Early-Season Grades for Each Player on Philadelphia Phillies’ Roster

April 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

Early in the 2014 season, the Philadelphia Phillies find themselves at 7-10 and in last place in the National League East.

For a team that many predicted to finish last in the NL East, the Phillies are doing better than many, including myself, had them doing early in the 2014 campaign.

In this slideshow, each player will receive a range of grades (A-F) that describe their overall playing as well as an in-depth look on how that player has fared in 2014. The Phillies are full of a mix of seasoned veterans and inexperienced role players. These early grades will be precursors to how the players will finish through the end of the season.

Obviously each grade can be interpreted differently, so if you have your own grades and opinions, feel free to leave a comment!

Begin Slideshow

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Why Philadelphia Phillies Should Start Tony Gwynn Jr. in Place of Ben Revere

April 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

A week ago, Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Ben Revere was sidelined with bruised ribs. Manager Ryne Sandberg made the decision to replace the speedy center fielder with another speed threat in Tony Gwynn Jr.

Gwynn was immediately slotted in the leadoff spot and was asked to be the table-setter. In his four starts this season, the Phillies are sporting a 3-1 record. Gwynn is currently hitting .304 following a 12-1 loss against the Colorado Rockies on Friday evening at Coors Field.

When you look at both players, you begin to think that they play the same type of game. But there are a few reasons why Gwynn deserves to start over Revere, and the reasons may surprise you.

The most important and glaring reason is that Gwynn finds ways to get on base more than Revere.

Gwynn has walked four times in his first 29 plate appearances this season, giving him a 14.3 walk percentage, according to FanGraphs.com. Revere, on the other hand, has walked two times in his first 59 plate appearances of the season, giving him a 3.4 walk percentage.

To make a comparison, Revere ranks last among position players on the Phillies roster while Gwynn is slotted behind Ryan Howard (15.2 percent) and Carlos Ruiz (14.5 percent) for the team lead.

The object of being a leadoff hitter is to get on base. That has beenand is stillthe goal of the table-setter. Revere hasn’t done much “table-setting” throughout his brief career, which should raise red flags for Phillies management.

Revere’s career on-base percentage (OBP) is .323. What needs to be taken into consideration is that a player who doesn’t walk much will depend on his individual batting average to beef up his OBP. That’s exactly what Revere has been doing over the first five seasons of his brief career.

Gwynn, on the other hand, sports a .313 OBP in eight seasons in the MLB. That .313 sounds more relaxing knowing that his career batting average is .245. A player who hits for a low average and walks should be more appealing for a manager than a player who relies on one stat to get on base.

Sandberg released a statement to Stephen Gross of The Morning Call regarding Gwynn’s play and why he was still in the lineup.

He’s doing a nice job at the top of the order. So I stuck with the same lineup and try to keep the momentum going. I like what he’s doing. We’ll give Ben one more day and see if I have to use Ben off the bench again. We’ll just get Ben one more extra day.

It looks as if Sandberg isn’t sold on Gwynn just yet. What the manager also said in the interview should stand out the most.

“I like what Tony has done out there on the defensive side,” Sandberg stated. “I would say he shows experience out there. [He has] knowledge of the hitters and good jumps.”

Experience, defensive knowledge and getting good jumps. All are signs of a good major league outfielder. Obviously, a person can make the argument that Revere can’t get the outfield experience without playing games there.

Just for comparison’s sake, Revere’s last season in the minors was 2012. However, he was called up by the Minnesota Twins as a depth move, thanks to a few injuries. Revere put his name on the map after making a few Gold Glove-quality plays that made No. 1 on SportsCenter‘s “Top 10 Plays.” Other than that, Revere wasn’t much of a polished prospect.

Gwynn spent seven seasons in the minors before becoming a major league call-up and a depth signing for a few organizations. The argument trying to be made is that Gwynn is a more polished, more experienced option for the Phillies right now.

If the Phillies wanted to get Revere the real experience that he needs, a trip to the minor leagues would certainly be a perfect fit. However, given the Phillies well-documented plan to “win now,” throwing a player into the fire is exactly what has happened.

