2014 Philadelphia Phillies Team Preview
The Phillies finished 73-89 last season and 17 games out of the National League Wild Card race. Injuries to Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Ben Revere and Mike Adams hurt the club's chances, and GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s moves to bring in the aforementioned Adams along with Michael Young and Delmon Young failed to make an impact. This winter, Amaro has continued to plug holes with low-risk moves rather than going after a big name on the free agent market. He brought in Marlon Byrd to play right field, and Roberto Hernandez to take a spot in the rotation. Carlos Ruiz was re-signed, and Wil Nieves was brought in as his backup. Amaro also signed Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez late last season, hoping to strike gold with the Cuban defector. This is an old team trying to churn out one more playoff run. A slow start to the season may finally force Amaro to begin the rebuilding process.
Signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year contract with a third-year club/vesting option.
For a guy who couldn't find a job a year ago, Byrd's 2013 turned out pretty darn good. The 36-year-old ranked fourth among NL outfielders in isolated power (.220), fifth in RBI (88) and sixth in homers (24). A .353 BABIP throws up a red flag, however, considering he holds a career mark of .325. Don’t pay for last year’s stats given Byrd’s PED history and advanced age, but don’t dismiss him completely either. Byrd is going to play regularly, and will play half his games at Citizen’s Bank Park which provides a bit of an offensive boost for hitters.
Re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a three-year contract with a fourth-year club option.
Ruiz began last year by serving a 25-game suspension for a second positive amphetamine test. He got off to a slow start when he returned to the active roster, and did not hit his first home run until July. He was at his best in August when he hit .333 with four home runs, but then he slowed down again in September. His five home runs were a disappointment after he hit 16 in 2012. The 2012 breakout was fueled by a 15.1% HR/FB rate, which was out of line with his career average. He was near a career low rate last season at 5.5%, but that mark is more in line with his 7.4% career average. Ruiz is unlikely to return to his lofty 2012 home run rate again, but his overall skill set is solid for a catcher. He will hit for a decent average, provides a little power, and plays around five or six times a week which helps contribute to counting stats.
Traded for Erik Kratz and Rob Rasmussen to the Blue Jays for Brad Lincoln.
Though he finished 2013 with a respectable 3.98 ERA, Lincoln's second year as a reliever didn't go as well as his first. He turned in an ugly 25:22 K:BB ratio over 31.2 innings, and was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo in late August. While it's rather telling that Lincoln wasn't recalled once rosters expanded, the Phillies still deemed that the former first-round pick was worth trading for. Lincoln will compete for a spot in the Philadelphia bullpen this spring.
Signed Wil Nieves to a one-year contract.
Nieves played very well in a backup role last season. He had plenty of playing time while Miguel Montero was hurt to prove himself and he did so, posting a .297 average as a temporary starter. He will serve as the backup to Carlos Ruiz this season.
Selected Kevin Munson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft.
Munson, 25, was a fourth-round pick by Arizona in 2010. He's battled control issues in the minors, but has two plus pitches in his fastball and slider. Munson figures to pitch in a middle-relief role if he is able to win a job this spring.
Signed Roberto Hernandez to a one-year contract.
Hernandez battled and managed to win a spot in the Rays' rotation out of spring training and made 24 starts in 2013. He finished the season with a 6-13 record and a 4.89 ERA over 151 innings pitched. He is mainly a groundball pitcher that pitches to contact and does not blow away teams with strikeouts. Hernandez will work as a back-end starter for the Phillies after signing a one-year deal in December.
Signed Bobby Abreu, Andres Blanco, Chris Bootcheck, Reid Brignac, Shawn Camp, Ronny Cedeno, Barry Enright, Chad Gaudin, Tony Gwynn Jr., Mario Hollands, Cesar Jimenez, Jeff Manship, Lou Marson, Jim Negrych, Sean O’Sullivan, Anthony Phillips, Dave Sappelt, Greg Smith, Clete Thomas and Matt Tolbert to minor league contracts.
