Format: Position - Player (2004 Player at that Position)
C – Mike Lieberthal (2004: same)
With a poor year production wise in 2004 for Lieberthal, he’ll be working closely with hitting coach Milt Thompson to get his clutch hitting back on track. I expect a nice rebound, as he is one of the top catchers in the National League in terms of offense. A .271 BA, 17 HR, and 61 RBI aren’t bad numbers for a catcher who struggled mightily at the plate when compared to most other catchers in the National League.
1B – Jim Thome (2004: same)
Batting hand injuries dating back to spring training 2004, this slugger still managed to bust out 42 HR and 105 RBI with a .274 BA. If anything, he’ll only improve on those numbers if he can stay healthy. My only concern with Thome is his increasing offensive inconsistency with runners in scoring position. Hopefully, he’ll have ample protection from 2004 letdowns Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal, which will lead to Thome seeing more pitches and having less pressure.
2B – Chase Utley (2004: Placido Polanco)
With the Polanco/Utley switch, you give up day-in, day-out consistency offensively and defensively in Polanco, for the offensive pop in Utley’s bat. In only 267 at-bats, Utley put up a .266 BA, 13 HR, and 57 RBI. If you put that in proportion to 500 at-bats, normal for a starter, Utley has almost 30 HR and over 100 RBI. A lot of the close games that the Phillies lost last season will now be won in 2005 due to Utley being in a starting role.
3B – David Bell (2004: same)
As the other man patrolling the infield’s corner, David Bell had a season similar to Jim Thome. Battling nagging injuries in his back, Bell still managed to put up a .291 BA, 18 HR, and 77 RBI and was the Phillies’ best hitter with runners in scoring position. Bell has been battling back spasms already this early in spring training, so I think manager Charlie Manuel will be using Bell lighter than last year, now that Polanco is in a super-utility role.
SS – Jimmy Rollins (2004: same)
Jimmy Rollins finally stopped trying to be a homerun hitter in the leadoff position and just hit for line drives. As a result, he improved in almost every area, including a nice reduction in strikeouts. Rollins hit .289 with 14 HR and 73 RBI last season in the leadoff role, also managing to swipe 30 bases in 39 chances (77% success rate). With speedster Kenny Lofton right behind him, look for this 1-2 punch to resemble that of Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo of the Florida Marlins.
LF – Pat Burell (2004: same)
I’m still not sold on Pat Burrell, and this is the season he has to sell himself to the Phillies’ organization. If Burrell can’t improve on his shaky 2003 and 2004 numbers, I imagine he’ll be on the trade black before July 1st. In 2004, Burrell hit .257 with 24 HR and 84 RBI, which is not bad for most other players in left field. But Burrell can and should do more. Milt Thompson will be working closely with Pat Burrell, as he will be doing with Mike Lieberthal, as well.
CF – Kenny Lofton/Jason Michaels (2004: Marlon Byrd/Jason Michaels)
Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels will be platooning in centerfield, and Marlon Byrd will likely be either in AAA or on the Phillies’ bench getting minimal playing time. Michaels will probably start when the Phillies face a left-handed starter, and Lofton against the right-handers. With Michaels, you get another solid bat at the bottom of your lineup, and with Lofton, you get a nice addition of speed to the top of your lineup. I think the sharing of centerfield will turn out nicely for the Phillies, and as a result, might end up getting something for Marlon Byrd. Byrd is a starter on most other ballclubs.
RF – Bobby Abreu (2004: same)
A must have on most fantasy rosters (Ranking just behind Carlos Beltran and just ahead of Vladimir Guererro), Abreu has been underrated by just about everyone else. Year in and year out, Abreu quietly puts up 30-30 caliber seasons. In fact, he put up his second 30-30 year in a row in 2004 (31 HR, 36 SB), also hitting .289 with 110 RBI. If he can just cut down on the 137 strikeouts he had, he’ll add to the Phillies’ dangerous lineup, probably one of the most dangerous in Major League Baseball.
SP – Jon Lieber (old: Kevin Millwood)
Claiming that his elbow feels fine, Lieber will be expected to lead the Phillies staff to the playoffs as the ace. Lieber was one of the most reliable pitchers for the Yankees down the stretch last season, and should prove to be a valuable asset to the Phillies’ rotation. While I don’t think he qualifies as an ace anymore, he did win 20 games as the ace for the Cubs in 2001 and should at least get close to 15 wins. His approach as a ground ball pitcher will be very important in a homerun ballpark such as Citizens Bank Park. Lieber was 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA last season.
SP – Randy Wolf (old: same)
As someone who was supposed to rival Tom Glavine as one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers control-wise, Wolf was one of a few letdowns in 2004, but that was mostly due to injury, and his stoicism in playing through it until it took him out for the rest of the season in early September. Wolf finished 5-8 with a 4.28 ERA in his injury-handcuffed season. If he can revert to his 2003 All-Star form, the Phillies should be solid throughout their lineup. Wolf has an arsenal of pitches that he has masterful control over, something very important to a pitcher that pitches in the low 90’s.
SP – Vicente Padilla (old: same)
Vicente Padilla, often labeled a headcase for his breakdowns on the mound when he gets in a jam, will be a question mark going into the 2005 regular season. Hopefully, pitching coach Rich Dubee can get this potential star back on track. He was an All-Star in 2002, and went 7-7 with a 4.53 ERA in 2004. The Phillies need him to take advice and stay focused on the mound for him to have any success. If he doesn’t, he may be trade bait just like Pat Burrell if they don’t improve.
SP – Cory Lidle (old: Eric Milton)
While the statistics won’t show it, Cory Lidle is a slight improvement over Eric Milton. Milton was a fly ball pitcher in a fly ball stadium, and as a result, was the leader in HR allowed. Lidle is a solid groundball pitcher with an effective sinker, so the amount of runs the Phillies have to make up for will be significantly reduced. After coming over to the Phillies from Cincinatti, Lidle went 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA and finished 12-12 with a 4.90 ERA overall in 2004.
SP – Brett Myers (old: same)
Brett Myers is a case similar to Vicente Padilla. Both are hardheaded when it comes to taking advice, and both have mental breakdowns on the mound when they get in a jam. If Myers cannot improve on his disappointing 2004 season, look for Gavin Floyd to get a few spot starts. Myers will be the #5 starter for the Phillies heading into 2005 after going 11-11 with a 5.52 ERA in 2004. To jog your memory a bit, Myers was the fuse that started a Phillies-Marlins brawl during the regular season. Brett threw a fastball up and in to Alex Gonzalez, and he didn’t take too kindly to that, motioning to the mound. Backup catcher Todd Pratt got in front of him, took a swing, and a brawl ensued, including a confrontation between Phillies’ third baseman David Bell, and present Yankee Carl Pavano.