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MLB Opening Day 2016: A look at the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies

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This might be the only team worse than the Braves in the division this season, so cherish that thought and find out why they could be worse below.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia Phillies were the only team preventing the Braves from being in the basement of the NL East last season, and they have finished in that No. 5 spot in each of the past two seasons. During 2013 they finished fourth behind the Miami Marlins.

Still, things are actually looking up for Phillies fans — despite the vibe I got from each and every Uber driver this past weekend when I was in the city for the first time — because the team has finally committed to an actual rebuild. After holding on too long to an aging core that led his team to the only World Series under his tenure, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was finally jettisoned last September.

Matt Klentak was hired about a month later and became the youngest GM in Phillies history (35) and continued the rebuilding process over the offseason, picking up many low-risk, low-reward type players, a handful of veterans who are hoping to improve their stock, as well as a few prospects with some potential that could benefit the brimming talent the organization has in the upper minors.

New Additions: (RP) David Hernandez, (SP) Vincent Velasquez, (SP) Charlie Morton, (SP) Jeremy Hellickson, (OF) Peter Bourjos

Notable Absences: (RP) Ken Giles, (SP) Jesse Biddle, (OF) Dominic Brown, (SP) Chad Billingsley, (OF) Jeff Francoeur (!!!)

Lineup/Fielders

Projected lineup (from MLB Daily Dish)

RF Peter Bourjos
2B Cesar Hernandez
CF Odubel Herrera
3B Maikel Franco
1B Ryan Howard
C Cameron Rupp
SS Freddy Galvis
LF

Tyler Goedell

OK, so this lineup isn't great, but there are certainly some interesting guys that could be forming the new core of this team, specifically with Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco right in the heart of the lineup.

Franco is probably the guy most of you know, as he's been on the radar for a little bit and had a bit of a break out season last year, hitting 14 home runs in just 80 games while putting up a .280/.343/.497 triple slash. With a full season at the hot corner this year, Franco should be a legitimate All-Star candidate if he's able to maintain that sort of production.

Herrera was more of a surprise last season. His 110 wRC+ and favorable defensive metrics made him a 3.9-WAR player over his 146-game season, making him a winning lottery ticket out of the Rule 5 Draft. I would be surprised if he put up another season of that strength, but he's always posted high BABIPs (.387 last season) so there's a chance he can be a productive offensive player if that hit-tool/speed combo is real. Again, I'm skeptical of his power. He launched eight home runs after posting the highest ISO of his professional career (.121).

After these two though, there's not a whole lot to look at. The projected leadoff hitter is a guy who owns a .302 career on base percentage, while Ryan Howard — who's finally in the last season of his albatross of a contract — has been a shell of his former self for years now.

The real player to watch out for is a guy who's not even going to be on the team on Opening Day, and that is shortstop J.P. Crawford — the No. 6 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. Crawford is one of the guys who the Phillies are hoping to build their team around, and as a player who's getting above average grades for his hit-tool, defense and arm, while receiving average grades in regards to power and speed, that's a good player to be banking on.

At three different levels in 2015, Crawford put up a .288/.380/.414 line with 22 doubles, seven triples and six homers. Throughout his three-year professional career (which began as an 18-year-old), Crawford has struck out 163 times while walking 160 times. That is good. He is good, and he should push Galvis off of the shortstop position at some point this season, giving Phillies fans another young player to get excited about while their MLB team remains poor.

Before we move on to the pitching, another guy to mention here is 22-year-old outfielder Nick Williams, who was acquired in the trade that sent Cole Hamels to to Texas. Williams is the No. 2 Phillies prospect behind Crawford and a top-100 prospect according to most outlets. He's a real five-tool talent and is coming off a 2015 season where he hit .299/.357/.479 with 17 home runs and 13 stolen bases. He should start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season and could force his way up to the big league club later this season.

Pitching

Projected rotation (from MLB Daily Dish)

RHP Jeremy Hellickson
RHP Aaron Nola
RHP Vincent Velasquez
RHP Charlie Morton
RHP Jerad Eickhoff

The Phillies starting rotation looks completely different from the 2014 edition, and that probably comes as a sigh of relief to most Phillies fans. Aside from Cole Hamels, the majority of the innings went to Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, Adam Morgan, David Buchanan and Sean O'Sullivan.

That's not ideal.

Fortunately, the two familiar faces in the rotation this season are Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, who were both impressive in limited innings last season. The former could be an anchor for this rotation for a long time to come, while the latter posted surprisingly impressive peripherals (8.65 K/9, 2.29 BB/9) and obviously showed some promise with a 2.65 ERA over eight starts after coming to the team in the Hamels trade.

While the other three guys — Hellickson, Morton and Velasquez — aren't the quality arms that, say, the Mets have they aren't terrible either. Hellickson and Morton threw 146 and 129 innings respectively, last season and both have peripherals that show they performed better than their 4.62 and 4.81 ERAs would indicated.

With Velasquez (who was brought in along with Mark Appel and Brett Oberholtzer in the Giles trade), the Phillies have a young arm who has some really impressive stuff, but is going to have to make some strides with his command. He fanned 9.38 batters per nine innings in 55.2 innings with the Astros last season, and over five minor league seasons that K/9 was 10.8. So he's got some real potential as maybe the biggest question mark in the rotation.

Aside from those guys, the Phillies have some interesting arms waiting in the minors with Jake Thompson (acquired via the Hamels trade) who's a big, 6-foot-4, 245-pound righty with a five-pitch mix and a chance to be a mid-rotation guy. Appel has really fallen off since becoming a professional, sporting a 5.12 ERA over three seasons after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, but there's still a chance he figures it out.

Most likely player to terrorize the Braves?

Maikel Franco. This might be a cop-out, but in his seven games against Atlanta last season he managed hits in all but one game and put up a .321 batting average. Also, it says "most likely player," so shouldn't the best guy qualify?

Outlook

Not going to lie, after doing this preview I definitely think the Phillies are a better team than before I started writing. While the lineup as is doesn't scare anyone, there are some real talented hitters waiting to come up, and while the Phillies don't have the pitching that the Braves can boast of, they've got some interesting arms.

Brad predicted that the Phillies would beat the Braves out for fourth in the division on our most recent podcast, while I picked the Phillies to finish last for the third straight time. While I tempted to back out of that, I won't. The team with just three players over the age of 30 will wind up in the cellar of the NL East because of the inconsistency that comes from youth, but they'll be fighting Atlanta for it the whole season.