The Phightin’ Philadelphia Phillies provided some hopeful flickers of optimism in 2013, but it will remain a season marked as a low point in the franchise’s effort to squeeze out one more moment of dominance from the World Series core. The negatives hit hard for fans and Fantasy owners alike as we witnessed a future hall-of-famer Roy Halladay limp his way into the sunset, a shell of the pitcher that was a perennial top-three selection at his position.
Former MVP Ryan Howard also scuffled in his return from an Achilles’ injury before eventually succumbing to another lower body injury, hitting the shelf in early-July with a torn left meniscus.
Unfortunately, the agony doesn’t stop there as Cole Hamels‘ abysmal April, left owners who spent a top-50 selection on the left-handed horse searching for answers.
But it wasn’t all bad in the City of Brotherly Love. Hamels bounced back with a strong stretch run. Chase Utley returned to form. Cliff Lee notched another elite season. And Domonic Brown burst onto the scene, riding a May power surge to a breakout campaign.
- Ben Revere, CF
- Jimmy Rollins, SS
- Chase Utley, 2B
- Ryan Howard, 1B
- Marlon Byrd, RF
- Domonic Brown, LF
- Carlos Ruiz, C
- Cody Asche, 3B
- Cliff lee, LHP
- Cole Hamels, LHP
- Kyle Kendrick, RHP
- Miguel Gonzalez, RHP
- Roberto “Don’t Call Me Fausto” Hernandez, RHP
- Setup: Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams (shoulder)
- Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Fantasy Studs: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley
With the most potent combination of left-handed arms in the majors, the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies will look to lean on their aces once again and both belong among the top-10 starting pitchers selected on Draft Day.
Lee turned in another stellar season, leading the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio for the second consecutive year (6.94 in 2013, 7.39 in 2012). A consistency king, Lee has tossed over 200 innings with 170-plus strikeouts in six straight seasons, all while accumulating a 2.89 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. There is little reason to doubt he’ll finish at the top of the heap again.
Hamels is another case altogether as owners were smacked in the face with his downside during a rough start to the season. The 29-year-old hurler managed just a single win in his first 12 starts and sat with a 4.86 ERA on May 31. But hey, chasing wins is a sucker’s game. Look to Cole’s 2.86 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his last 16 starts — as most of your leaguemates were looking to their Fantasy Football squad — and have confidence in a top-tier starter in his prime.
Health has certainly not been a given for Utley, but there has never been much reason to question his production when on the field. Through the injuries, Utley has put up a .268/.351/.446 slash line over his last three season with 21 home runs and 17 steals per 162 games.
Utley may not be the perennial MVP candidate and consensus first-round Fantasy talent of years past, but the Phillies second-sacker is not as far away from that offensive output as many assume. Yes, he’s still a stud … he just comes at a discount now.
Breakout Candidates: Domonic Brown, Ben Revere
Brown could just as easily end up in the busts section here, but we’re on the brink of the most glorious time of the year and I just don’t feel like being all that pessimistic.
I could tell you about the fact that outside of a 19-game stretch from late-May into early-June, Brown batted just .250 with 47 runs, 15 home runs, 56 runs and three steals over 120 games. I could note a 19.3 HR/FB% that was nearly double Brown’s rate in 2012. I could also point out a mediocre .324 OBP (and .296 OBP vs. LHP) or the modest 8-for-11 stolen base success rates. But let’s not dwell on the negative.
What I will tell you is that Domonic Brown is entering a critical year in his career and even though some may say he already had his breakout campaign in 2013, we need to see him consistently translate those tools into on-field production before drafting him among the elite.
Though Revere’s 2013 season ended early with a foot injury, the speedy outfielder spent the better part of his playing time on fire. Ben shrugged off a slow April to bat .347 after the calendar flipped to May, and finished the season with 22 swipes in 88 games played. The broken foot will be well in Revere’s rear-view mirror by the start of Spring Training and with a full complement of at-bats, there are 40 steals and plenty of runs scored to be had at the top of the Philadelphia lineup.
Sleeper Candidates: Darin Ruf
The offseason addition of Marlon Byrd and the impending return of Ryan Howard leaves Ruf’s Opening Day status in question. But power-hungry owners in deeper leagues would be wise to keep this name on their radar.
Ruf blasted 14 home runs in just 73 games last year, registering the 10th-best ISO slugging percentage (.211) among first baseman with 250 plate appearances. He can’t hit lefties (.188/.309/.348 in 69 at-bats) and strikes out way too much (31.1 K%) but has legit power potential in a bandbox of a ballpark … he just needs to find some at-bats.
Bust Candidates: Marlon Byrd
Byrd’s triumphant return to Philadelphia is the crowning jewel of General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s head-scratcher of an offseason. Amaro saw what he wanted in Byrd and wasted no time snagging him this winter, agreeing to two-year pact in early November and tossing even more money at the Phillies’ aging core.
Of course, what’s not to like about a multi-year commitment to a 36-year-old outfielder coming off of a career season. Byrd’s 24 home runs in 2013 represent just the second time he has topped 20 in his career and with no patience and no speed to speak of, odds are against Byrd duplicating his performance with his new/old squad.
Top Rookies: The Battle at Third
Cody Asche will have the inside track to the starting gig at third base this season, looking to improve on his modest .235/.302/.389 performance over 50 games with the big club in 2013. He’s shown better in the minors, however, and after batting a combined .311 on the farm in 2012-13, there is room for improvement.
It won’t be a lock for Asche, though, as he’ll have to fend of the fellow third-baseman Maikel Franco, who emerged as the organization’s top hitting prospect last year after slugging 31 home runs and 36 doubles in 134 games across two levels.
Franco spent the second half of last season at Double-A, and while he appears likely to begin in the minors once again in 2014, it may not be long before he’s taking his hacks in South Philly. Franco is the more enticing Fantasy prospect of the two and the one dynasty/keeper leagues should become familiar with.
What You Should Know
If Jimmy Rollins can run like he did after the break (13-for-13 in stolen base opportunities in 64 games), he’ll be a top-10 shortstop … A healthy Ryan Howard can give you and the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies 30 home runs, something only six first baseman did last season … Despite obviously diminishing skills and a bloated contract, Jonathan Papelbon is just fine for 30 saves … Kyle Kendrick is better than you think … Bastardo is a pretty funny name.
Wayne Bretsky runs the show over at BretskyBall.com and also is a contributor to Rotowire and Dynasty Sports Empire. His inability to turn down an invitation to a Fantasy draft is spawning more Rotisserie teams than any man should own. About once a week, you can find Bretsky sippin’ whiskey (or perhaps slugging PBR) and yelling about Jayson Werth’s stretch-run on the Box Score Baseball Podcast.