With so many seasoned veterans entrenched in the Phillies starting lineup there will be limited opportunities for players to make the jump from the farm system to fantasy relevance in 2014. With an aging lineup comes the risk of injury or a trade deadline move that opens the door for an up and coming player to contribute to the big league club and your fantasy team. Do the Phillies have a player ready to make that jump? Here is a look at the organization's top prospects, and my expectations for them for the upcoming season.
Because some top prospects are deep in the farm system and still years from claiming a locker in Citizens Bank Park, I will use two rankings. One rating is for the player's overall talent, while the other rating represents the player's opportunity to contribute in the major leagues this season.
1. Maikel Franco - 1B
When the Phillies traded Michael Young late last season, it was Cody Asche who was called up to man third base for the remainder of the season, instead of Franco, the top prospect. While Asche still projects as a contributor at the major league level, Franco has more natural ability to draw from. In two stops last season Franco smacked 31 total home runs and possesses the kind of raw power that scouts look for from high-end corner infield prospects. Asche is two years older and is expected to earn the opening day job at third base, but with a hot spring from Franco or some struggles from Asche the pecking order could be flipped quickly. It is worth noting that the Phillies have been giving Franco some reps at first base, giving the prospect multiple opportunities to make an impact at the big league level if (when?) Ryan Howard is sidelined with an injury.
2. Jesse Biddle - LHP
Biddle will be a "local product makes it big" feel-good story if he can deliver on his projections and be a top of the rotation pitcher for the Phils. Expectations are high for the former first round pick out of Germantown High School and he has the four pitch repertoire to fulfill those lofty goals. Biddle spent the 2013 season at AA Reading where his win-loss record was an unimpressive 5-14. Despite the struggles for results the twenty-two year old lefty has the tools to rack up strikeouts at a rate of 10k/9. Biddle will likely start the season at AAA Lehigh Valley, but with the retirement of Roy Halladay and some questions at the back end of the starting rotation he will likely find his way to the big leagues at some point this season.
3. Roman Quinn - SS
Quinn is a speedy, gifted athlete who projects as a top of the lineup player, but he figures to still be several seasons away from reaching the big leagues. A converted outfielder, Quinn is a switch hitter and arguably has more tools than any other Phillies' prospect currently in the farm system. The twenty-year-old will likely open the season at High-A Clearwater and a mid-season call up to Reading would qualify as a successful season. Quinn will be the topic of conversation for Phillies' fans for years to come.
4. Miguel Gonzalez - RHP
Gonzalez will come to spring training with a starting rotation spot in his crosshairs. After defecting from Cuba last year Gonzalez signed with the Phils in late August. Thanks to missing time due to an injury and a suspension (for attempting to defect earlier) Gonzalez will have a fresh, live arm but he also will likely be a little rusty. Given his age and maturity, not to mention a big league contract, I expect Gonzalez to slide in to the starting rotation at either the three or four spot. He probably isn't deserving of a draft pick this season but he belongs high on your radar if he can perform and deliver on his projections.
5. J.P. Crawford - SS
Crawford was the Phillies' first round draft pick in 2013 out of high school in Southern California and he is several seasons from reaching the big leagues. Crawford and fellow highly touted prospect Roman Quinn are both shortstops and their ascent through the farm system will be very interesting to follow. Crawford will enter this season as a nineteen year old and he will be brought along slowly meaning he is unlikely to arrive in Philly before 2017. Once the five tool prospect arrives he figures to be around for years to come.
6. Cesar Hernandez - 2B
After signing with the Phillies as a sixteen-year-old in 2006, the slick fielding Hernandez arrived in the majors for 34 games last season and held his own. Hernandez is a speedster who slaps the ball around the field and uses his legs to make things happen. Some scouts project him to eventually end up as an outfielder and his versatility should translate to a lengthy big league career. He figures to spend the season between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia and if he can get regular playing time would be a nice bench player to rack up some cheap steals for your fantasy team.
7. Ethan Martin - RHP
Martin is a former first round draft pick by the Dodgers who was acquired when the Phils traded Shane Victorino. He logged eight starts for Philadelphia last season, but most scouts project him as a reliever. In the minors Martin has had problems being effective as he gets deeper in to games, suggesting a permanent spot in the bullpen may be where he is most successful. He has a nasty slider and a fastball that reaches 97, but middle relievers are of little value in fantasy baseball. If he is able to improve his command and land as a either a closer or starter he would be an intriguing player, but 2014 figures to be a season where those details are sorted through and his future is laid out.
8. Carlos Tocci - OF
The numbers look underwhelming until you stop and consider that Tocci is only seventeen-years-old and is playing against guys several years older. He spent last season at Low-A Lakewood and is several seasons away from arriving in Philadelphia. The tools are all there, and we will be the beneficiary of his track through the minors to evaluate his fantasy value for seasons to come.
9. Severino Gonzalez - RHP
Gonzalez projects as a back of the rotation starter, but he is still a few seasons away from claiming that role. He made a late season start in AA Reading, and will likely spend the season there in 2014 maturing and fine tuning his pitching.
10. Tommy Joseph - C
Joseph would be much higher on this list, but questions about his health slid him down to #10. He suffered a concussion, never fully recovered and was eventually shut down for the season in August. The chance of an errant pitch or a foul ball finding his head makes him a candidate for re-injury. Carlos Ruiz resigned for three seasons this offseason and figures to be backed up by Cameron Rupp. Rupp has very little experience and could be the odd man out if Joseph has fully recovered and has a big spring. Only twenty-two, the Phils would like for Joseph to get regular at bats, so a season of AAA ball might be the best case scenario for him.
The Phillies have several exciting prospects in their organization, but most of the top end guys are still a few seasons from claiming a full time job and being on your fantasy radar. Keep checking in through the spring and regular season and I will keep you updated as battles are decided and roles are defined.
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