Predicting Philadelphia Phillies' Starting Lineup Next Season
For still-new manager Ryne Sandberg and the rest of the Philadelphia Phillies, 2014 will bring some changes but also many struggles. Coming off a 2013 season which saw the team score the third-fewest runs in the National League and tied for fourth-fewest in all of baseball, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. will have to get extra creative this offseason in filling the holes in the lineup, namely a right-handed power bat in the likely form of a corner outfielder.
Catcher is also a priority for the Phillies, though there's a good chance that Carlos Ruiz could be re-signed somewhat easily. He'd like to return and the Phillies would like to have him back, as MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reported late last month that there's mutual interest to strike a new deal.
The starting rotation and bullpen also have their fair share of issues, but for the sake of this piece, I'll stick strictly to the everyday starting lineup. It's not exactly clear what moves will shape up this offseason and it's definitely a question as to how Sandberg will pencil in his lineup on a day-to-day basis. For now, I'll hazard a guess. Here's a prediction of the Phillies' starting lineup in 2014.
Batting 1st, Center Fielder Ben Revere
Although Ben Revere had his 2013 season shortened just before the All-Star Break due to a fractured foot from fouling a ball off it, he showed just why he'll be valuable for the Phillies, both in 2014 and years to come.
Prior to hitting the disabled list, Revere was batting .347 since May, which was sixth in the entire sport in that timespan. His success also came with a mini-resurgence of sorts for the Phillies, who won seven of their last 10 going into the Midsummer Classic. And while most fans panned Revere following a slow April, he quickly demonstrated his worth atop the Phillies lineup, as he could steal bases and hit for a pretty good batting average.
Revere will look to build upon his .305 average and .338 OBP in 2014, not to mention stealing more than 22 bases (and being caught on the basepaths less often). With a glove that's also above-average in center field, Revere could quickly turn into one of the Phillies' most valuable players if he can continue to hit and get on base.
Batting 2nd, Shortstop Jimmy Rollins
Whether or not Jimmy Rollins should bat second is a debate in and of itself. Personally, I'd prefer to see him hit sixth or seventh. And even though Sandberg isn't as much of a hard-nosed traditionalist as Charlie Manuel was, it's difficult envisioning him batting Rollins low down in the order.
Rollins is coming off an uninspired 2013 season that saw him bat .252 with a .667 OPS, six home runs, 39 RBI, and 22 stolen bases. All of his OPS, home runs, and RBI totals were career-lows among Rollins' full-length seasons. Considering that Rollins is under contract for at least one more year—more likely two—the Phillies expect and will need more out of him, both offensively and defensively.
Tom Flynn of pennlive.com poses the argument that new bench coach Larry Bowa should take it upon himself to mentor Rollins and make him his "project." That wouldn't be the worst idea in the world, whether the Phillies try to turn Rollins into an on-base threat or back into the power-stealing force he was in seasons like 2007.
Regardless, J-Roll will have to do better to warrant hitting this high in the lineup. While he'll inevitably get the chance to hit in the two-hole from the get-go, there likely aren't any guarantees with Sandberg much after that.
Batting 3rd, Second Baseman Chase Utley
For the first time in a very long time, all seems to be routine again with Chase Utley.
After delayed starts in both 2011 and 2012, Utley took part in spring training in 2013, the first time he has done so in three years. Likewise, his inclusion on the Opening Day roster was a first since 2010 as well.
A freak oblique injury aside, Utley showed that he's still got plenty left in the tank. He batted .284 with an .823 OPS, and he also showed that he's still got some pop, as he slugged 18 home runs. Utley also drove in 69 runs and stole eight bases.
Sandberg will be relying on Utley to be the anchor of the Phillies lineup as he had been in years past. Whether or not Utley will last an entire season to do so is another story, but after a strong comeback season in 2013, he showed that he's more than capable.
Offseason moves or not, it'd be surprising to see anyone other than Utley batting third on Opening Day 2014.
Batting 4th, First Baseman Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard. The player Phillies fans love to hate. And while his making $25 million a year certainly doesn't help his cause, Howard should be as close to being fully healthy as he's been since tearing his Achilles at the end of 2011.
Howard started off the season healthy after missing more than half of the 2012 season due to said Achilles tear. However, it wasn't so much the Achilles in 2013 for Howard as it was his knee. He'd dealt with constant knee pain throughout the season, and after finally having an MRI performed in early July, it was determined that Howard had a torn meniscus and consequently would miss the rest of the season.
