Phillies Mailbag: J.P. Crawford's debut, ABs for Altherr, Franco expectations

Phillies Mailbag: J.P. Crawford's debut, ABs for Altherr, Franco expectations

Ahh, the final weekend before opening day.

Time to open up the ol' bag of mail for your pressing Phillies questions:

An interesting question. There were pretty high expectations last season for Aaron Altherr before he suffered the wrist injury early in spring training. Because wrist injuries tend to affect a hitter's swing, we can just act like 2016 never happened -- Altherr came back late in the season and played every day, but hit just .197 in 227 plate appearances.

But this is the same big, fast, athletic, powerful outfielder who slugged .489 in 2015 with 20 extra-base hits in just 161 PAs. He had a strong spring, hitting .297 with four home runs.

Marshall Harris and I asked Pete Mackanin about Altherr on the Measured Takes podcast Thursday and Mackanin's answer was simply that if Altherr hits, he'll play.

I think there will be ample opportunity for Altherr even though he enters the season as the Phillies' fourth outfielder. He could face a tough lefty instead of Michael Saunders. He could play left field with Howie Kendrick moving to second base when Cesar Hernandez needs a day off.

As for Stassi, I think his best chance at playing time will come at first base because he's a plus defender and bats from the opposite side of Tommy Joseph. It would be a good idea for the Phillies to get Stassi some starts against hard-throwing righties.

I think J.P. Crawford will be up this season, yes. The Phillies have to protect him on the 40-man roster after the season anyway, so he's likely to debut in September, if not before.

If Freddy Galvis goes down with an injury at any point, you'll probably see Crawford unless he's just in a bad funk at Triple A. 

But if/when Crawford comes up for good, I don't expect the Phillies to move him away from shortstop. He's a perennial top prospect and a lot of that value is tied to his premium defensive position. It's where the Phillies want him long term, so why mess around and move him somewhere else and potentially affect his growth?

Galvis is an elite defensive shortstop who deserves to play shortstop. Cesar Hernandez is a better hitter at second base. So if everything pans out -- Crawford makes it up, Hernandez doesn't take steps back -- either Hernandez or Galvis would probably have to be traded. Hernandez would have more value because his skills are more evident, but there are a lot of teams that could use Galvis. Shortstop is a thin position league-wide, and this guy hit 20 homers with Gold Glove defense last season. Yes, his .274 on-base percentage was as bad as it gets, but the defense and power are still more than most shortstops offer.

I don't see how they couldn't. Remember that at this time last year, Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph were unproven and Ryan Howard was clearly near the end, so Franco was the Phillies' only real power threat.

Franco started out hot, but by May 1 his batting average was around .250 and his on-base percentage around .300, and he barely inched up from that point forward. He swung out of his shoes a lot, gave away at-bats and, at times, didn't seem to be concentrating.

Good.

Last season showed Franco he has a lot of work to do. At an offensive position, it's not enough to have a .310 on-base percentage even if you're hitting 25 homers.

Mackanin likes the way Franco used the middle of the field this spring, and said that if he had that approach more last season, he could have turned more hanging sliders into extra-base hits.

With a well-respected veteran like Kendrick batting before him, Franco just seems less likely to give away at-bats. He'll have someone to answer to. With Saunders batting fourth or fifth, pitchers won't be able to shy away from Franco with runners in scoring position because there's just as much a chance for a homer from the two guys batting after him.

I'm not saying that the presence of Kendrick and Saunders alone will push Franco to reach his potential, but it will help. 

As far as Herrera ... I think he's pretty much immune to his surroundings, in a good way. He's such an energetic player and can do so much with the bat that he seems like he'd hit .290 whether he was leading off for a bad team or batting second or sixth for a good team.

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tim Tebow is moving up and heading south -- to some very familiar territory.

Tebow has been promoted to the New York Mets' high Class A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. The 29-year-old Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships in football and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy during his stellar career with the Gators.

"I'm not sure how much of an additional challenge it will be," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Sunday in San Francisco. "Clearly it's a step up. I certainly think he can handle it."

Tebow began his first pro baseball season with Class A Columbia, drawing huge crowds at home and wherever the Fireflies went in the South Atlantic League. He entered his final Fireflies game batting .222 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

"I wouldn't say he has excelled there, but at the same time, what he's done there -- given all the circumstances -- justified the promotion to Port St. Lucie," Alderson said.

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

PHOENIX -- Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick both tested their achy body parts on Sunday.

Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper back strain, threw two 15-pitch "innings" in the bullpen and was pleased with the results.

"It felt good, no sense of pulling," he said. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Eickhoff's turn in the rotation will come up Wednesday in Seattle. If he can't make the start, Mark Leiter Jr. will. Leiter pitched six shutout innings in his first big-league start on Friday night.

As for Kendrick, who is battling left hamstring tightness, he was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game on Sunday. He did run some sprints under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan before the game.

"He still feels it, but he's available to pinch-hit," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Is this getting close to being a situation that would require a trip to the disabled list?

"Hopefully not," Mackanin said. "Hopefully he's better tomorrow. If not, I'm hoping he can at least DH in Seattle (on Tuesday). He's one of our best hitters and I want to get him in there. But I've got to be cautious."

Kendrick already spent six weeks on the disabled list with an abdominal injury earlier this season. He's played well when healthy, hitting .355 (43 for 121) with a .414 on-base percentage in 31 games.

The Phillies need to be certain that Kendrick is healthy when they turn him loose because he could hold some trade value in the month of July and a full-blown injury would hurt that.