The 2014 Philadelphia Phillies have a lot of "ifs" to worry about.
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.
Obviously, every player on a major league roster is important to a team's success. Instead of naming the remaining 15 players that could be on the 25-man roster, there are five individuals that will need to make an impact for the Phillies to be competitive in 2014.
These players just missed the cut, either because of inexperience or because there wasn't room for them in the top 10.
- Catcher Carlos Ruiz: His defense and ability to call a game are big reasons why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. decided to bring Ruiz back in 2014. The veteran catcher is still an above-average defender and will produce offensively, as shown by his second-half stats in 2013.
- Starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick: The Phillies are viewing Kendrick as their third starter in the rotation. He will need to provide innings and effectiveness on the mound.
- Pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez: He is the biggest wild card on the roster. Gonzalez is viewed as a starter and a reliever, which is why he did not make the list. It's hard to make predictions without knowing where the player will be slated to play.
- Third baseman Cody Asche: Asche will have the chance to play everyday in 2014. He showed glances of greatness last season. I would like to see him improve his approach at the plate, which includes taking more pitches and swinging at high-percentage pitches.
- Relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo: The left-hander was effective when used as a lefty specialist. If the Phillies land another reliever, they could use Bastardo as a specialist for 2014.
All of these players will be important to the Phillies' success.
Ben Revere's first season with Philadelphia after being acquired in an offseason trade was cut short due to an ankle injury, hence his location on the list.
Prior to the injury, Revere was leading the team with a .305 batting average and 22 steals. In fact, he finished in a tie for team leader in stolen bases despite playing 72 fewer games than shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
Entering his age-26 season, Revere should be looking to do two things: steal 40-plus bases and increase his walk rate. The young center fielder walked 16 times in 88 games last season. In comparison, Erik Kratz (traded to Toronto) played in 68 games and walked 18 times. Cody Asche played 50 games and walked 15 times.
Revere should see time as the Phillies leadoff hitter if manager Ryan Sandberg assembles his lineup correctly. The Phillies were at their best when their leadoff man got on base and caused havoc on the basepaths.
His speed plays key on defense. Revere can accelerate and run down balls with ease (like in the video above). Having him playing as an efficient center fielder will be beneficial to the Phillies' corner outfielders.
Prediction: Revere hits around .285-.290, steals 45-plus bases and scores close to 100 runs in the leadoff spot.
Marlon Byrd made his major league debut in September of 2002 with the Phillies. Twelve years later, he finds himself back with the same organization that drafted him in the 10th round of the 1999 draft.
Byrd has had his share of ups and downs throughout his career, from suspensions to offensive struggles.
The veteran outfielder has improved with age. Some will say steroids had a big influence on the statistics, but a change at the plate has been Byrd's biggest benefit. Adding a quick leg kick to his swing has helped Byrd get better timing against starting pitching. It helps him get set early and develop more power on the swing.
Last season was a prime example of how a change at the plate can benefit a player.
Byrd crushed a career-high 24 home runs, drove in 88 runs and hit .291 for the Mets and Pirates. His .847 OPS was better than every Phillies player with more than 336 plate appearances and 10th among MLB outfielders.
The Phillies signed Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract as protection for Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown and Chase Utley. He will likely be the Opening Day starter in right field. Duplicating or coming close to his 2013 production is important for the Phillies to be successful.
Prediction: Expect Byrd to hit anywhere between .270-.284 with 15-19 home runs. His OPS will be important. If it is close to the .847, the Phillies won't complain.
Why is Domonic Brown at No. 8 on the list of the top 10 most important Phillies?
Easy. He's young and has yet to prove anything.
The 2013 season was a breakout season for the young left fielder. Brown mashed 27 home runs and made his first All-Star appearance. However, Brown's performance benefited from playing against a plethora of right-handed pitching.
Twenty-two of Brown's 27 bombs were against right-handed starting pitchers. His numbers also decrease as the game goes on. Brown hit .308 through the first three innings of ballgames. His average would take a significant dip to .250 and .265, respectively, as the game progressed.
His production is not a fluke, however. Brown has improved significantly since his call-up in 2010. The next step for the 26-year-old outfielder is to develop into an everyday major leaguer. Brown needs to continue his production and build off of his 2013 season.
Brown will likely be slated in the fifth of sixth slot in the lineup. Using the gaps, especially at Citizens Bank Park, will be important for Brown. If he can utilize his power and spread the ball all over the field, the Phillies will be able to score more runs.
Prediction: .270-.276 batting average, 18-25 home runs and a 2.5 WAR (same as 2013).
Jonathan Papelbon ranks at No. 7 on the list and is one of two relievers to be placed in the top 10.
The right-hander saw his velocity dip from 95 MPH to 90-92 MPH in 2013. Papelbon is in the third year of a four-year, $50 million contract. He hasn't played to the standards the Phillies had originally hoped for, but he has been one of the better relievers in all of baseball.
