Thinking conservatively, the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training is going to be "interesting" this year. And I use the word "interesting" because there are a number of words that can be used to describe this upcoming March in Clearwater, Florida, and not all of them are kind. One variable can tip in the wrong direction and all of the sudden this club's spring training is "horrendous"—just for example.
So when the Phillies arrive to camp this spring, they'll have specific goals that need to be accomplished if they're going to be successful. They need Roy Halladay to be healthy. They need guys like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to drive the outfield, and that's said without mentioning the outfield situation.
The fact of the matter is that the Phillies are at a crossroads this season. The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are both very good, young teams, and only getting better. The Phillies are an older team with younger reinforcements on the way, although not readily available.
Those are the kind of factors that this club needs to be aware of this spring. The following slideshow will list one, major goal for every player and outline what they need to do to have a successful season both for themselves and the team.
Goal: Make yourself a viable top of the order hitter.
As if the Phillies' lineup didn't have enough question marks when the offseason began, adding a player like Delmon Young—who's health will be in question to open the season—and taking at-bats away from guys like Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown doesn't necessarily address many concerns.
The one thing that is still lacking for this club is some guaranteed power in the middle of the order and at this point in the offseason, there aren't going to be any guarantees in that area.
One of the Phillies' most unlikely sources of power is shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but in order for Charlie Manuel to feel comfortable moving him into the middle of the order, newcomer Ben Revere is going to need to prove that he can be a viable leadoff hitter in this lineup. That's his goal this spring.
Goal: Prove that you can play a passable defensive third base.
The Phillies acquired Michael Young knowing full well that 2012 was the worst offensive season of his career. They're willing to bank on the fact that playing Young in one position and giving him the necessary repetitions will be a strong first step to revitalizing his success.
But even in the worst season of his career, Young posted a better slash line than what the Phillies were able to do at third base last season, which should be both a positive and a concern at this point in time.
What most people are concerned with regarding Young is his defense at third base which has been mediocre, to put it kindly, over the last few seasons. Focusing on playing third base and third base alone should be helpful, but you can't teach instincts and range.
The Phillies have added quite a few ground ball and pitch-to-contact pitchers this offseason, so Young's defense at third base is going to be key. He'll need to work on that this spring.
Goal: Stay healthy.
No, it isn't the most creative goal, but for this Phillies club to operate at full efficiency, Chase Utley absolutely needs to be playing second base. He brings a different dynamic to the lineup both offensively and defensively just by playing the game.
From a spring training perspective, his goal should be to fully prepare for the upcoming season. He has had a full, long offseason to condition his knees into playing shape—something that he has been working on over parts of the last two calendar years.
There is going to be some concern from fans if Utley cannot play a full Grapefruit League schedule this March, but what is really important from a Phillies perspective is that he is in the lineup on Opening Day.
Goal: Now that you're healthy and well-conditioned, it's time to refocus your approach at the plate.
Listen, by this point in time, we all know that the Phillies made a mistake by signing Ryan Howard to a huge contract extension. The writing was on the wall and the Phillies chose to ignore it and sign their big-bodied, strikeout-prone first baseman to an albatross contract. Now they're going to have to live with it.
But Howard can still be valuable to this team. What he needs to do is refocus his approach at the plate. Howard was an absolute nightmare against left-handed pitching last season, and I would imagine that some of the blame could be brushed off on rust and poor conditioning.
When spring training begins, those are just excuses. The Phillies need Howard to refocus his approach. He needs to see the ball better out of the hand of left-handed pitchers, lay off of the breaking ball and cut back on his strikeouts. If he can do that, he'll help this club.
Goal: Show that the Phillies' faith in you this offseason is not completely unwarranted.
There have been a lot of teams making a lot of moves this offseason, but none are more curious than the Phillies' decision to make Delmon Young their right fielder. We're talking about a slow defender with poor range trying to play a position that he has not played at all since 2007.
That's how desperate they are to add some right-handed pop to their lineup—something that Young may not even be able to do on the regular. But the Phillies clearly have some faith in him. They made a small guarantee on a Major League deal with the hope that incentives would push Young in the right direction.
Now, only time will tell, but it will be an uphill battle for last season's American League Championship Series MVP. He had ankle surgery this past November, which will only complicate the whole process. The Phillies need him to reward their faith in him by living up to (relatively low) expectations.
Goal: Embrace a new role in the lineup and everything that comes with it.
His line may not have been glamorous last season, but Jimmy Rollins got the job done. When the dust settled, he wound up being a relatively unexpected source of power and one of the few players in the lineup that played what could be considered a full season.
