Their payroll constricted by the long-term deals they doled out during their recent run of success, the Phillies have fallen into a rut over the last few years, giving Fantasy owners a good idea what to expect in 2014: A bunch of old guys who'll probably just be worse than last year.
Fortunately, that's not true for the starting rotation yet -- or at least not all of it. Roy Halladay had some shoulder issues that forced his retirement, but Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still exhibit top-10 potential. Drafting either as your ace puts you in a good position in mixed leagues.
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Of course, they're about the only Phillies pitchers you'd want to draft. The other two in the discussion are closer Jonathan Papelbon, whose knockout stuff appeared to lose some of its bite in his age-32 season last year, and recently signed A.J. Burnett, who's back in a hitter's park after a two-year respite in Pittsburgh. Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez are assured spots but are just as likely to hurt your ERA and WHIP as help it in NL-only leagues -- and with hardly any strikeouts to boot.
The Phillies' big offseason acquisition was Marlon Byrd, which hardly constitutes a youth movement. Coming off a career season at age 36, he has his share of skeptics, but he isn't any riskier than Ryan Howard, who's now in jeopardy of becoming a platoon player because of his struggles against left-handed pitchers, which have only gotten worse with his body beginning to betray him at age 34. Hey, Darin Ruf hit 14 homers in 251 at-bats last year, and the Phillies talked like they wanted him to play every day until the Byrd signing forced him to the bench. His natural position is first base.
If the Phillies have one bright spot in their lineup, it's Domonic Brown. Chase Utley has remained fairly productive in between injuries, and Jimmy Rollins could end up going in the middle rounds just because of the position he plays, but Brown represents the one player in the Phillies lineup with honest-to-goodness upside. True, he already broke through as a Fantasy mainstay last year, but because of an Achilles injury that sidelined him off and on throughout the second half, he wasn't as steady as he could have been, hitting 12 of his 27 homers in May alone. He showed he's turned the corner, though, having finally settled on a swing after tinkering with his for most of his minor-league career, and is just scratching the surface of his potential at age 26.
Underappreciated ... Marlon Byrd, outfield
Sleeper ... Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, starting pitcherI could address every Gonzalez question yet to be asked with the same two-word response: Nobody knows. Nobody has any clue what kind of pitcher he'll be because nobody really knows what kind of skill set he has. Access to Cuban ballplayers is so limited that scouting reports on them are always vague, and Gonzalez specifically hasn't pitched since 2011 thanks to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. So why draft a complete unknown? Like with Byrd, it's a matter of opportunity cost. The chance of striking gold with any player in the last round or two is so low that you may be better off gambling on the mystery man. Hey, the Phillies signed Gonzalez to a six-year, $48 million deal (before cutting it back to three years, $12 million because of concerns over his elbow) for a reason -- and they weren't the only ones bidding. With the A.J. Burnett signing, the gamble is much easier to justify in NL-only leagues than mixed, especially since Gonzalez is likely to begin the year in minors, but you'll want to monitor his performance in all formats. With only Roberto Hernandez standing in his way, a strong showing likely vaults him to the majors.
Impact prospect ... Maikel Franco, third base
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Prospects ReportFranco isn't the only potential game-changer in the Phillies system. Jesse Biddle might already be in the big leagues if his control hadn't abandoned him down the stretch last year. It was never his strength, but the way he started out 2013, striking out 16 batters on April 22 and 10 in his next start, it didn't seem like it'd be too much of a hindrance. Until he makes some progress on that front, his arrival is difficult to gauge. The Phillies shouldn't have trouble making way for him as soon as he proves ready, but the indefinite timetable makes him a draft-and-stash better left for NL-only formats. ... Ethan Martin could technically win a job in spring training but was so unimpressive in his audition late last year, suffering from his own control issues, that Fantasy owners shouldn't put much faith in him. ... Cesar Hernandez has proven to be a prolific base-stealer in the minors, but getting him in the lineup isn't a priority for the Phillies. If he wins a reserve role, he could matter in NL-only Rotisserie leagues. ... Shortstop J.P. Crawford, the team's first-round pick in 2013, has gotten plenty of love from talent evaluators, but at age 19, he's more tools than polish and several years from reaching the big leagues.