It's time to blow the dust off of that old microscope that you keep locked away in a cardboard box somewhere in your basement or attic—you're going to need it to follow all of the Philadelphia Phillies storylines this spring.
Gone are the days where the Phillies arrive in Clearwater, Fla. with a roster that is neatly filled in and camp is merely players taking the necessary repetitions to prepare for a full regular season. That would be a fantasy camp for Phillies players this spring.
Instead, fate will stack the road with every obstacle that you can think up: Position battles, age, injuries, inconsistent performances, surprises, bad decision making, etc. With the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves only getting better, the Phillies are under more pressure this spring than in any other recent season.
Still can't find that microscope? Don't worry about it. Allow this slideshow to be a primer for all of the nuances and storylines of Phillies spring training that you should be following when camp opens in just a few weeks.
It would be unfair to say that the success of this bullpen hinges on the health of Mike Adams, but it is darn close and certainly a story to keep an eye on this spring.
The Phillies signed Adams to a two-year deal earlier this offseason in spite of the fact that he is recovering from surgery to correct a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome—a health issue that causes pain in the arm and numbness in the fingertips, among other symptoms.
Adams has been on course to participate in spring training, but his health is going to be a big story this spring regardless. Having struggled mightily in the eighth inning last season, Adams could go a long way in improving this club.
No reliever in the Phillies bullpen has more upside than Phillippe Aumont. He is a big, tall flame-thrower that is able to generate a ton of movement on all of his pitches, but we have seen pitchers like this in the past, and almost all of them struggle with command.
Aumont is no exception.
While it is difficult to picture a scenario that leaves him out of the bullpen, barring an injury, there is no doubt that the Phillies want to see him throw more strikes this season. Aumont needs to focus on repeating his mechanics—something that evaded him last season.
As a side note, Aumont will also get a head start on competitive games this spring, joining Team Canada for the World Baseball Classic in March.
One of baseball's most volatile positions is reliever, and the nature of this position can turn a very good bullpen into a very bad bullpen quickly. No Phillies pitcher better personifies that theory than last season's Antonio Bastardo.
Bastardo, who was very good over the second half of the season and helped to solidify the bullpen, was one of the club's most unreliable arms in the first half. With their setup man faltering, the Phillies bullpen struggled as a whole.
One of the big stories to watch this spring is whether or not Bastardo can pick up where he left off in '12. The Phillies reduced his workload by adding Mike Adams this winter, but Bastardo is the club's top left-handed reliever, and they'll need him pitching well to succeed.
When the offseason began, there was an obvious spot in the bullpen for Justin De Fratus, even in a crowded bullpen scene, but things change quickly. The Phillies added a pair of veteran right-handed relievers in Mike Adams and Chad Durbin, and now De Fratus' spot is a little less clear.
But there is a strong argument to be made that the Phillies' best possible bullpen mix features De Fratus. He did not return to MLB until September last season following an injury, but was very impressive in that brief stint.
The addition of Durbin likely means that De Fratus will have to fight off a few talented relievers, like Mike Schwimer and Mike Stutes, but no one expected the Phillies to just hand the job over to him anyhow.
To put it kindly, the Phillies signing of right-handed reliever Chad Durbin is peculiar.
After signing Mike Adams earlier this winter, the Phillies addressed their need for both a top-notch setup man and that crazy intangible of "veteran experience." Now the Phillies have so much experience in their bullpen that Durbin is kind of redundant.
Okay, so maybe not. But there is definitely an argument to be made that the Phillies bullpen is only getting worse by adding Durbin on a guaranteed deal. While his traditional statistics make this look like an excellent move (76 games, 3.10 ERA), there is a perceived lack of advanced statistics in the Phillies front office.
Durbin, who posted high walk and home run rates, an xFIP of 4.41 and an unsustainable BABip of .251, is set for some serious regression in 2013. The question is what can he provide? Is he an obvious upgrade?
One of the biggest storylines from the 2012 season is going to carry right over into spring training: Is Roy Halladay healthy? Perhaps, more importantly, is Halladay healthy and effective enough to be called the "ace" of this rotation?
