One Thing Every Phillies Player Needs to Fix Before Opening Day
If there are kinks to be worked out in the game of baseball, you better fix them while the games do not count. For most players currently on this Philadelphia Phillies roster, that's the point of spring training.
The Phillies have a pretty good idea of what their lineup is going to look like on Opening Day. Assuming that the rest of the club can stay healthy, they'll add guys like Carlos Ruiz and Delmon Young back into the mix early in the season and utilize the lineup that they want to put on the field.
Until that moment (and even beyond), this is a team that needs to spend the spring preparing for a long regular season. They're an older, veteran club that will have to contain the youth of teams like the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves.
In order to do so, they'll need to operate at 100 percent. To operate at 100 percent, there are certain aspects of each player's game that needs to be addressed this spring.
Correction: Drawing more walks.
When you look at the entire package, Ben Revere has had a very good spring for the Phillies. If he were to keep on this track for an entire seasons, there would be no complaints.
I'm going to nitpick here and suggest a not-so-simple correction for Revere: Draw more walks. It's one of those "easier said than done" kind of corrections. Revere is a guy that likes to swing and put the ball in play.
If the Phillies are going to utilize him as a leadoff hitter, however, he'll need to reach the base paths more consistently to utilize his speed. A more patient approach may be the key.
Correction: Play better defense.
Before Michael Young stepped on the field in a Phillies uniform the concern was that he was not going to be able to play third base. Early in the spring, those are well placed concerns.
It's still very early in the spring, but Young has not looked comfortable manning the hot corner. He doesn't have much range to either side of his body and his instincts are not nearly as sharp as they once were.
Young is going to help the Phillies offensively. He'll have to spend the rest of the spring becoming a solid defender to truly be of value to the Phillies. The last thing that they need is for him to negate all of his offensive value with poor defense.
Correction: Don't overdo it.
All spring training numbers should be taken with a grain of salt for a number of reasons, but Chase Utley is having the kind of spring that will leave fans feeling quite optimistic about the upcoming season.
He has only played in a handful of games, but Utley certainly looks healthy. He has played solid defense and utilized an excellent approach at the plate early in the spring.
The one thing that the Phillies cannot afford to have Utley do this month is overdo it. Both Utley and the Phillies have taken it easy so far this spring and that has him playing well. They'll need to continue that approach through the rest of the preseason.
Correction: Watch the strikeouts.
I think that it's safe to say that Ryan Howard is feeling much better this spring. The first baseman has spent the early part of camp destroying just about every baseball that pitchers have attempted to throw by him.
Having played in every game, Howard has recorded six extra base hits (including three home runs) and driven in 10 runs.
Howard has looked great this spring, but it's easy to get caught up in such a small sample size. He needs to be wary of his strikeouts (seven already) and continue to refine this approach that has him pegged as an early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.
Correction: Don't be distracted by looming suspension.
I'm cheating a bit here because that's not something that Carlos Ruiz can necessarily fix, but early on the spring he has been everything that the Phillies could have hoped for.
The 2013 season is going to be a challenge for Ruiz. He'll have to prove that he can produce at a similar level without the aid of the amphetamine Adderall, which led to a 25-game suspension to open the year.
So far this spring, Ruiz has been excellent. He has four hits in 12 at-bats, including a home run, and has driven in five runs.
All things considered, Ruiz's suspension isn't all that long. This is a club that is going to need him to be ready to play when it ends and that only happens if he does not lose focus during the spring.
Correction: Continue to improve defensively.
Picking out a correction for Domonic Brown is a real challenge because, at the plate, you wouldn't want him to change anything. He has been one of the Phillies' most valuable players this spring and doesn't show any sign of slowing down.
So if we can assume for a moment that Brown has finally settled into his own as an offensive player, let's turn the focus to the defensive side of the ball.
Brown can be a solid defender. He needs to spend the rest of the spring working on his routes and reads. He has decent range and an arm that will make up for some miscues, but there is no doubt that the Phillies want him to be a solid defensive asset, be it in right or left field.
