For those of you who are still recovering from the announcement that three players from this Phillies team made the NL All-Star team, let us not forget that two of them, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, should form the nucleus of future rosters for years to come. The trick, as always, will be to surround them with players of the same caliber.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago we were speaking about a different group of youngsters on whom future success would seem to be built: Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers. The news on that front is decidedly more mixed. Jimmy remains a core player on this team despite the frustrations he engenders as a lead-off batter. He has few peers as a defender and, frankly, brings a palpable joy to playing the game that is increasingly rare. Burrell is another story. He looks unendingly unhappy in a Phillies uniform and if a buyer can be found it seems likely he will finish his career elsewhere, to everyone’s relief. Myers’ well-documented personality problems remain unresolved and with them his future on this team.
For the moment, however, the spotlight is shining on Utley, Howard and closer Flash Gordon, all of them deserving All-Stars. Utley is one of those players who comes along once in a generation. Invariably, his name comes up any time people speak of players around whom they would build a team. Labels such as “throw-back”, “hard-nosed” and “franchise player” are routinely applied to Utley.
Howard is another prodigious talent who is still developing. Apart from his obvious power, the most impressive thing about him is that he never stays down long. Howard can strike out three times in a game, looking over-matched or badly fooled each time, and come back in his fourth at-bat to hit a home run. This month marks the one-year anniversary of his becoming the Phillies’ starting first baseman. In that time he has hit fifty home runs, driven in 132 runs and won the Rookie of the Year award. For those who wondered whether he would fall victim to a sophomore slump or fail to learn to hit left-handers, his answer is to make the All-Star team in this, his first full season as a starter. Not too shabby. The trick, as always, will be to find that supporting cast.