The real problem was that he did it at a poor spot in the lineup. Rollins took a more aggressive approach in 2012 that resulted in more home runs, but a lack in noticeable on-base skills. That's not an ideal approach for a leadoff hitter, but the Phillies had few options (and a stubborn manager).
Although the stubborn manager won't change in 2013, the Phillies do have someone new capable of hitting leadoff this season in Ben Revere, which would allow the Phillies to move Rollins (and his power potential) into the middle of the order.
It isn't an ideal situation for anyone involved, realistically, but it is the best chance that this team has of maximizing its lineup. It will be up to Rollins to embrace such a move and tackle it head on this spring.
Goal: Pick up where you left off in 2012, using spring training as a tool to stave off the rust ahead of a 25-game suspension.
In what has been a disappointing offseason for the Phillies on several fronts, the biggest disappointment may have come very early on when Carlos Ruiz was suspended 25 games for a second positive test for a banned substance, the amphetamine Adderall.
Outside of the obvious complications this puts on the Phillies' Opening Day roster, the big concern here is that the long layover between the end of spring training and Ruiz's return around the end of April will be harmful.
This comes on the heels of a year that not everyone are buying into for Ruiz. The positive test only furthers the concern that Ruiz will not be able to repeat his '12 season, which was also aided by an unusually high BABip.
Ruiz's goal this spring will be to find a way to recapture the approach that made him successful last season, while also attempting to find a way to hold off any rust that may build during his 25-game suspension.
Goal: Prove to the Phillies that, once and for all, you can be an everyday outfielder.
Easier said than done, right?
The Phillies have essentially spent the offseason degrading Domonic Brown into believe that he isn't capable of becoming an everyday outfielder. Well, that's the way that I see at least. Signing Delmon Young was the final straw in that regard.
But the onus is on Brown now to prove that he's capable of being an everyday outfielder. He has the tools. I don't think that anyone is doubting that, but even with what is really a small sample size at the Major League level, it's time to put up or shut up. That's just the way that it is going to be.
And when you look at what lies ahead for this Phillies club in the near future, they could be in some real trouble if their top prospects like Brown, and to a lesser extent, some of the guys that haven't arrived yet, aren't able to produce at MLB level.
No one said that it is going to be fair, but Brown really needs to show the Phillies front office that he is capable of playing a Major League corner outfield spot this spring. Who knows what his future holds if he can't.
Goal: Don't overdo it!
Following a disappointing 2012 season, Roy Halladay surely has a handful of goals heading into spring training. He'll want to stay healthy. He'll want to be in his best physical condition. Most importantly, he'll want to help the Phillies win.
So on that note, it's important that Halladay doesn't overdo it this spring. This is a player who doesn't need to testify to his willingness to compete. What the Phillies really need out of Halladay isn't the pitcher that looks like a legend, but one that can remain in the rotation for a full season.
One thing that the Phillies sorely lacked without Halladay in the rotation were the leadership and gamesmanship aspects that he brings to each start.
Halladay's goal this spring will be not to overdo it. He should use the spring as a means of preparing for the regular season—where the Phillies will really need him—and not an ounce more.
Goal: Don't try and change anything as a result of outdated statistics. Use the spring to pick up where you left off in 2012.
It's easy for a pitcher to look at a season that saw him go 6-9 and say, "Man, there is room for improvement there," but for Cliff Lee, it's going to be difficult for him to pitch much better than he did in 2012. Lee's xFIP mark of 3.06 was the best in baseball. By Wins Above Replacement, only seven men had better seasons.
So while it is easy too look at some of Lee's outdated statistics like wins and losses and harp on improvement, Lee was easily one of the five most valuable pitchers from the '12 season. The focus this spring, therefore, should not be on changing anything, but preparing to recapture that same success.
With a better bullpen and what could be a more balanced lineup, Lee could easily win 15-20 games by replicating his '12 season.
Goal: Use spring training as preparation for a full, healthy season.
This is kind of a generic goal for Cole Hamels, but spring training winds up being a small sample size and you don't want players to go crazy. What Hamels really needs to do is understand this and utilize the spring to prepare for a long, full season.
Much like Cliff Lee, there is very little that Hamels can do to improve upon his 2012 season outside of natural growth as a starting pitcher. He has the excellent fastball / cutter / changeup repertoire. His control was outstanding last season.
The Phillies need Hamels to stay healthy throughout the season because without their "big three" starting pitchers, they're going to be in trouble.
Goal: Don't spiral out of control in spring training.
By trading Vance Worley, the Phillies made it pretty clear that they want Kyle Kendrick in the starting rotation. With the backup options being names like Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez, that should be painfully honest at this point.