Halladay's '12 season was a bit mind-boggling. He would eventually hit the disabled list as the result of a strained latissimus dorsi in the middle of the season, but his problems extended further than that in both directions.
At times during the year, Halladay's pitch selection was downright strange, with more curveballs and offspeed pitches than he had thrown in recent seasons. He moved away from the fastball and the cutter because he didn't have the velocity he had become accustomed to.
Are those things that will be history in 2013? That's what we need to keep an eye on during spring training. The Phillies really need Halladay to step up and pitch like he belongs in the top of their rotation, something that isn't much of a challenge for him if he's healthy.
When you look at the top of the Phillies starting rotation, you find three pitchers at different stages of their careers. Roy Halladay is obviously on the backside of his career, but he's still a better pitcher than most in what will be his age-36 season. Cliff Lee is an interesting case. He is kind of on the fence as an older pitcher who is still putting up elite numbers.
And then you have Cole Hamels, who is undoubtedly moving into the prime of his career. The fastball/changeup specialist had arguably the best season of his career in 2012, and after signing a six-year contract extension, you have to believe that the best is yet to come.
So the question is this: Is Hamels the ace of this staff? Personally, I am a numbers guy, and if you're going to pick an ace for the 2013 season based on numbers from the previous year, that honor belongs to Lee. If you're basing your choice on reputation and experience, that belongs to Halladay.
Are the Phillies really ready to hand the reins over to Hamels? It would be an interesting, under-the-radar decision this spring. The question is this: Who is the Phillies' Opening Day starter? The answer is much more vague.
Philadelphia is definitely a "what have you done for me lately" town. To illustrate this point, I present Exhibit A to the court, Kyle Kendrick.
Kendrick has had an up and down career with the Phillies as a back of the rotation starter and bullpen arm. He is never going to be an All-Star and has the kind of numbers that polarize onlookers—in any given season, the traditional statistics, like ERA, can look great and the advanced statistics, like xFIP, can look poor.
Those are the kind of variables that have stretched Kendrick in two directions throughout his Phillies career. The 2012 season was just another example, with a poor first half spent primarily in the bullpen and a strong second half spent in the starting rotation.
So if you're looking for something to watch regarding Kendrick this spring, look no further than this: Can he live up to the expectations that the Phillies have for him in the rotation? They won't be looking for a Cy Young-caliber season, but if Kendrick can't keep them in ballgames as a No. 4 start, this is a club with little quality depth. That could put them in a bind.
After trading Vance Worley to add their new center fielder, the Phillies suddenly found themselves in need of a fifth starting pitcher and eventually signed John Lannan to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with incentives that could escalate his salary. (h/t: Jon Heyman, CBS Sports)
Does that mean that Lannan is guaranteed to break camp as the Phillies' fifth starter? "Guarantee" is a strong word, and there are other men in camp this spring who will be doing their best to impress Phillies coaches.
The Phillies will bring an intriguing mix of MLB veterans, like Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez, and young arms, like Tyler Cloyd and Jon Pettibone, into camp and have them showcase for that fifth starter's role. If Lannan struggles, which isn't out of the question, this could quickly transition into a position battle, and that would be fun to watch.
The Phillies have a few position battles this spring, with the opportunity for a few more to develop, so this is going to be a fun spring to watch. One of the toughest battles is going to be in the bullpen where the Phillies have a ton of depth (with upside) and what is likely just one spot.
Let's look at it this way: Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin are locks. Unless something catastrophic happens, Phillippe Aumont and Jeremy Horst are in too. Those are six spots for what should be a seven-man bullpen right off of the bat.
Justin De Fratus has to be the favorite to land that seventh spot, if he isn't in the same category as Aumont and Horst anyway. After that, there is going to be a free-for-all of relievers trying to upset him that include Mike Stutes, Michael Schwimer, B.J. Rosenberg, Juan Cruz, Jake Diekman, Mauricio Robles, Joe Savery and Raul Valdes.
The bottom line is this: The Phillies are setting up a powder keg in the bullpen with more arms than there are spots, and it is going to be a blast.
Erik Kratz more than proved that he can serve as this club's backup catcher last season, but Carlos Ruiz's 25-game suspension forces him into an awkward situation this spring. Instead of preparing for a season with limited repetitions, he has to prepare for a month's worth of starting reps.
