Over here on the East Coast, baseball's offseason is often one filled with anticipation, with fans anxiously waiting for their team to sign a big-name free agent or swing a big trade.
But in the baseball doldrums of January, people are really waiting for one thing and one thing only: spring training.
At this point, it's so close that you can almost smell the fresh-cut grass and feel the warm sun of the Philadelphia Phillies' spring home of Clearwater, Florida. But for some members of the club, this camp is going to be all about business.
That is because this is a team under a fair amount of pressure, following one of the most disappointing campaigns in recent memory. Now, they're faced with the perfect storm of spring training pressure: aging veterans, young players trying to win a job and the duty to prepare for a very tough National League East that is going to give them all that they can handle in 2013.
In fact, there aren't many players on this roster who won't be under any pressure this spring—that's the gravity of this camp.
So who should you be keeping an eye on in spring training? I'm glad you asked. This slideshow will rank the entire Phillies' (projected) 25-man roster by who's under the most pressure this spring.
*Note: The late addition of Delmon Young to this list added an extra spot, so Jonathan Papelbon is getting the good old "honorable mention" treatment, which is fitting, seeing as how he won't be feeling much pressure this spring anyhow.
Well, there shouldn't be much pressure on Papelbon this spring, but Phillies fans may want to pour it on anyway. This is a guy that pitches much better when there is something on the line.
Seriously though, what pressure is on Papelbon this spring? After signing his new deal last winter, he can look back on 2012 and say, "Been there. Done that." He was every bit as good as advertised last season and should look for ways to replicate that success this spring.
With full seasons of guys like Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont and Mike Adams ahead of him, he has the potential to be the best reliever in a bullpen full of very good relievers.
Cliff Lee is the ultimate competitor, so I'm sure that he has put a little bit of extra pressure on himself to avoid getting off to the same slow start that plagued him in 2012 and saw him go 6-9 on the year. That's not where he wants to be.
But a pitcher's record tells very little about him in today's game, and if you were to put Lee's numbers up against any of the game's elite pitchers from 2012, he'd be right there with the very best of them. There's a case to be made that he had the best season in the entire league last season, leading baseball with a 3.06 xFIP.
So the majority of any pressure on Lee this upcoming spring will be self-imposed. Roy Halladay's shaky campaign from a year ago puts some added pressure on Lee to stay healthy and productive, but it should be smooth sailing for the lefty this season.
Cole Hamels was among the best pitchers in baseball in 2012 as well. After dominating teams through the season's first half, the Phillies had seen enough to pull the trigger and sign Hamels to a massive six-year extension that will pay him handsomely.
Now, there is obviously a little added pressure when you sign a big contract like that and play in a city that really puts its sports and athletes under the microscope. Add in a small offseason shoulder scare and I'm sure that Hamels has had more comfortable springs.
But for a guy who went 17-6 with an 3.05 ERA in 2012, there isn't going to be any added pressure to perform. The Phillies and their fans know that this is one of the best left-handed starters in all of baseball. He just needs to pitch up to his talent level.
I don't imagine that Jimmy Rollins is going to be feeling a ton of pressure this spring. He had a very good 2012 season and will come into camp hoping to pick up where he left off (and improve a bit offensively, of course).
As long as he is healthy, he shouldn't feel much pressure from the Phillies' faithful, which, of course, brings us to an interesting point: Rollins is going to be the starting shortstop for Team USA in this year's World Baseball Classic.
Now, while missing time with an injury as a result of the WBC is all but a myth, there is no doubt that the pressure will be on Rollins to stay healthy and put the Phillies first and foremost. Also, the last time he played in the WBC was in 2009, and the following adjustment to MLB pitching was a harsh one.
There's always some pressure for a player in his first season with a new team, and Ben Revere surely wants to make a good impression. But for all intents and purposes, his job is secure, and there is actually very little pressure on him this spring.
The Phillies moved two big parts of their starting rotation and future in Vance Worley and Trevor May, respectively, in order to acquire Revere this offseason, so living up to expectations is the first obstacle for the former Minnesota Twin.
From a baseball standpoint, the Phillies will want to see him play his game. He needs to hit for contact, play above-average defense and use his speed to change the complexion of the game. Revere gives them a different look at the top of the order, and regardless of where he hits, he will be a key cog in the lineup.
For the first time in his professional career, Erik Kratz is coming into a Major League spring training as a virtual lock to be on the Opening Day roster—a feat made much easier by Carlos Ruiz's 25-game suspension to start the season.
But Kratz's spot on the roster is well-deserved. He filled in as the club's starting catcher last season to rave reviews, playing very solid defense and providing the club with some right-handed power in Ruiz's absence.