There are not a lot of job openings on the Phillies’ roster this spring, so most of these guys are going to end up in the minors at the start of the season. The Phillies are looking for a left-handed bat for their bench, which gives Abreu a good shot at earning a job this spring. Gaudin’s ability to start or relieve could give him a leg up for a bullpen spot. One or two of the other arms in this group could put together a strong camp to win a middle-relief job. Cedeno or Brignac could work their way into the mix for a bench job if the Phillies change their tune and decide Freddy Galvis should start the year in the minors. The Phillies could also decide to trade John Mayberry Jr., which would open up a spot for Gwynn or Thomas to serve as a reserve center fielder.
Projected Lineup (vs. RH/ LH)
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Marlon Byrd, RF
6. Domonic Brown, LF
7. Carols Ruiz, C
8. Cody Asche, 3B / Kevin Frandsen
Manager Ryne Sandberg played around with his lineup quite a bit last season, so the order outlined here is unlikely to be an everyday occurrence for the Phillies. Brown and Howard could switch spots if the latter continues to struggle with the bat this season. Ruiz may see some time in the two hole if Rollins is unable to build upon his finish to 2013, which saw his on-base percentage tick up a bit. Asche might not sit against all lefties, but Sandberg will likely try to give him days off when a tough lefty is on the mound.
1. Cole Hamels
2. Roberto Hernandez
3. Cliff Lee
4. Kyle Kendrick
5. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez / Jonathan Pettibone / Ethan Martin / Chad Gaudin
Hamels and Lee are the co-aces of the staff, but since they are both lefties, expect Sandberg to split them up with Hernandez or Kendrick in the No. 2 slot. Gonzalez is the favorite to open the year at the back of the rotation, but Pettibone gives the team a decent backup option. Martin will be stretched out in camp, but he is best suited to a relief role and will likely end up in the bullpen. Gaudin would only start if injuries force the Phillies to turn to him.
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon – see “Notes of Import” below.
Key bullpen members: Antonio Bastardo should handle setup duties until Mike Adams is healthy enough to return to action. Brad Lincoln could become a key piece of the bullpen if he can put his control issues behind him. The Phillies also have a number of younger arms competing for jobs this spring. Perhaps one of Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman or B.J. Rosenberg will earn a higher-leverage role with a strong showing in camp.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
Will Ryan Howard rebound in 2014?
The 2013 season was another disappointment for Howard owners. He played in just 80 games before opting to have surgery in early July to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. However, there were a few positive signs in Howard's ratios last year. His contact rate rebounded closer to his career average after it hit a low point of 62 percent in 2012. He also cut his strikeout rate from 33.9% in 2012 to 30.0% last year. It is still a terrible rate, but at least the number is moving in the right direction. Howard also increased his flyball rate to 38 percent, an increase of seven percent from 2012, and back in line with his career average. He hit only 11 home runs last season, but he did that with a 14.9% HR/FB rate, the lowest mark of his career by far. That number is likely to rebound back into the 20-30% range which should mean a return back toward 30 home runs in 2014, provided that he stays on the field. Howard is going to struggle when he faces lefties, so he should be benched in daily formats in those matchups. He is reportedly in the best shape he has been in since his Achilles surgery, and is likely to be discounted in drafts this year due to his recent struggles.
Is Jonathan Papelbon still an elite closer?
Papelbon failed to rack up at least 30 saves last season for the first time in his career as a closer. Some of that can be attributed to the lack of opportunities from a Phillies team that struggled last season, but he also blew seven saves. His surface numbers were solid, but there are signs of decline that raise red flags moving forward. Papelbon's fastball velocity dropped to 92 mph last season which was a 1.8-mph drop from 2013 and a 3.0-mph drop from 2012. His K/9 of 8.3 was the lowest it has been since his first full season in Boston, and the first time it dipped below double digits since 2006. He did improve his walk rate, however, which allowed his K/BB ratio to basically hold steady from last season. Papelbon can still be effective with the lower strikeout rate, but it makes him a riskier investment this season as his margin of error has decreased with diminished stuff. There was mention that a minor hip injury suffered during the season could be to blame for the dip in velocity last year, but scouts were questioning his stuff during spring training. The safer approach in fantasy leagues may be to let others draft Papelbon based on his previous reputation and focus instead on closers with stronger profiles that are not quite as risky.
