Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Philadelphia Phillies

Players in the City of Brotherly Love that deserve your attention.

The Phillies are riding high coming off a season in which they won the NL Pennant and were narrowly ousted by the Astros in the World Series. That sequence of events preceded a busy winter that saw the team bring aboard superstar Trea Turner and plenty of pitching help, most noticeably in the bullpen.

Now, with expectations as high as ever, a stacked roster will look to stay afloat while franchise icon Bryce Harper recovers from Tommy John surgery. The new additions will help, but it will be a group effort to maintain last year’s pace in what may be the most tightly-contested divisional race in 2023.

With so much talent, it’s difficult to find excess value on this roster in fantasy drafts, and similarly, it’s difficult to find players that are drafted outside of their recognized talent levels. However, you’re in luck, because I’ve dug deep to unearth a pair of sleepers and a pair of busts to pay close attention to in your drafts this Spring.

 

Sleepers

 

Bryson Stott

 

2022 Stats (466 PA): .234 AVG, 58 R, 10 HR, 49 RBI, 12 SB

Not all of Stott’s draft-day attractiveness resides in his prospect pedigree, but it definitely plays a big part. The shortstop-turned-second-baseman was the 14th overall pick in the 2019 Draft and has since shown promising offensive abilities. Being drafted that high in the draft helped make him the 87th-ranked prospect entering the 2020 campaign, trailing only Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm on his own team, according to MLB Pipeline. A successful pro debut following the canceled minor league season vaulted him to #45 on the 2022 preseason list, and he reached as high as #42 during the season due to other prospects graduating.

Stott’s best season in the minors was in 2021 when he climbed three levels, producing at all of them. At High-A, he batted .288 with five homers and three steals, a 1.001 OPS, a 169 wRC+, and as many walks as strikeouts. The move to Double-A didn’t slow him down as he slugged 10 more dingers, swiped six more bags, and batted .301 with a .848 OPS and a 130 wRC+. He concluded his big campaign at Triple-A, and all told, tallied 16 long balls and 10 stolen bases while batting .299 with a .876 OPS. He did all of that at the age of 23 and at the height of his hype…but he disappointed many in his Major League debut.

In 466 plate appearances, the left-handed hitter racked up double-digit homers (10) and steals (12), but didn’t make enough contact or exhibit enough patience to excel on the big stage. It culminated in an underwhelming 84 wRC+, but it wasn’t without its silver linings. Stott received valuable postseason experience as the Phillies advanced to the World Series. Playing under the harsh lights and criticism of the playoffs can truly help a player develop into a full-fledged Major Leaguer. While he batted just .136 with a 42 wRC+ in 51 postseason plate appearances, it can’t be understated how this experience will affect his nerves when regular season games are back in action.

Going off the board on average inside the top 225 picks of Draft Champions drafts on NFBC since the beginning of December, Stott is both the 22nd second baseman and shortstop taken in drafts. Going that late leaves room for him to outproduce his draft slot and doesn’t force fantasy managers to rely on him or miss out on proven performers. Especially when the Vegas native could excel in every category in 2023.

On top of owning a high batting average ceiling and 15-20 home run power, Stott exhibits blazing speed in one of the deepest and most dangerous lineups in the National League. That speed manifested in his dozen steals and was supported by a 91st-percentile sprint speed, suggesting that he’ll once again be effective on the bases. He’ll receive an even bigger boost in the SB department by way of rule changes that will limit pick-offs and increase the size of the bases. That makes for a clear avenue for Stott to be a power-speed threat with run-producing capabilities in an elite lineup, but it’s not like it’s all hypothetical. Just 13 players under the age of 25 racked up double-digit home runs and steals and Stott was one of them. Just six other rookies met those criteria as well.

Name HR SB
Julio Rodríguez 28 25
Bo Bichette 24 13
Jeremy Peña 22 11
Bobby Witt Jr. 20 30
Michael Harris II 19 20
Andrés Giménez 17 20
Oneil Cruz 17 10
Christopher Morel 16 10
Ronald Acuña Jr. 15 29
Jazz Chisholm Jr. 14 12
Luis Robert 12 11
Brandon Marsh 11 10
Bryson Stott 10 12

From a more analytic perspective, Stott’s Statcast sliders aren’t the rosiest, though he does stand out in important areas. His ability to make contact and avoid whiffs is his biggest strength. His whiff rate of 17.2% put him in the 89th percentile and his 82.8% contact rate was eight percent better than the league average. A lack of pop (4.4% barrel rate) will likely hold him back from being an elite slugger, but he’s not without avenues for improvement.

The most obvious area for him to develop will be that power stroke, but considering the fact he hit nearly 20 homers at Double-A and was on pace for 13 homers in a 550-PA sample, I don’t think a five-to-ten bomb jump is out of the question. Factors that influence that power potential don’t stop at his prospect pedigree. The Phillies’ home stadium, Citizen’s Bank Park, is one of the most homer-friendly for southpaws. The three-year rolling average home run factor for lefties at The Bank is fourth in baseball. On top of that, The Phillies employ what many consider to be the most prolific hitting coach in Kevin Long. He has worked wonders with many left-handed batters in the past and worked his magic on Stott last year.

