When the Miami Marlins first released plans for the home run structure to be placed in center field of their new ballpark, fans scoffed and mocked the tackiness of it all -- marlins on a wheel, moving flamingos, palm trees, colorful arches. But now that video of the structure in action has surfaced, all of that scoffing and mocking is entirely justified. Check out that thing in action! The spraying of water as if to make a splash when the marlin reaches its descent back down is a nice touch.
Technically, the Sixers don't have to trade any of their myriad of big men just yet. Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid are all under contract. The organization can take its time evaluating which pieces should lay the foundation for the post-process era.
That being said, we already know Noel and Okafor don't work well together at all, at least they did not complement one another their first year together. And with Embiid perhaps finally ready to hit the floor in 2016, the Sixers are about to have an even bigger cluster on their hands in trying to rotate three centers.
With that in mind, NBA insider Chad Ford doesn't think the Sixers will wait. In fact, in an interview for 97.3 ESPN, the veteran reporter went on to describe the possibility of either Okafor or Noel being traded before the 2016-17 season as likely.
I think that there's a very high likelihood, that whether it's to move up in the draft or use them to grab a free agent in a sign and trade or just to a trade, that you will not see the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing at the start of next season. I think that they'll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of those two players doesn't necessarily work.
The Sixers needs to pick up assets, especially if they're gonna go ahead and do a Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram with the first pick in the draft. Then they're gonna need those assets to start to fill out their backcourt, because the 24th pick and [the 26th pick], you're not finding starters. I'm not even sure that you're necessarily finding rotation players at that back end of the draft that are gonna make big impact, so they're gonna have to do that via free agency or via trade, and I think either Okafor or Noel — I don't think they'll trade both — but one of those two is probably their best trade chip.
The idea the Sixers would make a move to break up Okafor and Noel isn't exactly fresh. There was doubt they could coexist from the beginning, and already by the trade deadline, rumors the club was at least fielding calls.
What might be a little surprising, however, is Ford's sense the Sixers might prefer Noel of the two. We can come up with a whole host of reasons why that could be — in fact, we did, from Okafor's attitude and off-court behavior, to his skill set being too similar to that of Joel Embiid, to name a few. But at the end of the day, most feel Okafor has the much higher upside.
As for whether Ford would do the deal for the Boston Celtics' third-overall pick in this year's draft, as has been hinted at by numerous reporters, he says, "Absolutely."
If I was Philadelphia, it would be done tomorrow. I don't know if Boston would do it, but for Philadelphia, 100 percent. That would allow them to actually I think bring in another guard, an elite guard, whether that's Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, and suddenly now you've got a very, very bright future. I think that's an easy call for the Sixers if Boston would do it.
But the biggest takeaway here is Ford anticipates one or the other is gone this offseason. Again, he's far from alone in thinking that, but it's one thing to suggest a trade makes sense, and quite another to say there's "a very high likelihood" it goes down.
Ford also takes on a number of other topics in the interview, from his preference for Simmons over Ingram to the Sixers' plans for this offseason and beyond.
J.P. Crawford is settling in at Triple A, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens continue to show power, and Zach Eflin threw seven more shutout innings for the IronPigs.
All of that and more in this week's Future Phillies Report:
C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
The home run Alfaro hit Monday in Reading was such a no-doubter that Erie centerfielder JaCoby Jones didn't even turn around. Alfaro's blast landed on the top of the hill in center at FirstEnergy Stadium, his third of the season.
The hard-hitting catcher continues to impress at Double A. He's gone 11 for 29 (.379) with a homer and five RBIs since our last check-up, posting four multi-hit games in his last seven. Alfaro is up to .353 on the season with an .897 OPS that would be higher if he had walked more than twice on the year.
Alfaro has never been the most patient hitter. He has one goal at the plate and that's to do damage, and so far this season he's been Reading's top run producer. Alfaro has 11 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 24 games.
He also continues to stand out behind the plate. Alfaro has thrown out three more base-stealers over the last week to make him 8 for 18 on the season.
Alfaro finds himself in a tricky situation. He's hitting enough to warrant a call-up to Triple A, but the Phillies aren't going to promote him and create a logjam behind the plate at Lehigh Valley with Andrew Knapp. And even if Knapp may eventually have to switch positions, it's in the Phils' best interest to keep developing both players as catchers in the meantime.
