Look, I’m not saying Andrew Knapp is the cause of the Phillies current problems. It’s more like he’s a symptom.
Knapp has a .155 batting average and 31-percent strikeout rate. He may be the worst offensive player in baseball. And as a defender, he’s no Carlos Ruiz — throwing out 10 percent of opposing base stealers and failing to block balls in the dirt.
Still, the backup catcher has been called upon in several recent clutch situations, coming in with the game on the line. It hasn’t turned out well. He has produced just seven hits in his last 31 games.
Knapp is the baseball equivalent of hoisting up the white flag. He’s a signal to beat the crowd for the exits when PA announcer Dan Baker introduces him as a pinch hitter.
Again, that’s not Knapp’s fault. If you hand anyone a Major League paycheck, he’ll put on the uniform. It’s not even Gabe Kapler’s fault. Given roster composition, the manager usually begins games with just four bats on the bench.
So let’s use Knapp to represent two larger failings of the franchise.
First, with few exceptions, the Phillies farm system has not produced plus-level batting talent for ages. Let’s list the top-quality hitters arising from the minors since the glory days of Rollins-Utley-Howard:
Rhys Hoskins, for sure. Perhaps Scott Kingery, if he continues to develop. Cesar Hernandez is an adequate offensive infielder.
And then . . . ? I’m blanking.
Meanwhile, the Braves boast four homegrown hitters 25 or younger who have combined this season for more than 70 homers and 200 RBIs. The quartet of Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, and Ronald Acuna, Jr. figures to get better in coming seasons.
Hey, it was exhilarating when the Phillies committed $440 million to bolster the lineup with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen. But that was also necessitated by the franchise’s own ineptitude in scouting and development.
I’m not even talking about pitching here. That’s another rant for another column.
Which leads to the second issue. Despite principal owner John Middleton’s past statements that he’s going to “win or die trying,” it became apparent last week that fans shouldn’t expect a mid-season splash.
In a rare appearance, President Andy MacPhail suggested the team is more than a player or two away from winning this year’s World Series and will likely stand pat through the Jul. 31 trade deadline.
No rescue for a ravaged rotation. No centerfielder to replace the loss of McCutchen and the suspended Odubel Herrera. Not even, perhaps, a legitimate backup catcher better than the aforementioned Knapp to come off the bench and give the Phils a fighting chance.
MacPhail’s defeatist blather was the last thing fans wanted to hear this year. Hey, remember how excited we all were back in the spring?
But behind MacPhail’s buzzkill, I think, was this message: How are they supposed to sell the farm to win when they’ve got nothing there to sell?
The problem isn’t that McPhail and Co. won’t spend in futures to acquire current help. It’s that they don’t have much to offer.
It’s been a long time since the pipeline produced front-line position players. And it doesn’t appear from here that Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley is the next generation. Mickey Moniak, the top overall pick from 2016, is hitting .267 with four homers in Reading. Maybe Alec Bohm is the answer.
And as long as this farm system fails to thrive, John Middleton will have to continue writing those huge offseason checks.