Correction: Make more consistent contact to boost batting average.
Any correction that Jimmy Rollins makes over the next couple of weeks is going to be in the midst of some serious competition. He'll be playing shortstop for Team USA as they take on the World Baseball Classic.
Assuming that he makes it through healthy, however, this could be a great thing for a veteran player like Rollins. It didn't work this way in 2009, but a little competition during the spring may get the juices flowing for a strong regular season.
As far as the spring is concerned, the Phillies would like to see their shortstop make more contact at the plate. He went just 2-for-10 before leaving to join Team USA.
Correction: Make a major adjustment.
Darin Ruf is struggling to play left field this spring and it shows in his slow start. That's not a doomsday statement for Ruf, as playing the outfield in Florida in March can be a challenge, but he is definitely going to have to make some kind of adjustment soon, regardless.
We know that Ruf can hit. You don't put on the kind of power display that Ruf did last season without being able to square up a baseball well.
What we don't know is whether or not Ruf can play left field on a regular basis. Spring training results are far from the be-all, end-all, but he has certainly struggled this spring. Common sense suggests that playing left field in Citizens Bank Park would be less of a challenge.
Now, what Ruf really needs to do is show that he can make an adjustment. He does not have to be a Gold Glove defender, but he needs to approach situations the right way and show that he can separate his defensive struggles from his offensive slump.
Correction: Pitch to the corners more effectively.
With two spring starts in the books, I had a nice slide written out about how Cole Hamels was as much at the top of his game as a starting pitcher could be this early in the spring. He had been stellar.
Then he went out and got shellacked by a Dominican Republic club that could pass for an All-Star team.
Because of that, I'm willing to give him a pass. There is, however, a reason for that shellacking. Hamels can't live over the heart of the plate. He is at his best when he is able to work the corners and that just never happened in his most recent start.
Correction: Refine command.
So far, so good for Roy Halladay.
The main goal for Halladay this spring was to prove that he is healthy, and all signs indicate that he is. The right-handed starter has had a very good spring, although it has only been two outings.
While Halladay has been throwing the ball well early on, the one thing that the Phillies would like to see him do is refine his control—something that usually improves for starting pitchers as spring training progresses.
Halladay was missing out and over the plate in his most recent start against the New York Yankees, but even so, managed to pitch well.
If Halladay is healthy, the velocity isn't a huge concern because he gets so much movement on his pitches. However, he'll need to locate those offerings to be successful.
Correction: Keep the ball out of the middle of the plate.
If you opened up a dictionary and flipped through the pages to stumble upon the term "hard-luck loser," a big old picture of Cliff Lee would be present. Lee, who was realistically one of the most valuable starters in the game last season, won just six games.
The Phillies made a couple of improvements this offseason to make sure that such a situation does not occur again in 2013, bolstering the bullpen and lineup.
This spring, the onus is on Lee to make sure that he can live up to those lofty 2012 numbers. In order to do so he'll have to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate, which is when he tends to struggle. If Lee is painting the corners and controlling his offerings, he is nearly impossible to hit.
Correction: Don't become complacent (and keep the ball out of the stands).
For the first time in what feels like forever, Kyle Kendrick is pitching in spring training knowing that he will have a spot in the starting rotation regardless of what happens. David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote what such a situation means for a guy like Kendrick:
This year, Kendrick does not have anything to ponder. For the first time since 2008, the only thing that can keep him out of the Phillies' Opening Day rotation is an injury. That might seem like a little thing, but for a pitcher who has had as little stability as a 5-year veteran can possibly enjoy, the difference is noticeable.
While Kendrick may feel comfortable with such security, one has to wonder if he'll become complacent from the lack of competition. After all, a spring competition has become a familiarity for Kendrick.
He needs to attack this spring like he is fighting for a job. That's how you find results. From a pitching perspective, he'll also need to keep the ball out of the stands. Kendrick is at his best when he is relying on ground ball outs as opposed to fly balls.
