As we inch closer to Opening Day, the Phillies’ bats look as though they haven’t awoken from their long winter’s nap. The deeper into the Grapefruit League schedule, the more worrisome the lack of offensive punch. The team is starting to resemble the 1906 White Sox (Hitless Wonders) rather than the 1927 Yankees (Murderers’ Row). (Both of those teams won the World Series, by the way.)
With questions surrounding the starting rotation, it is imperative the offense carry the load early in the season. Wishing that Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez could consistently turn in 1-0 or 2-1 victories is like wishing for a smooth ride down the Atlantic City Expressway on a summer Friday afternoon; Wishful thinking.
Barring injuries, the starting lineup appears set. If they stay healthy and productive, the Phillies should be just fine. If a two-run deficit in the sixth inning seems like the prospect of climbing Mount Everest, then it will be a long, hot summer in South Philadelphia.
(L) Ben Revere, CF
(S) Jimmy Rollins, SS
(L) Chase Utley, 2B
(L) Ryan Howard, 1B
(R) Marlon Byrd, RF
(L) Domonic Brown, LF
(L) Cody Asche, 3B
(R) Carlos Ruiz, C
The biggest question starts at the top of the lineup. Can Revere and Rollins get on-base enough? Revere had an OBP of .338 last season, while Rollins was at .318. Not exactly what you would expect from your table-setters. Unfortunately, the Phillies do not have a true leadoff hitter. If Revere can somehow be more selective at the plate and increase his OBP into the .350, the Phillies may have something.
Expecting Rollins to significantly improve from 2013 might be asking a bit too much. Rollins had his worst career season – posting career lows in numerous categories. Nobody expects the 2007 version, but a slight improvement over last season will go a long way in determining the success of this lineup.
What can be said about Chase Utley? He was the offensive team MVP last season after making a miraculous comeback from a chronic knee condition. He reached 500 plate appearances for the first time since 2010 – and would have reached 600, had it not been for an oblique strain during the first-half of the season. If he stays healthy, expect All-Star type numbers.
Now comes the linchpin to the entire offense – Ryan Howard. Period. It is not by coincidence that the Phillies had their two worst seasons in over a decade when Howard missed half of the season due to injuries. If he has 500 plate appearances this season, the Phillies will have a winning record.
The Phillies are 93-69 in their last 162 games that Howard has started. That, by the way, was their record in 2009.
Marlon Byrd has come home. The former,and current, Phillie parlayed a career year into a 2-year, $16 million bonanza. While nobody in their right mind would expect an encore performance from last year, the 36-year old will provide quite an offensive upgrade from the motley crew that was trotted out there last year.
Byrd put up career highs in numerous categories last season – 24 home runs, 64 extra base hits, .511 slugging percentage, and an .847 OPS. Eye-popping numbers for a player on the downside of his career. If comes anywhere close to those numbers in 2014, the Phillies will have quite the steal.
Domonic Brown finally broke out last season. The key was health and consistent playing time. Brown put up monster numbers in the first half of the season which led to his first All-Star team. He finished the year with 27 home runs and an .818 OPS. However, 12 of the 27 home runs came in May. His numbers were very pedestrian during the second half.
He either wore down during the season or pitchers figured out how to pitch to him. The sense is that it’s the former. He played a full season, making 540 plate appearances - which more than doubled his previous total. There is no reason to believe that he cannot duplicate or eclipse his numbers from last season.
Cody Asche’s season will go a long way in determining whether he is the third baseman of the future or a placeholder until Maikel Franco is ready to assume the position. Asche had a solid showing last season. He will need to put up the numbers he did in the minors last season and 2012 to keep Franco at bay.
At Reading, in 2012, he had 33 extra base hits in 289 plate appearances with a slash line of .300/.360/.513. Before his call up last season, he had 43 extra base hits with a slash line of .295/.352/.485 with Lehigh Valley. If Asche can produce like that at the major league level, it will cement his status as the third baseman and will only hasten Franco’s move to first base. The jury is still out.