Through the first month of the season, Kratz will have the opportunity to play everyday. The real pressure arrives after that, when Ruiz returns and Kratz suddenly has to perform just as well as the club's backup catcher with far fewer repetitions.
I wouldn't necessarily say that there is going to be much pressure on Antonio Bastardo this spring, but he will have to figure out what the difference was between his first and second halves from the 2012 season. Replicating the success that he had following the All-Star break is going to be crucial for him.
Then again, it's hard to look at some of Bastardo's numbers and say that he struggled. He wound up with a strikeout percent of 36.2 and an xFIP of 3.18. He'll need to cut back on the walks and home runs to be successful over a full season, but the Phillies are much better suited to utilize his strength (facing left-handed hitters) this season.
I'm not sure that Carlos Ruiz is going to feel the brunt of the pressure during spring training, per se, but it is definitely going to be there. The Phillies were counting on him to repeat his 2012 performance this season and he let more than a few people down by failing a random drug test—not once, but twice.
Ruiz's second positive test for the amphetamine Adderall put the Phillies' in a bind, as the subsequent suspension will leave them without their starting catcher for the first month of the regular season. But Ruiz will be able to participate in spring training.
I would imagine, however, that the real pressure on Ruiz is not going to come during spring training so much as it will in the month of April, while he is suspended without any way of staying in "baseball shape." The pressure is there, but I think that the worst of it will come after spring training.
If John Mayberry Jr. comes into spring training with the expectation that he still has an opportunity to win an everyday job in the outfield, then there is going to be a fair amount of pressure on him to fend off a guy like Darin Ruf, who was impressive last season.
But those opportunities are fleeting—at best—for Mayberry. Over the last few seasons, he has had every opportunity in the world to step up and win a job, and each and every time, he has choked.
You need to take a guy like Mayberry at face value. He is a good platoon/bench player who gives you solid defense at all three outfield positions, and he is a good bat against left-handed pitchers. Expect anything more than that and you will be disappointed.
So if Mayberry comes into spring training and the expectations are nothing more than "hit lefties and play defense," then there is nothing to worry about in regards to Mayberry this season. Ask him to log more at-bats than necessary and face right-handed pitching, and you're in trouble.
Some people aren't bold enough to say that Phillippe Aumont is guaranteed a spot in the bullpen this season, but something pretty catastrophic would have to happen to keep this kind of talent in Triple-A for much longer.
Aumont, who made his debut last season, impressed everyone who saw him pitch with a dynamic repertoire that includes a fastball, slurve and splitter. He gets a ton of movement on every pitch he throws, and as you can imagine, his command is his biggest issue.
He'll pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic this spring, which should give him a few extra appearances to prepare for the regular season. I don't foresee there being much pressure on Aumont this spring, however.
After an incredible season in 2012, there isn't a ton of pressure on Jeremy Horst this spring, but there is enough for him to feel a bit uncomfortable. After all, if the Phillies are deep in any one area of the roster, it's in the bullpen, where lefties like Raul Valdes, Jake Diekman and Joe Savery are just waiting to steal a job.
But Horst is looking to keep them on the outside-looking-in this spring, and after watching him pitch in 2012, I see little reason for him not to accomplish that in 2013. He has a good fastball-slider combination that made left-handed hitters, in particular, look silly last season.
It's easy to expect some regression from Horst this season; in fact, it's likely. But he has all of the tools to be a good reliever out of this bullpen in 2013.
If Roy Halladay's 2012 season didn't happen the way that it did, Kyle Kendrick would be the starting pitcher under the most pressure in spring training. After a year of bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation yet again, he is finally getting his opportunity to stick as a starter.
Whether or not Kendrick is up for the challenge is a question that can only be answered in spring training, and that is where the real pressure waits.
At this point in time, you would have to assume that something would have to go catastrophically wrong for Kendrick to lose his spot in the rotation this spring, but with guys like John Lannan, Aaron Cook, Rodrigo Lopez and Jon Pettibone in camp, among others, I suppose that possibility exists.
Right off the bat, expectations are going to be high for Kendrick, who had a very strong second half that left the Phillies feeling comfortable dealing Vance Worley. The pressure is on him to pitch as though he belongs in the rotation for a full season.
Is Mike Adams 100 percent healthy?
That will dictate just how much pressure he is under come spring training. While he is on course to be able to participate, the possibility of Adams missing some time during spring training is still there, as he recovers from offseason surgery to treat his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Any time that a player misses time with an injury this early in the season, eyebrows are raised. For Adams, this would be more of a standard procedure as the Phillies attempt to protect their investment, but there is some added pressure given the fact that the Phils signed a recovering reliever to a multi-year deal.
All things considered, Adams looks to be a go for spring training and will help to solidify the Phillies' eighth inning void from a year ago.
