Bold Predictions for Every Phillies Player

Greg Pinto@@Greg_PintoCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2012

Bold Predictions for Every Phillies Player

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    The ancient Mayans weren't very fond of the year 2012.

    Looking thousands of years into the future, they believed that the year 2012 would be the last. Their famous "long count calendar" ended with this year. So while those fanatical about their predictions prepare for the end, we baseball fanatics look forward to another great year of baseball.

    The real question is whether or not the Mayans, one way or another, were on to something with their calendar of the end. Will 2012 be the end of the Philadelphia Phillies reign over the NL East?

    While those questions won't be answered for another seven months or so, it certainly is not too soon to let loose a few predictions for each of the members of the Phillies' roster for the upcoming season. With questions abound surrounding health, performance, and success, let's take a crack at predictions for the upcoming Phillies' season.

    For up to the minute Phillies' coverage, check out Greg's blog: The Phillies Phactor


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Jimmy Rollins

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    Prediction: Jimmy Rollins has a year just slightly better than 2011.

    If Rollins can stay healthy, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that he can still be a quality shortstop, especially on the defensive side of the ball where he is one of the best in the. As long as those legs are in good shape, there is no reason to expect defense any less than stellar from Rollins in 2012.

    The real question is: What does he have left at the plate?

    Heading into free agency, Rollins saw a slight rebound in his numbers in 2011, posting an OPS of .736, hitting 16 home runs, and swiping 30 bases. He did this all while posting a relatively unlucky BABIP of .275.

    The key to Rollins' success is staying on the field, and by all indications, he has improved his health by implementing unusual routines like yoga to stay loose. However, his approach at the plate will also play a role in his success. Will we see the shortstop trying to set the table for the rest of the lineup, or the one who swings for the fences?

Placido Polanco

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    Prediction: Injured and inconsistent, a struggling Placido Polanco leaves the Phillies looking for upgrades at third base as the trade deadline rolls around.

    Truth be told, they may make a move long before that point.

    There is no question that when he is healthy, Polanco is one of the game's best contact hitters. In recent seasons, however, he has not been healthy, and his offensive production has off of the table. He posted an OPS of just .674 in 2011, and at age 36, there isn't much room for improvement.

    The one thing that Polanco has going for him is stellar defense. He was the team's best defender by far last season—something that a team invested in pitching will certainly desire. However, in order to play defense, you have to stay healthy, and there is no guarantee that Polanco can do that.

Chase Utley

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    Prediction: Chase Utley shows that he can still be an elite second baseman in 2012, making the All-Star team and putting doubts about his production in the past.

    Utley isn't getting any younger, and one has to worry about his chronic knee condition, but the Phillies' second baseman can still be one of the best in all of baseball.

    After appearing to have his knee condition under control in 2011, Utley will head into Spring Training with a new approach to the game. Though he would never say so, Ruben Amaro Jr. went on the record earlier this winter stating that he believed that Utley's power outage at the plate stemmed directly from his knee.

    That makes perfect sense. A hitter's power comes from the strength in his legs. Without his legs, as was the case for Utley through most of last season, a hitter must rely solely on upper body strength, which would create an obvious problem for Utley, who's swing relies heavily on his wrists.

    If he can come into Spring Training healthy, there is no reason to believe that Utley can't round back into form in 2012. He did post a BABIP of just .269, which would account for some of the decline in his offensive production, but even that can be explained by a drastic change in approach.

    Simply put, if Utley is healthy, he can be the offensive threat the Phillies need him to be.

Ryan Howard

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    Prediction: After a Spring Training of speculation, Ryan Howard is the starting first baseman on Opening Day, 2012.

    So I'm taking a bit of a risk here with this prediction, but here is what I'm thinking. The Phillies issued a statement on January 6, 2012, updating Howard's status as he recovers from his torn Achilles tendon. It was good news.

    After being examined by foot and ankle specialist Mark Myerson, Howard was cleared to begin strength and power exercises. This involves various tasks, like weight training, flexibility drills, and jogging underwater. Though he will begin fielding ground balls before hitting, Howard will begin baseball activities in six weeks.

