The Phillies Infield

If you haven’t been playing fantasy baseball since 2011, it might come as a surprise that the Phillies have an old and injury prone roster. Around the infield, four of the players are in their mid-30’s while the other starter is a relatively unproven, mid-ceiling prospect. A negative perception of the Phillies team might allow several of these players to be a fantasy bargain on draft day. Let’s step through the options player by player.

The Old Four
Ryan Howard
Chase Utley
Jimmy Rollins
Carlos Ruiz

With the exception of Ruiz, who really only had one standout season, this group used to be a source of fantasy gold. Utley and Rollins were notable five category contributors (only sometimes for Rollins) while Howard could post massive home run and RBI totals. It’s no longer the golden days, but each has a glimmer of value.

I wrote about Howard earlier this offseason, noting that he could make an excellent fantasy platoon. There has been talk of the Phillies finally using him in a real world platoon, which would hurt his perceived value to some fantasy owners. Smart owners were already avoiding his painful numbers against lefties, so the news shouldn’t affect things much. First base is a little thin this season. If you miss out on the more attractive options, a $10-12 platoon of Howard and say Adam Lind could be quite profitable.

Utley has earned the injury prone label and fantasy owners are particularly concerned about his knees. While his hard-nosed playing style will likely lead to more injuries, it might be time to put aside the fear over his knees. It was very lightly reported, but Utley supposedly “cured” his chondromalacia during the 2012 season with the help of an aggressive physical therapy regimen. Since then, his knees have not been the stated cause of any missed time. I’m expecting about 25 home runs plus steals, 150 runs plus RBI, and an acceptable batting average. That would look more attractive if I didn’t also expect the chance of a stint on the disabled list to be above 50 percent.

Rollins also possesses potential value. Last season was rough, his home run total dropped from 23 to six and he didn’t score his usual 100 runs. He did still steal 22 bases. His role in the 2014 lineup is uncertain, he may finally be demoted from leadoff hitter. It sounds like Ryne Sandberg will still open the season with Rollins batting first. I think he’ll rediscover some of his power, enough to reach 10-12 home runs with a full season. Combine that with another 20 steals and maybe a few extra runs scored, and he’s not a bad $4 target as a middle infielder. That’s the auction price set over at FantasyPros.

Last season was difficult to watch for Ruiz, who missed the first 25 games due to a suspension for using Adderall. Ruiz was quite excellent in 2012 and he started to show that upside again near the end of last season. He’s currently being all but ignored in the mock drafts I’ve participated in, yet I suspect he’ll be a top 25 catcher. Owners in two catcher leagues could do much worse than Ruiz for $1. It’s worth noting that he always gets hurt, a stint on the disabled list is almost guaranteed.

The Young Guy and His Competition
Cody Asche
Maikel Franco
Kevin Frandsen
Freddy Galvis

Asche is the nominal starter at third base after a replacement level performance late last season. For fantasy purposes, he’s a bit unexciting. Throughout the minors, he posted a high-ish BABIP and his contact does skew towards line drives and grounders. He might hit around .260 with average on base and power skills. Somewhere around 20 home runs plus steals is not out of the question, with the distribution leaning in favor of home runs. Runs and RBI will be harder to come by since he’ll probably bat down in the order. Honestly, his profile is rather reminiscent of Josh Donaldson last preseason, except with a lower batting average. That’s not to say Asche is a great breakout candidate, it’s a reminder that under the right conditions, he could be valuable.

Franco is one of the top three prospects in the system and the only position player who could be a major factor in 2014. Currently, he has a very outside chance to beat Asche for the third base job. The Phillies also plan to train Franco at first base, presumably to platoon with or take over for Howard. Last season he mashed 31 long balls across two levels, but some scouts have doubts about his swing and plate discipline at the major league level. He’ll likely start at Triple-A, but he’s only an injury away from reaching the majors.

I won’t waste too many words on Frandsen. He’s a useful real world bench player, but fantasy owners will see his value restricted to very occasional waiver wire or daily fantasy starts. He may not make the club since there are only four spots available for Frandsen, Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf, and John Mayberry Jr. That’s not even including some of the better minor league invitees like Tony Gwynn Jr. who should probably make the club as a superior defensive replacement.

Galvis is the team’s utility infielder, capable of providing good to excellent defense all around the diamond. I don’t see any way to leverage him in fantasy unless you’re in a razz league.

The Rest
Wil Nieves
Cameron Rupp
Darin Ruf
Cesar Hernandez

Nieves and Rupp are the backup catchers. If Rupp happened to find his way into frequent playing time, he might be good enough for a look in an ultra deep league (i.e. 2 catcher NL Only).

Ruf could find himself in a semi-valuable platoon with Howard and he should have interesting position eligibility. The current speculation is that he will not make the club.

Hernandez is Utley’s backup, but he can also play a passable center field. That gives him nice position flex, but he needs some help if he’s to play regularly. Hernandez seems capable of providing an empty batting average and a healthy stolen base total, so he could be a bit like a poorer man’s Eric Young Jr. before he found playing time. The stolen base upside is much smaller.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, RotoWorld, and Rotoballer. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

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Ruiz got an exemption for Adderall in the offseason so that’s nice.