Carlos Ruiz is back for another season of solid work. Even though Ruiz’s value is his work behind the plate, he did put up solid offensive numbers during the second half. If he puts up .275 with 10 home runs and 20 doubles, to go along with his defense and game-calling, the Phillies will take it every time.
As with most teams, the bench usually has the most roster spots up for grabs every spring. The Phillies are no exception. When constructing a bench, especially in the National League, the keyword is versatility.
There would be five bench spots available should the Phillies decide to head north with a 12-man pitching staff. Realistically, there are eleven players fighting for the five spots.
(S) Freddy Galvis, IF, OF
(R) Darin Ruf, 1B, OF
(R) Wil Nieves, C
(L) Bobby Abreu, OF
(R) John Mayberry, Jr., OF, 1B
One month ago, there was talk about trading Mayberry. Now, two weeks into the Grapefruit League schedule, Mayberry is blistering the ball. He is also one of those players that provides a manager with versatility on the defensive side – being able to play all three outfield positions as well as first base. Sandberg would be thrilled if the 2011 version shows up in 2014 – .273/.341/.513 and 33 extra base hits.
Galvis provides the club with another versatile option off the bench. A shortstop by trade, he is able to play all over the infield and even made a cameo appearance in left field last season. While Galvis will never be referred to as an offensive force, his defensive prowess will more than justify his spot on the team.
Abreu was the Venezuelan version of Babe Ruth last season. This spring, he has morphed into Mario Mendoza. He has a chance to do something this spring that is nearly impossible: finish with a sub-.200 AVG and an OBP higher than .400.
Because he is left-handed, he will be given every opportunity to win a roster spot this spring. He will always have a high on-base percentage, but if he can maintain a batting average near .250, the Phillies will have a nice bargain for one year.
The Phillies need to somehow find Ruf 300 plate appearances this season. He provides power, walks more than his fair share, and crushes lefties. He is the perfect candidate to spell Howard or Brown when the Phillies are facing a tough, left-handed starting pitcher. He popped 14 home runs and had an .806 OPS in a part-time role in 2013. Expect more of the same in 2014.
Somehow the Phillies think that Nieves is an acceptable option as Ruiz’s backup. During a 10-year career, he has posted underwhelming numbers: .242/.283/.314 and eight home runs. Eight!
ON THE BUBBLE
(R) Kevin Frandsen, IF
(S) Cesar Hernandez, IF, OF
(R) Maikel Franco, 3B/1B
(R) Cameron Rupp, C
(R) Lou Marson, C
(L) Reid Brignac, IF
Frandsen had a great year in 2012: .338/.383/.451, only to regress in 2013: .234/.296/.341. He plays three infield positions, as well. However, he has below-average speed and is an average defender. If he was a left-handed hitter, he would have had a better chance of making the team.
Franco would need to put up monster numbers in Clearwater to supplant Asche as the everyday third baseman. It is a near certainty that he will start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. It won’t be long before we see Franco in red pinstripes.
Hernandez has the type of versatility that managers love, but with Abreu’s arrival, he just might be the odd man out. He proved to be a capable major league reserve last year, even learning how to play center field. However, due to injuries and attrition, expect to see Hernandez in Philadelphia sometime during the course of the season.
Rupp looks more like a lumberjack than a baseball player. The big Texan, who will more than likely begin the season in Triple-A, will be first in line to be recalled should the Phillies need catching help. He is an excellent defender who is surprisingly quick for a big man and provides power from the right side of the plate.
Marson and Brignac are organizational fillers. Marson, who was a one-time Phillies catching prospect, will more than likely be Rupp’s backup in Triple-A. Brignac, who is a non-roster invitee, would have to accept an assignment to Triple-A if he doesn’t make the team. Chances are he would look for work with another organization. His numbers were ugly last year: .185/.219/.261 in 98 plate appearances. He hasn’t looked much better this spring.
The team hasn’t looked good so far. Even though wins and losses in Florida don’t mean anything, the complete and utter lack of offense is quite worrisome. Maybe they will flip the “switch” on March 31. Maybe they won’t be able to. Time will tell.
Tags: Philadelphia Phillies