Instead, look for Alfaro to stay at Double A, where the Phillies will hope he can stay healthy and build confidence by continuing to torch Eastern League pitching.
SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Five games into his Triple A career, the Phillies' top prospect is 3 for 15 (.200) but has walked four times. Of course he has. Crawford's walked nearly once a game this season, with 34 in 41 games, one every 5.4 plate appearances.
He's converted all 16 defensive chances in his first week with the IronPigs.
Crawford earned the promotion last Friday after hitting .265 with a .398 on-base percentage four Double A Reading. This is his last stop before the majors, which Crawford figures to get a taste of this September. From there, you could see him battle for the Phillies' opening day shortstop job next spring.
Crawford has been batting second for the IronPigs, a lineup spot he figures to occupy once he sticks in the majors. Crawford doesn't have a ton of speed, but his ability to work counts, make contact and reach base at a high clip make him a prototypical No. 2 hitter.
His best game at Triple A so far was last Sunday, when he went 1 for 2 with two walks against Toledo. The single and both walks came against Tigers top pitching prospect Daniel Norris.
Crawford is seeing better pitchers at Triple A and how he holds up bears watching. On Tuesday, he went 0 for 3 against Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who was successful last season in the majors. On Wednesday, Crawford hit an opposite-field single off lefty Roenis Elias, also a former big-leaguer, after making outs in his first two at-bats.
RHP Zach Eflin (AAA)
Ho-hum, another dominant start from the Phillies' 22-year-old right-hander speeding toward The Show. Seven more shutout innings from Eflin Tuesday at Pawtucket improved him to 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA in eight starts. He's struck out 45 and walked eight in 52⅔ innings and held his opponents to a .182 batting average.
Lefties are hitting just .191 against Eflin with one extra-base hit in 71 plate appearances. In fact, he's allowed just seven extra-base hits all season, or one every 28.3 plate appearances.
Eflin's 0.80 WHIP leads the International League.
The 6-6 sinkerballer just continues to go deep into games and pitch low-stress innings. In his last three starts, Eflin has pitched 21 innings and allowed one run on just 10 hits. He's walked one batter each game and struck out 17. He's been very efficient, averaging 14.7 pitches per inning.
Eflin is six months younger than Aaron Nola, who debuted with the Phillies last season a month after turning 22. Eflin could follow suit this summer. If he keeps rattling off performances like this, he could eventually crack the Phillies' rotation. A spot would open if a pitcher is injured, if Jeremy Hellickson is traded, if Adam Morgan struggles or if the Phillies limit Vince Velasquez's innings.
RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson gave up three solo home runs in his most recent start last Friday, but those were the only three runs he allowed over eight innings. He put only three other men on base over those eight frames and struck out eight.
After allowing 13 earned runs in his first four starts, Thompson has given up just four in his last four. He has a 1.33 ERA and a .172 opponents' batting average over that span, and his groundball rate has risen from 35 percent to 48 percent.
The homers Thompson allowed last Friday were to former big-leaguers Casey McGehee, Tyler Collins and Chad Huffman. Collins' was the last and came with two outs in the eighth inning to tie a game the IronPigs won on a walk-off error.
After Huffman's leadoff homer in the second, which came on a fastball high and right down the middle, Thompson really began hitting spots, jamming lefties and executing a bunch of two-seam fastballs that broke low and in to righties.
In eight starts with Lehigh Valley, Thompson is 2-4 with a 3.33 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.7 walks.
RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Though Appel was having some early-season success in his first year in the Phillies' system, the number of men he was putting on base and stranding foretold some eventual regression and that's been the case his last four starts. Appel recorded just two outs on Sunday before exiting for Lehigh Valley.
Appel's velocity was down to the 88 to 90 mph range, which is problematic given the relative flatness of his fastball. If he's sitting in that range he is going to get hit around, period.
The trouble began when he walked Anthony Gose on a full count to start the game. Dixon Machado followed with a double down the left-field line on a high, 88 mph fastball. After a groundout, Appel hung a curveball that was nearly hit out of the park by Huffman for an RBI double. Three of the next four batters reached and Appel was removed for Severino Gonzalez, having allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning.
