Chase Utley will anchor a Phillies lineup that needs to stay healthy and produce in 2014. Credit: Getty Images
There are players who represent the Phillies present, future and according to some cynical fans, the past, working out at the Bright House Field Complex. Eyes will be focused on a number of Phillies from the oft-injured, to the high-priced and to top prospects.
Delaware Valley sports fan will be focusing on potential difference makers clad in Phillies laundry. Who are the players, who can make the biggest impact this year and in following seasons?
There are ten Phillies that will be thoroughly scrutinized over the next few weeks.
1. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
There are no mysteries in this TMZ world, except Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Few have seen MAG throw prior to camp. The former Cuban star has such an electric right arm that the Phillies reportedly offered him a $48 million deal last summer before elbow issues surfaced. All eyes will be on Gonzalez when he takes the mound for Grapefruit league games. Does he have the stuff to join the starting rotation? Will his career commence in the bullpen? Or will MAG, who has a three-year $12 million deal, hone his skills in Lehigh Valley.
2. Jake Diekman
“I think Jake Diekman could become one of the best relievers in the game as early as 2014,” MLB analyst Mitch Williams said last season. It could happen. Diekman is a lefty with an odd arm angle and a 97 mph fastball. His stuff is electric. If he can develop better command, he could become an elite reliever. Last season he dominated lefthanded batters. It’ll be curious to see if he can take it to another level this year.
3. Maikel Franco
It’s doubtful that Franco will unseat Asche as the Phillies starting third baseman by opening day. The odds are that Franco will start the season in AAA. However, he’s going to get a look by everybody. Franco, 21, has everything but speed. He hits for power, average and plays a very good third base. The one thing he lacks is experience. He has moved up the ranks rapidly. Franco will be a fascinating figure to watch in Clearwater.
4. Chase Utley
At this time last year, Utley was up there with Roy Halladay as the most scrutinized Phillie. Fans wondered if Utley’s knees could hold up. They did. Even though Utley was out for a month due to a strained oblique, the greatest second baseman in franchise history had a very good year, which earned him a lucrative extension despite age and an oft-injured body. Fans and baseball scribes will watch Utley, who was simply the finest second baseman in the NL last season, to see if his body will enable him to do it again.
5. Jonathan Papelbon
The Phillies closer doesn’t have the fastball he once possessed. His pitches don’t have the bite they once had. Can the expensive and apparently untradeable Papelbon still be a top closer? Also, can Papelbon hold his tongue? When the wheels fell off the Phillies bus last July, the loose canon tossed his team under the vehicle by stating that he didn’t come to Philly to lose. Well, Papelbon is trying to be a better citizen. Last week he said that if he were a betting man, he would drop some cash on the Phillies to win it all. Who does Pete Rose have his money on this season?
6. Tommy Joseph
By the end of last March, the Hunter Pence deal wasn’t looking so bad. Tommy Joseph had a very good spring. Joseph, who the Phillies acquired the prior season in a deal with the Giants for Pence, hit well and was very good behind the plate. Roy Halladay complemented the then 21-year old for his poise after he caught Doc. And then Joseph, who appeared to have a shot at a catching gig with the Phillies in 2014, suffered a concussion, which compromised 2013 for the top prospect. Joseph is back in camp sporting the tools of ignorance. He has potential to be the Phillies future backstop but another head injury could require a change of position.
7. Cole Hamels
Hamels has to have a tremendous season for the Phillies to contend. He’s behind the rest of the staff after suffering from bicep tendinitis and won’t be ready for the regular season. Hamels will be under the microscope. Will Hamels bounce back and be the Phillies stopper?
8. Darin Ruf
Marlon Byrd’s signing means that the Phillies don’t believe that Darin Ruf is a major league starting outfielder, at least yet. Ruf has power but he doesn’t hit lefthanders well (.197 average) and there are questions about his fielding. Ruf was terrible in the corners in Clearwater last year. Balls rolled through his legs and he ran bad routes but he was learning the position. His bat and glove will be analyzed.
9. Jesse Biddle
The pride of Germantown Friends won’t make the team but the Phillies top pitching prospect will score notice. Biddle, who will start the season in AAA, is a curiosity. Will he remind fans of Cole Hamels in 2004, when King Cole fanned the Yankees Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Clark in one inning? Biddle has so much potential. What will he show fans in March?
10. Ryan Howard
Last and certainly not least is ‘the big piece.’ It can’t be overstated. Howard is the most significant player on the Phillies roster. Scribes and fans will not be running to the restroom when Howard steps to the plate. It’ll be curious how much Sandberg plays the trimmer, yet more muscular slugger. For some reason Charlie Manuel started Howard in all but two Grapefruit League games last year. Less will be more for Howard this spring.