NL contenders: D-backs bet future on Mark Trumbo

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NL contenders: D-backs bet future on Mark Trumbo

We spent last week previewing the NL East, but the strength of the Nationals and Braves means that the Phillies likely have a better shot at the playoffs by winning a wild-card, something they’ve never done. In the coming days, we’ll break down the Phils’ top competition for the two NL wild-card spots.

Up next: Arizona Diamondbacks

2013 record: 81-81

Additions: OF/1B Mark Trumbo, SP Bronson Arroyo, RP Addison Reed, C Henry Blanco

Subtractions: CF Adam Eaton, SP Tyler Skaggs, 3B Matt Davidson, RP Heath Bell, OF Juan Rivera, C Wil Nieves

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The Diamondbacks traded away two key pieces of their future to upgrade immediately, so anything less than a playoff berth in 2014 will be a huge disappointment.

Arizona dealt 25-year-old centerfielder Adam Eaton (a potential defensive whiz and leadoff batter who hit .348 in 1,560 minor-league plate appearances) and 22-year-old lefty Tyler Skaggs (a top-10 MLB prospect by MLB.com prior to 2013) in a three-team trade that brought back slugger Mark Trumbo.

Worth it? We’ll see. Places loads of pressure on Trumbo to protect Paul Goldschmidt. The opinion here is that Trumbo’s an overrated home-run hitter. From 2011-13 he averaged 32 homers and 94 RBIs. He also hit .251 with a .300 on-base percentage and struck out 457 times. The most alarming sign? His strikeouts have increased from 120 to 153 to 184 the last three years.

And the Diamondbacks acquired the 27-year-old Trumbo just as he’s about to start getting expensive. He made $4.8 million in his first year of arbitration, which could result in his making about $23-25 million the next two years.

Top offense?
The projected Diamondbacks starting lineup looks like this:

Gerardo Parra (L) - CF
Aaron Hill (R) - 2B
Paul Goldschmidt (R) - 1B
Mark Trumbo (R) - LF
Miguel Montero (L) - C
Martin Prado (R) - 3B
Cody Ross (R) - RF
Didi Gregorius (L) - SS

That’s a pretty good lineup. Parra is one of the most underrated players in baseball -- he hit a deceptively low .268 in 2013 with 43 doubles and 10 homers, played all three positions and won a Gold Glove.

Hill’s hit .298 with an .860 OPS since joining Arizona.

Goldschmidt led the NL in homers, RBIs, slugging, OPS and intentional walks last season and finished second in MVP voting. He’s a big, powerful first baseman who hits good pitching and can run and steal bases. My pick for 2014 NL MVP.

Montero was terrible in 2013 but is still one of the top-seven offensive catchers.

Phillies fans remember just how complete a hitter Prado is, and just how difficult he is to deal with when runners are in scoring position. Ross gives you power out of the seven-hole and Gregorius will compete with top prospect Chris Owings for the shortstop job.

If everyone stays healthy, Arizona could have one of the three best offenses in the National League. It looks like a better offense, on paper, than any NL East team boasts.

All No. 3s
The Arizona rotation is solid but unspectacular. There is really no ace, unless you think lefty Patrick Corbin is the guy who was 12-2 with a 2.24 ERA at the end of July and not the guy who went 2-6 with a 6.05 ERA the final two months.

After Corbin comes Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Bronson Arroyo and Wade Miley. Nobody in this rotation is a strikeout pitcher. Cahill relies on groundballs, Arroyo relies on deception and McCarthy relies on pinpoint control.

The bullpen will go as far as Addison Reed and J.J. Putz take it. Reed, the 25-year-old closer acquired from the White Sox this offseason, had 40 saves but eight blown saves and a middling 3.79 ERA last season. You never know which Putz will show up from year to year.

Brad Ziegler and hard-thrower David Hernandez have some skills.

The prediction
Arizona loses a lot of games to the Dodgers because it isn't built to beat them. L.A.’s rotation will negate the D-backs’ biggest strength.

Colleague Ben Davis is picking the Diamondbacks to win one of the two wild-cards, but I’m predicting they go 84-78, miss the playoffs and finish tied for second place in the NL West with the Giants.

MLB Notes: Marlins sending David Phelps to Mariners

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MLB Notes: Marlins sending David Phelps to Mariners

MIAMI -- A person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press that the Miami Marlins have traded right-handed reliever David Phelps to the Seattle Mariners for four prospects, including highly regarded outfielder Brayan Hernandez.

