What Phillies Fans Have to Look Forward to Most in Spring Training
Just when you thought that you couldn't be excited by a large, corporate truck, one rolls out of Citizens Bank Park loaded with baseball equipment headed for Clearwater, Florida and all of the sudden you find yourself anxiously awaiting another round of Philadelphia Phillies spring training.
Well hold on to your hats, folks. This spring is going to be a unique one for the Phillies, packed to the brim with big storylines, small nuances, players recovering from injury, guys with something to prove this season, position battles and anything else you can dream up.
So what should you be looking forward to this spring?
It's almost easy to get lost in all of the spring happenings, but fear not. This slideshow will serve as a dandy guide to draw your attention to some of the biggest eye-catchers this spring. There is a lot to look forward to this spring.
Blink and you may miss it.
Eighth Inning Savior
Would the Phillies have made the postseason if an above average setup man was pitching the eighth inning in 2012? Who can say for certain, but it certainly would have been a possibility.
What we know for certain is that the Phillies' eighth inning struggles from a season ago made finding a new setup man a priority this season. After failing to complete a trade for former Houston Astros closer Wilton Lopez, the Phillies signed Mike Adams to a two-year, $12 million deal.
When you compare those two side by side, Adams is undoubtedly the better option. In fact, Adams is arguably the best setup man in all of baseball having posted a combined ERA of 2.17 over the last three seasons, made even more impressive when it is revealed that he spent the 2012 season dealing with a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
After undergoing surgery to correct the condition this winter, Adams will join Jonathan Papelbon in the Phillies bullpen to form one of the best one-two punches in baseball in the eighth and ninth innings.
If all goes well with his rehabilitation, fans will get their first glimpse of Adams this spring. When you begin to understand the potential stored in this bullpen, it would not be surprising to see the Phillies relievers shock some people this season with their success.
Adams is the key.
A Dynamic Bullpen
The Phillies bullpen was disappointing in 2012 and that's putting it kindly. With Jonthan Papelbon providing the only real sense of thoroughness, the rest of the bullpen was shaky, inconsistent and inexperienced.
But that was last season. This season, the Phillies bullpen has the realistic potential to be one of the best in baseball and we'll see that for the first time this spring.
Adding Mike Adams, arguably the best setup man in baseball right now, is going to be a huge addition for this club. Having he and Papelbon pitch the last two innings gives this bullpen structure—something that was lacking from '12.
But this bullpen is going to be about more than structure. The Phillies have done a nice job of making it a versatile bullpen equipped with weapons for every situation. They have a guy that could realistically throw two innings in Chad Durbin. They have a pair of good lefties in Antonio Bastardo and Jeremy Horst. They have dynamic, hard-throwers like Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus.
And that's just the likely group of relievers. When you consider the fact that the Phillies will bring another handful of relievers into camp with an opportunity to join the bullpen on Opening Day, this is going to be a blast to keep an eye on.
What's next for Roy Halladay?
Few players had their respective fans on the edge of their seats quite like Halladay last season as he dealt with what was realistically a season-long injury, though he was only sidelined for for a handful of starts closer to the middle of the season.
After several reporters, including Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, noticed that his velocity was down in spring training, Halladay moved into the regular season shrouded in a cloud of mystery. Was he really dealing with an injury?
Halladay would later hit the shelf with a bad strain of his right latissimus dorsi later in the season, only confirming the suspicion. While he returned to the mound after his stint on the disabled list had ended, Halladay never looked the same.
So while the Phillies starting rotation will be looked upon in a different manner this spring than it has been in recent seasons, don't be mistaken—all eyes will be on Halladay this spring.
Do the Phillies really need him to be the Roy Halladay of old? That's probably an unfair level of expectation. What the Phillies really need is for Halladay to pitch in a manner he is comfortable. He needs to be healthy. He needs to throw the cutter.
As long as Halladay is healthy, the Phillies will be in a good position.
A New Ace?
When you really break this one down and get into the nitty-gritty of it all, deciding which of your three elite starting pitchers gets the nod on Opening Day seems kind of trivial. Any one of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels is a good man for the job.