    That puts him on pace to begin Spring Training on time, which in and of itself, should be a sign of encouragement for the Phillies. Todd Zolecki of MLB.com asked general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. the million dollar question of whether or not Howard will be ready by Opening Day, and the GM, as usual, played coy by saying, "I can't even speculate."

    It is easy to become optimistic after a report like that, and if I was a betting man, I would say that Howard is out until at least mid-April, at the earliest. However, if we're being bold, I'll predict that the Phillies' slugger will be ready by Opening Day.

Hunter Pence

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    Prediction: Completely healthy after off-season sports hernia surgery, Hunter Pence is named to the All-Star team en route to having the first 30+ home run season of his career, garnering consideration for the National League's MVP Award, though coming well short.

    Pence is a difficult guy to make a prediction for. A five-tool athlete if their ever was one, he does everything well, from running, to hitting, to playing defense. With that being said, the man has never hit 30 home runs in a season, but there is certainly reason to believe that will change this season.

    In 100 games with the last place Houston Astros in 2011, Pence hit 11 home runs and posted an ISO (isolated power) of .163, albeit with a BABIP of .368. In just 54 games with the Phillies, Pence went on an absolute tear, hitting an equal amount of home runs (11), raising his ISO to .237, all the while posting a lower BABIP, though still high, at .348.

    Jumping into a pennant race certainly was beneficial for both the Phillies and Pence, who overall, hit 22 home runs and posted an OPS of .871. Because he plays all aspects of the game well, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect Pence, after a full season with a contender, to jump into the MVP conversation.

Shane Victorino

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    Prediction: After another All-Star caliber year in 2012 in which Shane Victorino excels in all aspects of his game, the Phillies are left wondering whether or not they'll have the funds to sign him following his contract year.

    At this point in the slideshow, it already seems as though I'm predicting a number of All-Star appearances for the Phillies, which made me stop and think about whether or not that was realistic. At the end of the day, however, it is. The Phillies' lineup is littered with All-Star talent, and if that talent is healthy and producing, they should be a force in the mid-summer classic.

    So what is in store for Victorino?

    The speedy center fielder's 2010 and 2011 seasons were like night and day, which can be explained through a change in approach at the plate. In 2010, Victorino was trying to hard to create runs in the middle of the order as a power threat, but in 2011, he got back to playing his game, which involves speed, contact, and the occasional surge in power.

    As a result, his numbers were up across the board, as he posted an OPS of .847, hit 17 home runs, and swiped 19 bases. His walk rate was up, and his strikeout rate was down. At 5.9, Victorino had generated the most WAR out of any Phillies' position player, thanks in large part to his stellar defense.

    It seems as though Victorino has truly figured out what kind of hitter he is at the plate, and entering his contract year, that could mean good things for the Phillies, but bad things for their future.

    Will the Phillies be able to retain Victorino in free agency?

John Mayberry Jr.

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    Prediction: Though he struggles against tough right handed pitching, John Mayberry Jr. continues to mash left handed pitching in 2012 and plays stellar defense, creating one half of a surprising platoon.

    In 2012, the Phillies finally got a glimpse of the player they had envisioned when the club traded Greg Golson to the Texas Rangers for Mayberry several seasons ago. With a slight tweak to his stance, Mayberry found himself winning a bulk of the playing time away from incumbent left fielder Raul Ibanez in 2011, and truth be told, the Phillies were happy to give it to him.

    Though he didn't actually "struggle" against right handed pitching last season (.785 OPS, seven home runs,) it was clear that he was much better suited to be in the lineup versus lefties, where he posted an OPS of .953 and slugged eight home runs.

    I don't think it is unreasonable to expect much of the same out of Mayberry in 2012. Like most power hitters, he is a huge threat against pitchers of opposite handedness, and with the addition of Laynce Nix, the Phillies are in a position where they don't have to expose Mayberry to tough right handed pitching.

    However, should Nix's half of the platoon falter, it would not be surprising to simply see Mayberry win the full-time job either, as the Phillies attempt to figure out just what kind of player Mayberry can be.

Carlos Ruiz

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    Prediction: Once again an unheralded offensive force (he'll have a better season than Placido Polanco,) Carlos Ruiz's work behind the plate turns Jonathan Papelbon into the National League's best closer, and once again, gives the Phillies the edge in pitching.

