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35 For 2008: 5 Who Are Great … Or Good Enough?

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 three of the week-long series.

Day 1: Something To Prove
Day 2: The Villagers
Today: Great … Or Good Enough
Day 4: Rubber Rodents
Day 5: More Integral Than You Think
Day 6: B-Minus
Day 7: The Foundation

Great … Or Good Enough: Kyle Kendrick, Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz, JD Durbin
These five players have showed flashes — some more than others — of great play. For Kendrick especially, the flashes bring much hope. For Durbin, the flash was small and, probably, fleeting. But there’s that hope, no matter what, that these five will not only live up to expectations, but exceed wildly. If anything, they need to give what they must to allow the Phils to repeat as division champions in 2008.

Kyle Kendrick (SP)
Role: No. 3 Starter
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2004

Without warning, Kyle Kendrick was in Philadelphia in June 2007, pitching his way to a regular starting job. By Clinching Day, he was the most reliable starter behind King Cole. For a kid who began 2007 as a middling AA shot in the dark, life sure took a good turn.

And now Kendrick is at his first real junction. Suddenly he has to prove himself, according to some. But it’s true — Kendrick has proven himself enough to start on the 25-man roster, but not enough to remain a fixture. At 24, he could jump down to AAA in a finger snap. Options are plentiful for Kendrick, and that’s a possible problem.

If Kendrick is to stay with the big club, he’ll have to just go out an pitch. He seems unflappable enough to do it — he never overpowered anyone in 2007, but he stayed in almost every game he started, and got out of jams with the maturity of a 35-year-old. I’ll be positive with Kendrick and hope he solidifies at least a No. 4 job in the future.

Predicted 2008: 188.2 IP / 10-9 / 103 K / 4.05 ERA / 1.344 WHIP

Greg Dobbs (IF)
Role: Left-handed Bench Bat
Acquired: Signed from waivers by Phillies, 2007

Greg Dobbs came from nowhere to become an intergral part of the 2007 Phillies division title win. He was the Spring Training surprise, clubbing home runs and doubles at an amazing clip. In 2007, he exhibited strong offense against Major League pitching and provided sufficient production for a No. 7 platoon player.

Dobbs is likely as good as he’ll get — a steady left-handed bat who can punch the ball into the alleys once in a while. His glove isn’t heralded, not by any stretch, but he’s good. Just good. Still, there’s a question.

The question with Dobbs is if 2007 was an aberration, a year that sticks out like a sore thumb through a career of underwhelming and mediocre play. Is he good, or is he worse than that? One thing to remember is 2007 was Dobbs’ first real full season on a Major League roster. And in Philadelphia, the lefty could improve. But with Pedro Feliz above him on the depth chart and other obstacles keeping him from matching last season’s 324 at bats, it may be tough to duplicate those numbers.

Predicted 2008: 284 AB / .260 AVG / 7 HR / 30 RBI / .715 OPS

Jayson Werth (OF)
Role: Right-handed Platoon Rightfielder
Acquired: Signed as free agent by Phillies, 2007

Take a flier, get lucky. Jayson Werth didn’t play Major League Baseball in 2006. He was injured, and in Japan. Before that, he had a couple servicable AAAA campaigns, with one pretty good year in 2004 with the Dodgers. But for the most part, Werth was on his way to Independent League ball at 28.

Then the Phillies came knocking, and in 2007, Werth established himself as a sufficient No. 4 outfielder with the chops to even start everyday. A man who early in 2007 was easily “worthless” quickly became one of the team’s best and most popular players. His smirk and goatee profiled over a man who showed to be athletic, powerful, a class hitter and a dirt dog of some respects. And yeah, a stolen base threat. No moment of Werth’s career may be greater than his two consecutive steals off Billy Wagner in that August 30 game against the Mets.

Initially tapped to start in right in 2008, Werth got pushed to platoon land after the heady signing of slugger Geoff Jenkins. Werth won’t be expected to do damage, but I think he will. For some reason, I forsee Werth to be a breakout star for the 2008 Phillies. Call me crazy, but then again, wasn’t Gillick when he signed him?

Predicted 2008: 352 AB / .312 AVG / 15 HR / 54 RBI / .864 OPS

Carlos Ruiz (C)
Role: Starting Catcher
Acquired: Signed by Phillies as amateur free agent, 1998

A rookie last year, the 28-year-old Ruiz had a fine season at backstop, handling an ever-changing pitching staff after the evaporation of Rod Barajas. Ruiz contributed small flourishes of offense, going .259 with six homers and 54 RBI. At the 8-hole, that’s what you want.

Ruiz is a pitcher’s catcher first, and his offense is generously accepted. Make no mistake, Ruiz isn’t the long-term catcher for the franchise (that’s either Jason Jaramillo or Lou Marson), but for the 2008 brand, he’ll do fine.

Don’t expect big numbers from Ruiz. That wouldn’t be fair. But for the Phillies lineup, Ruiz poses an intriguing threat from the very bottom. Not many teams can boast the kind of No 8 hitter the Phils have. Still, at 29, Ruiz isn’t necessarily at rookie age. A good season in 2008 will pave him to become a starter for most teams, and the Phils would likely let him seek greener pastures once the younger kids are ready.

Predicted 2008: 419 AB / .252 AVG / 13 HR / 50 RBI / .697 OPS

JD Durbin (SP)
Role: First Pitcher Called Up From AAA
Acquired: Signed from waivers by Phillies, 2007

Because half of the Phillies 2007 pitching options went down the tube by May, JD Durbin came into our lives. The party boy who jumped around the Big Leagues before 2007 even began made 10 starts for the Phils, including one memorable complete game shutout of the Padres. Of course, in Petco, I’m throwing a CG/SO. But hey.

Durbin has potential, yes, but as a No. 1? No. As a No. 2? No. No. 3? Probably not. Then what? Well, at 26, Durbin figures to be very close to his make-or-break season. This may be it. If he gets a shot at the big club again — which is very likely — he needs to impress. If not, the youngsters will jump over him, and probably for good.

So how will Durbin perform? I don’t expect a string of Petco starts, but I don’t expect him to fall flat on his face. He does have talent. And something tells me he’ll pull a little bit out in 2008. Probably not enough to secure him a starting job for good, but enough to prolong his career hopes a bit longer.

Predicted 2008: 29 IP / 1-2 / 14 K / 4.34 ERA / 1.402 WHIP

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