After the most disappointing season of his professional career in 2012, there was a ton of pressure on Michael Young coming into spring training. Then he was traded to the Phillies, and now, he has to fend off that pressure in front of an unfamiliar audience.
There is certainly reason to believe that Young can turn his career around in Philadelphia. With the Rangers, he was playing numerous positions and getting at-bats when the team could afford to give them to him.
Now with the Phillies, Young is the club's everyday third baseman. He'll be taking the necessary repetitions at third base and will have his name penciled into the lineup daily.
Sure, there is going to be a lot of pressure on Young, but this is a veteran, experienced player who has played in a championship environment for the last half-decade or so.
There is going to be some pressure on Justin De Fratus this spring, especially when you consider the fact that the Phillies haven't guaranteed him a spot in the bullpen just yet. However, when you look at this club's best possible bullpen, it includes De Fratus.
After missing the first half of last season with an arm injury, De Fratus finally rejoined the club in September and teased the Phillies' faithful with an electric fastball-slider repertoire that he can command.
Will there be some pressure on a guy like De Fratus? Of course there will be. But if this guy is healthy, he is going to be on the roster and be a big part of the Phillies' bullpen this season.
Freddy Galvis' spring training will likely center around one question: can Galvis help the team more now, in a limited role, or in the future, in a larger role?
Currently, the Phillies' infield certainly isn't one that you should project to stay healthy over an entire season, but all of their infielders look as though they'll be in the lineup on Opening Day. So what does that mean for Galvis?
He'll likely to enter camp in a position battle with Kevin Frandsen for a chance to be the club's super utility man, but it may be more prudent for the Phillies to send Galvis back to Triple-A, where he can receive regular at-bats and work on his offense.
If not, the Phillies are going to reap the rewards of his defense. Galvis is going to have to come into camp and embrace any challenge that the Phillies give him head on, even if it is a demotion. He'll have his moment eventually.
In his brief stint with the Phillies last season, Kevin Frandsen seems to have impressed all of the right people, including a large portion of the Phils' fan base who would not have been disappointed to see him open the season as the club's starting third baseman.
But the acquisition of Michael Young obviously squashes that idea. Now, the belief is that Frandsen will move into a super utility role. He'll play at least three infield positions to give guys like Young, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins a breather.
He'll have some competition, however. Freddy Galvis was set to fill a similar role for the Phillies upon the return of Utley last season before he suffered a back injury and was done for the year. Now fully healthy, Galvis will be in camp looking for a shot at winning a job.
The pressure will be on Frandsen to show that he can play solid defense at a few positions and give a better at-bat in tough situations than Galvis can.
There is always going to be a good amount of pressure on a player when he is coming into spring training without the guarantee of breaking camp with the club at the beginning of April, so there is a fair amount of pressure on John Lannan's shoulders this spring.
The Phillies only compounded the matter by signing MLB veterans Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez to minor league deals with invites to Major League camp. They'll join a pair of rookies, Tyler Cloyd and Jon Pettibone, for a shot to crack the starting rotation.
It will be Lannan's job to fend them off, and it won't be a simple task considering the fact that he struggled in Triple-A for most of the 2012 season. The Phillies are putting a fair amount of faith in his track record against teams that don't play in the city of Philadelphia.
Right now, you can pencil Lannan in as the fifth starter, but he is going to have to earn it in spring training, and that is where the pressure builds.
The 2012 season was one to forget for Ryan Howard, who was recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon that he suffered on the final play of the Phillies' 2011 season. The gist of the story is that he never looked the same at the plate.
Howard, who had understandably packed on a few pounds, struggled mightily at the dish in 2012, especially against left-handed pitchers, who pretty much had their way with the Phillies' slugger.
By the end of the season, however, Howard looked to be rounding into form—both from a baseball perspective and a physical perspective—before he dropped a lead pipe on his foot and broke a toe, effectively ending his season.
But Howard has been healthy since then and should be in much better condition heading into spring training this season, which is a good thing for the Phillies, who will desperately need a source of power in the middle of their order.
Roy Halladay can probably feel the pressure already.
When you look back over the 2012 season, Halladay's campaign was not nearly as catastrophic as some people will make it out to be. But it certainly wasn't a good season either, and it was a season hampered by injuries and inconsistent performances right from the start.
He missed a handful of starts during the middle of the season thanks to a strain in his right latissimus dorsi—an injury that many believe to be the bane of his poor season in 2012.
There will be plenty of eyes on Halladay, who had a full offseason to condition himself, as he tries to erase last season's memory and climb back to the top of the ladder. He could be a free agent at season's end and his window to win a World Series is closing.
The pressure is on, but if any one player on this team can handle playing under the pressure, it's the club's ace. Still, Halladay will be one to watch in spring training. If his fastball velocity is up, he's throwing more cutters, his control is good and he is using fewer secondary pitches, then you know that Halladay is healthy.