What does that mean for Kratz? If you look over his statistics by month from 2012, he excelled in months where he was given plenty of at-bats and struggled in the month of September when he served as the backup catcher.
The problem here is that Kratz has never really played in a situation where he was asked to hit in a pinch. Now, the Phillies are asking him to take repetitions as a starter before Ruiz returns, when he'll move onto the bench and have to stay sharp in a much more limited role. It's not going to be easy.
Compared to the alternatives, a 25-game suspension certainly isn't the worst-case scenario for the Phillies and Carlos Ruiz, but it does put both parties in a bit of a pickle this spring. What the Phillies need to decide, with Ruiz's input, of course, is just how to prepare for a regular season that won't start until the end of April for their catcher.
Should the Phillies approach the spring as if Ruiz is the starter and give him the necessary repetitions? Should they approach the spring as if Erik Kratz is the starter? What the Phillies need to do is find a balance that both provides Ruiz with the necessary reps this spring and prepares Kratz as the starting catcher, before moving into a smaller role.
That's a tall order. Either way, the onus is now on Ruiz to find a way to prepare for the regular season. Watching just how he (and the Phillies) approach that this spring will be one of the more intriguing storylines.
You don't often get to watch a minor league position battle play out in spring training, but the Phillies are in a rare situation where they'll have a pair of top catching prospects in camp competing for the job of starting catcher in Triple-A. The "loser" will likely head back to Double-A.
This is an interesting battle because there are arguments for and against each catcher playing at both levels.
Tommy Joseph is now the Phillies' top catching prospect after coming over in the trade deadline deal for Hunter Pence. Scouts love the way that his defensive game has evolved, and he has a good, strong and accurate arm. He'll also develop some power, which makes him the better offensive prospect.
However, Joseph has yet to turn the corner and put everything together, which could force him to open the season in Double-A. On the other hand, Sebastian Valle was awarded a promotion to Triple-A last season and didn't fare well.
Valle's Achilles heel has been his plate discipline and that took a nosedive in Triple-A last season. Joseph has the higher ceiling at this point, but Valle is arguably further along in his development.
With all of the variables on the table, the Phillies need to keep an open mind this spring. With Carlos Ruiz's contract expiring at the end of the season, one of these catchers could realistically be their Opening Day starter in 2014.
One of the Phillies' biggest areas of concern last season wound up being their depth after their roster was depleted with early injuries. Expecting players like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to be in the lineup automatically reduces that, but there will be an emphasis on having strong bench depth this season.
Two names to keep an eye on are Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis, mainly because they provide a similar skill set as the club's utility man.
Frandsen's spring will be spent trying to show the Phillies that he can play quality defense at three positions while providing more offense than Galvis. Galvis, on the other hand, will be attempting to show that his superior defense is what the Phillies need for the bench.
Hang on to your hats. This could be a fun battle.
What can the Phillies expect out of Ryan Howard this spring?
Howard, who has not played in a Grapefruit League game for the Phillies since 2011, should be ready to participate in a full camp this spring. This comes on the heels of a tough year for Howard, who has spent months upon months recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon.
As was expected, 2012 was a season of ups and downs. There were times where Howard looked completely lost at the plate, especially against left-handed pitching, and times where he finally looked like he was rounding back into form late in the year.
With question marks up and down the lineup, the Phillies need Howard to produce in the middle of the order. He needs to be in his best physical conditioning since suffering the injury if there is even a remote possibility of Howard being productive in 2013.
When you haven't participated in spring training in back-to-back seasons, your inclusion in a list like this is kind of obvious. That's only amplified by the fact that you're arguably the best player on your club, and for the Phillies, that man is Chase Utley.
Utley, who plays host to a pair of chronically degenerating knees, may have finally found a small sense of relief when he visited a specialist in Arizona last season, helping him to play nearly every game once he returned to the lineup.
Will a full offseason be beneficial or harmful for Utley? Is it easier to keep the wheels on a train turning or start them up again once they've come to a stop?
The one thing that remains a constant is that the Phillies need Utley in the lineup if they are going to reach their maximum potential offensively. That begins in spring training, where it seems likely that Utley will make his return to the Grapefruit League in 2013.
