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Phillies' Team Preview: Encore For the Aging Core?

Brian Pelowski

Brian Pelowski

Brian writes about fantasy baseball and covers the Philadelphia Phillies for RotoWire.

The Phillies' 2012 season was a major disappointment. The team failed to win the NL East for the first time since 2006 and managed just a .500 record. Long absences from stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, bad luck for Cliff Lee, shoulder problems for Roy Halladay and shoddy bullpen work in the first half of 2012 all put the Phillies in a deep hole. The team started to play better in the second half (44-31) as the bullpen improved and Utley and Howard returned to the lineup, but it was too little, too late. During the offseason, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. plugged some holes at third base, in the outfield and in the bullpen, but he didn't make a major splash in free agency or via a trade. It remains to be seen if those modest moves will help the Phillies compete in the NL East with Washington and Atlanta, two teams that made significant improvements to their already formidable rosters this winter.

Offseason Moves

Traded for Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May.

Revere established himself as a major league regular with the Twins last season after hitting .293 with 40 stolen bases while displaying great range in the outfield. Despite a decent rookie campaign in 2011, Revere began last year in the minors. However, he took over the right field job in May and stayed hot at the plate. His weak throwing arm in right field was offset by his outstanding range and he was one of the best outfielders in baseball by advanced metrics (MLB fourth-best 16.4 UZR). His weak arm should not be as much of an issue in 2013 as he will start in center field for the Phillies. Most of his fantasy value comes from steals (40-for-49 last season) and he rarely strikes out, which results in a strong contract rate that has given him a high batting average throughout his career. Revere will likely open the year hitting at the bottom of the Phillies' lineup, but could get a chance to move up if the team ever decides to move Jimmy Rollins to the middle of the order.

Traded for Michael Young from the Texas Rangers for pitchers Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla.

The Rangers spent $17 million for the worst regular in baseball, as Young was terrible in 2012 after hitting .338 in 2011. He was anemic against righties (.257/.291/.352) and passable against lefties, but that didn't stop manager Ron Washington from handing him 600 at-bats. The Phillies traded for Young hoping he can find his form from 2011 and cover at third until prospect Cody Asche is ready to take over the position in 2014. Young will accumulate decent counting stats hitting out of the two hole for the Phillies, but should get discounted severely in leagues that reward on-base or slugging percentage.

Signed Delmon Young to a one-year contract.

Young bounced back slightly from his 2011 campaign to post one of his better offensive seasons last year with the Tigers. He finished the season hitting .267 with 18 home runs and 74 RBI. His 18 homers marked the second highest output of his career, while the 74 runs driven in was his third-best total. Unfortunately, the same holes remained in Young's game, as he struggled mightily on defense and managed just 20 free passes while striking out 112 times. Heading into his age 27-season, Young is just now entering his prime power years, so the home-run stroke he showed in 2012 should continue or improve, but it's unlikely he'll improve his plate discipline much at this stage of his career. There's marginal upside here, and the odds of Young ever living up to his once lofty pedigree appear to be slim.

Signed Mike Adams to a two-year contract.

Adams had his 2012 season cut short due to a neck/shoulder injury, eventually requiring surgery in the offseason for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. His struggles down the stretch as he attempted to pitch through the injury took some shine off his season, and cost him several million on the free-agent market as well. After signing with the Phillies in the offseason, Adams will work in a setup role in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon in Philadelphia.

Signed John Lannan to a one-year contract.

Lannan spent most of last season biding his time in Triple-A, as the Nationals did not have room on their suddenly-stacked pitching staff for a crafty lefty with very fringy stuff. Stephen Strasburg's innings cap eventually opened a spot for Lannan and he put up his usual numbers in six starts. Lannan was non-tendered in the offseason and the Phillies signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million deal in December. Barring a disastrous spring, he will open the year as the Phillies' fifth starter.

Signed Chad Durbin to a one-year contract.

Durbin spent last season with the Braves and posted a 3.10 ERA and won four games over a career-high 76 appearances. He'll pitch in middle relief for the Phillies this season and figures to see a lot of work in low leverage situations.

Claimed Mauricio Robles off waivers from the Seattle Mariners.

Robles struggled at the Triple-A level last season, posting a 6.71 ERA and a 1.724 WHIP over 60.1 innings. The 24-year-old lefty has good stuff, but has struggled to locate his pitches throughout his time in the minors. The Phillies could have nice pickup here if they can help Robles control his arsenal effectively.

Signed Yuniesky Betancourt, Andres Blanco, Justin Dalles, Josh Fields, Joe Mather, Jermaine Mitchell, Pete Orr, Humberto Quintero, John Suomi, Brian Bass, Tom Cochran, Aaron Cook, Juan Cruz, Brandon Erbe, Edgar Garcia, Cesar Jimenez, Rodrigo Lopez, and Zach Miner to minor league contracts.