Correction: Find balance in strikeout to walk ratio.
John Lannan has pitched well for the Phillies this spring. He has been just about everything you would expect out of a fifth starter. He hasn't done anything flashy, but has allowed just a single earned run on five hits.
One intriguing aspect of Lannan's brief spring numbers are his strikeouts and walks. He has just one strikeout on the spring, but has already walked three batters—a microcosm of his entire career.
If a guy like Lannan—who relies on solid defense and ground ball outs—is going to be successful, he needs to keep runners off of the bases. That means throwing more strikes and cutting back on the walks.
Correction: Find some kind of comfort zone at the plate.
Erik Kratz has not had a good spring, which should be of some concern to the Phillies since they're handing the reins over to him as the starting catcher for the first month or so of the regular season.
Defensively, Kratz has been solid. He has misplayed a few situations, but that is to be expected early in the spring. Otherwise, he has shown off the strong arm that will help control the running game and a knack for game-calling.
As a backup catcher, that'll do.
But the Phillies need Kratz to be a temporary starter and he is going to have to hit some to make that work. He has just one hit early in the spring, although it was a home run.
He doesn't need to carry the offense, but he can't be a black hole at the bottom of the lineup either.
John Mayberry Jr.
Correction: Cut back on the strikeouts and do something impressive.
After a slow start, John Mayberry Jr. has turned it around a bit to have a solid first few weeks. The problem is that the Phillies are tired of seeing a "solid" Mayberry. People insist that he still has an opportunity to win a job, but he needs to do something impressive to make that happen.
Expectations are not as high for Mayberry this spring, which could be helping him. But early in the spring slate he does not look like anything more than a fourth outfielder—a solid defender who hits left-handed pitching well.
Mayberry has already struck out five times this spring and is hitting .269 with a home run. Those are okay numbers, but he needs to do something better than just okay.
Unless he can cut back on the strikeouts and produce more offensively, what is stopping Mayberry from becoming redundant on this club?
Correction: Hit enough to fight off Ender Inciarte.
This could become an interesting position battle.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Phillies signed Laynce Nix to a two-year deal hoping that he would be able to fill a void on their bench for left-handed power. That hasn't happened. Now, after an injury plagued '12 season, Nix is going to have to fight for a job.
According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, Inciarte has impressed manager Charlie Manuel this spring, as he had this to say about the Rule 5 pick:
I noticed him the other day, took off from right of center field and he went and caught a ball, I couldn't believe he caught it. They were telling me about his arm, and telling me about his arm ... I guess that's the reason that we got him. He definitely has some talent.
Inciarte brings a couple of unique elements to this club. He has above average speed and defense and could help this team both on the base paths and in the outfield.
Nix has to have a good spring to fight him off and he hasn't yet. He has just two hits (one of which was a home run) in 20 plate appearances and at this point in time, doesn't seem to be a surefire bet to make the club.
Correction: Cut back on the strikeouts.
Freddy Galvis has been impressive this spring. After being suspended for 50 games last season and suffering a Pars fracture of the spine, getting off to a hot start is going to be important for a guy like Galvis, who doesn't have a guaranteed spot on the roster.
The one thing that Galivs always has going for him is his defense. He made the transition from shortstop to second base look like a piece of cake last season and could conceivably play third as well, making him a strong utility infielder.
To stick at the major league level, however, he is going to have to hit a bit eventually. While he only has seven hits this spring, four of them are for extra bases, including three doubles and a home run.
The one eye-opener is a complete lack of plate discipline. In just 21 plate appearances, Galvis has yet to draw a walk, but has struck out eight times. That will have to change if he wants to secure a bench role.
It's hard to say that a player who could conceivably be left off of the roster at the end of spring training doesn't have a single correction to make, but Kevin Frandsen has been one of this club's best hitters early in the Grapefruit League slate.
Frandsen has gone 10-for-24 so far this spring, with six of those eight hits going for extra bases—four doubles, a triple and a home run. He has also played solid defense at a couple of positions.