Trading for Michael Young was a bit of a surprise move for the Phillies. They have had interest in him in the past, but after playing the worst season of his career in 2012, you would think that they'd have interest in more of a guarantee, especially after what they went through with Placido Polanco, but that's not the case.
In Young, the Phillies are playing host to somewhat of a reclamation project. They're hoping that giving him the necessary repetitions at one position will help him on both sides of the ball, and there is a good chance that he'll be able to improve this season.
The real question is whether or not Young can still play a Major League third base, and that's something to keep an eye on this spring. He is a below average defender with limited range that is going to make up most of his value offensively.
There is a very good chance that the Phillies have found a decent one-year stopgap, but we won't know for sure until Young takes the field as the everyday third baseman this spring.
There will be many a watchful eye fixated on the Phillies' outfield situation this spring, but no one player will be under more of a spotlight than Domonic Brown. After a few seasons of having more hype than results, the time has come to step up for the former top prospect.
Now, is that fair? No, it's not. Fans are putting a lot of pressure on Brown to drop everything and magically become an All-Star-caliber player, but that's not how it works in this game. Look over the first few seasons of some of your favorite players and let me know what kind of starts they got off to. Not good ones, for most of them.
But the Phillies need Brown to step up now more than ever. They don't have any "Plan Bs." They can't afford to bank on Delmon Young hopping in the way-back machine and being able to play a quality right field.
What this Phillies club needs is for Brown to take the next step. He doesn't have to be an All-Star, but he needs to be a quality player. That entails bringing his patient approach to the plate, but also hitting for power. It entails having the strong arm, but making good decisions in the outfield.
This spring, Brown needs to evolve as a player.
One player that has been able to fly under-the-radar this offseason despite the floodlights on the Phillies' outfield situation is Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, and a lot of that may have to do with the fact that most people aren't going to give him a fair shake to break camp with the club.
That isn't entirely surprising. We're talking about a 22-year-old outfielder who hit .319/.377/.419 in High-A Visalia (Arizona Diamondbacks' system) last season. He has never played above that level in his career, making his selection in the draft somewhat of a rarity.
But Inciarte's bat is never going to be his strong suit, and the Phillies knew that. He does, however, have excellent speed and plays an above average outfield, highlighted by a very strong arm. How many outfielders on the Phillies' roster can lay claim to those?
It wouldn't surprise me to see Inciarte make the cut over a guy like Laynce Nix because he brings more to the table—and a different element for the Phillies—right now. He'll be someone to keep an eye on.
Let's take a different look at the Phillies' outfield situation and approach it this way: Ben Revere and Domonic Brown are going to be on the roster. There's a good chance that one of Laynce Nix and Ender Inciarte makes the cut (they're lefties).
So those are three spots taken for a maximum of five outfielders. We could assume that Delmon Young is going to open the season on the disabled list, but where is the fun in that? Eventually, three right-handed, power hitting outfielders are going to have to battle it out for two spots.
Young is the most intriguing. The Phillies are asking a man who is recovering from offseason ankle surgery to play a position that he has not played since 2007, despite declining defensive statistics. They're looking for the offensive upside, and Young is the most proven, particularly against left-handed pitching.
John Mayberry Jr. is another combatant. The Phillies have given him a handful of chances and he's come up short each time. At this stage, he is a fourth outfielder/platoon player at most. He is also out of minor league options, so the Phillies risk exposing him to waivers if they're ready to move on.
Then there is Darin Ruf. The same Darin Ruf who set a franchise record for minor league home runs. He'll also have a shot to crack the team in the spring, and it is in my opinion that he has the most upside to offer. What does Young do that Ruf can't?
The bottom line here is this: The Phillies' outfield logjam likely comes down to a three-way free-for-all between these three guys. It'll be fun to watch.
In the past, the Phillies have put somewhat of a premium on having a left-handed hitting bench player available in the later innings with guys like Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs, Ross Gload and Jim Thome coming to mind. They expected Laynce Nix to be a similar bat, but things have not gone as planned.
