Pitching prospects will not decide the Philadelphia Phillies' fate in 2013.
If Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon do not perform as expected, the Phillies have virtually no chance to contend.
But the emergence of a young arm or three could mean the difference between just contending and a return to the playoffs.
Antonio Bastardo was a question mark coming into the 2011 season. He made 64 appearances, posted a gaudy 6-1 record with a WHIP under one and an ERA of 2.54. Bastardo's performance was a huge factor in the Phillies' fifth consecutive National League East crown that year.
So while you have likely heard of the following pitchers, none is as of yet an established member of the Phillies' staff for 2013.
By the season's end, though, any one of them might become a key contributor.
As indicated above, the first three slots in the starting rotation are locked down, and Kyle Kendrick would basically have to implode in Clearwater, Fla. not to be the fourth starter. The fifth spot in the rotation, though, is an open position.
Pressed into service due to Cole Hamels' sudden illness last season, Tyler Cloyd ended up making six starts, winning twice and losing twice.
Cloyd's sample size at the major league level is thus limited, but the 30 strikeouts against just seven walks were certainly encouraging.
Cloyd and former Washington National John Lannan are likely to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation and may end up sharing it in 2013.
"Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin are locks, which leaves a good group of talented pitchers fighting for three spots," Zolecki correctly noted.
Zolecki's piece profiles Jake Diekman, who is definitely one to watch in camp.
Diekman combined two very good months with two bad months, leading to pedestrian numbers for 2012.
Here were Diekman's earned run averages per month for May, June, July and September (he did not pitch in August): 5.68, 2.08, 7.11, 1.80.
Diekman will need to show the Phillies much more consistency to make the team out of spring training given the addition of Adams and the presumed health of Bastardo.
Another young left-handed reliever worth a look is Jeremy Horst.
Horst's 2012 was a revelation for the Phillies, who can use all the good left-handed relief pitching they can find.
Horst's numbers in 2012 were high-quality, though the sample size was limited. In 31.1 innings, Horst struck out 40 batters. His earned run average (1.15) and walks and hits per innings pitched (1.12) were outstanding.
From the right side, the relief pitcher who most bears monitoring is Philippe Aumont.
Aumont made 18 appearances for the Phillies in 2012, even saving two games along the way. His 3.68 earned run average and his 1.295 walks and hits per innings pitched were reasonably competent.
Unfortunately, Aumont also walked nine batters in his 14.2 innings, muting some of the effect of his 14 strikeouts in that same amount of work.
Again, the Phillies' chances to return to the playoffs hinge in the main on the performances of Hamels, Lee, Halladay and Papelbon. Those four pitchers will earn over $77 million in 2013.
But some cheap, young help would be welcomed enthusiastically.