Philadelphia Phillies: Top 5 Storylines Going into Spring Training
It's that time of year again.
Pitchers and catchers report in one week, on Feb. 19, and the rest of the of the team will head down to sunny Clearwater, Fla. five days later, on Feb. 24.
The Phillies will take to Bright House Networks Field with one mission this year.
Bring home a World Series title.
After two disappointing playoff performances in 2010 and 2011, the Phillies are coming in to 2012 with a chip on their shoulders, and spring training is where the work begins.
This offseason did not, outside of the Jonathan Papelbon deal, involve any earth-shattering moves akin to those of offseasons and trade deadlines past. However, Ruben Amaro, Jr. made some minor moves that may prove to have a serious impact on the outcome of the season.
Spring training is the time where we begin to see how these minor pieces may fit in to Charlie Manuel's system, if they make the team at all.
Still, any particular storyline coming into spring training is completely overshadowed by one simple fact: It's baseball season.
Who Will Fill in the Back End of the Starting Rotation?
They say that there are three sure things in life: death, taxes and the Phillies starting rotation.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are going to headline the Phillies rotation again in 2012, and do so in dominating fashion.
The questions arise when we get to the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.
Vance Worley performed admirably last year in his rookie season and seems like a solid candidate for one of the last two spots in the rotation. However, he may very well fall victim to the proverbial sophomore slump in 2012, so his presence in the rotation is not definite.
Big Joe Blanton will also garner strong consideration for the back end of the rotation. Blanton missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, throwing only 41.1 innings during the regular season. His lofty contract will likely force the hand of management to try to fit him into the rotation, or at least into the bullpen, but the Phillies could do worse than have Blanton as a fourth or fifth starter.
Kyle Kendrick is another contender for a spot in the Phillies starting rotation in 2012. Kendrick was in and out of the rotation in 2011, but performed relatively well overall to the tune of a 3.22 ERA. He always seems to find a way to get his innings, and will likely either make the rotation or be the first choice to make a fill-in start due to injury.
There are also a few dark horses that, if they step up in the spring, have a shot at stealing one of the two spots open in the rotation, namely Joel Piniero and Dontrelle Willis. However, Piniero has struggled with a high ERA is the past few seasons, and Willis has not been an effective starter since the 2006 season.
Will Anyone Step Up in Left Field?
In 2011, the Phillies could not find the right answer in left field.
The position was manned by Raul Ibañez, John Mayberry, Jr., Domonic Brown and Ben Fransisco throughout the season, none of which really took the next step to wrap up the position.
With Francisco out of the picture and Ibañez likely to follow suit, the Phillies are left with a choice between Mayberry, Brown or newcomer Laynce Nix.
We'll focus on the impact of Brown in another slide, so let's talk about Mayberry and Nix.
Surely we would love to see one of these two guys take over as a legitimate No. 1 in left field and become an everyday player.
Spring training is the time where either of these guys can earn themselves a prominent role, though it's yet to be seen if either is ready to make a Jayson Werth-type jump from a platoon guy to an everyday player.
Both guys are good against the opposite-handed pitcher; Mayberry excels against lefties and Nix against righties.
This makes a platoon the most likely outcome for the Phillies in left field this season. While going into the future, this isn't the best thing for the team. The combined strengths of Mayberry and Nix should prove to be serviceable in left field in 2012.
Will Domonic Brown Start the Season in Philadelphia?
The Phillies' former No. 1 prospect had star written all over him.
He was a scout's dream. He had great athleticism and all five tools at his arsenal; he just needed time to grow those tools.
People nowadays tend to forget that Brown is the same guy that was given all of these lofty projections. He has just taken a little longer than expected to put it all together.
Here's hoping that 2012 is the year that he can do it.
The 24-year-old Brown is exactly what this aging Phillies team needs. A young stud who can hit in the middle of the order for both average and some power, can play solid defense and run the bases both effectively and intelligently.
If he can play well this spring, he will be given every opportunity to make the big league club, but Ruben Amaro has also hinted that he wouldn't be against leaving Brown in AAA all season to continue to develop if he is still not ready to play in Philadelphia.
Everybody in the Phillies organization would love to see Brown come into spring training and dominate the Grapefruit League, take over the everyday spot in left field and develop into the top-tier player he was once projected to be. But will this be the year that he does it?
How Will the Bullpen Shape Up?
Needless to say, the Phillies bullpen will look a heck of a lot different in 2012.
The closers role will be filled by newly-acquired Jonathan Papelbon, but that is probably the only spot in the bullpen that is already locked up.
The bullpen is really the one part of the Phillies organization with a lot of major-league ready, young talent. The starting pitching depth that the Phillies have in the minors isn't quite ready for the majors, and a lot of the Phillies' good positional depth has been lost in the myriad of blockbuster deals over the past few seasons.
Here's a look at all of the guys that will be in legitimate contention for a spot in the bullpen coming into spring training: Antonio Bastardo, Phillippe Aumont, Jose Contreras, Joe Blanton, Justin de Fratus, David Herndon, Kyle Kendrick, Chad Qualls, Dontrelle Willis, Joe Savery, Michael Schwimer and Michael Stutes.
That's 12 guys, but only about seven of them will break camp with the major league club.
At this point, other than Bastardo, Blanton, Kendrick and probably Qualls, any of these guys could make the team or be left off of it.
It seems less likely that young guys like de Fratus, Aumont and Savery will start the season in Philly. These guys are much more likely to be called up later in the season.
The bullpen will certainly be one of the more interesting storylines to watch in spring training this year.
What Will Happen at First Base?
Ryan Howard really knows how to add injury to insult.
Not only did he make the last out for the Phillies in the NLDS in 2011, but he tore his Achilles tendon in the process. Yikes.
Howard will not be ready to go by opening day, leaving first base open to three options: Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, Jr. or Jim Thome.
Wigginton seems to be the most logical choice. He is a decent fielder and can be an above-average run producer with solid pop at the plate.
John Mayberry's availability truly depends on the Phillies' needs in the outfield. If Domonic Brown breaks camp in the major leagues, we could very well see Mayberry spending some time at first base. However, chances are, his services will be required in the outfield.
Finally, Jim Thome will be another option at first base. He, of course, is one of the greatest power hitters of all time and would have the best chance at filling the offensive void that Howard will leave. However, Thome has not played the field on a regular basis in years.
As much as people love to hate Ryan Howard, he is a still a major offensive threat on a team that often goes ice-cold offensively.
His production will be missed, and the success of his replacement will likely be a large determinant of the Phillies' success early in the season.