Out of this group, Quintero and Cruz figure to have the best chances of earning roster spots this spring with the Phillies. Carlos Ruiz is suspended for the first 25 games of the season, so Quintero will get a chance to back up Erik Kratz. Cruz was solid last season for the Pirates and should be able to secure a job as a middle reliever. Betancourt might also have a shot at earning a bench job depending on how many infielders the Phillies opt to carry. The others are likely to open the year in the minors, providing the Phils with organizational depth.

Projected Lineup (vs. RH/ LH)

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C (post suspension)
6. Delmon Young, RF
7. Domonic Brown, LF / John Mayberry, LF
8. Ben Revere, CF

The Phillies might be better off with Rollins hitting lower in the order and installing Revere at the top, but manager Charlie Manuel is unlikely to risk upsetting Rollins with a move out of his traditional spot in the lineup. Ruiz will be absent from the lineup above for the first 25 games while he serves his suspension. Erik Kratz will fill in and figures to hit lower in the order. The corner-outfield situation is unsettled as the Phillies enter camp (see below for more analysis).

Projected Rotation

SP1 Cole Hamels
SP2 Roy Halladay
SP3 Cliff Lee
SP4 Kyle Kendrick
SP5 John Lannan

There is no question about the top four of this rotation. The first three are number one starters on almost any other team in baseball, though Halladay did slip a little last season. Kendrick earned his spot in the rotation with a very good second half last season. The fifth spot will be Lannan's, barring a disastrous spring. If he struggles, it will open the door for Tyler Cloyd or Aaron Cook.

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon

Key bullpen members: Mike Adams was signed to set up for Papelbon and figures to see any save chances should Papelbon need a day off. Antonio Bastardo was inconsistent last season, but still flashed some of the best stuff from a lefty reliever in all of baseball. He'll share setup duties with Adams and should be a useful reliever in deeper formats. Phillippe Aumont could also make an impact with excellent stuff, but he may need a little more time to hone his command before he is ready for a prominent role.

Notes of Importance, Fantasy and Otherwise:

Who is going to see the most playing time in the corner outfield spots for the Phillies this season?

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. indicated that Delmon Young would "ideally" be his right fielder this season. Young, who is recovering from offseason ankle surgery, remains questionable for Opening Day. When he does get on the field, he'll have to prove that he can at least be adequate in right field, a position he hasn't played since 2007. If he's unable to play right, it is likely the Phils move him to left to keep his right-handed bat in the lineup as often as possible. Domonic Brown looked like a lock to start in right prior to the Young signing, but now he'll have to compete with John Mayberry, Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix for playing time this spring. Brown still has the pedigree of a former top prospect, but he's failed to seize his chances thus far. He's the favorite to win a starting job in left, but if he fails to impress in camp, he could end up platooning with John Mayberry or even starting the year back in the minors. Mayberry has become a solid platoon option for the Phillies when they face lefties, but he has yet to show he can hit right-handed pitching with any consistency. It would be better for the Phillies if they are able to use him as a reserve. Nix has decent splits against righties as well, and could find himself with extra at-bats if the young guys struggle. Darin Ruf (more on him below - see sleepers) is also in the mix for a job this spring, but he has to prove that last year's breakout performance in the minors wasn't just the case of an older prospect dominating younger competition. He is still learning to play left field, having not picked up the position until late in 2012. He looks like a longshot to win a job.

What can we expect from Chase Utley in 2013?

Utley missed the first three months of last season due to patellar tendinitis in his left knee. He suffered from the same problem in his right knee in 2011, which caused him to miss two months that year. His numbers at the plate have fallen off from his All-Star level, but there are signs that Utley can still be a better-than-average fantasy second baseman provided his knees don't prevent him from getting on the field. His contact rate remains solid and his eye at the plate is also strong. He even stole 11 bases last season despite the knee concerns. Utley's power numbers are unlikely to return to his peak levels, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect 20 home runs if he stays on the field for a full season. Utley has worked on strengthening his legs during the offseason, which he hasn't been able to do the last few years because of his knee problems. That should help him maintain his productivity later in the season - something that has been a problem for him the past two seasons. The Phillies also toyed with the idea of moving Utley to third base last season to cut down on the strain on his knees. For now, that plan has been shelved with the acquisition of Michael Young. Utley is certainly a player with plenty of injury risk, but that risk also figures to push down his price in drafts and may present a solid buying opportunity.

Will Ryan Howard rebound in 2013?

