With the Phillies beginning spring training in Clearwater, there seems to be more optimism associated with the team in quite some time.
While nobody has delusions that the Phillies can challenge for a playoff berth, but there appears to be the feeling that this franchise is going in the right direction after some painful seasons.
While last season's 71-91 record wasn't much so to speak, it did indicate an eight-win improvement from the previous season.
Several young players earned experience and now the Phillies are hoping to take the next step in the painful rebuilding process.
What fuels the optimism is that they have so many young players who appear ready in the next year or two to make an impact.
Plus general manager Matt Klentak has provided more offensive depth, acquiring outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders.
Kendrick (33) gives the Phillies a professional hitter, although he slumped last year to a .255/.326/366 (batting average/onbase percentage/slugging percentage).
Saunders, 30, was an all-star last year with the Toronto Blue Jay, but he slumped terribly over the second half of the season. In his final 58 games he hit .178/.282/357.
Yet for a Phillies team that was last in all of baseball with 610 runs, both players should add to the lineup.
Another key will be the development of center fielder Odubel Herrera, who was signed to five-year $30.5 million extension.
Herrera, 25, made the all-star team, hit .286 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs, just two years after being acquired as a Rule 5 pick.
A key will be how third baseman Maikel Franco continues to develops. On the surface, the numbers didn't look bad for the 24-year-old. He batted .255 with 25 home runs and 88 RBI, but had just a 96 OPS+ (league average is 100). He will look for more consistency and it says here Franco has what it takes to be a future all-star.
Shortstop Freddy Galvis hit a career-high 20 home runs, played his usual outstanding defense but had just a .274 on base percentage.
Cameron Rupp (.252/303/.407) returns at catcher and Tommy Joseph (21 HR in 347 plate appearances) now has the first base job to his own with the departure of Ryan Howard.
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez (.294/371/393) showed promise but is he the long-term solution? And will Galvis move to second once top prospect J.P. Crawford comes up as expected sometime this year from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
And of course there are plenty of questions with the pitching, although there are some good young arms. Plus 29-year-old Jeremy Hellickson and 32-year-old newcomer Clay Buchholz give the Phillies veteran presences at the top of the rotation.
A key will be how Aaron Nola rebounds after being limited to 20 starts due to elbow problems. Righthander Jered Eickhoff enjoyed a strong season, leading the starters with a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts. Righthander Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.12) showed flashes but there are some durability concerns.
The Phillies had inconsistency in the bullpen, especially when closer Jeanmar Gomez imploded late in the season. In his last 12 appearances, his ERA was 19.13.
Veteran relievers Pat Neshek (36) and Joaquin Benoit (39) bring experience to the young pen.
So the Phillies have brought in veterans on short term deals to bridge the gap.
Is getting to .500 realistic?
It might be, but more importantly is how the young players develop. The Phillies went 81-81 in 2012 and have since had four consecutive losing seasons. This year it will be interesting if the trend begins going the other way, while the young players look to make an impact.
© SouthJersey.com 2017. All rights reserved. This article or parts thereof may not be reprinted or reproduced by any other party without the express written consent of SouthJersey.com. For more information, please call 856-797-9910.
For more Local Sports features, visit our South Jersey Sports page.