But it's still something that fans like to watch in the spring and this season there is a bit of a story line here. Is this the year that the Phillies' homegrown ace (and extremely well-paid lefty), Hamels, gets his first Opening Day start?
There is a strong argument to be made for Hamels. If we were working on a meritocracy from 2012, Lee would be the man, but Hamels has the momentum. He is moving into the prime of his career and just signed a mammoth extension to remain in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.
For some reason or another, Charlie Manuel also likes to split his right and left-handed pitchers in the starting rotation when he can. Giving Hamels (or Lee, for that matter) the Opening Day start in Atlanta would allow him the opportunity to build a rotation of Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan.
Prospects, Prospects, Prospects
Some of the more intriguing showcases each spring involve prospects trying to learn and make a name for themselves from and in front of some of the major league veterans in camp. This spring will be particularly interesting for Phillies prospects as they'll bring six of their top-10 prospects (per Baseball America) to camp along with a handful of other names.
Those six top-10 prospects, along with their rank in parenthesis, include Tommy Joseph (three), Jon Pettibone (four), Adam Morgan (five), Ethan Martin (six), Cody Asche (seven) and Darin Ruf (nine).
Each of those three positional prospects will have something to prove this spring. With Sebastian Valle also in camp, Joseph will have to battle for a position in Triple-A, as opposed to opening the year in Double-A. Asche is billed as the Phillies' third baseman of the future and Ruf has a legitimate shot at the left field job this spring.
Of those three pitchers, none are expected to break camp with the club, although I would argue that Pettibone certainly has a chance if he has a good spring and John Lannan falters. Morgan, who is commonly placed as the Phillies' second-best prospect in other rankings, and Martin are in camp to get a taste of the experience.
The Phillies will also have a few other intriguing names in camp this spring, including 2012 standouts Tyson Gillies, Zach Collier, Kyle Simon and Justin Friend.
Realistically speaking, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see all of the names on this list with the Phillies at some point in the not-so-distant future.
Ruiz Against (a Small Portion) of the World
When the Phillies struggled last season, Carlos Ruiz was there to pick them up. With hitters and pitchers dropping like flies, falling victim to the dreaded disabled list, it was Ruiz who called a great game, made the big throw or delivered the clutch hit.
It was naturally disappointing to fans of baseball in general to learn that a man widely considered among the game's most underrated catchers was caught using a banned substance last year—Adderall, an amphetamine used to treat ADHD.
Ruiz, who will be suspended for the first 25 games of the regular season, is going to spend the spring under the microscope. Fans and baseball personnel alike will be more than curious as to whether or not he can repeat his success from the 2012 season in 2013 without the use of Adderall.
With just one year left on his current contract, there is an interesting dynamic brewing around Ruiz, who will spend time with a pair of players believed to be his successors this spring—Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle.
What Difference Does a Healthy Utley Make?
Intangibles are an interesting, polarizing commodity in the baseball world. They're things that are easy to say and much harder to actually prove, but you'll hear a lot about them regardless. One popular one in Philadelphia is that Chase Utley makes the Phillies a better club just by being in the lineup.
Now, is that true?
When you compare the alternatives, it sure is. When healthy, Utley is one of the game's elite second baseman, but there's the catch. Utley hasn't played anything resembling a full season since 2009, a year in which he also led the league in hit-by-pitches.
Utley plays a hard-nosed game and everyone knows that, but it will be interesting to see if he is able to ease his foot off of the gas this upcoming season, because while the Phillies wouldn't lose an ounce defensively in his absence with Freddy Galvis around, the impact that he brings offensively is exponentially better.
The fact of the matter is that the Phillies need Utley in the lineup over the course of a full season now more than ever. While part of the onus will be on Charlie Manuel to keep him rested and fresh, the other part will be on Utley not to drain his batteries early in the year.
So will he be ready to go during spring training? Recent history tells us that it would be unwise to jump the gun here, but a relatively full spring seems to be in the cards for the Phils' second baseman.
The Return of the "Big Piece?"
What went wrong with the Phillies in 2012?
If you want to save some time and answer with, "A lot of things," you would still be right. One of the biggest reasons the Phillies struggled in '12 was because of injuries. You just can't spend nearly an entire half of season with the third and fourth hitters in your lineup and weather the storm. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
But even after some of the Phillies' injured stars returned from the disabled list, something was lacking. One of the big culprits offensively was a lack of power and when there is a power outage in Citizens Bank Park, it's easy to point the finger at Ryan Howard.
And Howard clearly was not himself when he returned from his Achilles injury. He was noticeably heavier, favoring his right foot and never really comfortable at the plate. Towards the end of the season, he was more comfortable and some of those maladies dissolved.
Howard is going to be a player to keep an eye on this spring. Having had a full offseason to recover and prepare for the upcoming season, fans expect him to come into camp in better shape both physically and mentally.
With that adjustment, it will be interesting to see what kind of progress Howard can make at the plate, if any at all. A healthy, productive Howard really changes the dynamic of this Phillies lineup.
Michael Young at Third Base
Making a trade for a 36-year-old veteran without a defensive home and coming off of the worst season of his career is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows, especially when it's announced that he'll be expected to play third base daily, but that's what the Phillies did / are doing with Michael Young.
Acquired from the Texas Rangers in the offseason, the Phillies are hoping that they can offer a solution for Young's woes.
With the Rangers, Young was forced into a "super utility" role. The Rangers asked him to play a few different positions without giving him the necessary repetitions both defensively and offensively.
The Phillies plan to rectify that by calling Young their everyday third baseman. He'll take repetitions at third base and third base alone and be penciled into the lineup daily with the hope that he'll be a steal as a one-year stopgap at the hot corner.
So with all of those things up in the air, it's hard to get a real grasp on what can be expected of Young at this point. This is a good player who should benefit from the change of scenery, and given the mediocre production the Phillies received last season, should be an upgrade at third base as well.
What Can Brown Do for You, Phillies?
Fans are feeling kind of down about Domonic Brown—a polarizing stance for a former top prospect who has yet to live up to the lofty expectations set for him by the media, baseball scouts, etc. So instead of coming into the season with a guaranteed job, Brown enters the season under scrutiny.
Has Brown showed that he can live up to that lofty potential through parts of three seasons? The short answer to that is, "No," but there is a fair answer as well that tells a much different story.
Brown's career, while spanning three seasons, equates to less than 500 plate appearances. That's not even a full season's worth of at-bats for a healthy, everyday player. The fact of the matter here is that most players just don't set MLB on fire as soon as they reach the show.
Look at Chase Utley's first two seasons. In 439 plate appearances, he hit .253 / .315 / .421 with 15 home runs. Does anyone want to hop in the time machine and trade Utley before he got his first chance to play a full season?
I didn't think so.
What the Phillies need Brown to do is play a full season. If he struggles, fine. But the talent is there for Brown to develop into a quality outfielder. Those kind of players aren't bred playing in the minors or on the bench.
Can Ruf Steal the Show?
One of the more intriguing players in camp this spring, without a doubt, is Darin Ruf. He's become somewhat of an enigma both to Phillies fans and various other baseball observers who have a similar question in mind, "Can he really hit at this level?"
After torching minor league pitching for nearly a full season, Ruf's MLB sample size wasn't large enough to draw any major decisions, but personally speaking, I didn't see much about Ruf's swing that said he couldn't be a hitter at the big league level.
The Phillies are looking for upside. They have a ton of money on the books and need to find inexpensive alternatives, which is why they made deals for guys like Michael Young, Ben Revere and Delmon Young this winter.
If Ruf can step up and prove that he can, at the very least, mash left-handed pitching this spring, he'll have a job. There is a role for an inexpensive, right-handed power threat. From there, he'll have to fight his way into the everyday lineup, but it's a battle that Phillies fans want to see in the worst way.
Can Delmon Young Really Play Right Field? Will He Play at All?
This one is still settling in for some people, but the more you think about it, the less sense it makes for the Phillies to add a player like Delmon Young for the upcoming season.
Just sum up his situation. Young is a big bodied, former top prospect that has struggled to hit right-handed pitching in recent seasons. He had ankle surgery in the offseason and is best suited to be half of a platoon as an American League club's designated hitter.
The Phillies are going to ask him to play right field—a position that he has not played since 2007—everyday. In a lot of ways, this move just doesn't make much sense.
But he'll be an interesting name to keep an eye on this spring, without a doubt. The first question to answer is whether or not he can get on the field this spring after undergoing surgery last November. Having to go on the disabled list likely means an extended period for guys like Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf to upstage him.
If he can get on the field, he'll have to show that he can play right field daily, and I just don't see that happening. He doesn't have the athleticism that made him a former top draft pick, nor does he have the skill set to play right field any longer.
Can Young be more than a platoon player with bad defense? The challenge is something that Phillies fans can look forward to this spring.
Standout Non-Roster Invitees
One of the best parts about spring training is the opportunity for non-roster players to put on a show and win a job. Sometimes there is great value to be had here, for example, Juan Pierre making the club on a minor league deal last spring.
Are there any non-roster players with a real shot at making the club this spring? Barring an injury, there probably are not, outside of one exception.
The Phillies will bring a pair of veteran pitchers to camp in Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez, either of whom could become the fifth starter in the event of an injury. Juan Cruz is another veteran pitcher that could fit into the bullpen mix.
Yuniesky Betancourt was added on a minor league deal only recently, but he's behind Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen on the depth chart. Outfielders Joe Mather and Jermaine Mitchell could each bring something interesting to the table in a bench role, but they're obviously long shots as well.
The one exception is Humberto Quintero, who is expected to be added to the 40-man roster sometime during the spring and serve as Erik Kratz's backup catcher while Carlos Ruiz serves his 25-game suspension.
Impact of New-Look Phillies Coaching Staff
The Phillies' roster is going to look familiar this season, even after the disabled list retires its rights to some of their aging stars. This is a club with a lot of money tied up into its core players, so there wasn't much turnover since the end of 2012.
One area of the club that will look noticeably different this season is the coaching staff, with only manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee returning from last season's group.
One of the biggest changes will be in the hitting department, where the Phillies added not only a new hitting coach in Steve Henderson, but an assistant hitting coach in former MLB veteran Wally Joyner as well. They'll be tasked with handling an experienced group of hitters.
The second most important addition to the club is Ryne Sandberg, who will serve as the Phillies' third base coach after the club erased the bench coach's role to add an assistant hitting coach. Many believe that he is being groomed as Manuel's heir, which certainly creates an interesting dynamic.
Juan Samuel will be moving to first base this season while Mick Billmeyer becomes the catching coach, helping to make room for new additions Rod Nichols and the returning Jesus Tiamo, the bullpen coach and bullpen catcher, respectively.
Can This Team Contend?
While the players will spend spring training trying to best prepare themselves for the regular season, fans will be spending the spring trying to figure out whether or not this group of veteran players, with a small influx of younger names and newer faces, can contend.
The National League East has only gotten better. The Washington Nationals added Denard Span, Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano, among others. The Atlanta Braves have added both of the Upton brothers. The level of competition in this division is going to be incredible.
The Phillies' success will ultimately come down to a few factors. The first is quite obvious: Can this team stay healthy? A full, healthy and productive season from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay would have made a world of difference in 2012. They'll be major factors in 2013.
What impact will the new faces have on this club? That includes not only obvious new names like Michael Young, John Lannan and Mike Adams, but players who didn't get much of a shake in '12 as well, including Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus.
Can the bullpen be as good as advertised? The Phillies have an opportunity to have an excellent pitching staff. If they can get their starters through six innings, the bullpen is built to handle the rest of the job.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is whether or not this team can score runs. They have the pitching to make a lead hold. If they're healthy, they should have the proper pieces in place to throw some numbers on the board.
Those are the kind of things fans can get excited about this spring.
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