    Ruiz is one of the more challenging guys on the roster to make a "bold" prediction for because of the simple fact that he doesn't really have the potential to make that "bold" impact.

    Offensively, you know what you're getting out of Ruiz. In recent seasons, he has turned himself into an on-base machine at the bottom of the order, something that the Phillies love given his proficiency for getting on base in front of the pitcher's spot. He drew as many walks as he had strikeouts (48) in 2011, and posted an OPS of .754.

    Compare that to Polanco's year in 2011 and you can make the case for batting Ruiz second so that he can get aboard in front of the middle of the order.

    Defensively, you're getting a rock behind the plate. Ruiz is one of the game's best catchers, with a strong, accurate throwing arm and excellent receiving skills, especially the ability to block pitches in the dirt. He handled the game's best pitching staff to perfection in 2011, and that's where I'll make my "bold" prediction.

    When the Phillies went out and signed Jonathan Papelbon to be their new closer in 2011, they gave Ruiz a new toy to play with. The Phils' catcher calls a game light-years ahead of the pair of backstops in Boston, and it should be interesting to watch him handle Papelbon. He has the potential to make one of the game's elite closers even better.

Jim Thome

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    Prediction: Jim Thome arrives to Spring Training early, working on his defensive game at first base, and goes on to start roughly two games per week at first as Ryan Howard recovers from injury. Moving to the bench after Howard's return, Thome still manages to hit 15+ home runs on the year, becoming somewhat akin to a coach for the Phillies under Charlie Manuel.

    Yes, I'm aware of the fact that I predicted that Howard would open the season at first base earlier in the slideshow, but consider this a caveat of sorts. Howard's injury is a bit unpredictable in regards to a recovery time, with some speculating that he could be ready by Opening Day and some that he'll be out until mid-June.

    Regardless of what happens with Howard, Thome is going to come into camp ready for some work at first base, and if all goes according to plan, that work will be very limited to certain right handed starters. The Phillies need Thome to stay healthy. He represents something that the club lacked last year—left handed power off of the bench.

    Though he has struggled in his previous role as a pinch hitter with the Los Angeles Dodgers, things should be different this time around. First and foremost, it is his decision, and Thome will come into camp with the mindset that he'll now only be hitting, likely, once a game.

    With that being said, Charlie Manuel is going to find Thome at-bats. Because he can handle lefties as well, Manuel won't be gun shy about using his power threat against certain lefties as well. In the end, Thome should get a lot more at-bats than Ross Gload saw in 2011, and that will be beneficial for the Phils.

Ty Wigginton

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    Prediction: Though his slash line will suggest that he has struggled in a more limited role with the Phillies, Ty Wigginton manages to provide quality at-bats against tough left handed pitchers.

    Wigginton is a guy that the Phillies have pursued in the past, so it certainly was not a surprise to see the club rekindle those talks this winter, landing the right handed slugger in a deal with the Colorado Rockies.

    Now with the Phillies, Wigginton will have a much smaller role than he did with the Rockies, likely handling the majority of at-bats against left handed specialists and seeing the field only in the event of an injury or to spell an everyday player, which is the way it should be.

    In the past, some players transitioning to a role on the bench have struggled in large part thanks to a reduction in at-bats, and there is no chance that Wigginton sees the 446 plate appearances he had with the Rockies in 2011.

    That won't stop Charlie Manuel from creating playing time for the club's primary right handed power threat off of the bench, and he will certainly provide more quality at-bats than Ben Francisco did last season.

Laynce Nix

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    Prediction: A surprising source of power, Laynce Nix hits more than 15 home runs for the Phillies in 2012.

    Just how valuable Nix is to the Phillies over the next two-seasons is dependent upon two things. First and foremost, Charlie Manuel should take an oath to never use him against left handed pitchers. Nix has been dreadful against lefties throughout his career, and that won't be changing any time soon.

    Second, and least sarcastically, is how much playing time Nix gets next season. While the assumption is that he will platoon in left field with John Mayberry Jr., nothing has been guaranteed for Nix. However, after posting an OPS of .781 and hitting 16 home runs against right handed pitching with the Washington Nationals in 2011, it is only logical.

    At the end of the day, Manuel is going to find at-bats for Nix. While Jim Thome will be the primary lefty off of the bench, Nix can steal some at-bats away by being more versatile in the field.