The person confirmed the deal to the AP on condition of anonymity Thursday because the teams have not announced the trade.

Phelps is 2-4 with a 3.45 ERA in 44 games and 47 innings this season. He's a six-year veteran with 64 career starts.

Hernandez, a 19-year-old Venezuelan, is batting .259 in 31 games in the minors this year.

The Mariners entered Thursday three games back in the AL wild-card race. The Marlins are out of playoff contention and looking to upgrade a farm system widely ranked among the worst in the majors (see full story).

Giants: Sandoval reportedly to sign with Giants on minor-league deal
SAN FRANCISCO -- A person with knowledge of his plans tells The Associated Press that Pablo Sandoval plans to sign a minor league contract to return to the San Francisco Giants.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Thursday because the agreement had not been announced.

Sandoval technically will not be free to agree to a deal with a team until 1 p.m. Eastern Friday.

The Boston Red Sox released Sandoval on Wednesday when the third baseman didn't report after being designated for assignment last week.

It officially ended the Boston tenure for the slugger, who never was healthy enough to live up to the expectations that came with the $95 million free agent contract he signed in 2014.

With the Red Sox unable to find a team willing to take on part of his salary, the 2012 World Series MVP with the San Francisco Giants moved on after a total of 161 games, 575 at-bats, 136 hits and 14 homers for Boston -- but not a single one of them in the postseason (see full story).

Mets: After foul ball catch, Gov. Christie says booing comes with job
NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Days after catching boos after snagging a foul ball at a Mets game, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he's never seen a politician cheered at a sporting event except for President George W. Bush after 9/11.

Christie said Thursday he knew he needed to give the ball he caught during Tuesday night's game to a kid or he'd get even more criticism.

The Republican says that booing comes with the job and noted that TV cameras didn't capture the 10 to 12 people taking pictures with him between innings.

Christie was sitting in the third row, near the New York dugout. In the third inning, St. Louis rookie Paul DeJong lifted a high foul that bounced in the stands. Christie reached out with his left hand and snagged it.

Future Phillies Report: Armed with motivation, J.P. Crawford hitting for power

Future Phillies Report: Armed with motivation, J.P. Crawford hitting for power

It took the better part of three months but J.P. Crawford is finally on a hot streak. 

Whether it's a result of warmer weather, the ups and downs of a long baseball season, motivation from the national outlets which have soured on him, or all of the above, Crawford is finally hitting the ball with authority.

This week's Future Phillies Report begins with him:

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Crawford has hit .262 in July with a .357 on-base percentage, but the most impressive part of his month has been the power. Ten of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases (two doubles, two triples and six homers). Crawford is pulling the ball more and generating loft with his swing.

It's an interesting development given the recent criticism from Baseball America's John Manuel and ESPN's Keith Law that Crawford has gotten homer-happy of late. Law wrote in a chat that accompanied his midseason prospect rankings that Crawford had lost his great control of the strike zone because of it.

But the J.P. staples are still there — his on-base percentage is 113 points higher than his batting average this season, and he has 52 walks with 59 strikeouts. 

Crawford has never been a big power guy. These eight home runs are three shy of his career high set in 2014. As Manuel noted on Jim Salisbury's "At the Yard" podcast last week, a player needs to show some pop in order for major-league pitchers to respect his bat and stay away from the middle of the plate. If he doesn't, or if he can't, then that walk total won't be as high once he debuts.

For now, though, Crawford seems to be in a good place, and the Phillies are hoping it continues for another month or so. He still has enough time to turn his 2017 season around and make a push toward next year's opening-day roster.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (Class A Lakewood)
Sanchez is gaining more and more steam nationally as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Law wrote on Wednesday, after seeing Sanchez pitch last week, that he has "perhaps the best" fastball of any starting pitcher in the minors.

The Phillies have been very cautious with Sanchez, who turns 19 on July 29. He has yet to throw more than 80 pitches in any game this season, and his six innings last Wednesday matched his season high.

He's having a stellar year against Single A competition — .199 opponents' batting average, 54 strikeouts, six walks, one home run allowed in 56⅓ innings.

Sanchez still has some things to work on, notably his breaking ball. Even a pitcher with the best of fastballs needs to be able to throw his slider or curveball effectively for strikes to succeed in the majors. 

