Baseball is back.
The Philadelphia Phillies have played in just three games thus far in spring training, but already the scheme of things is starting to shape the roster for Opening Day. Pitchers and players galore have had a handful of opportunities already, whether on offense or on defense, to make their mark. And for those who have to do so to win a job, it's especially important.
Manager Charlie Manuel's lineup for Opening Day is already set in some places. In place of the suspended Carlos Ruiz, Erik Kratz is bound to start at catcher. The infield of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young is set. And Ben Revere is entrenched as the Phils' center fielder.
Pitching-wise, the rotation looks good. Not too long ago, the order of the rotation was in flux, but after pitching coach Rich Dubee gave Cole Hamels the first start of spring training, it looks as though he's in line to make his first Opening Day start. Hamels precedes Roy Halladay, who is followed by Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan.
As for the bullpen, things aren't as set there. Seven spots are likely to be open for the season, but four are already filled.
Middle reliever Chad Durbin was brought back to Philadelphia this past offseason. Left-hander Antonio Bastardo returns as the Phillies' primary southpaw relief option. And newly-signed setup man Mike Adams will join closer Jonathan Papelbon who, should he not have had his expensive contract, might have been cut after his dismal performance yesterday when he surrendered six runs in just two thirds of an inning to the Detroit Tigers.
All joking aside, there do remain some positions where the Phillies aren't set just yet. The bullpen remains as one of them, and the outfield is still an unknown commodity. Fortunately, that's where this comes in. Yes, it's a little early to base projections off of previous play so far with such a small sample size, but it will have to do for today.
In the outfield, Revere is a lock for center field despite an error in the first game against the Houston Astros. However, Darin Ruf's potential defensive liabilities were displayed when he improperly fielded a ground ball in the outfield that ricocheted off his glove into the back corner. Will that be an issue, or will Ruf still get the nod?
What Ruf has in his favor is that he's a good hitter, though he has yet to get a hit so far in spring training games. He's also got the fact that Delmon Young will be hurt to start the year, but a big factor is that the Phillies plan on only using Young in right field, meaning that left field is up for grabs. Does that mean that Ruf, who can only play left field in the outfield, has the edge to win the job?
The Phillies outfielder who has really shone so far is Domonic Brown. After three seasons ushering Brown back and forth between the majors and minors, hope for Brown had dissipated over time.
However, so far in spring training, he has hit very well, hitting 2-for-5 with a home run and two RBI. In three games, that's not half bad. He also registered two hits in the Phillies' intrasquad game last Friday. Defensively, Brown been adequate so far and has impressed Manuel (per Phillies.com).
Nevertheless, Brown and Ruf should have the edge as of now, as there really isn't anybody else to fill those roles internally. Laynce Nix and John Mayberry Jr., along with Ender Inciarte, could be options down the road, but none will start on a regular basis, if at all.
In the bullpen, the three spots open will likely go to some trio of Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst, Michael Stutes and Raul Valdes. With three righties and three lefties in that mix, who will get the nod?
If I had to guess, I'd say that the Phillies will select two righties out of that bunch and one southpaw. The lefty with the edge, in my opinion, is Jeremy Horst. In his debut against the Astros, Horst wasn't the sharpest he's been, surrendering one run on three hits in two innings. However, neither Valdes nor Diekman has been better, so due to his success last year, Horst is the front-runner.
As for the remaining two spots, Aumont absolutely is on the fast track. After the Phillies traded Michael Schwimer to the Toronto Blue Jays, it meant that one fewer right-handed reliever was fighting for a job. It benefits nobody but Aumont, who has struggled with control yet has been the best of the bunch so far.
I'll give the final job to Justin De Fratus despite him surrendering two runs in two innings on Saturday against Houston. Stutes may work his way back to get the job, but considering that his first time on a pitching mound since April 2012 was yesterday, he may need more seasoning in the minors before he's ready for a full majors workload.
So there you have it. Brown and Ruf in the outfield, and Horst, Aumont and De Fratus taking up the final bullpen spots. Remember, this is just the beginning of spring training, so nothing is imminent nor is it fully predictable. Will these trends continue? We'll have to wait and see.