Right now, it looks like Revere will be the Phillies’ center fielder for the long haul. However, do not be surprised to see Sandberg slot Gwynn in center if Revere continues to make bad plays, take bad routes and fail to get on base.

Gwynn is a capable replacement for Revere and has all of the tools to be starting for the Phillies right now.

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John Mayberry Jr. Quietly Having Impressive Spring for Philadelphia Phillies

March 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies have struggled this spring. The biggest concern coming into 2014 is the same one that hindered the team the past few seasons—its offense.

Philadelphia is currently hitting .212 through its first 15 games of the spring, which is the worst in MLB.

But for every negative quality a team has, there is always a silver lining.

John Mayberry Jr. ascended through the Texas Rangers‘ minor league system, becoming a legitimate prospect after being drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft. He had it all—the body frame, the power and the ability to play each outfield position.

Mayberry was acquired by the Phillies during the 2008-09 offseason in exchange for speedy outfielder and failed prospect Greg Golson. Mayberry began that season in Triple-A and was later called up during interleague play as an extra bat.

Mayberry‘s first MLB hit, a three-run home run off Andy Pettitte to left field in Yankee Stadium in May of 2009, encompassed everything the team was hoping for in its young outfielder. Since that game, Mayberry has split time between the outfield, first base and pinch hitting.

2011 was his best major league season. Mayberry hit .273 and smacked 15 home runs while posting an .854 OPS in 104 games. The outlook for the maturing Mayberry was bright, which is why he remained with the Phillies in 2012.

Mayberry was given more at-bats (441), but his production didn’t stay the same. His power numbers declined (14 HRs, 46 RBI), his average dropped (.245) and he struggled to get on base (.301 OBP). As a result, Mayberry was forced into a platoon role for the last few seasons.

Mayberry was tendered by the Phillies in December. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly in an interview that same month he finds value in the outfielder as a role player:

He’s a lot more valuable than I guess people think, … Part of the equation is whether he’s viewed as an everyday player or not. Well, I don’t believe he’s an everyday player. I see him as fill-in-in-a-pinch guy. He’s got versatility. He can play first base and all three outfield positions. That versatility and the fact that he’s got some power are all things in our estimation that are pluses. He can be a role player on a team that can win.

Last season Mayberry showed flashes of how productive he could be off the bench. Four of his 11 home runs came in the seventh inning or later.

Mayberry is having a productive spring that will hopefully continue into the regular season. Having Mayberry on the bench could prove to be important late in games, especially if he has figured out the solution to the problems with his swing.

So far this spring, Mayberry is hitting .333 with eight hits in 24 at-bats during his 12 games of play. He has also smacked two home runs and posted a 1.027 OPS in those contests.

Opposite-field power, extra-base hits, and the ability to come off the bench and produce are the keys for the Phillies outfielder. A hot start to the spring could carry over to April.

If Mayberry can continue his production, the Phillies may have found their silver lining in a worrisome spring. Look for Mayberry to be an effective player, even in a limited role this season.

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Bobby Abreu Making It Tough for Philadelphia Phillies to Cut Him

March 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

The phrase “age before beauty” can be applied to the decision that the Philadelphia Phillies will have to make on veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu. The former All-Star has an opt-out clause in his minor league contract that allows Abreu to be granted his release if he is not placed on the Phillies’ MLB roster by March 26.

Abreu spent nine of his 17 major league seasons with Philadelphia. Before sitting out last season, he spent time with the Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros.

Abreu, 39, hit .322 with three homers, 28 RBI and a .877 OPS in 50 games in the Venezuelan League this winter, which was a big reason why Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wanted to take a look at him.

Early on in spring training, Abreu is hitting .133 in 21 plate appearances. A veteran with two hits this spring doesn’t look like a good option to have on the bench heading into 2014. However, Abreu still does one thing very well, which he’s done his entire career—he gets on base.

Abreu currently has five walks in those 21 plate appearances, giving him a .381 on-base percentage. The veteran outfielder is a .292 career hitter but is also the owner of a .396 career OBP, which ranks among the top 100 all time, according to Baseball Reference.

