April 01, 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) The Philadelphia Phillies are young, talented and promising with new leadership and a fresh approach.

They probably won't win much this season, but the future seems bright.

The Phillies accelerated an overdue rebuilding process during a majors-worst 63-win season in 2015 and continued overhauling the roster in the offseason. They added a slew of prospects during the past year and could be ready to contend by 2017.

For now, expect growing pains.

The top of the batting order is one of the brightest spots. Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco should be exciting in the 1-3 spots. Franco has MVP potential and had a sensational spring.

''It's a young team and everybody has to do something to try to win the game every single day,'' Franco said. ''We have good talent here.''

The rotation features guys with high upside: Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff.

Most of the excitement surrounding the team revolves around the guys in the minors. The farm system was restocked through trades and high draft picks. Fans are eager to see some of the prospects make their debut. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielder Nick Williams, and pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Elfin could reach the majors in late summer.

New general manager Matt Klentak liked what he saw from manager Pete Mackanin in spring training and gave him a contract extension. If things pan out, Mackanin will stick around to guide the team back to contention.

''Pete couldn't have shown me anything more,'' Klentak said. ''He and I are very much aligned on the culture and the environment that we're trying to build.''

Here's some things to know about the Phillies going into the 2016 season:

GOODBYE GLORY DAYS: Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz are the only players remaining from the team that won five straight division titles, two NL pennants and a World Series from 2007-11. They'd already be gone if it weren't for their big contracts. Howard will likely platoon with Darin Ruf and Ruiz will likely back up Cameron Rupp until Jorge Alfaro or Andrew Knapp are ready to play full time behind the plate.

''I understand the business and where the team is going,'' Howard said. ''The focus for me is playing, stay in the present and help these guys go in the right direction,'' Howard said.

VETERAN ARMS: Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton give the Phillies a pair of experienced starting pitchers to complement the young arms. Hellickson will start opening day and Morton starts off in the No. 3 spot behind Nola. If they pitch well, they could be trade bait in July.

MAIKEL'S TIME: Franco is the real deal. He hit .280 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs in only 80 games last year and is solid defensively at third base. Franco has already been compared to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who called him an MVP candidate.

''Franco has a chance to be a big, impact bat and he has tremendous range at third base, has an accurate arm and he's only going to get better,'' former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

CLOSING TIME: From Jose Mesa to Tom Gordon to Brett Myers to Brad Lidge to Ryan Madson to Jonathan Papelbon to Ken Giles, the Phillies have had a legitimate closer each season since 2001. They'll enter this season with uncertainty in the ninth inning. The competition to pitch the ninth came down to the final days in spring training. David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey and Ernesto Frieri each had past success doing the job and the Phillies hope one of them emerges.

FANTASY STUDS: Franco is the obvious choice, but Herrera and Hernandez are solid choices. Herrera is a doubles-hitting machine. Hernandez is a patient hitter, will draw walks, steal bases and score plenty of runs.

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

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