What the Phillies don't need Kendrick to do is pitch like an All-Star. He is in the starting rotation to give the Phillies an affordable, yet effective fourth starter. So what does that mean? The Phillies won't be expecting a shutout with each outing, but Kendrick should be aiming to log as many quality starts as possible.
So the goal here is not to hit rock-bottom in spring training. Kendrick doesn't have to pitch like a superstar, but if he can't be an average arm, the Phils are in trouble.
Goal: Pitch well enough to win a job in spring training.
There aren't many names in camp capable of surprising Kyle Kendrick, but John Lannan is a different story entirely. While the Phillies guaranteed him $2.5 million this offseason, it's a relatively small price to pay if he looks miserable.
There are certainly scenarios where Lannan isn't in the starting rotation. A poor spring may force him into the bullpen as the club's long reliever or out of the picture entirely.
Now, is that a likely scenario? Of course not. The Phillies guaranteed Lannan that money because they believe that he is their best option as the fifth starter. However, that does not mean that he gets a free pass. Lannan needs to come into camp with the mindset that he is competing for a job.
Goal: Find a balance in spring training that both prepares you for playing everyday to open the season, but in a way that will keep you sharp in a smaller role later.
Erik Kratz has a tough assignment this spring. With Carlos Ruiz suspended for 25 games to open the season, Kratz will get the call as the team's starter, but Ruiz will also be participating in spring training, taking away some of the at-bats and repetitions.
The goal for Kratz needs to be to find a way to bring balance to his game. He'll need to prepare for a season that will feature a month's worth of repetitions as the starting catcher, followed by a significant decrease in playing time—something that he struggled with in 2012.
The truth here is that I'm not exactly sure how he can do that, and that is the challenge.
Goal: Win a job in spring training.
That seems like an obvious goal for a guy like Darin Ruf, but a starting job was reeled in a bit further away from him this offseason when the Phillies made the surprise move of adding Delmon Young into the fold. Now, Ruf may be the odd man out.
Of course, that is completely reversible. Young's health will be in question through spring and the first few weeks of the regular season, so if Ruf picks up where he left off in 2012 at the Major League level, Young may quickly become an afterthought.
There are few more convincing arguments in this game than better production at a cheaper rate, and Young is one of the few players in the game that can make Ruf look like an upgrade defensively. If he can supply the power, I don't see Young having much of an effect on this club.
Ruf's journey to a starting job got a bit more difficult in recent weeks, but the goal remains the same: Come into camp and impress the Phillies into submission.
Goal: You're officially on the bubble. Have a productive spring or you may be out of a job.
It's not much of a secret that the Phillies would like John Mayberry Jr. turn a corner and realize some of his potential, but the realization is setting in that it's just not going to happen. Now he moves into a camp where he's met with two players (Darin Ruf and Delmon Young) with a similar skill-set.
For all intents and purposes, that should force Mayberry onto the proverbial bubble. He is the best defender of the group, but his plate discipline was lacking in 2012 and his approach against right-handed pitching was downright dreadful.
Mayberry needs to come into camp and do what the Phillies expect out of him: Play solid defense at all three outfield positions and mash left-handed pitching. Failure to do so could realistically leave him out of a job, especially if Young is healthy enough to be in the lineup on Opening Day.
Goal: Hit for some power or risk being cut.
Laynce Nix was a victim of unfortunate circumstances last season. He got off to a hot start before a severe calf strain sidelined him for more than 50 games. Now he could very well be the victim of a numbers-crunch that leaves him out of a job prior to Opening Day.
Just look at the Phillies' outfield. You have six players (Nix, Ben Revere, John Mayberry Jr., Delmon Young, Darin Ruf and Ender Inciarte) competing for only four or five spots, with Revere being the only guarantee.
So what do the Phillies want out of Nix? He's never going to be more than a mediocre defender and couldn't hit left-handed pitching if they threw it to him underhand. The Phillies brought him aboard to be a serious power threat against right-handed pitching and that was a practically nonexistent aspect of his game in 2012.
If you consider Inciarte's plus-speed and defense to be huge assets, Nix may very well be the weakest link.
Goal: Keep Freddy Galvis at bay.
The Phillies are going to be forced with an interesting option this spring and only part of it comes down to what happens in spring training. While it may seem like a small microcosm of the roster as a whole at this point, keeping Kevin Frandsen or Freddy Galvis (or both) as the utility man could be an interesting debate.
On one hand, keeping Frandsen around seems like the obvious choice. It gives the Phillies an opportunity to get Galvis more consistent at-bats in Triple-A with the opportunity to take the necessary repetitions defensively.
If he fails to improve, he's not going anywhere. He'll be your utility man in the future.