At this point in his career, almost anything from Howard is a bonus, as expectations for him have settled immensely since his power numbers have dropped due to his still-healing Achilles tendon. In 2013, he only played in 80 games, batting .266 with a .784 OPS. He only hit 11 home runs, though he did hit 20 doubles and two triples, driving in 43 runs in the process.
Howard will not be guaranteed a cleanup spot in the batting lineup for long if he can't handle it or if someone like Domonic Brown has a hotter start to the season. The only guarantee Howard will get is that he'll likely hit cleanup on Opening Day—that's it.
Batting Fifth, Right Fielder Carlos Beltran
Whether or not it's Carlos Beltran manning right field for the Phillies next year is irrelevant. Who will it be? At this point, your guess is as good as mine. Beltran is one of the many candidates available in free agency whom the Phillies could sign to play in right field next year.
In Beltran's case, he's a switch hitter who would provide some balance in a lefty-heavy Phillies lineup. His defense still remains above-average even at age 36, though he'll turn 37 in late April of next year. Beltran has maintained his relevance by continuing to be one of the best postseason hitters of all time, and his recent walk-off home run in the 13th inning of the NLCS Game 1.
In the regular season, Beltran managed to hit .296 with an 830 OPS, 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 30 doubles and three triples. What's more is that Beltran has played in at least 145 games in each of the last two seasons after playing in over 100 games in just one season from 2009 through 2011.
Again, whether or not Beltran is the guy for the Phillies isn't the point. The point is that the Phillies need an offensive catalyst, and if they do not get one this offseason, they will be as doomed on offense this year as they were in 2013.
Batting Sixth, Left Fielder Domonic Brown
Domonic Brown easily took home Phillies MVP honors in 2013. He broke out as the team's best power hitter, and while most of it came in a hot stretch at the end of May and beginning of June, it can't be ignored completely, to say the least.
Brown ended the 2013 season with 27 home runs, 83 RBI, and a .272 batting average. He also posted an .818 OPS, hit 21 doubles and four triples. Not bad for a guy going into a make-or-break season in 2013.
Nevertheless, all Brown's shown is that he's got streaky power. He'll need to show that he can hit for average over most of a season in 2014 before the Phillies can truly anoint him as their young star in the making. It's stupid to frown upon what he did provide for the Phillies in 2013, but until we see more out of him, he won't be batting in the heart of the order.
Batting Seventh, Catcher Carlos Ruiz
I'm going to predict that Carlos Ruiz returns to the Phillies, at least for 2014.
After missing the first 25 games of the season due to a second positive Adderall test and only playing in 16 more games before hitting the DL, Ruiz's 2013 season started out about as poorly as it could have. He wasn't playing a lot, and when he was, he wasn't hitting to the point that it wouldn't have been complete lunacy to bench him.
However, just as he was cast off by Phillies brass and fans alike, Ruiz turned on the burners in August and kept them going through the end of the season. By the end of 2013, Ruiz had mustered a .268 batting average, and while his .688 OPS was still underwhelming, it was a drastic improvement from what had been seen earlier in the year. He also hit five home runs and 37 RBI.
Ruiz cannot be counted upon to start more than 100 to 110 games at most in 2014, and anything extra is an added bonus. The backup catcher will be a very important position to fill should Ruiz return. Either way, Sandberg will have to determine how much to use Ruiz, but that should be the least of his worries for now.
Batting Eighth, Third Baseman Cody Asche
Cody Asche comes into 2014 all but guaranteed the starting third baseman's job. Whether or not he'll retain that title by the end of the season is a different story.
Asche got the call to the majors near the end of July as Michael Young was expected to be traded by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. When Young wasn't traded, it created a bit of a logjam at the hot corner, though Young eventually moved to first base so Asche could get his major league experience.
In his two-month tryout, Asche impressed more with his glove than with his bat, but by all means he still showed that he's got potential on both sides of the ball. In 50 games, Asche hit just .235 with a .691 OPS, though he had his moments. His five home runs and 22 RBI were also a good sign of what could come.
A lot is up in the air with Asche, and he'll have to prove that he'll be more valuable in the long run than top prospect Maikel Franco might be. He's got the time, and at least concerning the Opening Day roster, Asche's got little to no competition at third base.