That previously mentioned full-season line was brought down by a horrid first half. After working with the hitting guru, Stott saw a major turnaround, which he later credited to putting in work with Long. After the All-Star break, Stott batted .276 with a 106 wRC+ and looked much more comfortable at the plate. The fact that he was able to make an adjustment after struggling bodes well for his future.

To sum everything up, Stott isn’t exactly primed for a breakout, but the ingredients are there. He’s in a good environment (ballpark, lineup, hitting coach), has a history of performing well at all levels (prospect pedigree), got needed experience in high-pressure situations (World Series), maintains elite bat-to-ball skills (good contact and SwStr rates), has tantalizing power-speed capabilities (one of seven rookies under 25 with double-digit HRs and SBs), and took a big step forward to adjust to Major League pitching (improved second half numbers). Sleepers aren’t guaranteed to outperform their draft-day price, but when you account for draft position, Stott doesn’t even have to improve to make good on fantasy managers’ investments. A big breakout or a continuation of that second half would only be a cherry on top for a player likely to make their managers proud.

 

Brandon Marsh

 

2022 Stats (461 PA): .245 AVG, 49 R, 11 HR, 52 RBI, 10 SB

Another left-handed batter on the Phillies with power, speed, a prospect pedigree, and a second-half improvement, Marsh may have an even better case for a breakout in 2023 than his teammate. The #53 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s 2021 top 100 prospects list, the outfielder exhibited a patient approach and speed with a smattering of power in the Angels’ minor league system. Unfortunately for him, he floundered in his debut and accrued most of his on-field value with his glove.

The struggles continued into 2022 as Marsh batted .226 with eight homers and steals, respectively, and a 79 wRC+. A 36.2% strikeout rate was the most egregious flaw holding him back from reaching his fullest potential. The Angels gave up on him and swapped him for minor league catcher Logan O’Hoppe. A member of a more competitive team and alongside bat whisperer Kevin Long, Marsh was primed for improvement.

Following the trade, the caveman-esque outfielder took off, batting .288 with three homers and a 114 wRC+. The most notable difference was his marked improvement in the strikeout department as his K-rate dropped 6.5% to a much more palatable 29.7%. It came with a notable increase in his out-of-zone contact rate (+11.7% to 62.2%), taking him from well below league average to above league average. He also cut down on his ground ball rate (-6.7% to 38.2%) and improved his Statcast-measured hard-hit rate (+5.3% to 41.8%) and average exit velocity (+3.1 mph to 91.2 mph). If those rates had held across the entire season, the former would have been in the 61st percentile and the latter in the 86th percentile. If these changes stick, he will end up being a steal late in drafts.

As of now, the soon-to-be 25-year-old is going outside the top 275 of Draft Champions drafts on NFBC since the beginning of December, making him the 64th outfielder off the board. He’ll have more than enough room to outperform his draft slot. Austin Meadows, Nick Gordon, Trey Mancini, and Lane Thomas are some of the players being drafted in the same range as Marsh. It feels as though Marsh has a “trending up” arrow next to his name after making such impactful strides after joining the Phillies, and not many players in this range can say that.

Heading into roto drafts, Marsh will be on my list of late targets because he’s being slept on. If those improvements carry over and Marsh continues to adjust to Major League pitching, the Phillies could be overflowing with offensive talent. It’s even a plus that he is so proficient in the outfield and his main competition, Matt Vierling, was traded to the Tigers, because now his playing time is all but guaranteed. A .275/75/15/75/15 season is not out of the question. In one of the deepest offenses in baseball, Marsh will have plenty of run-scoring opportunities and won’t have any pressure to perform. Make sure you leave a spot on your roster for the possible rebirth of the caveman.

 

Busts

 

Nick Castellanos

 

2022 Stats (558 PA): .263 AVG, 56 R, 13 HR, 62 RBI, 7 SB

After signing a five-year, $100 million dollar contract with the Phillies prior to the 2022 campaign following a career-best season, expectations were sky-high for Castellanos. Those expectations came crashing down after the outfielder hit just 13 long balls with a 94 wRC+ in his Philadelphia debut. It seems as though he is primed for a bounceback after that lackluster start, but his profile suggests otherwise.

Everything that made the former Tiger, Cub, and Red appealing fizzled out in 2022. His power was sapped, resulting in his lowest home run total since 2014. He failed to put the bat on the ball, posting the lowest contact rate (70.2%) of his career, leading to his lowest batting average (.263) since 2015 (excluding 2020). Even his usually sub-par plate discipline somehow got worse as he walked less than he ever has and struck out more than he has since 2016 (excluding 2020). He didn’t even make sustainable improvements in a second half that saw him hit 30 points higher thanks to a 30-point jump in BABIP without the return of his power stroke (+.005 in ISO to .129).

Additionally, Castellanos hit more ground balls (41.9%) than ever and reduced his thump by going the opposite way (31.3%) more than ever. Even his Statcast metrics cratered. His barrel rate (6.6%) and average exit velocity (87.5 mph) were the lowest of his career, and his hard-hit rate (34.6%) was the second lowest of his Major League tenure. His .304 wOBA even suggested he was slightly lucky when compared to his .302 xwOBA. The difference between his 2021 and 2022 Statcast metrics is stark, to say the least.

