very young kids in the lower levels of their system in Mickey Moniak, Cornelius Randolph, Jhailyn Ortiz, Carlos Tocci, and Jose Pujols.

But the Phillies won’t complete their rebuild by wishing on a roster full of prospects. They’ll eventually have to supplement the bounty of youth on their 25-man roster with proven veterans and there’s no place with a larger vacancy heading into the 2017 season than in the corner outfield spots.

Area of Strength: Center Field

Odubel Herrera was the Phillies best player in 2016, and rather than being redundant in this space, you can read about that from the other day, and how he was better this season than he was as a rookie in 2015. He was also one of the top five defensive center fielders in baseball if you put any stock in’s Def stat (a single measure of overall defensive value) and only six major league center fielders had more defensive runs saved.

But it’s not just Herrera (or the lack of corner outfielders) that makes center field the area of strength in the outfield. The Phillies also have the aforementioned dynamic Quinn.

If there was any level of confidence that Quinn could stay durable over the course of a six-month season, the Phils could consider seeing what the trade market value was on Herrera, in a Ken Giles-ish trade scenario where you trade quality for (what you hope is also quality) quantity. But since there are real concerns about Quinn’s durability, and since the Phillies are struggling to find offense all over the field, it’s difficult to see them trading their best hitter, who still hasn’t celebrated his 25th birthday.

Player in the Crosshairs: Nick Williams

To say that Nick Williams had the most disappointing season than any player at any level with the Phillies in 2016 might sound drastic. Especially when you factor in that he only just turned 23 last month and still has a lot more time to develop into the talent many saw when he was acquired in the Cole Hamels' trade.

But Williams’ first full season in the Phillies system, a season he spent at Triple-A, wasn’t too inspiring. The left-handed-hitting Williams had 117 more strikeouts than he had walks in 2016; his .287 OBP ranked 98th in the International League.

And while he could have made a run at a September call-up by finishing the season with a flourish, Williams went the other way: he hit .214 with a .605 OPS, five home runs, 54 strikeouts and just one walk in 186 plate appearances in 46 games after the Triple-A All-Star break. Throw in the instances where he was benched a couple of times during 2016, which may or may have just been a sign of immaturity, and it would be hard to imagine a worse summer for a player ranked as the organization’s second-best prospect a year ago.

Newly minted Triple-A manager Dusty Wathan will have his work cut out in getting Williams right in the first half of 2017. While the on-base skills may just not be there (Williams has just 107 walks in 499 career minor league games) the youth and talent are still there for him to blossom next year.

The Phillies 2017 Opening Day Outfield

LF – Odubel Herrera
CF – Roman Quinn
RF – Unnamed Veteran Newcomer*

* Manager Pete Mackanin obviously wants to see his bosses add a proven bat this winter, but it’s unclear if the front office and ownership want to pour dollars into a 30-something veteran if they realistically don’t expect to compete for another two to three years. Jose Bautista (who also has the flexibility to play the corner infield spots) and Ian Desmond (who would also be moved back to an infield spot at some point) are intriguing names, though, and the Phillies will probably look for flexibility so they're not blocking too many prospects at any one position.

The educated guess here, though, is both of those two free agents will be paid handsomely elsewhere and that the Phillies will have to be more creative (through a trade?) to acquire a corner outfield bat this winter.

The Phillies 2019 Opening Day Outfield

LF – Odubel Herrera
CF – A.J. Pollock*
RF – Dylan Cozens

*As with yesterday’s projected infield, this is assuming the Phillies go all-in on the ridiculously rich free agent class of the winter of 2018-19. They’ll surely have the payroll flexibility to do so with currently just $2 million in commitments to the 2018 roster.

Quotable: GM Matt Klentak on Nick Williams

“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 … the curve of development is not going to be a straight line (for every player). 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.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21