Howard missed the first three months of last season after suffering a setback during spring training in his recovery from surgery on his Achilles. When Howard returned, it was clear when watching him on the basepaths that his leg was still far from 100 percent. At the plate, Howard struck out a career-worst 34 percent of the time. Things got even more dire for him when he had to face lefties. Manager Charlie Manuel said that he felt Howard was unable to push off his back leg at the plate, which contributed to his poor numbers. That may be the case, but Howard has always shown a propensity to strike out. Couple that with the increase in defensive shifts by major league teams, and Howard seems likely to be a bit of a batting average drain over the remainder of his career. He also broke his toe at the end of last season, but will be ready for spring training. His leg should be stronger now that he is further removed from his Achilles surgery, which should help him rebound a bit at the plate. He still looks like a lock for 30 home runs and plenty of RBI with a decent offense around him.

Strengths

The Phillies are a club that is built to win with pitching. If Roy Halladay can bounce back from last season's injury troubles, the Phillies will again have one of the better rotations in baseball. The bullpen has also improved with the addition of Mike Adams.

Weaknesses

The Phillies will be relying on aging veterans again around their infield and they lack solid, proven offensive options should Howard, Utley, Rollins or Young get hurt. The Phillies will likely go with Kevin Frandsen as their utility infielder. He hit for a decent average in limited action last season, but that is about the best you can expect from him. Freddy Galvis is a wizard with the glove, but he still has a long way to go at the plate. The Phillies minor league system has some decent looking infield prospects, but outside of Cody Asche, most are multiple years away from the majors.

Rising: Cody Asche wasn't on any prospect lists at the start of last season, but a strong season between High-A and Double-A last year has put him on the radar. He hit .324/.369/.481 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 518 at-bats between his two stops in the minors, with 10 of his home runs coming after the promotion to Double-A. The Phils believe Asche can be at least an average major league third baseman. He will likely open the year in Triple-A and could put himself into consideration for a promotion this season if he keeps hitting, and if Michael Young's slide at the plate continues.

Falling: We could have noted Michael Young in this spot, but he's already been discussed in the Offseason Moves section above. For those that watched the Phillies last season, it is probably not surprising to see Roy Halladay in this space given his struggles in 2012. While he does appear to be a player starting his inevitable decline from his lofty status as the best pitcher in the game, there are also signs that he is not completely done yet. Halladay saw his fastball velocity drop 1.4 mph last season and he missed significant time due to a lat strain in his shoulder. Despite those issues, Halladay's FIP of 3.79 indicates his 2012 season wasn't as bad as it looked on the surface. His K/9 fell to 7.6 last season, but that was more in line with his 2008-10 seasons than the 8.5 K/9 he posted in 2011. His 65 percent strand rate also contributed to his high ERA. We expect that to rebound toward his career average this season if he is healthy. Halladay also saw his BB/9 jump from 1.35 in 2011 to 2.07 in 2012, but that remains a very good ratio compared to most major league starters. The long ball was also more of a problem for Halladay last season than it has been in recent years. He saw his groundball rate drop below 50 percent for the first time in his career, which may have been partially to blame for the home runs. Halladay concentrated more on core and lower-body work over the offseason in an attempt to compensate for his shoulder. Since no surgery was performed, the injury could still pop up again. That makes Halladay a health risk this year. He'll likely come at a discount because of that risk and the poor surface stats from 2012, but that could make him a nice value given his previous three seasons.

Sleeper: Domonic Brown received his first extended opportunity in the majors last season after the Phillies traded away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. He showed flashes of the skill set that once made him the top prospect in baseball, but his overall numbers at the end of last season were underwhelming. Looking a little deeper below the surface stats we see some positive signs. Brown's contact rate of 82 percent, walk rate of 10 percent, and .264 BABIP from last season all indicate a batting average rebound is in order this season. Brown has shown some speed throughout his minor league career, but knee injuries limited him on the bases last season. If the knees are healthy, Brown could swipe 15 bags this season. The biggest question that still needs to be answered is whether Brown will develop power. A simple extrapolation of his numbers from last season suggests Brown could hit 15 home runs with regular playing time. He also will play half his games in a park that gives a home run boost to left-handed hitters, further aiding his chances of topping 15 homers. If Brown can stay healthy - something that hasn't been the case of late - there is profit potential here. Many have soured on Brown at this point, but he's just 25 years old and has a clear path at 500-plus at-bats if he wins a starting job this spring. He looks like a solid target to us if the price is right.

Supersleeper: Ruf earned the nickname "Babe" last season after crushing 38 home runs for Double-A Reading as a 26-year-old. He received a cup of coffee in September and hit three home runs in 33 at-bats with the Phillies. Ruf then went on to play in the Venezuelan Winter League where he continued to hit bombs at an impressive rate. The Phillies are working to convert Ruf to left field as he is blocked at first base by Ryan Howard. Reviews of his defense have been mixed thus far, but the Phillies have seen enough promise to continue with the conversion. Ruf has always been old for his level in the minors since being drafted out of Creighton in 2009. That raises some red flags about his ability to keep hitting in the majors. As noted in the "Questions" section above, Ruf has a chance to earn a roster spot with the Phils this spring. He'll be an interesting sleeper if he wins a job.