On the other hand, Galvis provides above average defense at a few different positions, and with the Phillies' current roster lacking defense at a few positions, it may be wise to keep Galvis around.
Frandsen's job this spring is going to be showing that he can provide quality defense at second base, third base and shortstop while offering more offensively than Galvis.
Goal: Give the Phillies' their desired long relief option.
The addition of Chad Durbin, especially on a Major League deal, is a confusing one, at best, and shows a perceived lack of advanced statistics in the Phillies' front office. Anyone with access to the Internet can see that Durbin is due for some major regression in 2013.
But the Phillies have maintained an old-school style of thinking, bringing him aboard as a "reliever who can pitch two innings" or "a veteran, experienced leader for a young bullpen."
Eventually, Durbin is going to have to take the mound and pitch for the Phillies and that could unravel some of those mythical "intangibles" in a hurry. If Durbin can be that long relief presence for the Phillies, then he'll have served his purpose, but don't expect much more.
Goal: Don't change a thing. Pick up right where you left off.
Every now and then you see a pitcher figure something out and "put it all together." That's kind of what happened for Jeremy Horst last season, although he can expect a good bit of regression in 2013.
The difference this season, however, is that the Phillies have the personnel to utilize him properly. With the addition of Mike Adams, as well as full seasons of Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus, the Phillies now have the option to use Horst selectively as a left-handed specialist.
That would better play to his strengths, in which case, it would be unwise for him to change a thing. Horst was particularly effective against left-handed hitters this season. He could wind up being a real weapon for the Phils in '13.
Goal: Put the final nail in the minor league coffin and win a job in spring training.
It shouldn't have to come to this, but the addition of Chad Durbin only convinces me that the Phillies aren't ready to commit to their young relievers outright.
Justin De Fratus is ready to pitch in MLB. He missed most of the 2012 season with an injury, but was more than impressive upon his return in September. Now what he needs to do is show the Phillies that, once and for all, he is capable of helping this club.
Again, it shouldn't have to come to putting an unnecessary amount of pressure on young relievers, but if the Phillies are building a bullpen with their best arms, as they should, De Fratus is a shoe-in. Now he needs to prove it.
Goal: Improve pitching mechanics.
Phillippe Aumont has some of the best natural, raw "stuff" that I've ever seen. It isn't often that you see a pitcher come through with the same kind of movement on all of his pitches that Aumont has. If he can learn to control that "stuff," he could be a good closer for a long time.
Improving that control begins with repeating his mechanics. When you're as tall as Aumont is, that is easier said than done. He has long limbs and a huge frame, all of which have to be in perfect harmony if he is going to control his repertoire effectively.
That's the goal for Aumont this spring. If he can learn to locate his fastball to get ahead in counts, he is going to make hitters look silly with his slurve and splitter night in and night out.
Goal: Repeat mechanics more effectively and throw more strikes.
When you look back at video of Antonio Bastardo from over the last few seasons, you're not going to see the exact same delivery all that often, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It's more difficult for hitters to settle in, but harder to throw strikes.
Bastardo, however, has good enough "stuff" to throw more strikes and be successful. If he can repeat his mechanics better, it will allow him to locate his fastball more efficiently and improve the usage of his slider.
Throwing more strikes doesn't necessarily equate to being easier to hit, especially against left-handed hitters, who have always struggled against Bastardo. It will allow the Phillies to utilize Bastardo more efficiently, in a better role, throughout the season.
Goal: Don't jump in too soon. Make sure you're completely healthy.
The Phillies are taking a bit of a gamble on Mike Adams who is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career thanks in large part to the symptoms of a health issue known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which causes soreness in the arm and numbness in the fingertips, among other things.
Adams had surgery to treat the condition in the offseason and has been on track to be ready during spring training for a while now, but the key for both he and the Phillies will be not jumping back into the fold too soon.
The Phillies made a multi-year commitment to Adams and expect him to be healthy for the long haul. This is the kind of arm that they need to ease back into the bullpen. He's going to be a key cog in the machine over the next couple of seasons.
Goal: Return with the same consistency and intensity from 2012.
Jonathan Papelbon was as good as advertised in '12, and while that isn't always enough, it was for the Phillies last season. They went out and landed the best closer available in hopes that he would bring consistency to the ninth inning and that is exactly what he did.
The Phillies would be perfectly content if Papelbon were to repeat his '12 season in 2013, especially with a much improved bullpen ahead of him.
Papelbon brings an intensity to the game that few relievers can match and he seemed to thrive on the electric Philadelphia sports atmosphere last season. With what should be a much healthier, and by proxy, better team in '13, Papelbon could have an excellent season.
That all starts in spring training.