There was just nothing special about Appel's stuff. His velocity early in games had been 93 to 95 mph, which helped him avoid allowing any runs in the first inning prior to last weekend. But if you were to just arrive at the ballpark Sunday and watch Appel without knowing his name, you'd have never guessed he was a former first overall pick. Is it fair to mention his draft status after each start? Probably not, but that's part of the deal when you get taken first overall and make all that money before reaching the bigs. Appel is aware of that and doesn't fight it — he's learned to accept it.
Through eight starts with Lehigh Valley, Appel is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, and he's trending in the wrong direction. Let's put it this way: It's no fluke that he's put 60 men on base in 38⅓ innings.
OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams had a horrible night last Thursday, going 0 for 7 with four strikeouts in a 15-inning game for the IronPigs. He's hit in all four games since, going 5 for 15 with two doubles and a homer. Good to see him finally striking the ball with authority. Prior to the last three nights, Williams had just one extra-base hit in his previous 33 plate appearances.
The 22-year-old is hitting .262/.289/.409 this season with six doubles, two triples, four home runs, 19 RBIs, seven walks and 38 strikeouts.
He's holding his own against righties, hitting .295 with an .807 OPS, but the left-handed hitting Williams is just 8 for 44 (.182) with one walk and 14 K's against lefties. That continues a theme from last year, when Williams hit .330 against righties and .210 against lefties.
Perhaps the way Williams is hitting the ball lately is putting him on track for the hot streak he'd love to have. As of now, it's looking like when he does eventually make the majors, he could be broken in as a platoon outfielder against right-handed pitching.
OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
From Williams we go to Cozens, who will not stop crushing the baseball. Since having his 11-game hit streak snapped last Thursday, Cozens has gone 6 for 23 (.261) with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games.
The season numbers for the giant lefty are startling: 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 45 games. Cozens leads the Eastern League in homers and slugging percentage (.587) and is second in doubles and OPS.
Cozens is just 21, but he's powering himself up to Triple A. His success is adding intrigue to the Phillies' future outfield picture.
C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp is settling back in after a two-week slump, going 6 for 17 with three doubles and a homer in his last five games. The homer came against Tigers lefty prospect Matt Boyd, who went to Detroit from Toronto along with Norris in last summer's David Price trade.
It's pretty apparent that Knapp is going to hit his way up at some point. He has a hit in 12 of his last 13 games, and over the last two seasons is batting .321 with a .574 slugging percentage and 77 RBIs in 90 games combined between Double A and Triple A.
Knapp is working every day behind the plate to get better defensively. Reading manager Dusty Wathan has said his blocking has improved faster than his throwing. Base stealers are 15 for 18 this season against Knapp, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013.
RHPs Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta (AA)
Lively, the 24-year-old pitcher the Phillies acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, followed up his 12-strikeout effort with a quality start and win on Sunday. He allowed three runs on four hits over six innings to improve to 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA. He's struck out 49 batters in 53 innings and allowed just one home run.
Pivetta, 23, is 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in nine starts for Reading with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Lively and Pivetta, who was acquired from the Nationals last summer for Jonathan Papelbon, have flown under the radar the first two months because of how many other top prospects the Phils have acquired, but they add to the organization's list of capable young right-handed pitchers.
At some point in the next few years, some of these guys could be shifted to the bullpen. The Phillies won't have enough room in the rotation if most or all of their right-handers pan out.
The lottery is over. The NBA Draft is still roughly a month away. The playoffs are funneling toward the finals. Free agency hasn’t begun. That means it’s trade speculation season for hoop heads.
Not surprisingly, the 76ers have been mentioned as potential trade partners for sundry teams. That’s what happens when you have the first overall pick in the upcoming draft, a bunch of picks in subsequent seasons, and a clogged frontcourt with too many ill-fitting but tradable pieces. The Sixers are said to “covet” an additional high pick in this year’s draft. Add that to the belief that the Sixers are high on Nerlens Noel for assorted reasons, and it’s easy to understand why Jahlil Okafor’s name keeps popping up these days.
Okafor was second among all rookies in scoring and he led the Sixers in that category. He was also a liability on defense and, too often, a ball-movement killer on offense. Still, he’s worth something on the trade market. He’s the rare expendable frontcourt redundancy that could return real value. In theory. The potential problem is identifying a team that wants Okafor and has something the Sixers desire in exchange.
