10 big Phillies questions and answers ahead of opening day

10 big Phillies questions and answers ahead of opening day

Opening day is here, as are Jim Salisbury, Corey Seidman and Marshall Harris to answer 10 random but crucial questions about the 2017 Phillies.

Without further ado:

1. Who will be the first top prospect the Phillies call up?

Roman Quinn. If a starter breaks down in the outfield, he'll come -- and he might never leave. That's how electric he could be.

Jorge Alfaro. Catchers get banged up, catchers get hurt all the time. Alfaro is on the 40-man roster and the other catchers in the organization who aren't in the majors are not, so he's an easy, logical call-up if Cameron Rupp or Andrew Knapp require a trip to the DL.

Jake Thompson. While I'm not wishing it to be a starting pitcher, stints on the 15-day DL happen that alter a team's rotation. Zach Eflin may not be ready by the time someone hits the disabled list.

2. What advice would you give one Phillies player?

Brock Stassi should reach out to Greg Gross, Del Unser and Lenny Harris and pick their brains about what it takes to be a successful pinch-hitter in NL -- prep, mindset. If he develops that skill to go with a good glove, he could stick around a while.

Maikel Franco should be in Howie Kendrick's ear, asking questions about his approach as well as those of his former teammates like Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Franco could learn a lot from Kendrick, a guy who's racked up almost 1,500 hits by thinking up the middle.

Cesar Hernandez needs to carry the confidence of his spring training into the regular season, specifically the baserunning. He was 6 for 6 in stolen bases during spring training. If he's figured out how to weaponize his speed, look out.

3. Who will be the first Phillie traded?

Jeremy Hellickson doesn't fit long term into the rebuild and the Phils have starting pitching depth. The Phils need him to pitch well, but will probably still have to eat some of $17 million.

Michael Saunders. The Phillies have Aaron Altherr with Nick Williams and Roman Quinn not far behind. Saunders has a contract will look quite team-friendly if he hits in the first half the way he did last season. He's due $8 million in 2017 and has a $10.5 million club option for 2018, so a team could get 1 1/2 seasons of him or just a half-season. If he has 16 homers at the All-Star break, someone will come calling.

Howie Kendrick is as good a candidate as anyone. The Phillies have other guys fighting for run on the major-league team. Don't be surprised if he's moved to make room for more Aaron Altherr at-bats or a Roman Quinn or Nick Williams promotion.

4. Who will be the next Phillie to sign an extension?

Does Manny Machado count? If not, I like Eick.

Agree, Jerad Eickhoff. He's been so solid so far, has shown no signs of wearing down and there's no type of health risk that sticks out. He's built like a 200-inning-per-year pitcher in the John Lackey mold. As long as he keeps it up, he'll be rewarded by the Phillies.

Clean sweep. It doesn't have to be Jerad Eickhoff. But let's be real ... it should be Eickhoff. 

5. Will Cesar Hernandez reach 30 steals?

He will go into the final day of the season with 29 and get caught leaning.

I'm going under. Vegas set it at 25.5 for Hernandez, and I think he finishes with just about 25. He went 17 for 30 last season, a very rare feat of inefficiency. You figure he'll be better this season as he gets more acclimated to pitchers' times to home plate and their pickoff move, but I don't see a 13-steal uptick.

I mean, he better. Hard to envision him having a successful season if he can't swipe 30. 

6. Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact?

Matt Stairs. Born to be a hitting coach. He will help some guys.

Howie Kendrick. I get the hesitancy from Phillies fans to believe he'll move the needle at all, but prior to last season, he was a mortal lock for a .290-plus batting average. He doesn't walk a ton, he doesn't hit a ton of extra-base hits, but he's a solid, Martin Prado-like bat.

Joaquin Benoit. The Phillies desperately need bullpen stability. He's there as a safety net in case Jeanmar Gomez isn't ready to save 37 games again or picks up where he left off at the end of last season.

7. Who is the prospect you're most eager to follow this season?

I already have Sixto Sanchez alerts on my phone. The Phils have quantity of prospects in minors. He's the one with real star power.

Mark Appel just because this is really make-or-break time for the 2013 first overall pick. Last year was basically a lost year for Appel, who made only eight starts before needing elbow surgery. There is no longer prospect luster on Appel. Now he needs to work his way up or work his way out.

Roman Quinn. If he can stay healthy, he's the guy I can see gaining the most fans quickly because of the way he plays the game. Yes, "the right way."

8. Who will be the Phillies' leader in saves?

Jeanmar Gomez will have another good run and lead the team in saves even though Hector Neris will take over the role at some point.

Hector Neris. I see Gomez keeping the job for about six weeks, then losing it Joaquin Benoit, who the Phillies showcase as a setup man-closer combo ahead of the trade deadline. Benoit pitches well, gets moved, Neris moves into the role and finishes with about 20 saves to lead the team.

Last season, I said Jeanmar Gomez and was correct. This year, I will say Hector Neris and probably be wrong. But I'm not afraid to be wrong, clearly.

9. What will the Phillies' average game time be?

2:55, but I hope I'm heavy.

3:02. I think the league average is around 2:56.

3:10 but I'm praying for Ricky Bo's sake they're all under 2:45.

10. How many wins?

75-87. They will be better, but runs are still a concern and division is better.

76-86. They won 71 games last year and should unquestionably be better this season -- better lineup, better bullpen, a lot of prospects on the cusp. But I can't give them a 10-win upgrade to get to .500 because they were a bit lucky last season. The 2016 Phillies were 28-23 in one-run games, one of only two teams in the majors to finish under .500 overall but over .500 in one-run contests. (The D-backs were the other.)

79-83. I'm being optimistic the starting pitching keeps them in games and a couple of hitters take huge steps forward.

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.