Wilson Valdez

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    Prediction: Though he'll be a black hole at the plate, Wilson Valdez's surprisingly stellar defense will make him one of the most versatile players on the Phillies' roster, as he gives players like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley a breather.

    At first glance, you wouldn't think that adding three players to the bench and putting them ahead of him on the depth chart was a good thing for Valdez, but upon further examination, that may just be the case. Now that Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, and Laynce Nix are aboard and ready to carry the bench at the plate, Valdez can focus on doing what he's best at—playing defense.

    It seems like something we've been saying for years now, but the Phillies are not getting any younger. With players like Rollins and Utley having lengthy injury histories, it will be important that Charlie Manuel find ways to keep them fresh throughout the season, and that will be Valdez's biggest role.

    With a strong arm and an average glove, Valdez should go into camp knowing that he won't be getting many at-bats. He'll need to work hard on his defense and once again, prove to be one of the most versatile players on the Phillies' roster.

Brian Schneider

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    Prediction: Once again catching almost all of Vance Worley's starts, Brian Schneider's decline into irrelevance continues in 2012 at the plate, but the success of Worley overshadows the decline of Schneider.

    The Phillies have always preferred a defense-oriented catcher to back-up their starter, so with little replacements available, it wasn't all too surprising that the Phillies re-signed Schneider. He handled Worley very well last season, helping to turn that two-seam fastball into a legitimate out-pitch.

    However, his decline at the plate didn't go unnoticed. Schneider was dreadful at the dish, and should the Phillies need him to step in for an extended amount of time in 2012, they're going to be in trouble.

    Though he'll be recognized for his work with Worley in 2012, Schneider's decline at the plate may lead to his retirement following the season.

Domonic Brown

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    Prediction: Domonic Brown spends all of the first half in AAA in the Phillies' organization, and the second half wearing a new uniform. The Phillies make a splash at the trade deadline, acquiring an All-Star talent for a package headlined by Domonic Brown.

    If I were a member of the Phillies' front office, I would be adamantly against trading Brown unless the perfect deal came about, but it looks as though the writing is on the wall: I would be in the minority.

    There is no question that Brown is still a top talent. He has the tools and the skill set to put it all together at the MLB level, but it looks as though the Phillies are tired of waiting. Unable to rely on him to man right field in 2011, the club went out and acquired Hunter Pence, now a fan-favorite and likely a stable of the roster.

    Well what about left field? John Mayberry Jr.'s emergence in 2011 may have been the final nail in the coffin for Brown, because if the Phillies find that they can rely on him moving forward (even if that means a platoon with some combination of left handed power, a la Laynce Nix) there may be a new role for Brown: Trade bait.

    All things being equal, the Phillies' outfield of 2012 (Mayberry, Nix, Shane Victorino, and Pence) may be the group of guys moving forward, and though contract situations may represent a reason to keep Brown, I don't have any doubts that the Phillies would move him in the right deal.

Roy Halladay

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    Prediction: Roy Halladay wins the National League Cy Young Award in 2012.

     

    Though Justin Verlander's stellar 2011 campaign may have skewed some schools of thought, pound for pound, Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball. When you get into that territory, making a “bold” prediction for a guy like Halladay is challenging because the most difficult of feats seem almost common place for “Doc.”

    So we'll get right to the point: Halladay wins the Cy Young Award in 2012. In two seasons with the Phillies, the club's ace already has one in his trophy case from 2010, and though Clayton Kershaw captured the honor in 2011, there was a strong case for Halladay, who finished second, to win the award last season as well.

    In 2012, Halladay gets the job done for a third time—his second in a Phillies' uniform.

Cliff Lee

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    Prediction: Cliff Lee throws a no-hitter in 2012.

     

    He may not be the hardest throwing pitcher on the Phillies' roster, but Lee lives by the old baseball axiom, “The best pitch in the game is a well-placed fastball,” and when he brings his best stuff to the mound, Lee can be nearly impossible to hit.

    The lefty had one of the best seasons of his career in 2011, and actually came close to tossing a no-hitter on several occasions. Simply put, Lee is the type of pitcher that, when all of his pitches are working, can throw a no-hitter and make it look easy.

