Philadelphia Phillies 2017 preview

Philadelphia Phillies' Odubel Herrera looks over the field during a spring training baseball workout Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Clearwater, Fla. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This is the latest of our 2017 team previews. Each week during spring training, we’ll preview a division with a team each day (Monday-Friday). This week: Washington Nationals | New York Mets | Miami Marlins. Up next: Atlanta Braves.

LAST SEASON

71-91, fourth place in the NL East

WHAT’S NEW

Key additions: SP Clay Buchholz (trade with Red Sox), OF/IF Howie Kendrick (trade with Dodgers), OF Michael Saunders (free agent from Blue Jays), RP Pat Neshek (trade with Astros), RP Joaquin Benoit (free agent from Blue Jays)

Key subtractions: 1B Ryan Howard (free agent), OF Cody Asche (free agent to White Sox), SP Charlie Morton (free agent to Astros)

3 STRIKES

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1. This is the start of something new: The departure of slugger Ryan Howard, who earned top dollar during a multi-year downturn since 2011, marks the official end of an era for the Phillies, who ruled the division from 2007 to 2011 and won the World Series in 2008. With Howard gone, the rebuild marches on as 25-year-old Tommy Joseph will take over at first base after swatting 21 homers in 315 at-bats last season. Up-and-coming 25-year-old center fielder Odubel Herrera signed a five-year extension in the offseason and is now sandwiched between good-but-not-great veteran outfielders Howie Kendrick (LF) and Michael Saunders (RF).

2. There is a promising pitching staff: Philly probably got more than it expected from its starters last season as righty Jared Eickhhoff spun 197 innings with a 3.65 ERA (4.19 FIP), righty Jeremy Hellickson turned in a respectable 12-10 campaign (3.71 ERA), righty Vince Velasquez was dominant at times (more on him below) and former first-rounder Aaron Nola showed flashes of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. Nola is now working back from a UCL sprain. Along with Clay Buchholz, this staff could become pleasantly above average in 2017.

3. The Phillies are cultivating the farm: Like last year, Phillies brass is not entering this season with postseason aspirations, nor did it push for it by limiting financial commitments while a talented group of minor leaguers get more seasoning. Those promising youngsters include SS J.P. Crawford, OF Nick Williams, C Jorge Alfaro and OF Mickey Moniak. The Phils are poised to really contend (they hope) in 2018 and beyond.

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BEST-CASE SCENARIO

Philadelphia plays well enough to remain within striking distance of a wild-card spot come mid-September.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

A last-place finish in the NL East and disappointing seasons from guys like 3B Maikel Franco, Herrera, Joseph, Eickhoff and Nola, who should figure into the future.

SURPRISING STAT

The 24-year-old Velasquez, acquired in a December 2015 swap that sent reliever Ken Giles to the Astros, struck out 16 Padres in a complete-game shutout with zero walks on April 14 last season. He went on to strike out 152 batters in 131 innings, good for a 10.44 K/9 — better than Clayton Kershaw (10.39) and Madison Bumgarner (9.97), and behind only five NL pitchers: Jose Fernandez (12.49), Robbie Ray (11.25), Max Scherzer (11.19), Stephen Strasburg (11.15) and Noah Syndergaard (10.68). Pretty good company.

BEST BETS

Projected win total (via Atlantis Casino Resort): 72.5

World Series odds (via VegasInsider.com: 120/1

TOP 5 FANTASY PLAYERS

1. Maikel Franco: Still only 24 years old, Franco possesses great power with 39 long balls in a season and a half. But there is a reason his average draft position is 3B-14. His OBP dipped to .306 last season due to a .238 AVG and .286 OBP after the 2016 All-Star break.

2. Tommy Joseph: Don’t be surprised if Ryan Howard’s replacement enjoys a surge in fantasy draft popularity over the next month. Joseph hit 21 homers in only 107 games last year with an eye on 30 dingers in 2017.

3. Odubel Herrera: Not the ideal No. 3 hitter for fantasy owners, but the Phillies are working with what they have. The 25-year-old outfielder’s fantasy ceiling in 15 homers and 20+ stolen bases with a .275 batting average.

4. Vince Velasquez: Philadelphia is being cautious with his innings limit, which mutes some of his fantasy value, but he can certainly miss a lot of bats.

5. Jerad Eickhoff/Aaron Nola: The deeper you dig into the Phillies’ roster, the uglier the options become. If I were taking a starting pitcher flier late in drafts, Nola over Eickhoff would come down to higher strikeout rate potential.

(Courtesy of FOX Sports Fantasy Baseball)

PREDICTION

Fourth place in the NL East.