The combination of all of these negatives put him on a list you never want to land on. Usually, players make up for their lack of plate discipline by hitting the ball hard or being fast, the former being something Castellanos has done throughout his career. However, in 2022, he stopped doing that and just became an impatient hitter with little pop. Among qualifiers, his 0.22 BB/K ratio was in the bottom 10 and his barrel rate was in the bottom 50. A barrel rate that low can be made up for with pulled fly balls, something Castellanos did less than ever last year. If you combine those two detrimental stats, you get an unflattering list of some of the most underwhelming bats in baseball in 2022.

Batters with a BB/K ratio less than 0.23 and a sub-7% barrel rate (min. 400 PA):

Name BB/K Barrel Rate
Randal Grichuk 0.19 6.8%
Nick Castellanos 0.22 6.6%
Harold Castro 0.22 6.1%
Jorge Mateo 0.18 5.9%
Luis Rengifo 0.22 5.4%
Raimel Tapia 0.20 5.1%
Jonathan Schoop 0.18 4.8%
Victor Robles 0.16 3.2%

Clearly, 2022 was the nadir of Castellanos’ career, so as the saying goes, “there’s only one way to go from here”. However, I’m not sure the 2010 44th-overall pick will be able to climb out of the hole he dug last year. Not only is he not getting any younger as he enters his age-31 season, but his projections also don’t expect a full bounce back. Steamer projects him to bat .257 with 20 homers and a 104 wRC+ while ATC is slightly more optimistic with a projection of .264 in the average department being paired with 22 bombs. Most importantly, his ADP is not affording much of a discount to drafters after the down year.

In Draft Champions drafts on NFBC since the beginning of December, Castellanos is being taken as the 30th outfielder inside the top 130 picks. Notable names taken after him include Anthony Santander, Kris Bryant, Giancarlo Stanton, and Ian Happ. Many of the players taken in this ADP range have the same considerable upside as Castellanos without the inherent risk of coming off a horrid campaign. This is still an area where drafting safe players is almost a necessity because they become obsolete after pick 200.

The most disheartening aspect of Castellanos’ downfall is the fact that there is no clear path to improvement other than just getting better. He regressed so completely that he would need to make changes across the board. That leads me to believe that there has to be a major or a multitude of factors that led to his demise. Whether it be an injury, mechanics, new threads, the pressure of a big contract, or all of the above, he will still have to overcome those factors again in 2023.

At this point in his career, Castellanos is looking like just a slightly above-average player. His poor defense won’t help him hold onto his roster spot when Bryce Harper returns from Tommy John surgery after the All-Star break. A full comeback might be out of the question and a continuation of the status quo will be disastrous for fantasy teams. If he falls past pick 200 in drafts, the risk is worth the possible rebound, but drafting him inside the top 150 is asking for trouble.

 

Taijuan Walker

 

2022 Stats (157.1 IP): 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 132 K, 12 W, 0 SV

This should be an easy one. Walker was signed by the Phillies to a four-year, $72M deal this offseason. It was well-earned as he is coming off a career-high-tying 2.5 fWAR campaign. He’s plenty serviceable in real-life baseball, but in fantasy, he’s just a Toby.

Players coming off career years are usually easy to reach on in drafts the following year. Players signing large contracts are equally easy to reach on because they are more often in the public consciousness in the offseason. The combination of those two ingredients is a recipe for disaster. Walker fits that mold and then some because his career year wasn’t too inspiring. On top of failing to qualify for the ERA title, his career 21.6% strikeout rate dropped to 20.3% in 2022, showcasing his lack of strikeout ability. That paired with a penchant for giving up hard contact (28.9% HC%) starts to inspire questions about how valuable he’ll be in fantasy circles.

To pile on, he makes it even harder to buy in by relying on a splitter as his main secondary pitch. Splitters are widely considered to be the most inconsistent pitch in baseball because they rely so much on feel. That is evident in the pitch producing a .221 xwOBACON in 2019, a .346 mark in 2020, a .423 mark in 2021, and a .388 mark in 2022. His fastball lost some of its oomph as well, dropping almost a full tick from 2021 to 93.7 mph. He doesn’t really have many other options either as his slider produced a paltry 23.2% CSW and his curveball and cutter don’t induce whiffs.

Walker’s being taken late enough (after pick 300) that he won’t hurt your team if he busts, but it’s a wasted pick at a point in drafts where high-upside targets are plentiful. The fact that Walker has new expectations to deal with coming off a career year compound the negative regression that’s due thanks to his declining and inconsistent stuff on a per-pitch basis. Shoot for a fun option late in drafts rather than throwing away a pick on an uninspiring option like Walker.

 

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Jake Crumpler

A Bay Area sports fan and lover of baseball, Jake is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in English Literature. He currently writes fantasy articles for Pitcher List and is the lead baseball writer at The Athletes Hub. Some consider his knowledge of the sport to be encyclopedic. Without baseball, Jake would be a Pokémon master.

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