As Sanchez progresses through the Phillies' minor-league system, these pristine strikeout-walk numbers may regress. His control is excellent and his command is advanced but no 19-year-old has mastered fastball command. In the South Atlantic League, he's been able to keep hitters off balance even when he makes mistakes.

Baseball America ranked Sanchez 47th in its Midseason Top 100, a spot behind Mickey Moniak.

RHP Adonis Medina (Class A Lakewood)
From one young Dominican right-hander to another, Medina is having a very impressive year for the BlueClaws. In 15 starts, he has a 3.32 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 29 walks in 81⅓ innings.

Medina has never before missed bats at this clip. It's his fourth year in the Phillies' system, and from 2014-16 he struck out 6.0 batters per nine innings. This season, he's struck out 10.7 per nine.

Medina, 20, gets his fastball up to the mid-90s and has shown an impressive curveball and changeup this season. 

The Phillies feel good about that young pitching staff at Lakewood, which also includes Nick Fanti, who was involved in his second no-hitter of the season earlier this week.

2B Scott Kingery (AAA)
Kingery has hit safely in 16 of 19 games since being promoted to Lehigh Valley and has reached base in 18 of 19. 

He's swung and missed more often with the IronPigs — his strikeout rate is 23.5 percent at Triple A compared to 16 percent at Double A. But he's still playing well and sparking his team's lineup. 

In his 19 games at Triple A, Kingery has four homers, three doubles and seven steals in as many attempts. Overall this season, he's hit .306/.364/.579 with 21 doubles, 22 homers, 54 RBIs, 26 steals in 29 attempts and 74 runs scored.

And he's done all of this while playing excellent second-base defense. Kingery's speed, defense and contact ability should make him a starting second baseman in the majors soon. His floor seems to be Cesar Hernandez with a bit less plate selection but better defense and baserunning. His ceiling is all of that with the added element of power.

1B Rhys Hoskins (AAA)
For the first time this season, Hoskins is in a cold spell. He's just 9 for 54 with three extra-base hits in July and down to a still-impressive .281/.376/.550 on the season.

Hoskins' call-up will likely occur soon, but the Phillies will first want to him to get back to swinging well and comfortably working deep counts. 

The organization knows it can't keep both Hoskins and Tommy Joseph because both look like everyday first basemen and neither can play another position. The problem is, it doesn't look like the Phils will be able to trade Joseph for much ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

The only two potential contenders who could use a first baseman were the Yankees and Mariners, but the right-handed heavy Yankees never made a ton of sense for Joseph and can be crossed off after Tuesday's acquisition of Todd Frazier. The Yankees will likely use Frazier and Chase Headley at the infield corners.

The Phils would be wise to hold on to Joseph and try to trade him this winter when more teams are likely to express interest. Even if that's the case, though, they can still call up Hoskins and play him regularly. Joseph is not some seasoned veteran the Phillies should feel locked in to starting. He's a league-average offensive first baseman with a below-average glove. He has some value, but it shouldn't come at the expense of finding out what you have in Hoskins.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
It's a shame Cozens is back to striking out so much because Aaron Altherr's hamstring injury might have created an opportunity for him. Altherr is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks, but the Phillies will likely stem the tide with Daniel Nava and Cameron Perkins before welcoming Howie Kendrick back.

In Cozens' last 100 at-bats, he's hit .230 with six homers and 45 strikeouts. Overall, he's whiffed 126 times in 386 plate appearances. That's an even higher strikeout rate than he had last season when he punched out 186 times.

Opinions of Cozens are mixed. Some question whether he'll make enough contact to ever be a valuable player. Some question his attitude. Most question his defense.

Cozens has 62 homers in 972 plate appearances the last two seasons at Double A and Triple A, but his value is tied almost entirely to that raw power. Will a front office that clearly values consistency, a solid hit tool and thoughtful approach at the plate be able to live with Cozens' streakiness?

He turned 23 at the end of May so he's still not yet at that non-prospect age. But Cozens requires further seasoning and is no lock to be in the majors next spring.

C Jorge Alfaro (AAA)
These final two months are crucial for Alfaro, who has had a down year at Triple A. Through 75 games, he's hit .246/.300/.360 with six homers, 40 RBIs, 16 walks and 96 strikeouts.

Alfaro will be up in the bigs next season — he's out of options after this year — so the need for him to show improvement and more consistency has heightened. 