Papelbon's velocity was the reason for his success in Boston. It's the reason that he received a massive contract in free agency. With success comes confidence. Papelbon will be an important part of a Phillies bullpen that hasn't been effective since 2008.
Prediction: 2.40-2.80 ERA, 35-45 saves and around 65 appearances.
The final reliever in the top 10 is Mike Adams.
Prior to the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Adams was one of the most effective relievers in all of baseball. Since then, he has battled injuries.
Adams should be healthy by the time spring training begins. He ranks higher than Papelbon for one reason: If Papelbon is going to be successful, the Phillies bullpen needs to get the ball to him with a lead. That will be Adams' job for 2014. If Adams can return to form by finding his command on the mound, the Phillies should have no problem getting the ball to Papelbon for the ninth.
Prediction: 2.80-3.10 ERA with 55-60 appearances.
Starting pitching will be important for Philadelphia's success.
Cliff Lee is one of the five most important players on this roster. Lee was the Phillies' best pitcher in 2013. He accumulated 14 wins and a 2.87 ERA through 222.2 innings pitched.
After looking at the video above, you can see how Lee is effective. He is at his best when moving the ball around the zone, changing the batter's eye at the plate. At age 35, Lee is still one of the best pitchers in the National League, which is why he finished sixth in NL Cy Young voting last season.
The Phillies are going to need another good season from Lee in order to compete in 2014.
Prediction: 13-15 wins, 2.65-2.90 ERA and over 200 innings pitched.
If starting pitching is important for the Phillies in 2014, then their ace is the most important pitcher.
Cole Hamels, the Phillies' million-dollar starter, had a weird 2013 season. The eight-year veteran lost 14 games in 2013. Hamels won just one game through his first 12 starts, losing nine games along the way. He had a 4.86 ERA at the end May, which was alarming for fans everywhere.
His second half of the season, however, was completely different.
Hamels surrendered 48 total runs over his next 21 starts, which was good for a 2.96 ERA. Hamels managed to finish 2013 with a 3.60 ERA. He also struck out 202 batters.
The overall numbers—such as ERA, wins, losses, etc.—were bad. But when you look at video, Hamels made adjustments to find his All-Star form.
Hamels is the most important pitcher on the Phillies roster. If they are going to go anywhere in 2014, Hollywood Hamels will have to have a big year.
Prediction: 2.50-2.75 ERA, 195-210 strikeouts and 220 innings.
There is only one way to describe Chase Utley: He is "The Man."
Utley does a little bit of everything on the field. He is the ideal major league player. Utley is coming off of the best season since being injured in 2012, and his performance will depend on the health of his knees.
He played in 131 games, the most since 2009. His WAR has decreased from a dominant 9.0 to a 3.7, which still means he is an effective player. The power is still there, as shown by the 18 home runs in 2013. His defense has always been a question, but Utley has improved throughout his career.
Utley's all-around health is the third most important key for the Phillies' success this season. If he is on the field, the numbers will be routine.
Prediction: .280-.290 batting average., 15-20 home runs and .830-.847 OPS.
There is an age-old saying in Philadelphia: "As Jimmy goes, the Phillies go."
Jimmy Rollins was a key member of the Phillies regime from 2007-2011. His game has changed as he has aged, but the star is still in there somewhere.
Rollins is coming off of one of the worst defensive seasons of his career, which is important for a team that will need defensive assurance in 2014.
What is being overlooked, in my opinion, is the addition of Larry Bowa to the Phillies coaching staff. Bowa was a big part of Rollins' success early on. He taught Rollins to take a different approach to the game while he was at the helm in Philly from 2001-2004. Rollins' best seasons occurred in large part due to Bowa barking in his ear.
I fully expect Rollins' numbers to be average in 2013, but his defense should return to form. Rollins could likely find himself in a different spot in the batting order to start the season. An adjustment by Rollins is important for the Phillies, as it has been for the past few seasons.
Prediction: .275-.279 batting average, 10-17 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
The most important player on the Phillies' 40-man roster is someone that they haven't had fully healthy since 2011.
Ryan Howard finally looked like he was returning to form in 2013, until he was forced to undergo knee surgery in July and sat out the remainder of the season.
Howard crushed 11 home runs in 80 games and also had a .784 OPS, which isn't stunning, but it showed that the MVP-caliber player is still in their somewhere. Howard's OPS would have ranked 13th among major league first basemen.
His .266 batting average is what stood out to me rather than his 96 strikeouts. Howard was on pace to hit between .266-.273, which is where he has been for the majority of his career. The big left-hander hit 20 doubles, only five less than he did in his 2006 MVP season.
Howard will still be a threat in the Phillies lineup. If he is healthy, the Phillies will be getting a player that could possibly hit 30 bombs and drive in 110-plus runs in 2014. If not, the Phillies offense will drastically decrease.
Howard's health and adjustment at the plate will be important to the Phillies' success. He is the most important player on the Phillies roster. He is the difference between the Phillies winning 73 games or 83-85 games.
Prediction: .269-.275 batting average, 28-34 home runs, 95-110 RBI and 130-plus games.