To say the Phillies have had an interesting spring training so far would be an understatement.
This Spring has already been chock full of injuries, comebacks, setbacks, unheralded players thriving and established players struggling. You wouldn't think a team coming off of a 102 win season and a fifth-straight division title would have many difficult roster decisions or lineup changes to make, but thanks to plenty of unexpected occurrences, Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr. have had their hands full thus far.
Following are 11 such occurrences that may well contribute to a different-looking squad than many of us thought we would see open the 2012 season.
Though Utley's mysterious knee ailment has largely been shrouded in secrecy the last couple of seasons (either because Ruben Amaro is just a sneaky guy and doesn't like to disclose certain information, or because no one really knows what's wrong and to what extent), it was announced Monday that Utley will almost certainly not be ready for Opening Day.
Utley has yet to appear in any games this spring, and it's unknown when he'll be ready to return to action. It's really sad to say, but it's starting to look more and more like Chase will never be the same player he was a couple of years ago.
Of course, this means the Phillies need someone else to play second base. According to Ruben Amaro, that job will belong to Freddy Galvis—the guy who, as recently as a couple months ago, seemed the heir-apparent at shortstop if the Phillies failed to re-sign J-Roll.
Instead of spending another year in the minors (his likely destination if the Phillies had a complement of healthy middle infielders), the defensive wiz now has a shot to prove he's ready for the big leagues now while filling some big shoes at second base.
Considered a long-shot to make the Phils' roster after the club signed Juan Pierre, Scott Podsednik may now be Charlie Manuel's choice after tearing it up the past couple of weeks.
Scotty Pods has been playing like a man possessed in the Grapefruit League, which brings me to another point: why is it the Grapefruit League? Isn't Florida the Orange state? Don't you owe it to your state fruit to name your spring baseball league after it, or at least not to cheat on it and use another type of fruit?
As I was saying, though, Podsednik is playing extremely well. As of March 22, Scott was hitting .378 with five doubles, and was five-for-five in stolen base attempts. His counterpart, Pierre, was hitting .257 with no extra-base hits, and was just two-for-five in stolen base attempts.
Originally, Michael Martinez was on this list for a good reason. Up until Tuesday, Mini Mart was hitting .323 with a home run and three doubles in spring training—which is amazing, considering he hit .196 with three home runs and five doubles in 209 at-bats last season. I, like most Phillies fans, was pleasantly surprised whenever Michael Martinez even hit a ball that cleared the infield in 2011.
Unfortunately for Martinez and the Phillies (who could really use infield depth with Utley out, Polanco being made of glass and Wilson Valdez gone), Mini Mart fractured his right foot after being hit by a pitch in Tuesday's game against the Orioles.
This makes a difficult roster decision for Charlie Manuel, as it opens up an important spot on the bench. The Phillies still have Hector Luna (who I'll get to later) and Pete Orr as infielders in camp, and they may also look to make a trade or signing for depth before Opening Day.
Health has not been the name of the game for the aging Phillies infield this spring, as Placido Polanco was recently added to the list of infielders with injuries.
Polanco injured his hand while diving back to first base in a game last week, and has not been able to see the field much during spring training. Though he's hitting .529, everyone's favorite peanut-headed third baseman has only logged 17 at-bats during Grapefruit League play.
Though the injury doesn't seem too serious, the Phillies aren't totally sure when Polly will be back. Depending on how Polanco recovers, this could force Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro to take even harder looks at Pete Orr and Hector Luna, or even make a move to acquire infield help.
I have to admit, I was excited when the Phillies took a ride on the D-Train. I thought maybe there was a chance he still had some of that huge leg kick, low flat-brim, homer-mashing magic he showed so much of with the Marlins.
I was wrong.
Willis was released after posting a 16.97 ERA in three appearances this spring, with four walks and zero strikeouts. Expected to fill the lefty-specialist role out of the bullpen for the Phillies in 2012, Dontrelle's release means that a bullpen spot has opened up. The Phillies have plenty of options to fill that opening, as they have a lot of young arms ready to contend for a spot in the 'pen (especially some good-looking lefties, which I'll get to later).
Or, you know, they could always give the spot to David Herndon. But where's the fun in that?
Interestingly, Willis was just picked up by the Orioles, less than a week after the Phillies let him go.
As it turns out, the Phillies may not be content entering the season with Brian Schneider as their backup catcher, and I don't really think anyone can blame them. After hitting .240 for the Phils in 2010, Schneider hit just .176 with two homers last season.