The Phillies have two of the best lefties in baseball at the top of their rotation in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. The bullpen has a number of high-potential power arms, but most are relatively unproven at this point.
The Phillies have a very old roster and few major league ready prospects in the minors to take over should injuries strike. Many of their offensive stars are past their prime, and outside of Hamels and Lee, the rotation has uninspiring or unproven options.
Rising: Domonic Brown finally delivered on his potential last season with a huge breakout year. He finished with 27 home runs, which was good for fourth overall in the NL, and his 18.4 at-bats per home run was the sixth-best rate in the league. Brown makes contact at a decent clip and, thus far, does not pile up the strikeouts like some other power hitters. He also managed to stay fairly healthy last season, though an Achilles injury cost him a number of at-bats over the last month of season. In addition to his power production, Brown can also chip in with some stolen bases. He had just eight last season, but the Achilles injury prevented any chance of him reaching double-digits. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to do so this season. Brown is in the prime of his career, so it would not be unreasonable to expect even better overall numbers in 2014.
Falling: Jimmy Rollins had a down year at the plate in 2013. His batting average held steady from 2012, but his home-run total plummeted from 23 in 2012 to just six last season. He also swiped eight fewer bags. The 35-year-old is clearly beginning his decline, but he can still have value provided that expectations are adjusted to the new reality. Rollins is unlikely to hit 20 home runs in a season again, but he can still reach double-digits if his home run/flyball rate can bounce back a bit from 3.0% last season, which was a career low. He remains aggressive enough on the basepaths that he will reach double digits in steals, and Rollins is also likely to remain somewhere near the top of the Phillies' lineup, which will help his runs scored total.
Sleeper: The Phillies signed Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, a 27-year-old Cuban defector, to a three-year contract in late August. The team did not have him pitch in any games after his signing, instead having him work out in instructional ball in September. Gonzalez is seen by some scouts as a second or third starter, while others question whether he is better suited to a relief role. His fastball has been clocked in the 93-97 mph range and he has a wide assortment of pitches, including a cutter, changeup, slider and splitter. Gonzalez has not pitched professionally in two years amid his struggles to defect and surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow, but he was the top pitcher on Cuba's World Cup teams in 2009 and 2011. The Phillies will have him compete for a rotation spot this spring.
Supersleeper: Cody Asche received his first taste of the majors last season after hitting .295 with 15 home runs at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He got off to a solid start with the Phillies last year, but a poor September dropped his season-ending batting average to .235. However, he did hit five home runs over his 179 at-bats with the Phillies. If he can maintain that pace for a full season, he could finish with around 15 homers at the big league level. He is also likely to hit for a better average than he did in his brief stint with the Phillies last season. Asche does not project as a star player, but he does have the skills to be a solid contributor. In deeper leagues, that kind of player has value. The biggest concern for Asche is that he may simply be keeping third base warm for top prospect Maikel Franco. The two will compete for the starting job this spring, but early expectations are that the Phillies will give Franco additional time in the minors before turning third base over to him down the line.
Maikel Franco, 3B – Franco moved past Jesse Biddle to become the Phillies' top prospect after his breakout 2013 season. He hit .320 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBI in 134 games with High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, and led all minor leaguers with 308 total bases. The Phillies believe he can stick at third base, but they also had him take some reps at first base late last season as they look to increase his versatility a bit. Franco will get an invitation to spring training, and has an outside chance at winning the starting third base job. The Phillies are more likely to open the year with Cody Asche at third, but Franco could get a shot later in the season if Asche fails to produce.
Jesse Biddle, P – Biddle entered last season as the Phillies' top prospect, but he will likely rank second or third on most lists this year. He will slip because Maikel Franco broke out as one of the better prospects in the game last season, but he also raised some concerns with a BB/9 rate that jumped to 5.3 last year after he had made progress the past few seasons at cutting back on his walk rate. Biddle struggled with whooping cough for most of last season, and he pitched the final month of the season with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Those two issues also could have had some impact on his numbers. The positive sign is that Biddle's K/9 rate went up nearly half a point to 10.0 in 2013. Given the higher level of competition at Double-A, that is a positive sign for his future. The Phillies will likely start Biddle out a Triple-A this season, and at just 22 years old, his future remains bright.