Over his last seven games, Alfaro is 4 for 27 with no extra-base hits, one walk and 12 strikeouts. The Phillies would be right to wonder whether weeks like that will be frequent once he's in the majors. It's tough to live with a starting catcher who doesn't walk, strikes out a lot, isn't hitting for power and isn't a great receiver.

That last part is very important. Catchers are no longer judged mostly by their throwing arm but instead their ability to frame pitches and block balls in the dirt. Alfaro can also be a bit jumpy behind the plate; teams seek stillness from their catcher as soon as the target is set.

Alfaro has a long way to go, but he has the tools and the upside. He just hasn't squared the ball up enough this season, fouling off or swinging through hittable pitches. The Phillies won't enter the offseason feeling confident about their catching situation, short term, if he has a second half like his first.

OF Adam Haseley (Short-Season Class A Williamsport)
The Phillies' first-round pick has had a hot start to his pro career, hitting .342/.437/.479 with seven extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. 

Haseley's teammates at Williamsport rave about his work ethic, and there are believers in the Phillies' organization that he will someday be a 25-home run guy.

Haseley's intensity and focus have stuck out to Williamsport manager (and former MLB catcher) Pat Borders, who noted how locked-in and committed to his plan Haseley is during batting practice. 

Haseley's lone home run with Williamsport was an opposite-field shot down the left-field line. He uses the opposite field quite a bit. Borders remarked that once Haseley starts pulling the ball with authority, he'll be a real problem.

"The sky's the limit for him because he can repeat his swing so well and drive the ball," Borders said on this week's Phillies Clubhouse, which will air after Postgame Live Saturday night. "He hit a home run to straight left field the other day, which is a remarkable feat for anybody hitting the ball the other way but especially for somebody his age (21). He's not a super big kid but he's got power going the other way. When he learns to pull the ball with power also, he's going to be a dangerous, dangerous hitter."

OF Mickey Moniak (Class A Lakewood)
Moniak has had some growing pains in his first full pro season. Through 355 plate appearances, he's hit .263/.317/.379 with 22 walks and 72 strikeouts.

He's struggled with breaking balls, struggled against lefties and hasn't hit for much power. He was picked off last night, the sixth time he's been caught stealing in 15 attempts.

Perhaps Moniak wasn't as advanced as the Phillies thought when they selected him first overall in 2016. But that doesn't mean the shine has worn off — he's still just 19 years old. 

One interesting note from Manuel last week was that some scouts have opined that as Moniak has gained muscle, he's lost some of the quick-twitch ability that had made him such a polished, gap-to-gap hitter.

LF Cornelius Randolph (High-A Clearwater)
Randolph is in the midst of his best month in the Phillies' organization. The 2015 first-round pick has hit .397 over his last 18 games with five doubles, a triple, three homers and 15 walks.

He's hitting .258/.358/.407 this season with nine homers and 38 RBIs. The Phillies are happy to see the double-digit power because Randolph, whose value is tied entirely to his bat, entered 2017 with three home runs in 503 pro plate appearances.

At 20 years old, Randolph is nearly three years younger than the Florida State League average. The Phillies were aggressive in moving him up to Clearwater this season, but he's made the necessary adjustments as the season has gone on.

RHP Jesen Therrien (AAA)
Therrien could soon be up in the majors after the expected trades of Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit. The 24-year-old relief prospect has had success at both Double A and Triple A this season, posting a combined 1.49 ERA and 0.81 WHIP with 62 strikeouts and just seven walks in 54⅓ innings.

The Neshek and Benoit trades would create an opening for Therrien to slide in as a seventh-inning guy. In that scenario, the Phils would likely use Luis Garcia in the eighth and Hector Neris in the ninth. 

It would be nice for the Phils to promote at least one legitimate relief prospect before the season ends so they enter the offseason feeling somewhat comfortable about their future bullpen. Therrien's progress could, in a way, cancel out the steps back taken by Edubray Ramos.

Other tidbits
Zach Eflin pitched well Wednesday night, allowing one run over seven innings for the IronPigs. He missed nearly all of June with a sore elbow but has a 2.22 ERA in five games since returning.

Jake Thompson continues to struggle. He followed a seven-inning start on July 6 by lasting just 4⅔ innings his last time out. He walked four and threw 101 pitches. In 17 starts at Triple A this season, Thompson is 3-11 with a 5.59 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.

Mark Appel was placed on the DL last week with more shoulder problems.

• In 24 games since his promotion to Triple A, outfielder Andrew Pullin has hit .198 with six doubles and two homers.