Philadelphia has struggled getting guys on base over the last couple of seasons, which is part of the reason the Phillies have struggled so much offensively. This is why Abreu made it past the team’s first cuts of the spring. Knowing this, manager Ryne Sandberg will be able to get more looks at Abreu as the spring progresses.

In fact, Abreu is making an impression on the Hall of Fame player, now manager.

“He’s having quality at-bats,” Sandberg said to CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury. “He’s battling pitchers. He’s been a base runner quite often.”

Abreu is replicating on the field what Sandberg has been preaching since he was given the managerial job. Getting on base as well as running the bases effectively are important parts of the game. From day one, Sandberg preached this method.

Now Abreu, a proven veteran, is proving why Sandberg‘s message makes sense for the Phillies.

“Working counts and getting on base is a big part of the game,” he said in the same interview with CSN Philly. “I just try to put the ball in play and if they don’t throw me a strike, I don’t swing.”

So what should Phillies fans look for from Abreu until a decision needs to be made?

Expect him to go out and have quality at-bats. Be sure to not put an emphasis on the batting average. Instead, look at the amount of pitches he is seeing per at-bat. Look at his OBP, see if he still has a keen eye at the plate.

If Abreu can play acceptable defense and continue to have a consistent arm in the outfield, then the coaching staff will need to put Abreu on the MLB roster. He would likely be their go-to, left-handed bat off of the bench as well as a designated hitter during interleague play.

Abreu is making it tough for the Phillies to cut him, which is not a bad thing for a determined ballclub. 

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Philadelphia Phillies Finding an Embarrassment of Riches in Bullpen

March 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies are dealing with some problems right now. Their lineup cannot hit, their ace is dealing with shoulder tendonitis and the team is a combined 1-8 this spring. All of those things have put Philadelphia in a state of shock and worry for the upcoming season.

There has been a bright spot, though—actually a few bright spots—for the 2014 Phillies. The Philadelphia bullpen looks like it will be the team’s biggest asset after years of inconsistency.

The last time Philadelphia had a consistent bullpen? 2008.

Obviously, the 2008 Phillies were a different ballclub and had other strong points, but being able to have reliability in relief makes manager Ryne Sandberg’s job easier. Early in spring training, the Phillies are finding an embarrassment of riches in their bullpen.

Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Adams are the household names that the Philadelphia faithful know, and they are prepared to anchor the back end of the pen. But these five players could round out a bullpen that could have a chance to be one of the best in the National League if its production remains consistent.


Jake Diekman

Jake Diekman made his MLB debut in May 2012, immediately making an impact. Diekman struck out three batters in 1.1 innings pitched. He was arguably on of the Phils‘ best pitchers in the bullpen, going 1-4 with a 2.58 ERA in 45 appearances last season.

The mid- to upper-90 mph-throwing left-hander struck out 41 hitters through 38.1 innings pitched with the Phillies in 2013. Diekman, 27, held left-handed hitters to a .148 batting average with a .221 on-base percentage as well.

He jokingly attributed his success to chewing bubblegum on the mound, telling CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury that the gum makes him “think less” on the mound.

So far this spring, Diekman has given up two runs but has struck out three hitters in three innings of work. The Phillies bullpen could use a hard-throwing lefty in late-game situations. Diekman could be the man for the job.


Brad Lincoln

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was looking to build depth in the pen at the beginning of the offseason. As a result, he traded catcher Erik Kratz to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for right-handed reliever Brad Lincoln.

Lincoln was one of the reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates were competitive in 2012, going 3-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 47 relief appearances. But he struggled in 2013, posting a 4.77 ERA in 46 games. However, the 28-year-old reliever is confident that he will get back to the basics. 

He sat down with Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News to discuss the the transition from life with the Pittsburgh Pirates to Toronto.

“I never felt that comfort after I got traded,” Lincoln said. “I don’t know if it was because of the new surroundings, feeling you have to impress a whole different group or something like that. I don’t know. It just hadn’t worked out. But I’m looking forward to turning it around.”