J.P. Crawford, SS – The Phillies drafted Crawford, who is the cousin of Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford, in the first round of the 2013 draft. Crawford fields with ease, showing agility and quickness in the infield. His bat has the potential to hit for average with some pop. He got off to a fast start for the Gulf Coast League Phillies and earned a promotion to Low-A Lakewood in August, making him one of the youngest players at that level in 2013. The Phillies will likely send him back to Lakewood rather than keeping him in extended spring training at the start of the year, and Crawford could see time at High-A Clearwater later in the season should his performance warrant a promotion.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, P – See above.
Roman Quinn, SS – Quinn, the 66th overall pick of the 2011 MLB draft, played in just 67 games last season due to a broken wrist that he suffered in late June. The Phillies had hoped he would be able to get some work in at their Dominican academy, but Quinn ruptured his Achilles tendon while running sprints during an offseason workout. He underwent surgery in November and the team hopes to have him back in action in the second half of the 2014 season. Quinn's fantasy value is tied to his speed, so an injury of this nature is cause for concern. He becomes a much less interesting prospect if he loses a step or two on the bases.
Carlos Tocci, OF – A look at Tocci’s stats at Low-A Lakewood last season would make you question his inclusion on any prospect list. He is a bit overmatched right now, but he was just 17 years old last season and was playing in full-season ball. He was the youngest player in the South Atlantic League and the second-youngest player in full-season ball. Tocci needs more time to mature physically, but the tools are there for him to be a solid center fielder down the road. The Phillies clearly have faith in him as they left him at Low-A all season, despite his struggles with the bat. The assumption is that Tocci will eventually hit for average and start to make more use of his speed on the basepaths. He is unlikely to ever hit for much power, however.
Ethan Martin, P – Martin received his first taste of the big leagues last season and the results were not pretty. He made seven starts for the Phillies and failed to go deep into most of his outings due to inefficiency and the lack of a serviceable third pitch. He was moved to the bullpen in September where he posted an 11:4 K:BB in seven innings. Martin's best asset is his mid-90s fastball, which plays well coming out of the bullpen. Most scouts believe that is where he belongs and the Phillies have not given any indication that they will move him back to a starting role. He will have a chance to win a job this spring, and he would be a dark horse to close for the Phillies if anything were to happen to Jonathan Papelbon.
Cesar Hernandez, 2B – Hernandez got his first opportunity in the majors last season when the Phillies called him up as a short-term injury replacement. He managed to stick around after Chase Utley was sidelined with a strained oblique, and showed enough with the bat that the Phillies started looking to increase his versatility. Hernandez saw his first action in the outfield last year, and the Phillies have said they want him to also start working out at third. Hernandez does not hit for any power, but he does make pretty good contact and he has speed. He will get a chance to compete for a bench job this spring, but is likely to start the year back in the minors. He could provide some value later in the year thanks to his stolen-base ability should he get a chance at regular playing time.
Aaron Altherr, OF – Altherr was hyped as a potential breakout prospect a few years ago, but injuries and struggles at the plate saw him fade into the background. He started to turn things around in 2012 at Low-A Lakewood, and put together a very solid 2013 season at High-A Clearwater. The Phillies sent him to the Arizona Fall League in the offseason, where he saw limited action due to an ankle injury. Altherr is considered solid enough defensively to stick in center field, as his bat plays better there than it would in a corner spot. He will be 23 this year, and will need to continue to show growth at Double-A Reading to stay on the radar as a potential starting outfielder in the majors. The Phillies are unlikely to rush him, so he may not be a candidate to see time in the majors until 2015 at the earliest.
Tommy Joseph, C – Joseph played in just 36 games last season as he struggled to come back from a concussion that he suffered in early May. He met with three specialists in the offseason and received clearance to return to catching. The Phillies sent him to the Dominican Winter League during the offseason to make up for some of the lost development time. Joseph saw his prospect status dim last season because of the missed time, but he was also struggling at the plate prior to the concussion. However, given the limited number of games played, his 2013 season should be considered a lost year. He still has some upside and will likely be undervalued in prospect drafts this spring, although the long-term deal given to Carlos Ruiz this winter does not bode well for Joseph's path to playing time in Philadelphia.