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35 For 2008: 5 More Integral Than You Think

This week, I’m previewing the 2008 Phillies by presenting the 35 players — as of today — who will mean most for repeated success. I say “as of today” because this list will definitely change. Last year, a list like this wouldn’t have mentioned JC Romero or Kyle Kendrick, and would’ve mentioned Matt Smith and Rod Barajas.

For the series, I divided the 35 players into seven groups, each one to be presented daily. The groups have a common thread, which each player seems to follow as his 2008 mission. So I present to you part five of the week-long series.

Day 1: Something To Prove
Day 2: The Villagers
Day 3: Great … Or Good Enough
Day 4: Rubber Rodents
Today: More Integral Than You Think
Day 6: B-Minus
Day 7: The Foundation

More Integral Than You Think: So Taguchi, Chris Coste, Kris Benson, Pedro Feliz, Eric Bruntlett
These five players really don’t have huge responsibilities from the naked eye (fifth outfielder, backup catcher, fifth starter, starter at least offensive position, utility infielder), but for the Phillies to succeed in 2008, they’ll all need to do their jobs well. They don’t need to be great, but there’s no room for failure.

So Taguchi (OF)
Acquired: Signed as free agent by Phillies, 2007
Role: Fifth Outfielder

It seemed like a complete shock: The Phillies ink outfielder So Taguchi to a one-year deal to come off the bench and back up outfielders Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth/Geoff Jenkins. Instead of resorting to Chris Roberson or even newly signed Chris Snelling, Taguchi represents a comfortable swab of Elmer’s on a potentially troubling crack in the wall.

Taguchi isn’t a well-oiled hitter, but he’s competent. He doesn’t pack a lot of power, but ropes singles and doubles as well as any fifth outfielder. For his role, he’s a pretty good option to have.

Taguchi will be asked to come in late for Burrell and get the ocassional start for him or Victorino. With Japanese-speaking manager Charlie Manuel and a strong clubhouse, Taguchi was a smart signing and should round out the hitting corps well.

Predicted 2008: 136 AB / .286 AVG / 2 HR / 22 RBI / .702 OPS

Chris Coste (C)
Acquired: Signed as free agent by Phillies, 2005
Role: Backup Catcher

Chris Coste’s story is well known, if not overdone. The career Minor Leaguer cemented a spot as a backup catcher after his strong 2006 campaign and a pretty good follow-up in 2007. Though he’s not a great hitter, he’s always giving it 100 percent, and there’s no doubt his gamesmanship is respected and necessary for the Phillies.

While you can’t think Coste will put up big numbers in 2008, he should provide apt backup for Carlos Ruiz, and at times, his bat will be welcomed in the lineup.

It’s easy to say the Phillies made a boneheaded move by signging Rod Barajas for 2007, but uncertainty lingered at the catcher position with an untested Ruiz and a one-year wonder in Coste. Maybe Barajas got too long a shot, but it was justifiable at the time. Now, Coste should be reliable enough to hang onto. And it’ll show.

Predicted 2008: 193 AB / .264 AVG / 5 HR / 28 RBI / .753 OPS

Kris Benson (SP)
Acquired: Signed as free agent by Phillies, 2008 (NOT ACQUIRED YET)
Role: Fifth Starter

Kris Benson marks a safety plan for the Phillies. Acquired for low money and one season, he could step into the rotation and be somewhat consistent. In fact, over his career, Benson is wildly consistent, averaging a 4.60 ERA and never really veering from that mark in his seven seasons.

Benson is a better option at his age than Chad Durbin and Adam Eaton, and is likely more of a sure thing than youngsters JA Happ, Josh Outman and JD Durbin. This makes Benson a comfortable fit. And while he may not start pitching until June or so, his addition is welcome.

Will Benson give us his regular numbers? If so, he would be a fine No. 4 starter, really. But anything below a 5.00 ERA is good to see in the Phillies rotation. If he becomes a fixture at the back end by July, I’ll be very happy with the signing.

Predicted 2008: 102 IP / 6-5 / 4.50 ERA / 60 K / 1.302 WHIP

Pedro Feliz (3B)
Acquired: Signed as free agent by Phillies, 2008
Role: Starting Third Baseman

In efforts to shore up the league-best offense, the Phillies inked Pedro Feliz to a two-year deal. Makes sense, huh?

Feliz basically hits 20 home runs each season because he gets the opportunities. Feliz has been given more than 500 at bats for the past four seasons, and his 22, 20, 22 and 20 homers have shown his outrageous consistency. But that consistency comes with batting averages of .276, .250, .244 and .253 and, worse, on-base percentages of .305, .295, .281 and .290. Yikes.

Feliz is a free-swinging, strong-fielding third bagger. For the purpose of defense, Feliz is a good fit, but don’t expect big production and great numbers. It likely won’t happen. Twenty homers? Likely. A .300 average? Dream on.

Predicted 2008: 449 AB / .249 AVG / 17 HR / 51 RBI / .712 OPS

Eric Bruntlett (IF)
Acquired: Traded with Brad Lidge from Houston Astros for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Mike Costazno
Role: Utility Infielder

In the grand tradition of Abraham Nunez and Tomas Perez steps Eric Bruntlett, a natural shortstop with the ability to play both second base and third base, and possibly other positions. Bruntlett’s offense (.246/.346/.283) won’t have him starting, and hopefully it won’t come to that.

Bruntlett seemed poised to take control of third base late-inning defensive duties, but the signing of Pedro Feliz ended that idea. So where does Bruntlett fit in? And why is he integral?

Truthfully, Bruntlett is the only defense behind Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. If one goes down — like Utley last year — it’ll be up to Bruntlett to plug the hole. Basically, he’ll have to fill the shoes of two of baseball’s best players. Offensively, I can’t see it, but a performance like Tadahito Iguchi’s would be unbelievable.

Predicted 2008: 87 AB / .229 AVG / 1 HR / 6 RBI / .648 OPS

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