To start the spring, Lincoln has yet to give up an earned run in his 3.2 innings of work. The Phillies like his body of work, and it could make him a viable lock to make the Opening Day roster.


Sean O’Sullivan

In December, the Phillies brought in right-hander Sean O’Sullivan as a non-roster invitee for the spring. O’Sullivan has been short of disappointing thus far. In 5.0 innings of work, the right-hander has only allowed three hits while striking out five hitters.

With Cole Hamels dealing with an injury, O’Sullivan could find himself as one of the long men in the bullpen. He could also split time as the fifth starter if needed.


David Buchanan

David Buchanan is the wild card for the Phillies bullpen. The right-hander was a Rule 5 selection by Philadelphia back in December. Buchanan, 24, has made 79 starts in the minor leagues, but only six have come with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

If the Phillies were to keep him with the club, they would have a pitcher who is effective on the mound, getting hitters to ground out. In a hitter’s ballpark, that is the type of production Philadelphia needs. Look for Buchanan to find a job as a long reliever.


Jeff Manship

Jeff Manship has been impressive in the minor leagues, but a 6.42 ERA in 52 career big league appearances should be something to worry about.

Manship is vying to add depth to the Phillies pen, especially in a fifth- or sixth-inning role. He currently has been lights-out this spring in the bullpen. 

As you can see, the Phillies bullpen has more depth than it has had in a long time. Though it is early in spring training, the Phillies’ bright spot has been the arms coming out of the bullpen. The health of the starting rotation is in question, but these players can fill voids. If there is one key to Philadelphia’s 2014 success, the consistency of their pen is it.

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Cole Hamels’ Injury Should Scare Philadelphia Phillies Fans

March 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

2008 World Series MVP and Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels has been sidelined with shoulder tendinitis, putting him behind schedule in getting ready for the 2014 MLB season.

The injury has gone from having a positive outlook to being a cause for concern in a matter of a few weeks. Hamels’ health should scare fans in the Philadelphia area.

Hamels spoke to CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury about progressing with his rehab on February 23:

“I’m feeling like my body is ready to make a big jump. I feel right where I usually am about Feb. 1 going into spring training. That’s about the time I’m usually ready for my first ‘pen. I’m happy where I am.”

On Thursday, March 6, however, Hamels spoke to the Philadelphia Daily News‘ Ryan Lawrence. The injury has began taking a turn for the worst:

I believe I threw 35 pitches. To my body it felt like a thousand. I think I pushed it a little too hard too quickly. And I wasn’t able to recover the way I obviously use to or would be accustomed to. I didn’t feel like it was safe to push it in that direction because I think that would have led to injuries. So I’m just really trying to allow my body to catch up. I’m trying to build the biggest base of strength that I possibly can to throw. And in the short period that I have had, I wasn’t able to build it the best I could to face hitters.

To top it off, the Phillies’ starting rotation is not panning out to what it was projected to be. Hamels was supposed to anchor a rotation that featured innings-eater A.J. Burnett, former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and a combination of veteran Roberto Hernandez and offseason acquisition Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

Lee has been impressive in his brief stint this spring.

Burnett surrendered six runs on seven hits in three innings of work on Friday afternoon against the Baltimore Orioles.

Kendrick bounced back after a rough first appearance against the New York Yankees.

Hernandez has been decent, and Gonzalez has struggled mightily, which has created room for speculating if he is good enough to be in the starting rotation come April.

Where do the 1-8 Phillies go from here if Hamels can’t be ready until April or later and the rotation is undecided?

There was also a report from The Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo, regarding the status of free-agent starting pitcher Ervin Santana:

Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer later refuted the original report via Twitter:

But should Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. take a look at the veteran starter?

Santana is reportedly looking for a one-year deal from a ballclub prior to Opening Day, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (h/t MLB Trade Rumors). Signing him to a deal would cost the team a draft pick.

The team could also look to youth in the rotation, but again, there are not many positives to consider.

Jonathan Pettibone went 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 18 starts during the 2013 season for Philadelphia. David Buchanan, a Rule 5 pick from December, is impressing on the mound but has made only six starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to this season. Jeff Manship has started 10 games in his major league career and owns a 6.42 ERA. Ethan Martin went down with an injury the first day of spring training.