Who is going to get the final spot in the Phillies' bullpen? There are a few different scenarios and plenty of names to consider, but before spring training is even under way, I'm penciling in the early favorite as Mike Stutes.
Stutes, of course, missed most of the 2012 season following a shoulder injury that would require surgery. He has been healthy and throwing for a few months now and is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.
The pressure on Stutes is for him to prove to the Phillies that he does not need to face batters in the minor leagues before rejoining the club. That could open the door for any of a number of relievers to take over his spot in the bullpen for a while.
What Stutes needs to do is show that he can command the fastball, establish that early and work his secondary offerings into each at-bat. If he can do that, the Phillies will have another good right-handed option at their disposal.
But among those relievers not guaranteed a spot on the roster, I would venture to argue that the one under the most pressure in camp is going to be Stutes.
It sounds harsh, but Laynce Nix has been nothing but a disappointment for the Phillies since signing his two-year deal last offseason—some of which falls squarely on his shoulders, some of which does not.
Some things, like freak injuries, are out of his control. Nix missed more than 50 games in 2012 after suffering a severe Grade 2 strain of his calf muscle, and nhe ever looked comfortable at the plate after that. This all came on the heels of a very hot start to the regular season.
Then again, the Phillies expected more out of him. They wanted him to be a source of left-handed power off of the bench and in the lineup against tough right-handed pitchers, but they found themselves relying on his bat with less frequency as the season progressed.
Now, Nix comes into camp without the guarantee of making the roster. A numbers crunch could be his ultimate undoing, as impressive performances from players like Freddy Galvis or Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte could leave him without a job.
The pressure is going to hit the Phillies' newest addition to the outfield like a ton of bricks. Not only is this a decision that was seen as unpopular by a large portion of the Phillies' fan base, but the club is asking Delmon Young to come aboard and play a position that he hasn't played since 2007—right field.
To only complicate matters, they'll be asking him to play everyday, in spite of the fact that he struggled mightily against right-handed pitching last season and is recovering from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle.
So let's recap. The Phillies are asking a traditionally bad defensive player to play a position that he has not logged a single inning in since 2007. They are also asking him to do it as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery in front of a fan base that is ready to dissect him at the first opportunity.
Yeah, no pressure at all.
By the end of the 2012 season, Darin Ruf could do no wrong in the eyes of Phillies fans. He spent the year destroying baseballs in Double-A and setting the club's minor league home run record before joining the Phillies in September and picking right up where he left off.
A quick look at the Phillies' depth chart shows that his hard work has payed off. The Phillies' acquisition of Delmon Young complicates matters a bit for Ruf, but with the former's health an uncertain commodity heading into the spring, the latter will still have a good opportunity to showcase his power potential.
But there is going to be a fair amount of pressure on Ruf this spring. He is playing under the burden of extremely high expectations, both from the fans and the club, and he will be expected to compete for a job as the regular left fielder.
Whether or not Ruf can actually live up to those lofty expectations is another conversation entirely, but the pressure to do so will most certainly be evident this spring.
Domonic Brown has been under a lot of pressure for a long time. That kind of thing is expected when you're heralded as one of the best prospects in baseball and you get off to a slow start.
Is it fair? No, it's not. A lot of the game's top players struggled as youngsters, but the pressure is there regardless.
Brown will wind up being under the microscope yet again this spring as he fights for a starting job in either of the club's current corner outfield vacancies. The addition of Delmon Young, who is expected to play right field daily once he is healthy, only complicates matters for a guy like Brown, who should be playing everyday.
The fact of the matter here is that the Phillies, as a team, really need Brown to start playing up to some of that lofty potential. Darin Ruf is going to be a huge gamble in left field, and they need a guy like Brown to start showing some consistency.
At the end of 2012, I saw a few glimpses of that top prospect—the guy who could defend, hit for average and power, etc. The pressure is on Brown to make that potential come to fruition in 2013.
When you haven't played a spring training game since 2010, there is going to be a ton of pressure on you to succeed once you can play in the spring again, especially if this pressure has been building up for a long, long time. That's the situation that Chase Utley finds himself in heading into 2013.
The last two seasons must have been miserable for a guy like Utley, who looks as though he never wants to come off of the field. He has been hampered by a pair of chronically degenerative knees and has been struggling to find a means of keeping himself healthy over an entire season.
Last season, he visited a specialist in Arizona for treatment and education on handling his condition, which seemed to greatly improve his durability over the stretch run. Now, he'll have to apply that learning over a full season, spring training included.
Personally, I don't think that any single player is under more pressure this spring than Utley. He means a ton to this team, especially offensively, and they need him to be ready to rock and roll when Opening Day comes around.