Top Prospects

Jesse Biddle, P - Biddle handled the transition from Low-A to High-A ball last season with little problem. His 9.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 were both improvements over the ratios he posted in 2011 at Low-A Lakewood, despite the step up to better competition at High-A Clearwater. Biddle, who throws a four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball, added a slider to his repertoire during the second half of last season, but used the pitch just a handful of times per game to limit the stress on his arm. He just turned 21 years old in the offseason and will be one of the youngest players at the Double-A level in 2013.

Tommy Joseph, C - Joseph immediately became the Phillies' top hitting prospect after his acquisition from the Giants in the Hunter Pence deal at the trade deadline. He projects as a regular at the big league level and should hit for power. He does need to make some improvements with his plate discipline, but at only 21 years old there is still time for that to happen. Look for Joseph to eventually replace Carlos Ruiz as the primary backstop in Philadelphia.

Maikel Franco, 3B - After a rough start to last season, Franco really turned things on after the All-Star break and finished the year hitting .280/.336/.439 with 32 doubles and 14 home runs for Low-A Lakewood. The power numbers are impressive, especially for someone that played the majority of last season as a 19-year-old in Low-A ball. Franco has one of the highest ceilings in the Phillies' farm system, but is still at least two to three years away from the majors.

Adam Morgan, P - Morgan, a third-round pick in 2011 out of the University of Alabama, skipped Low-A ball last season and opened the year with High-A Clearwater. He dominated the competition in the Florida State League and earned a promotion to Double-A Reading in August where he continued to pitch well. Morgan works in the low-90s and complements his fastball with a slider, curveball and change-up. He's not a high-upside prospect, but has the look of a solid mid- or back-of-the-rotation starter.

Roman Quinn, SS - Quinn was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft out of high school. The Phillies moved him from center field to shortstop after the draft and had him start switch hitting during instructional ball. Quinn made his professional debut with Short-Season Williamsport last season and hit .281/.370/.408 with a home run in 267 at-bats. The numbers aren't overwhelming, but they are impressive when you consider the majority of his at-bats were as a left-handed hitter, and Quinn had only started hitting from the left side of the plate about a year earlier. He should only get more comfortable from that side of the plate as he accumulates more at-bats. Quinn's best tool is his elite speed. He grades out as an 80 on the 20-to-80 scale used by scouts. His 30 stolen bases in 66 games last season show the potential impact he could have on the stolen base category in fantasy leagues. Quinn, who will turn 20 this season, has a long way to go to reach the majors, but the Phillies believe he has the talent to be an impact player once he reaches the big leagues.

Cody Asche, 3B - Asche wasn't on any prospect lists at the start of last season, but a strong season between Single-A and Double-A last year has put him on the radar. He hit .324/.369/.481 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 518 at-bats between his two stops in the minors, with 10 of his home runs coming after the promotion to Double-A. The Phils believe Asche can be at least an average major league third baseman. He will likely open the year in Triple-A and could put himself into consideration for a promotion this season if he keeps hitting.

Jonathan Pettibone, P - Pettibone continued his steady ascent through the minor leagues last season with a summer promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. His surface numbers at Triple-A looked very good, but his walk rate jumped up from 2.08 BB/9IP at Double-A to 4.70 at Triple-A. Pettibone has been closer to a 2.0 BB/9IP over his minor league career, and he just turned 22 years old in the middle of last season, so there is time for him to make adjustments to bring his walk rate back down. He'll need to do that as he does not generate a lot of strikeouts with his low-90s fastball. Pettibone's best pitch is his change-up and he has been working on adding a cutter to his repertoire. He'll open the year back at Triple-A and could put himself into position for a promotion to the majors should the Phillies have a need to dip into the minors for a starting pitcher this season.

Ethan Martin, P - Martin, acquired from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade, went a combined 13-6 with a 3.48 ERA and a 147:79 K:BB ratio in 157.2 innings for his two Double-A clubs last season. The former first round pick made some strides in cutting back his walk rate, but more work is needed. He will likely open the year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Sebastian Valle, C - Valle received what appeared to be an undeserved promotion to Triple-A last season after the Phillies acquired catching prospect Tommy Joseph from the Giants in July. The Phillies wanted both to keep catching so the decision was made to promote Valle despite his .261/.280/.435 slash line at Double-A. Valle, who has never been one to take a walk, struggled in his short stint at Triple-A. He'll likely be back there again this season, though the Phillies may try to use him as trade bait now that he has been passed by Joseph as the team's catcher of the future. Just 22 years old and already at Triple-A, Valle is a solid prospect, but it may be a few years yet before he is ready for an opportunity in the majors.