What originally started out as a minor injury, resulting in a few missed starts, has turned into a major scare for the Phillies.

A team that needs a plethora of things to pan out has experienced failure from the rotation early on. There are a bunch of “ifs” to help fill the voids, but zero reliability. Because of these reasons, the city of Philadelphia should be concerned with the health of its ace.

The team’s success dwindles along with Hamels’ shoulder.

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Why These Players Will Make Make Philadelphia Phillies Better in 2014

February 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies have the chance to be a special team in 2014, whether people want to admit it or not.

Age is a problem, and so is a lack of offense over the course of two seasons. However, sometimes all of the ifs can go right—just ask the Boston Red Sox.

The Phillies have made some head-scratching moves over the the last few seasons, there is no doubt about it, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a few signings this season that may pay off in big ways.

There are three players that will stand out for the Phillies in 2014. They each bring something special to the ball field, even though it may not be evident to the casual fan. The Phillies can completely be competitive and surprise people, but they will need to be impacted by these players to do it.


Jake Diekman

The Phillies have themselves a special player in Jake Diekman. The left-handed reliever throws in the mid-to-high 90s and has a deadly slider that can be very effective against left-handed hitters.

Diekman finished 2013 with a 2.58 ERA in 38.1 innings pitched. He also sported a FIP of 2.50, which would have placed him as one of the top 20 relievers in that category.

He has seen an increase in velocity during his first two seasons in the big leagues, averaging around 92 mph on his fastball.

He will have a huge impact for the Phillies out of the bullpen in late-game situations. Diekman was effective against left-handers, who hit .143 against him, only allowing one run.

Ryne Sandberg could benefit from having a hard-throwing left-hander reliever in his bullpen. If he doesn’t choose to use Diekman regularly, then Sandberg will still have a great situational reliever to throw out on the mound in key situations.


A.J. Burnett

The phrase “wise investment” has not been used in the same sentence as “Philadelphia Phillies” often in recent years, but signing A.J. Burnett to a deal may be one of the best moves of the entire MLB offseason.

Burnett improved his ground-ball rate over the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He has also been able to recreate himself on the mound despite a dip in velocity. Burnett is throwing his curveball to left-handed hitters more than before and has been able to use his change-up to throw off others. 

Burnett now solidifies the top of the Phillies’ rotation that includes Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, both of whom are more than capable of competing for the National League Cy Young Award in 2014.

The signing of the veteran right-hander enables the Phillies to split up their left-handers and gives them another innings-eater on the mound that can balance out the rotation.

Burnett makes the Phillies’ rotation one of the best in the NL.


Marlon Byrd

The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract to help protect Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup.

The veteran outfielder is coming off the best season of his career, much in part due to a change in the batter’s box. Byrd added a leg kick in 2013. Instead of taking a small step, he uses a bigger kick to time the pitcher’s delivery.

Due to this, Byrd was able to hit 24 home runs with the Mets and bat .291, ranking 31st and 35th in those respective categories.

The Phillies are expecting Byrd to come in and solidify the offenseor at least balance it out. Byrd can definitely do that. He has matured since his days with the Cubs and Red Sox. Expect him to come out raking, especially playing in the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.


Philadelphia is already doubting its team. Does it have a valid reason to? Absolutely.

Because of these three players, however, the Phillies are going to surprise the folks at home. They are going to be better than the fans think. They will surprise the rest of the MLB.

Can they be competitive in 2014? You better believe it. Watch out for these three players to make a huge impact this season.

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Breaking Down Ben Revere’s Role on Philadelphia Phillies’ Roster

February 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

When the Philadelphia Phillies acquired outfielder Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins in a trade during the 2013 offseason for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May, fans were ecstatic.

With Shane Victorino out of the picture, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. needed to fill a void that put up a lot of production during the team’s 2007-2011 National League East run.

Amaro wanted to strengthen the middle of the diamond, and with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz having already established Major League careers, he needed to strengthen it with youth.

