The Philadelphia Phillies have the chance to be a special team in 2014, whether people want to admit it or not.
Age is a problem, and so is a lack of offense over the course of two seasons. However, sometimes all of the ifs can go right—just ask the Boston Red Sox.
The Phillies have made some head-scratching moves over the the last few seasons, there is no doubt about it, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a few signings this season that may pay off in big ways.
There are three players that will stand out for the Phillies in 2014. They each bring something special to the ball field, even though it may not be evident to the casual fan. The Phillies can completely be competitive and surprise people, but they will need to be impacted by these players to do it.
The Phillies have themselves a special player in Jake Diekman. The left-handed reliever throws in the mid-to-high 90s and has a deadly slider that can be very effective against left-handed hitters.
Diekman finished 2013 with a 2.58 ERA in 38.1 innings pitched. He also sported a FIP of 2.50, which would have placed him as one of the top 20 relievers in that category.
He has seen an increase in velocity during his first two seasons in the big leagues, averaging around 92 mph on his fastball.
|Jake Diekman's Progression|
He will have a huge impact for the Phillies out of the bullpen in late-game situations. Diekman was effective against left-handers, who hit .143 against him, only allowing one run.
Ryne Sandberg could benefit from having a hard-throwing left-hander reliever in his bullpen. If he doesn't choose to use Diekman regularly, then Sandberg will still have a great situational reliever to throw out on the mound in key situations.
The phrase “wise investment” has not been used in the same sentence as “Philadelphia Phillies” often in recent years, but signing A.J. Burnett to a deal may be one of the best moves of the entire MLB offseason.
Burnett improved his ground-ball rate over the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He has also been able to recreate himself on the mound despite a dip in velocity. Burnett is throwing his curveball to left-handed hitters more than before and has been able to use his change-up to throw off others.
|A.J. Burnett's Progression|
|Ground Ball Rate||BB/9||K/9|
|2013||56.5%||3.16||9.85% (career-high, Led NL)|
The signing of the veteran right-hander enables the Phillies to split up their left-handers and gives them another innings-eater on the mound that can balance out the rotation.
Burnett makes the Phillies' rotation one of the best in the NL.
The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract to help protect Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup.
The veteran outfielder is coming off the best season of his career, much in part due to a change in the batter's box. Byrd added a leg kick in 2013. Instead of taking a small step, he uses a bigger kick to time the pitcher's delivery.
Due to this, Byrd was able to hit 24 home runs with the Mets and bat .291, ranking 31st and 35th in those respective categories.
The Phillies are expecting Byrd to come in and solidify the offense—or at least balance it out. Byrd can definitely do that. He has matured since his days with the Cubs and Red Sox. Expect him to come out raking, especially playing in the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.
Philadelphia is already doubting its team. Does it have a valid reason to? Absolutely.
Because of these three players, however, the Phillies are going to surprise the folks at home. They are going to be better than the fans think. They will surprise the rest of the MLB.
Can they be competitive in 2014? You better believe it. Watch out for these three players to make a huge impact this season.