Original Article (edited for flow, the Burnett signing, and Hamels' injury):
Well we're less than one week away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona for Spring Training, so it's time to talk about how the Phillies look as we start off 2014.
So, last year, this team - again - dealt with more injuries, but that happened mainly in the 2nd half. They were contenders at the All-Star Break but those injuries and (to a lesser but big extent) poor performances in the 2nd trimester led to Manuel's firing in what I feel to be one of the most class-less moves ever, especially timing-wise. However, it is reasonable to assume that everyone will improve, especially now that Sandberg may not pencil post-30-year-olds into the line-up as often as Manuel did.
So, a good place to start is the "everyday" (120+ games) players:
- 1B Ryan Howard will bounce back from two consecutive injury-plagued seasons. He looks really good right now weight-wise. Still a bit heavy, but he appears lighter than he was last spring. We'll need to platoon him with Ruf/ Mayberry, but if Howard is healthy, then it stands to reason that he can mash 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. More on him later.
- 2B Chase Utley's knees did not land him on the DL last year and he led the team with a .284 AVG. If no other body parts hurt (like his oblique did last year), he will improve just by being on the field. He is one of the few players I have seen that does a bit of everything (plate discipline, running, fielding, etc.) successfully & consistently from day-to-day (Roy Halladay was another).
- SS Jimmy Rollins had the worst offensive season of his career last year. He's entering a contract year (has an option for 2015) and Sandberg did work some magic with the former Gold Glove SS late last year. Stands to reason that Rollins can bounce back offensively.
- 3B is pretty open, but Asche is the heavy favorite to start most games there. Frandsen is on the bench and Franco is a non-roster invitee & potential Sept. call-up. It'd be interesting to see what happens if both Franco and Asche do well in camp, but because Franco spent most of last year in AA while Asche was promoted in June, the latter will probably make at least 120 starts at 3B this year.
- CF Ben Revere lost the lead-off job in mid-April but revamped his game in early May and June. He was hitting .300-plus before the ankle injury. His bat was sorely missed in July, which was probably a big factor in the "July Slide" that led to Manuel's firing.
- RF Dom Brown was worth the wait: 27 HR & 82 RBI with injuries. With him hitting 5th or 6th behind bounce-back versions of Revere, Rollins, Utley and Howard in the line-up, you get two players each potentially hitting 30 HRs and 100 RBIs.
- As far as his development is concerned, keeping him up here on the bench a few years ago was, even then but especially in retrospect, bad for Brown. I'm glad the Phillies learned from that, although sometimes it's best to keep players up here like that. Deciding which one is like finding a needle in a haystack.
- The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to be the 3rd OF behind Brown & Revere. Byrd bounced back last year after a rough 2012 campaign that included a 50-game ban for a controlled substance. In fact, he had the best (if not one of the best) season(s) of his career in 2013. Welcome back, Bryd. Time to see what you can do!
- C Carlos Ruiz may have been signed for one year too many, but getting him back was an "at all costs" move: the best defensive catcher on the market boosted by his good bat (and right-handedness). We expect him to do as well as he did last year.
- The rotation has
twothree sure locks (Lee and Burnett - plus Hamels in mid-April), a pretty certain lock in Kyle Kendrick, and then the competition for the 5th starter (4th and 5th starters while Hamels is out) looks like Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Gonzalez, & John Pettibone. Ethan Martin is more of a long reliever, but is a better spot-starter than Raul Valdes. Jesse Biddle is in camp as a non-roster invitee and is projected as a potential late-season call-up. Adam Morgan is out until August with surgery. Signing A.J. Burnett would be welcome with that many question marks behind Lee and Hamels... although, I'd say I'm content with the rotation as it currently stands.
- The bullpen is counting on bounce-back years from Pap (execution), Adams (injury), & Bastardo (suspension). Let's hope the success of 2013's last trimester (especially w/ Diekman and De Fratus) actually does carry over into 2014.
- The bench has a few locks: C Nieves, 3B Frandsen, and OF-1B Mayberry, Jr. It stands to reason that Bobby Abreu will be the 5th OF due to needing a left-handed bat off the bench. If the Phillies go with 12 pitchers (I mentioned a five-man rotation and five of the bullpen spots), it looks like Ruf may actually get to start the year in the majors, but it may be difficult if Sandberg wants more pitchers than hitters, which would put Ruf in AAA (see Inbox).
- I'd like to see Ruf up here all year. Yes, his OF defense is suspect, which cannot be ignored, and he strikes out a lot. However, he has a great work ethic and showed that he can be an effective bench player offensively. If used in a super-platoon role (400 PAs) with most innings at 1B defensively, I think he may have a very successful season.
- As I said before, I think Ryne will rest his elder players more than Manuel, which gives the bench more reps than the last few years. Thus, I think this year's bench could turn out be a formidable one.