Revere, 26, is entering his second season with the Phillies, but it won’t be his second full season. The young outfielder played 88 games before injuring his ankle in July.

What should the Philadelphia faithful expect from the young outfielder in Year 2?

Let’s hope for less of this.


Leadoff Hitter

The Phillies offense, as well as the majority of MLB offenses, works best with speed at the top of the lineup. In his prime Rollins was that player, just as Juan Pierre and Ichiro Suzuki were for their teams.

Manager Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies offense would benefit if Revere became the leadoff hitter. Sandberg could bounce Rollins back or move Utley into the No. 2 slot in the lineup.

The problem for the Phillies was Revere’s inefficiency with getting on base.

In April, Revere has a slash line of .200/.234/.222 in 96 plate appearances. It seemed like every ball was routinely being grounded to shortstop or second base. Some of the problem was a high strikeout rate, which was 10.7 percent, and a low walk rate, which was 4.8 percent.

To put this into perspective, Revere’s career walk rate is far lower than Rollins’ career walk rate.

But like all everyday major leaguers, Revere made adjustments at the dish.

The speedy center fielder had a career high .305 batting average and a .338 on-base percentage before a foul ball cost him what could have been a breakout season.

Revere got on base because of his .344 BABIP (batting average of balls in play) in 2013, which lead to him earning career highs in certain categories.


Base Stealer

Besides getting on base, the Phillies are relying on Revere to cause havoc on them as well. His speed is unprecedented. The kid can flat-out fly. If you don’t believe me, take a look.

As you can see in the video, Revere gets a bad jump off Trevor Bauer but is still able to beat the throw from the catcher without a problem.

If Revere can get on base and cause havoc on them, the Phillies could have themselves a player similar to a young version of Rollins. Revere did steal 40 bases for the Twins in 2012. Expect him to be among the league leaders in swipes by the end of 2014.


Anchor in the Outfield

Revere’s speed will also play a role on the defensive end.

There were times Revere has looked like a dominant outfielder.

And there have been times Revere has looked lost when running routes to the baseball. Revere had a UZR (ultimate zone rating) of -2.3 last season, which was a career low, dropping his career total to 23.0.

But these are things that can obviously be fixed and having the speed to run down balls makes that possible.

Revere will become the team’s anchor in the outfield. I use the term “anchor” because a center fielder’s job is to control the majority of the outfield, calling off players to take better routes to the ball.

He will likely be slated between Domonic Brown and Marlon Byrd in the outfield. If Revere’s defense can improve, which is obvious because of his career defensive metrics, then he will make Brown and Byrd better defenders. Having the ability to cover more ground in the outfield makes Revere a prime example for the Phillies having better defense in the outfield.

Revere has all the tools to become a productive everyday center fielder as well as a great leadoff hitter. The next step is making adjustments and improving on a productive 2013 season.

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard Will Return to Form in 2014

February 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

It seems that Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard being the topic of Spring Training has become the norm.

The former 2005 NL Rookie of the Year and 2006 Most Valuable Player has struggled to stay on the field since the 2011 postseason due to a torn Achilles, a small toe fracture and a torn left meniscus.

The Phillies come into Spring Training with a plethora of “ifs.” One is Howard.

Philadelphia’s “Big Piece” spoke to the media at a Phillies camp press conference on Saturday afternoon regarding his chances of staying healthy.

“I feel like I can play 162 games,” Howard said. “Now that I have two legs, I’m feeling better and I’m able to hop around on the field, my swing is coming back to where I want it to be. That’s kind of my mantra. Getting two legs has allowed me to get stable in the batter’s box, where I want to be. I can work on my approach and go from there.”

Howard’s health is a huge key for Philadelphia. The left-handed slugger believes he can still hit 40-plus home runs and come to camp as a man on a mission.

“When I’m out there, I want to give it what I got,” Howard said. “I owe it to myself, I owe it to my teammates, I owe it to the fans and the organization… If I can try to knock in some runs or try to do whatever it is I can to help our team win, that’s my goal.”

The Phillies are 93-69 in Howard’s last 162 starts, which is why the “Big Piece” is the most important player on the roster.

But will Howard return to form?

