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2020 MLB Team Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

Zach Thompson provides his thoughts on what the 60-game MLB season could look like for the Phillies.

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July Update: The Phillies have had a tough time battling COVID-19 with multiple players testing positive and having to shut down their training facility. Scott Kingery, Tommy Hunter, Hector Neris and Mikie Mahtook all tested positive along with several members of the coaching staff, but Kingery has since been cleared and should be ready for Opening Day.

The Phillies pitching staff has also been impacted with their ace Aaron Nola getting a late start to Summer Camp after being exposed. Nola is still a possibility to start on Opening Day, per manager Joe Girardi, especially since Zack Wheeler (paternity) is expected to leave the team around Opening Day for a couple weeks after his child is born. Another expected part of the rotation, Zach Eflin (back) has battled a bad back in Summer Camp but has worked his way back to health and should be ready to go either at the start of the season or shortly thereafter.

The Phillies dramatically underachieved last season after spending heavily in the offseason. Bryce Harper came over from the Nationals on a monster deal, Andrew McCutchen was signed as well, and J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura were brought over via trade. Unfortunately for Philly fans, despite the spending and adding, the team finished exactly .500 and missed the postseason for an eighth straight season.

The underachieving finish cost the Phillies’ manager his job, as Gabe Kapler was replaced after two seasons by the well-respected Joe Girardi. In addition, the Phillies brought in one arm in Zack Wheeler and one bat in Didi Gregorius. There have been rumblings that they’re willing to do more and could be active in-season, as they were last year, as they try to go “all in” during the early years of Harper’s contract.

Did they do enough to get back to the postseason? Can Girardi’s steady hand bring the stars around and avoid a late-season fade? If things go there way, they could definitely be a playoff contender, but who would need to step up? Let’s take a look at what to expect in our Phillies preview.

Will Bryce Harper break out in his second season in Philadelphia?

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DraftKings Sportsbook odds

— Division Winner: +325

— League Winner: +900

— World Series: +2000

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Key Departures:

Maikel Franco, 3B; Corey Dickerson, OF; Logan Morrison, 1B; Brad Miller, 2B; Drew Smyly, SP; Jason Vargas, SP

Key Acquisitions:

Zack Wheeler, SP; Didi Gregorius, SS; Logan Forsythe, 1B/2B; Josh Harrison, 2B/OF

2020 Fantasy MVP

Bryce Harper, OF

Harper started slow in his first season with the Phillies, but after hitting .232 in April, he hit .255 or higher in every month after that. Harper hit 19 of his 35 homers after the All-Star break and hit .270 with an impressive .940 OPS in the second half. Harper also added 15 stolen bases to his 35 homers while driving in 114 RBI and taking 99 walks. He showed more hustle in the field and seemed to thrive once he settled into Citizens Bank Park where 20 of his 35 long balls came.

Harper should be able to improve on last year’s performance if he doesn’t struggle out of the gate. With Girardi at the helm, Harper won’t have to worry about leading off as he did eight games last season and should be locked into the No. 3 spot in the order. Harper is a very solid pick in the late second round, where his ADP has him and can produce across multiple categories. He has hit at least 24 home runs in five straight seasons with 34 and 35 the past two years, respectively. His batting average has been all over, but he did hit well over .310 in two of the past five seasons, so there’s potential upside there to go with 15-to-20 stolen bases. With more production from the lineup around him, Harper could even climb back into the top-tier of bats and be a first-round pick next season.

2020 Fantasy LVP

Zack Wheeler, SP

Wheeler was a nice pickup for the Phillies, but he’s being over-drafted right now and will have to overcome a major park downgrade. Citi Field is slightly a pitchers’ park by most metrics, while Citizens Bank plays much more hitter-friendly. Wheeler actually made five starts there as a visitor last season, going 1-2 with a decent 3.19 ERA. His ERA on the season was just under 4.00 and he had 195 strikeouts in 195 1/3 innings. He had a great September, finishing with a 1.85 ERA over his final five starts.

My concern for Wheeler is that he gives up a lot of fly balls in a park where those can turn into big flies. His ADP has him as he 30th pitcher being drafted alongside options like Carlos Carrasco, Sonny Gray and Corey Kluber, who have much more established track records and much bigger strikeout upside. Even when he’s at his best, he’s right around a strikeout-per-inning. His numbers are decent but don’t overpay in fantasy as a result of his strong finish and the fact that the Phillies overpaid for him this offseason.

2020 Breakout Player

Scott Kingery, 2B/3B/SS/OF

Kingery skyrocketed through the Phillies’ minor league system, and his consistency in his approach at the plate seems to be just now catching up. His versatility in the field resulted in him bouncing around, and in his first two seasons in the Majors, he has already played every position except 1B and catcher. Maybe the positional stability will help him be more consistent at the plate as well, and he should benefit from the more stable hand of Girardi as opposed to the unpredictable at times Gabe Kapler.

Last season, he ran hot-and-cold finishing with a .258 batting average, 19 home runs, 15 stolen bases and a .788 OPS after hitting just .226 in his rookie year. In his third and final season in the minors, which he split between Double-A and Triple-A, Kingery hit .308 with an .889 OPS, 26 home runs and 29 stolen bases. This season, he’s expected to settle in at 2B, where he was an above-average defender in the minors with Jean Segura transitioning to 3B.If he can translate those skills on a regular basis, he could end up slotting into one of the top two spots in the Phillies order and be a 25-homer, 25-stolen-base threat with plenty of runs scored. Even if not, he should be able to offer a very useful 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases while filling in wherever you need him on the diamond.

Spencer Howard, SP

A deeper sleeper to keep an eye on as the season progressive is the 23-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Spencer Howard. He got a late start to Spring Training due to a knee issue and will almost certainly start the year with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. He will also likely be on an innings limit after a shoulder issue last year, but who knows how much that will matter in a truncated season. Howard should get his shot in the rotation at some point this year especially if the back end of the rotation continues to be a source of injury and ineffective with Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta in like to follow Aaron Nola and Wheeler.

Howard had a very impressive Arizona Fall League after spending time in Double-A last season, compiling a 3-1 record in 15 starts with a 2.03 ERA and 0.831 WHIP and 94 strikeouts in 71 innings. When he gets his callup and his shot, Howard will definitely be a player to have on your fantasy radar.

Final Thoughts:

Philadelphia’s lineup should be a solid source of offense this season especially if Jean Segura bounces back and Kingery progresses. The addition of Didi Gregorius will definitely help, as well, although there’s still not much of an answer in CF. Depending on who hits at the top of their order, there could be some nice value in the leadoff spot, especially if Andrew McCutchen isn’t ready to fill that role when the season does get underway. As much as I like the Phillies lineup, I’m not much of a fan of their pitching staff, and I’ll probably avoid using many SPs from this team until Howard gets brought up.

The Phillies, Mets, Braves and Nationals will all be very competitive and very close in the NL East. One injury, breakout or major letdown could make all the difference. With a shortened schedule, the margin of difference between the division winner, potential wild card teams, and more disappointment could be just one timely hot streak or cold streak. Of the four teams, the Phillies have the most question marks in their rotation, which I think is likely to leave them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Girardi should get this team turned around though, and if they can get enough starting pitching they have postseason potential.

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