    2012 is the year for Lee.

Cole Hamels

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    Prediction: After signing a contract extension over the off-season, Cole Hamels wins 20 games for the first time in his career in 2012.

     

    The month of January has typically been the time period that Phillies' general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has worked out most of his contract extensions, and first on his list this year is one of the Phillies' co-aces, Hamels.

    Though he'll represent a big-money extension, the framework for such a deal should be relatively simple to agree upon. Hamels compares favorably to pitchers like Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver, both of whom signed extensions for five-years and about $80 million. Though Hamels will likely earn a bit more, neither side should need to do much negotiating on that front.

    With his extension out of the way, Hamels can get right down to business in 2012. The last few seasons have been somewhat of an evolution for Hamels, who became one of the game's best lefties in 2011. Just hitting the prime of his career, with a bit of run support, there is no reason to believe that Hamels can't win 20 games in 2012.

Vance Worley

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    Prediction: Though advanced metrics suggest a year of regression for Vance Worley, the Phillies' fourth starter surprises people again in 2012, once again recording double digits in wins and using his two-seam fastball to perfection, having a season very similar to 2011.

     

    I've always been a fan of advanced metrics, and though they're screaming at me, saying that Worley will regress back to the mean in 2012, I can't help but think that Worley has the potential to be the exception to the rule.

    The case for Worley's regression is simple. Though he posted a record of 11-3 with an ERA of 3.01, he also posted a BABIP of .283, and a slew of other metrics that suggest regression in 2012.

    The case for Worley to be the exception is also relatively simple: He had hitters fooled in 2011. His two-seam fastball was a pitch well above the MLB average, and heading into Spring Training as a starting pitcher can only work in his favor.

    I can't help but thinking that Worley is a unique pitcher, and one that the Phillies will be relying on years into the future.

Joe Blanton

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    Prediction: Joe Blanton is able to stay healthy for the Phillies in 2012, logging quality innings at the back end of the rotation and having one of his best seasons in a Phillies' uniform as he prepares for free agency following the season.

     

    After being relegated to the back of the rotation due to the star power of the Phillies' rotation, Blanton has become a popular whipping boy amongst the fans, but as long as he can stay healthy in 2012, there is reason to be optimistic about a solid season from the fifth starter.

    First and foremost, after returning from injury last season, Blanton made a drastic change to his pitch selection. 37.8% of his pitches were sinkers—the highest total of his career. In the past, Blanton had preferred the straight fastball, but that number has dropped steadily over each of the last three seasons, from 42.0%, to 17.3%, to 7.5%, respectively.

    Blanton has also thrown his slider more frequently to offset that sinker, and in 2010, added a cutter, which he continued to develop in 2012. After all, that is the pitch that made a difference in Cole Hamels' repertoire in 2010.

    So at the end of the day, Blanton isn't going to pitch like an ace, but there is reason to be optimistic. Blanton was effective in his return from injury, posting marks like a 3.63 FIP and 3.15 xFIP.

Kyle Kendrick

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    Prediction: The Phillies receive numerous calls from other teams about Kyle Kendrick at the trade deadline, and seriously consider trading him, but in the end, decide to hold on to him, citing their lack of quality depth behind him.

     

    Believe it or not, Kendrick would be a valuable commodity for a number of teams. Not every team around the league boasts a rotation stocked with three aces and two pitchers that have the potential to be quality arms. In fact, there's still not a place for Kendrick in the Phillies' rotation.

    The sinker-baller will once again be the long-man out of the Phillies' bullpen, and though he played an important role in 2011, who's to say that his role will be as significant in 2012?

    For teams looking for cost controlled pitching, Kendrick could be intriguing. Though arbitration eligible, the right hander will not be a free agent until after the 2014 season. Teams looking for an innings-eater may ask about a trade.

    Let's face it: This is probably Kendrick's last season with the Phillies anyway.

Mike Stutes

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    Prediction: Though somewhat effective in 2011, Mike Stutes struggles in 2012. Relegated to the middle innings, he is sent to AAA at some point during the season in favor of surging relievers in the mold of Justin De Fratus, Mike Schwimer, Phillippe Aumont, etc.