Doubters say that he cannot hit left-handed pitching, he will not be able to stay on the field, he isn’t worth the money he is getting paid and that he strikes out at an alarming rate.

I’ll say this first: forget the injury bug. Assume that Howard plays 145-151 games in 2014. He will return to form for a few reasons.

Howard, when healthy, is one of the most dominant and feared hitters at the plate. Case in point being that the first baseman came into camp down a few pounds and finally feels healthy.

A message from his manager, Ryne Sandberg, may have triggered the determination. The Phillies skipper told Comcast’s Leslie Gudel that he believes Howard’s weight was a problem in 2013.

Howard believes that sitting out for basically a full season has helped him get back to his old routine.

“Now that my knee was completely healed and my Achilles had a year or so to gain strength, I can go back to the workouts I used to do,” Howard said on Saturday. “While we were still trying to build strength in my quad, my calf and the entire left leg, I was still able to get out here and do my baseball stuff… It was pretty much back to what I would normally do.”

Howard getting healthy and back on his workout regimen are the first reasons for why he will return to form.

It has been a while since Howard has had power from both sides of the plate to protect him in the lineup. Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd and Domonic Brown are each coming off productive seasons. They are projected to hit third, fifth and sixth, respectively, in the lineup.

Having protection from both sides of the plate in front of him can help Howard in an important way: He will see better pitching, because pitchers may want to challenge him instead of the other three.

Howard also still has the ability to hit to all parts of the field.

All three videos were from 2012 and 2013, respectively. Howard has been able to crush the ball in any stadium to all parts of the ballpark despite being injured. His eye for the ball has not changed. What has changed is his age.

Look at a player like Adam Dunn.

Dunn made a living hitting home runs all over the ballpark with the Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and Chicago White Sox. He struck out at an alarming rate, his batting average was relatively low and he struggled against left-handed pitching.

In 2012, Dunn hit .204 but crushed 41 HR and drove in 96 runs while striking out 222 times. That was the type of production Howard was on during his 2012 season when he was recovering from the torn Achilles.

Howard’s production then was still as productive as a healthy Dunn, which says something for a middle-of-the-lineup threat. It’s not something to brag about, but definitely something that needs to be taken into consideration.

Howard was on pace for a productive 2013 season until he went down with a torn meniscus. The veteran hit .266, slammed 11 HR and drove in 43 runs through 80 games played. The dip in run production was mainly due to Philadelphia’s inability to get on base and into scoring position.

The final reason I believe Howard will return to form is the effect Citizens Bank Park has on players. Remember that not too long ago a player named Raul Ibanez hit 70 HR with the Phillies, including 34 HR in 2009.

Howard is considered a pull hitter, which is why teams will shift him to the pull side of the field. However, he is still able to lace a ball into the right field bleachers despite not putting a good swing on the ball.

Former Phillies closer and MLB Network analyst Mitch Williams mentioned on the WIP Morning Show in Philadelphia how Howard could hit 35 HRs “by accident” in 2014.

Because he is 100 percent healthy for the first time in about three season, he has protection around him in the lineup and still produced when injured, I fully believe that Howard will return to form in 2014.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Ranking the Philadelphia Phillies’ Most Important Players Heading into 2014

February 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies were a team to be reckoned with from 2007-2011. They were an example of what a franchise should embody with their ability to develop prospects, build chemistry and fill voids efficiently through free agency. Those teams won five National League East division titles, two National League Championships and one World Series.

The 2012 and 2013 seasons were anything but fun for the Philadelphia faithful. The bats have slowed down, players are getting older and the young crop of prospects have yet to pan out.

There have been changes throughout the organization since that time. Charlie Manuel is no longer manager, old faces have returned and a few prospects are in the everyday lineup.

The Phillies could be a surprise team in 2014—or they could fail miserably, depending on whether all of their “ifs” pan out correctly. There are 10 players that will be significant to the team’s success once the season starts.

Each player on the 40-man roster was evaluated by the following criteria: career consistency, key skill and importance of position.

Philadelphia will need to watch these 10 players closely. The team’s success depends on their production.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies