One Weakness of Each Phillies Player to Watch out for This Spring
Throughout this spring, you will hear folks tell you that results don't matter in spring training, and to a certain extent, that is very true. It's a time of readiness and preparation and not elite competition between clubs at their best.
For the Philadelphia Phillies, however, this is a unique spring, and results will matter on some levels. This is a club that needs to excel in health and physical conditioning. It's a club that needs to be mentally strong, leaving the 2012 season where it belongs—in the past.
This is a team with a lot of obvious weaknesses. They're not getting any younger and will host one of the oldest infields in all of baseball this season. Will that be their undoing? How is the outfield situation going to shake out, where the experience dilemma is the exact opposite?
Can the starting rotation stay healthy over a full season? How about the bullpen, and will they improve their success rate in 2013?
And those are just some of the obvious concerns. Getting this club to move in the right direction is all about addressing weaknesses on a personal level. This slideshow will analyze each member of the projected 25-man roster and highlight the biggest weakness needing correction in 2013.
The Phillies knew what they were getting into when they signed Mike Adams this offseason. Now, they need to hope that their bet pays off.
When he is healthy, Adams is arguably the best setup man currently in the game. The problem is that he wasn't healthy for most of last season and had a major surgery to correct a condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) over the winter.
Both the Phillies and Adams will apply a cautious approach to the spring. Because there is a lot of talent in this bullpen, it would be unfair to say that they need Adams to succeed, but his loss due to injury would certainly be a major blow.
Weakness: Lack of command
When you have the kind of raw "stuff" that Phillippe Aumont has as a pitcher, you don't often worry about locating each and every offering. His pitches get enough movement on them in all directions to make a hitter's eyes spin anyhow.
If Aumont wants to take the next step, however, he is going to have to throw more strikes this season.
He has all the talent in the world. He's tall, built well and can throw a baseball very fast. Now, he needs to control where it ends up. That means locating his fastball, applying the proper break to his offspeed pitches and keeping runners off the basepaths.
If Aumont can do that, he'll be a successful reliever for a very long time.
There are a lot of variables in this game that could swing in a reliever's direction and make him a "great" pitcher, but if you want to earn the trust of your manager and get the call in tough situations, it is consistency that makes a reliever truly elite.
Can Antonio Bastardo eventually reach that level? That's a bold claim, but he has the talent, even with a two-pitch repertoire.
Bastardo's slider has a tight break and is set up nicely by the fastball, but in order to utilize them efficiently this season, he is going to have to improve his consistency across the board. That means throwing more strikes, keeping batters off of the basepaths and the opposition in the ballpark.
Bastardo has excellent strikeout potential, but to take that proverbial "next step," he'll have to throw more strikes.
Weakness: Not having absolute faith from the front office/management.
Domonic Brown has the highest upside of any young player currently on the Phillies roster. This is a man who was named Baseball America's fourth-best prospect prior to the 2011 season (per Baseball-Reference.com), and promotions of the three players ahead of him eventually made him No. 1 that year.
That, in a nutshell, is the reason why it is completely baffling that members of the Phillies' front office have all but given up on Brown.
And that is in spite of the fact that Brown still has less than 500 plate appearances in his career. Chase Utley hit .253 / .315 / .421 before his 500th plate appearance. Mike Schmidt hit .201 / .325 / .334 in two seasons before logging his 500th plate appearance.
How can people have the gall to say that Brown has been given a fair shake this early in his career?
And that's Brown's greatest weakness. It isn't anything that he has done in the field because we haven't had a legitimate opportunity to watch the wheels turn at full speed yet. Until he gets that opportunity, a lack of acceptance from the front office is his greatest weakness.
Justin De Fratus
Weakness: Bad luck
If things had gone the way the Phillies had drawn it up a few seasons back, Justin De Fratus would be the club's setup man right now because that is the potential that he has always had.
After a brief September call-up in 2011, however, De Fratus suffered an injury that kept him sidelined throughout the first half of the regular season in 2012. He returned for his second consecutive call-up, and just like the first time, was impressive.
Now that he is completely healthy, the Phillies are hoping that De Fratus can finally reach that setup man potential. In order to do so, however, he'll need a bit of luck on his side. Most importantly, he needs to stay healthy.
Weakness: Unrealistic expectations
Chad Durbin posted a record of 4-1 and an ERA of 3.10 for the Atlanta Braves last season. Unless Lady Luck has him on her favorites list, he won't post numbers anything like those in 2013 for the Phillies.
And that's not to say that Durbin is a bad pitcher, but you have to take him at face value. He is a right-handed workhorse who throws a lot of innings and can keep his club in the game when starters wear down.
Should the Phillies be calling on him in one-run situations? Absolutely not, and that may be the biggest problem. Early in the spring, it is already fairly accurate to call him one of four relievers locked into a bullpen spot.
The Phillies have a lot of good arms. Durbin isn't among the best of them.
Weakness: Unrealistic expectations
When the 2012 season began, Kevin Frandsen wasn't even a thought in the mind of the casual fan. When the year ended, he was at the forefront of some wishlists as the Phillies' starting third baseman for the upcoming season.
The addition of Michael Young squashes whatever the unrealistic chances of that happening were, but now, we're left to wonder what kind of role Frandsen will play in 2013.
Whatever that role is, don't expect him to hit .338 / .383 / .451. Frandsen was aided by some incredible luck at the plate last season and isn't likely to repeat that success.
When you break him down as a super utility player, however, he doesn't have any realistic weaknesses. What you have is a solid contact hitter who plays three different defensive positions well.
Weakness: Weak offensive approach now overshadowed by 50-game suspension from 2012
2012 was a roller-coaster ride for Freddy Galvis.
After a phenomenal spring, he opened the season as the stand-in for injured second baseman Chase Utley and was outstanding defensively, leading some to question whether or not he was the heir apparent to the Phillies' star.
Any praise was met with the criticism of his lackluster offensive output and poor approach. He hit just .226 / .254 / .363 through his first 200 MLB plate appearances.
To make matters worse, Galvis suffered a Pars fracture of the spine and was put on the disabled list for the remainder of the season. While recovering, he was hit with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned, performance-enhancing substance.
This spring, he'll have to show that not only are those negatives behind him, but he has made improvements over the winter. He needs to produce more offensively and play his normal defensive wizardry to be effective for this club.
Weakness: Time and normal wear and tear are finally catching up.
Roy Halladay isn't a spring chicken any longer. He's not the rookie who was sent back to the minors early in his career. He is a 35-year-old, right-handed starting pitcher with a lot of wear and tear on his body. Even great pitchers wear down eventually.
That was the case for Halladay in 2012, when he dealt not only with a bad strain of the latissimus dorsi but with a painful lower back as well, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Halladay said he and doctors eventually determined that his upper back/shoulder problems stemmed from issues with his lower back, which he said he had trouble loosening throughout the season, causing him to change the mechanics of his upper torso.
But pitchers like Halladay don't ride off quietly into the sunset, especially when they don't have a big, shiny World Series ring for their hardware collection. They do what it takes to get stronger, and that's what Halladay spent the offseason doing.
"Doc" spent the winter doing a lot of physical conditioning and weightlifting, especially on his core, to help eliminate his health problems from last season and prevent new ones from occurring in 2013.
As long as he is healthy, what reason is there to believe that he cannot be a good, top-of-the-rotation starter in '13?
Weakness: Now facing the pressure of a "mega-deal"
Cole Hamels is an elite starting pitcher in this league. In a year where the Phillies would eventually finish with a .500 record, he won 17 games and finished eighth in the National League's Cy Young voting, with an argument to be made that he should have been voted much higher.
Now, he'll be paid like an elite starting pitcher.
Hamels signed a six-year, $114 million extension to keep him in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future last summer. Now, he'll have to deal with pitching in a major sports market under that huge contract. Can he handle the pressure?
Realistically, this isn't even a weakness for a guy like Hamels, who has more than showed that he can handle the pressures of pitching in this city. It's just an added concern and something that he'll have to deal with nonetheless.
Weakness: Heightened expectations following 2012 success
The Phillies may have found a real gem in Jeremy Horst but shouldn't expect him to be anything more than a left-handed specialist who can dial it up and retire tough right-handed batters when necessary.
The addition of Mike Adams and Chad Durbin, as well as full seasons from Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont, give the Phillies the option of using their left-handed relievers sparingly.
As long as Horst isn't thrown into unfavorable matchups on a daily basis, he doesn't have any real weaknesses. That weakness, at least right now, is the unfair pressure of having to live up to those strong numbers from '12.
Weakness: Struggles against left-handed pitching
The Phillies are paying Ryan Howard handsomely, to put it kindly, so when your star first baseman posts a line of .219 / .295 / .423, there is cause for concern.
Sure, Howard was coming off a tough injury to open the season and looked much better as the year progressed, but the numbers don't lie. Howard struggled mightily at the plate last season, and much of those troubles stemmed from a poor showing against left-handed pitchers.
Lefties managed Howard to the tune of a .173 / .226 / .378 line last season, and while the big first baseman has never really hit lefties all that well, those are some putrid numbers.
If the Phillies are going to be successful offensively, Howard needs to find a way to be productive against left-handed pitching, especially without the addition of a bona fide right-handed power threat this winter.
Weakness: Lack of an "out pitch"
Before really turning it on in the second half of the season in 2012, Kyle Kendrick's struggles were much of the same old song and dance.
Kendrick is a back of the rotation starter who lacks a strikeout pitch. He pitches to contact and relies on his defenders to play well behind him. As a result, there are going to be days when he struggles and days when he pitches very well.
Having a true "out pitch"—a go-to selection that forces hitters to swing and miss—would do wonders for a guy like Kendrick and his changeup showed flashes of being such an offering at the end of the year.
He needs to spend the spring fine-tuning his repertoire, mechanics and pitch selection in order to recapture the magic that made him very successful following the All-Star break in 2012.
Weakness: Struggled in a bench role last season
Erik Kratz has all of the makings of a good backup catcher. He can hit a bit. He has some power. He plays very good defense, and pitchers like to throw to him because he calls a good game. The only real problem that he has faced, so far, is keeping sharp with fewer plate appearances.
When the Phillies gave him the opportunity to play everyday as catchers Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz and Brian Schneider recovered in 2012, Kratz was very good on both sides of the ball.
Ruiz's return late in the season didn't do Kratz any favors. He hit .167 / .231 / .271 in the month of September in more of a bench role.
This season, he'll have to learn how to make that work. He'll have the opportunity to play just about everyday through the month of April, but when Ruiz returns, the Phillies will expect him to be just as effective as Chooch's backup.
Weakness: Issues too many walks
John Lannan is the kind of pitcher whom you have to take at face value. He is a solid back-of-the-rotation starter who can keep your club in the game. He's not an All-Star, but a quality pitcher nonetheless.
Part of the reason that all of the previous information is true is because he doesn't strike out many batters. Lannan relies on hitters making contact and putting the ball in play and a strong defense to excel.
The one thing that guys like Lannan simply cannot do and be successful at is issue too many free passes, something that he has struggled with in the past. Guys who do not have overpowering "stuff" tend to nibble at the corners, and if you don't have great control, that could backfire quickly.
Lannan needs to attack the strike zone to be successful. It sounds silly, but the Phillies should sacrifice some offense to put their best defense on the field when Lannan is on the mound.
Weakness: Extra pressure to improve based on "traditional" statistics
It has been a long offseason, and people have called Cliff Lee's 2012 season a "down year" often. Let's clear the air here. Lee did not have a down year. The Phillies' offense, bullpen and defense had down years.
Cliff Lee, on the other hand, was exceptional.
Sure, you can look at his record of 6-9 and believe that he had a bad season, but realistically speaking, Lee was one of the five most valuable pitchers in all of baseball last season. He posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the game and a fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark of just 3.13.
Not that Lee is the kind of pitcher who cracks under a little added pressure but trying to improve on last season won't be easy for Lee. The onus on improving his record falls squarely in the hands of the lineup and bullpen.
John Mayberry Jr.
Weakness: Struggles against right-handed pitching and has a poor approach
The Phillies have tried everything in the book to turn John Mayberry Jr. into a starting outfielder, but it's just not going to happen. Now, he'll need to find a way to be successful exclusively in a bench role, with Ryan Howard returning to play first base full time.
One of Mayberry's biggest problems is that he just can't hit right-handed pitching. He posted a slash line of .229 / .291 / .335 against them last season and should see very few right-handed pitchers in 2013.
He'll also need to improve what was ultimately a poor approach at the plate. In 2012, his walk rate fell to 7.1 percent while his strikeout rate rose to 23.2 percent, and that is a recipe for failure.
Weakness: Hampered by injuries last season and did not live up to expectations against right-handed pitching
Signing Laynce Nix to a two-year deal was a curious decision because left-handed bench bats can be a dime a dozen. There isn't much of a need to guarantee two years to bench players, and Ruben Amaro Jr. seems to do it often.
Nix, who got off to a hot start last season, suffered a calf strain that sidelined him for more than 50 games and was never the same afterward. Instead of being able to evaluate other options, Nix still has one guaranteed year on his contract.
Keeping him on board could come back to bite the Phillies. The club needed him to hit right-handed pitching last season, and he struggled, posting a slash line of .248 / .316 / .390 and hitting just three home runs.
With little speed and defense available on the club, Nix could have his hands full in a battle against Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte this spring, as he brings both of those elements to the table.
Weakness: Too many long balls in 2012
Jonathan Papelbon doesn't have many weaknesses, if any at all. When you look back at the 2012 season, you see everything that a closer should have in Papelbon—lots of strikeouts and saves and not many walks. That's a recipe for success.
If we're going to nitpick, I'm sure that the Phillies would like to see Papelbon keep the ball in the yard. He surrendered eight home runs last season—the most in any single season of his career.
But again, if Papelbon were to simply repeat his '12 season, the Phillies would be satisfied.
Weakness: Not enough power
The Phillies don't need Ben Revere to become a power hitter, but they do need him to add a bit of power potential comparable to what he has done earlier in his career.
If Revere is going to hit at the top of the Phillies' order, which some believe to be ideal, he is going to have to be more of a threat at the plate. Having a high batting average is only part of the solution.
Revere, who posted a walk rate of just 5.2 percent last season, needs to find ways to reach the basepaths ahead of the middle of this order. That involves more than collecting a ton of singles. Revere recorded just 19 extra base hits in 2012.
If Revere could add some bulk to become more of a doubles and triples threat, the Phillies would be in a much better place at the top of their order.
Weakness: Not built to be a leadoff hitter
Listen, when the Phillies made their run to the World Series in 2008, they didn't do it because Jimmy Rollins was their leadoff hitter and "spark plug." They did so because they had one of the most potent offenses in the league. They were scoring runs with power.
The Phillies don't have that exceptional power any more. They can't cover Rollins' offensive blemishes at the top of the order with the long ball. They need to figure out how to generate offense more methodically.
One of the simple solutions is embracing reality and moving Rollins lower in the order. Do you know who led the Phillies in home runs in 2012? It wasn't Ryan Howard. It wasn't Chase Utley. It was Rollins.
Moving Ben Revere, who has the potential to be a better on-base player, into the leadoff spot allows the Phillies to move Rollins and his power into the middle of the order. That could help them generate more offense.
Weakness: Unrealistic expectations
Darin Ruf was fantastic in 2012.
He spent most of the season destroying minor league pitching and picked right up where he left off when he joined the Phillies in September and hit three home runs in just 37 plate appearances.
Ruf isn't the perfect prospect, though. He's not athletic enough to be a good defender in the outfield, and there are scouts who are concerned over his hands and bat speed. The Phillies, however, seem to think he can be a solid, late-blooming power hitter.
So what is his biggest weakness?
I would argue that the real answer here is that he'll have lofty expectations that he won't be able to live up to. And that's not a knock against Ruf. He's just not going to step into the lineup on a full-time basis and hit 50 home runs—period.
But that's what some fans expect. Instead, it would be much more realistic to see Ruf mash lefties early in the season before earning an everyday role. I'm a believer.
Weakness: Has to prove that his 2012 success was not a product of luck and a banned substance
Using a banned substance doesn't magically make you a better baseball player, but some help. Carlos Ruiz was suspended for 25 games to open the regular season after testing positive for the amphetamine Adderall a second time.
Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD, is becoming more common among baseball players as it is said to help improve focus.
Ruiz, who also posted an abnormally high batting average on balls in play of .339 last season, was also unusually lucky at the plate. Combined with the banned substance, some wonder whether or not he'll be able to retain that success in 2013.
Until he either puts that behind him or crumbles, the added pressure will be his greatest weakness.
Chase Utley hasn't been himself for a few seasons now, but there were certainly signs that he was improving offensively as the season wore on in 2012. When you factor in an unusually low batting average on balls in play (.261), there is reason to believe that a healthy Utley can be very effective this year.
The problem is that no one knows what Utley's health is now and will be moving forward. He is playing a game that really grinds your legs on a pair of chronically degenerating knees.
Every report this offseason has suggested that Utley is ready to go this spring. But playing in Grapefruit League games pales in comparison to having an All-Star second baseman on the field for an entire season.
That's what the Phillies need, and it is up to both them and Utley to find a way to keep him on the field for a full year.
Weakness: Struggles against right-handed pitching, has poor range and lackluster approach
It almost sounds like I'm picking on Delmon Young, but when you evaluate him as an everyday player, he turns up a lot of negative results.
In 2012, Young struggled mightily against right-handed pitching as a member of the Detroit Tigers. While he did hit 11 home runs, he posted a slash line of .247 / .279 / .370 against right-handed pitchers.
Part of those struggles are derived from a very lackluster approach at the plate. Young walked just 20 times last season (3.3 percent) and struck out in 112 of 608 plate appearances (18.4 percent). Getting on base has been a serious problem throughout Young's career.
The Phillies will also be asking him to play right field this season, which isn't as much of a problem in Citizens Bank Park as it will be on the road in most ballparks. Young just doesn't have the range to play a solid defensive outfield.
Even though he is coming off ankle surgery this winter, Young shed a lot of weight, giving the impression that he is serious about conquering this new challenge. With that being said, his work is certainly cut out for him.
The Phillies have gotten used to watching a third baseman who plays solid defense, be it the Gold Glove-winning Placido Polanco or even temporary stand-in Kevin Frandsen. That's about to change, however.
Even if Michael Young works at third base every waking moment he spends in Clearwater, he just isn't going to be a very good defender. At this stage of his career, he lacks the necessary range and reaction time to play an above-average caliber of defense.
Young will make the easy plays. He'll handle the hot smashes that are hit right at him and some of the tough plays that require the lateral footwork, but he'll lose some value defensively.
If the Phillies were right about their hunch that giving him an everyday role and putting him in the lineup everyday can rejuvenate his offense, this may not matter much. If they're wrong, Young could struggle quite a bit.