Let’s go through the NBA. We can eliminate some teams right away for various reasons: because they’re at the top of the NBA food chain and wouldn’t want a young guy when they’re trying to win now; because they already have a big man or big men; because they don’t play a style suited to Okafor’s game; because they don’t have much to give the Sixers in return. You could apply one or several of those to the following organizations: Cleveland, Toronto, Miami, Charlotte, Washington, Indiana, Detroit, New York, Brooklyn, Golden State, OKC, San Antonio, Clippers, Memphis, Houston, Utah, Sacramento, New Orleans and Minnesota.
Anything is possible. This isn’t scientific. Crazy/unexpected/lopsided trades happen. (Shouts to Vlade and Vivek.) Perhaps a trade materializes with one of those teams, it’s just that those destinations don’t seem likely. Moving on.
In the maybe category, we have teams that are rebuilding, teams that need a shakeup, teams that are still on the rise, teams that love to tinker and teams that are wholly unpredictable. They include Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Milwaukee, Portland, and Dallas. We’ll take them in order.
The Hawks are in danger of losing Al Horford in free agency this summer, and Paul Millsap is a free agent next year. Maybe there’s a deal variation that lands the Sixers Jeff Teague (UFA in 2017) or Dennis Schroder (RFA in 2017). Chicago is a mess. The Bulls really need a makeover, but beyond Jimmy Butler, who would be tough (if not impossible to pry away), not sure what they have that might make the Sixers weak in the knees. Orlando has potential in its backcourt, which the Sixers need. Victor Oladipo or Mario Hezonja would look excellent in a Sixers uniform, but would Okafor fit with Nikola Vucevic? Probably not. Not sure Okafor fits in Milwaukee, either. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the guy there, and they have Jabari Parker. Plus adding Okafor means somehow getting rid of Greg Monroe (he’s not a free agent until next offseason). Portland made the playoffs this year in surprising fashion. They’re on the rise again. They could use an upgrade in the paint for sure, but it doesn’t appear they have the picks/players to offer in return. (No, they’re not giving up CJ McCollum.) Dallas is a wild card. Mark Cuban is unknowable.
That leaves four teams that might be the best bets: Boston, Lakers, Phoenix and Denver. According to excellent long-time NBA reporter David Aldridge, who wrote the piece about the Sixers' coveting thy neighbor’s high first-rounder, “trading Okafor would be the easiest and best way for Philly to get another high first-round pick.” He’s right about that. The Lakers pick second. Boston picks third (along with 16 and 23). Phoenix is fourth (along with 13 and 28). Denver is seventh (along with 15 and 19).
As Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak admitted in the aforementioned Aldridge piece, the Lakers “need a player in the frontcourt.” Meanwhile, they have Jordan Clarkson (RFA) in the backcourt, along with D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams. Would they be willing to flip Russell for Okafor? Or the second pick for Okafor? Those deals make sense for the Sixers. They make somewhat less sense for the Lakers considering the L.A. could just stay put at two and plug in whichever player the Sixers don’t take. Much simpler for them. Smarter, too.
Denver and Phoenix both have multiple first-round picks in this draft and rosters that need alteration. But both also have big men in place that might make those maneuvers complicated. Like Okafor, Nikola Jokic was named All-Rookie first team for the Nuggets. Alex Len hasn’t been nearly as good for Phoenix, but he was a first-round pick a few years ago. Okafor wouldn’t fit very well with either of them, which probably means getting creative to work with those teams.
That brings us to the most popular theory: Okafor to Boston. There were rumors that the Celtics wanted him at the trade deadline. Even without additional parts, the third pick might be enough for the Sixers to do a deal. Boston also has a cache of other current and future picks to work with, along with some players they could throw in as sweeteners. I get why dealing with Boston makes sense for the Sixers, but does Okafor make the Celtics legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference? He’s not a rim protector or a monster rebounder, he needs the ball on offense to make an impact, and his defense would probably make Brad Steven’s head explode. I’m not so sure it’s as obvious from Boston’s end as it is from Philly’s view. And yet the Celtics have to do something. Maybe they talk themselves into Okafor.
Admittedly, that’s a super-simplified, cursory look at the situation. The Sixers only need to find one taker. With the draft and free agency approaching and the salary cap set to jump significantly, it’s about to be NBA silly season. There’s always lots of movement. The guess here is that the Sixers unload Okafor during the pending madness. It makes too much sense from their perspective, though maybe there aren’t as many clear-cut potential trade partners as it seemed.