     

    Heading into the season, there is no doubt that Stutes has a leg up on a bullpen job. He was the first name called when the Phillies needed help in the bullpen in 2011, and as long as he has a solid Spring Training, should break camp with the club for Opening Day.

    Just how effective he can be is yet to be determined. After a few successful outings, Stutes struggled mightily with control. When all was said and done in 2011, he had posted a BB/9 rate of 4.01—unacceptable for a reliever with aspirations for the later innings.

    Throughout his minor league career, Stutes has struggled with his control, and that's not going to cut it at the MLB level. With top prospects like De Fratus, Schwimer, and Aumont knocking on the door, Stutes is going to have to be awfully impressive to stick in 2012.

Dontrelle Willis

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    Prediction: In his first season in his new role, Dontrelle Willis becomes one of the most successful left handed specialists in all of baseball.

     

    Willis' days as a starting pitcher are in the past, and as soon as Phillies' fans realize that is the case, the true value in his addition to the club should come to light.

    The Phillies added Willis to the bullpen mix over the winter, primarily as the club's second lefty out of the 'pen, behind Antonio Bastardo. Provided Charlie Manuel uses Willis solely against lefties, he has the potential to be an effective weapon.

    In 17 innings against lefties in 2011, Willis posted incredible numbers. Using his funky deliver to its full effect, lefties hit just .123 against him. Willis posted a strikeout to walk rate of 10, and posted a FIP of 1.97.

    Willis has the potential to be the bullpen's secret weapon in 2012.

Jose Contreras

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    Prediction: Limited in innings, but able to stay healthy, Jose Contreras is a solid set-up man for the Phillies in 2012.

     

    This isn't the boldest of predictions on this slide show, but it is so hard to get a grip on what Contreras is capable of in 2012 without knowing the extent of his health issues. Though he was recently cleared to begin a throwing program, Contreras' arm injury went undiagnosed for most of last season, until an exploratory surgery was performed on his arm.

    The outlook for 2012 is promising, and most people with knowledge of the situation expect Contreras to be ready on or right around Opening Day. In that even, what can the Phillies expect out of the big Cuban in 2012?

    My best guess would be a similar campaign as to that of 2010. Though the Phillies are likely to limit his innings to reduce wear and tear on his arm, it wouldn't be surprising to see Contreras log about 50 innings, post a strikeout to walk ratio of about 3.5, and post an ERA of right around 3.35.

    With that being said, however, Contreras is still somewhat of a question mark. Likely limited to the seventh inning, one has to wonder whether or not the Phillies will still be in the market for a bullpen arm prior to Spring Training.

Antonio Bastardo

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    Prediction: Antonio Bastardo continues his development into one of the game's best set-up men.

     

    Bastardo's month of September has caused quite a bit of concern among the Phillies' faithful, but it's easy to take a single month out of context and worry about the future. After all, the rest of Bastardo's season was terrific, and even with Ryan Madson aboard, Bastardo was arguably the most dominant arm.

    What does the future hold for the young lefty? Well, all great relievers have gone on the record at one point or another saying that in order to succeed, they had to fail. That's part of the game for a late innings reliever.

    The Phillies will hope that Bastardo took his September struggles in stride and comes prepared to pitch the eighth inning in 2012, something that I believe he is very capable of doing. Even with those struggles on the books, the opposition hit just .141 against him last season.

Jonathan Papelbon

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    Prediction: In his first season with the Phillies, Jonathan Papelbon establishes himself as the most dominant closer in the National League East, saving at least 40 games and blowing fewer than five chances.

     

    After making the transition to the National League from the American League East, people around the game of baseball expect big things out of Papelbon in 2012, and it's no secret as to why. Simply put, the transition out of the AL into the NL has been kind to pitchers in the past. Just ask Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee—two dominant AL pitchers who have gone on to even greener pastures in the NL.

    Papelbon takes over in the ninth inning for the Phillies, and should see plenty of opportunities. With elite starting pitching and a questionable offensive attack, the Phillies are going to play their fair share of close games, and Papelbon is no stranger to the pressures of the ninth inning in a big media market.

    Coming off of one of his best MLB seasons, the Phillies can expect big things out of Papelbon in 2012, and moving forward. With the headache that had become the Boston Red Sox's clubhouse behind him, it will be interesting to see just how good Papelbon can be in the National League.