With both Frandsen and Freddy Galvis playing well, it is hard to imagine one of these guys not making the Opening Day roster. At this point in time, however, if this were a position battle where there was only room for one guy, I don't see much of an argument against Frandsen.
It's difficult to pin down a correction for some of the relievers on this list for the simple reason that they haven't played much. Along those lines, Chad Durbin has yet to allow a run this spring, but has only faced six batters.
Of those six batters, however, only one has reached base. Durbin has also struck out two and walked none.
It will be interesting to see what role the Phillies plan to use Durbin in this season. While it makes most sense to utilize him as a long reliever, Charlie Manuel has used his relievers in questionable situations in the past.
Just how valuable will "veteran experience" be for Durbin?
Correction: Show better command across the board and fight off other relievers.
It's still early in the spring, so there is time for Jeremy Horst to redeem himself as the Grapefruit League slate rolls on, but it has not been a good first few weeks for the left-handed reliever.
Horst, who was one of the Phillies' best relievers a year ago, has already been tagged for three home runs this spring. He has also issued two free passes and has yet to strike out a batter.
The common line of thought is that there is a bullpen spot that is Horst's to lose, but with Jake Diekman pitching well early in the spring (four innings pitched, seven strikeouts, two walks), Horst is going to have to improve his command across the board in a hurry.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Diekman in the bullpen on Opening Day.
Justin De Fratus
Correction: Make improvements across the board.
At the start of the spring, Justin De Fratus was one reliever that many people, myself included, expected to be a shoo-in for one of those final spots in the Phillies' bullpen. While he still stands a good chance of making the club, he hasn't had much success this spring.
De Fratus, who missed a big chunk of last season recovering from an arm injury, has appeared in three games this spring. In that time he has surrendered five earned runs, issued three walks and has yet to strike out a batter.
This is still one of the best relievers the Phillies have in camp, but if they have an abundance in any one area of the club, it's relievers. De Fratus is going to have to make some wholesale improvements to erase any doubt moving forward.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of Phillippe Aumont early in camp before he left to join up with Team Canada in preparation for the World Baseball Classic.
He did, however, make two appearances with the Phillies this spring and they were very good. Each of his pitches had fantastic movement and while he allowed a hit, he also struck out two batters.
It isn't unreasonable to expect big things out of Aumont this season.
Correction: Keep the ball in the park.
Antonio Bastardo hasn't had a bad spring. He has made three appearances so far, allowing a single earned run. He has also struck out one and has yet to issue a walk.
That single run, however, came via an old foe—the home run.
When Bastardo was not pitching well in the first half of 2012, the home run ball was something that he struggled with. I'm nitpicking by pointing this out, but if Bastardo wants to be successful, he has to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate.
This season, Bastardo needs to take a step forward. He needs to pitch to the corners and better utilize his slider so that he can become the left-handed setup man that the Phillies want him to be.
Because they wanted to ease him into the spring, Mike Adams has made just two appearances this spring. That doesn't leave us much information to evaluate.
In those two innings, however, Adams has pitched well. He has struck out two batters thanks in large part to a very good slider and has not issued a walk.
The usual caveat applies here. Adams needs to take it easy this spring. If he is healthy, he could be the difference between a very good and a very questionable bullpen. But hey, no pressure.
Correction: Stay out of the middle of the plate and create your own intensity.
Jonathan Papelbon has never pitched well in non-save situations, so I wouldn't put much stock in his messy spring numbers. Some guys can't get up for an appearance when there is nothing on the line and Papelbon is among them.
But he has been hit hard this spring. One of the reasons for that is that all of his pitches are crossing over the heart of the plate. When his arm is fully loose and he can blow that good fastball by hitters, this isn't as big a deal as it is right now.
Early in the spring, however, these are pitches that batters can handle. As long as he is leaving them over the plate, they are going to be hit.
If there is one guy struggling right now that I wouldn't worry about, however, it's Papelbon.