What's interesting is, the Phillies (who obviously knew all of that) re-signed him this offseason anyway.
While Schneider has done alright when he's played this spring (hitting .267 in 15 at-bats), Buster Olney tweeted a couple days ago that the team is looking for an upgrade at backup catcher.
Schneider can handle the Phillies pitching staff every now and then to spell Chooch, and he's likely a nice, veteran presence in the locker room, but his days as a Phillie might be over if Ruben Amaro Jr. can acquire a better-hitting backstop.
As of March 22, Hector Luna was hitting .281 this spring with two home runs. Lou Montanez was hitting .382 with a home run and a steal.
And that's after they cooled off.
To call both players "journeymen" is probably a fair statement, and I don't think many Phillies fans seriously considered that either of them would have a shot at making the Opening Day roster barring a miracle.
But Luna and Montanez's numbers are hard to ignore, especially with the amount of Phillies succumbing to injuries this spring. Luna might have the better shot of the two at breaking camp with the Phils due to the lack of depth in the infield, but Montanez still has an outside chance. At the very least, Lou Montanez could be a star with the IronPigs in 2012.
With chaw-cheek Ibanez finally gone, this was supposed to be the year Domonic Brown asserted himself and took over as the Phillies' starting left fielder.
So far, it hasn't really gone according to the plan.
Yes, he's had a couple fielding miscues, but he's produced at the plate (hitting .300 with a home run as of 3/22) when he's actually been able to play. The problem is that Brown is having a hard time staying on the field.
Dom's most recent setback is a neck injury he suffered while sleeping awkwardly on the team bus. Kid can't even catch a break in his dreams.
It'll be interesting to see what the Phillies do with Brown, but with the limited time he's had this spring, it doesn't seem like he's had enough of an opportunity to convince the head honchos he's ready.
When the Phillies signed Chad Qualls to a $1.15 million contract on January 31, they had to believe they were getting one of the more consistent and durable middle relievers in baseball.
As of March 22, Qualls had posted a 5.40 ERA in six spring appearances. Those are closer to the numbers that cost the D-Train his job than the numbers that lock you down a bullpen spot.
Now, obviously, you can't read too much into spring numbers for pitchers; as of March 22, Roy Halladay had a 6.59 ERA, and I'm pretty sure he'll be just fine in 2012.
Qualls is still probably going to make the Opening Day roster based off of his successful career track record as a reliever. But when you consider the wealth of young relievers the Phillies have waiting in the wings, Qualls' days may be numbered if his struggles spill over into April and May.
In case you were wondering, that scruffy-looking dude is Joe Savery. Get used to the five-o-clock shadow; you just might see it's owner toeing the rubber for the Phillies in April.
With Dontrelle Willis' release, there is at least one bullpen spot available that seemed to be fairly set before Spring training opened. And with the D-Train gone, it's no secret the Phillies would prefer that another lefty fills his spot in the pen.
Luckily for the Phillies, they are stocked with young lefty arms.
Savery and fellow lefty youngster Jake Diekman both sport impeccable 0.00 ERA's this spring in four appearances apiece. They also have impressive K/BB ratios, with Diekman at 8/1 and Savery at 7/2.
Also of note (though not quite so young at age 34), lefty Raul Valdes has a 1.35 ERA through six appearances this spring to go along with a K/BB ratio of 8/1.
While none of them are guaranteed a spot in the Phillies bullpen to open the season, each of their odds of making the roster have increased dramatically from what they were before this spring.
Without Ryan Howard to start the season, the Phillies will probably be counting on some combination of John Mayberry Jr., Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton to hold down first base in the Big Piece's absence. All hitters with good power in their own right, the trio of first base replacements will aim to offset some of the power the Phillies lineup lost when it lost Howard.
They haven't gotten off to a good start.
John, Jim and Ty have combined to hit a grand total of zero home runs this spring (through March 22). On the bright side, they have combined to hit eight doubles—which is still only three more than Scott Podsednik has hit all by himself.
While you don't want to read too much into spring numbers, it's a little disconcerting that not one of the three guys have left the yard yet. Mayberry Jr., Thome, and Wigginton are going to be counted on to provide some power to a Phillies' lineup that will be missing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for a potentially large chunk of time.
I don't know if this concerns Ruben Amaro Jr. or Charlie Manuel enough to make a roster move to inject some power into the Phillies' lineup, or if they even care at all. It certainly makes me a little uneasy.
Get well soon Ryan.