Nix, who suffered a calf strain and missed more than 50 games last season, has a lot to prove this spring. The Phillies expect him to hit for power, and he has not shown that he can do that in a bench role. He has also played a mediocre outfield with the Phillies, which could be the final straw.
Now, would the Phillies cut Nix? Who knows. There are a ton of variables that come into play here. Would the Phillies hold on to all three of their right-handed options? Do they trust Ender Inciarte enough to cut Nix?
Any way you shake it, Nix seems to be near the bottom of the outfield depth chart.
What can the Phillies get out of Delmon Young this spring?
The honest answer here is that no one has any clue. We're talking about a big-bodied outfielder who is coming off of ankle surgery in the offseason—a procedure that he is not 100 percent recovered from—and the Phillies are asking him to play a demanding defensive position that he is not played since 2007.
Something just doesn't add up here, especially when you add in the fact that the Phillies had to include weight-loss bonuses into his contract to ensure he'll be in playing shape. (h/t: CBS Sports)
The Phillies are obviously banking on Young's bat, but this is a player who struggled against right-handed pitching in 2012. How far are they willing to take it? Far enough that they'll risk taking him into the regular season not having played a spring training game?
It's just hard to imagine a situation where Young plays well enough to stick with the Phillies for an entire season, let alone as the everyday right fielder.
With more than a few aging veterans on the roster this spring, it should be more important than ever for both the Phillies and their fans to keep an eye on some of the younger names in camp, and there are quite a few of them.
Having already addressed Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle, either of whom could realistically be the next starting catcher for the Phillies in 2014, there are a few other position players to keep an eye on. Will Cody Asche be ready for 2014? Is Cesar Hernandez the heir apparent to Chase Utley? Can Tyson Gillies and Zach Collier impress in the outfield?
The Phillies are also bringing a few high-profile starting pitching prospects into camp, including Jon Pettibone, who has a chance to win the fifth starter's job in a perfect world and will be ready for MLB action this season.
They'll also bring Adam Morgan, a fast-rising lefty, and Ethan Martin, acquired in the trade for Shane Victorino, into camp this spring.
With the Phillies roster expecting some heavy turnover over the next couple of seasons, it's time to start keeping a watchful eye on the next wave of Phillies starts. We'll get a glimpse at most of these guys this spring.
The Phillies, like most clubs, like to take a chance on non-roster invitees in the spring. That's how they got Juan Pierre on board last season, and he wound up being their starting left fielder. Are there any similar players this spring? The short answer is no.
However, there are a few names to keep an eye on. If the Phillies open up the fifth starter's spot to other players outside of John Lannan, Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez are a pair of starting pitchers with MLB experience.
From a bullpen perspective, Juan Cruz is an experienced arm that could make some noise, as well as a pair of Phillies prospects in Kyle Simon (acquired in the Jim Thome trade) and Double-A Reading's closer Justin Friend.
One player that is likely to make the club is Humberto Quintero, who should serve as the club's backup catcher while Carlos Ruiz serves his 25-game suspension. A pair of other intriguing names are Yuniesky Betancourt, who could jump into the mix for the Phillies bench, and Josh Fields, a power-hitting third baseman.
In the outfield, Jermaine Mitchell is an interesting name to keep an eye on. He is a left-handed hitter with solid power that has a similar skill set to that of Laynce Nix.
The success of the Phillies may, however, come down to whether or not Charlie Manuel can adapt to a changing roster. This is an old-school manager mired in old-school ways of approaching the game, and that certainly shows in the way that the Phillies have constructed their club.
Manuel needs to understand that he is working with an aging club. He can't ride Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee late into games. He can't expect Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Michael Young to play every game. That's just the tip of the iceberg.
There are more questions for Manuel than answers at this point in time. Will Ben Revere hit leadoff? Will Jimmy Rollins move down in the order? Is he open to a platoon between Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf? Have the lofty expectations for John Mayberry Jr. subsided? Is Delmon Young really going to hit fifth? Will he mix and match lineups? Will the bullpen feature more situational pitching?
There are just a lot of questions right now and most of them can't be answered until we see Manuel in action this spring, but this isn't just a group of All-Stars anymore. This is a club that needs to be managed. Is Manuel the guy for the job?