Predicting Philadelphia Phillies Starting Lineup Halfway Through Spring Training
While spring training games still have a ways to go before Opening Day, spring training itself is just about at the halfway point now.
As we begin to enter the home stretch, more and more roster spots will be named as more and more cuts are simultaneously made.
In the meantime, it's all about speculation.
For the Philadelphia Phillies, most of their starting lineup is admittedly set in stone. Carlos Ruiz will be suspended for the first 25 games of the season, rendering Erik Kratz the starting catcher. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young will make up the infield barring any injuries.
The outfield is a little more unclear at this point, though opposition faces a starting three of Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Darin Ruf.
Pitching-wise, the Opening Day starter has yet to be named, but heavy speculation—including an endorsement by teammate and incumbent Opening Day starter Roy Halladay, according to CSNPhilly.com—leads to Cole Hamels earning the nod.
Will manager Charlie Manuel change his ways and give Hamels the first ball, or will he opt for Doc, who has started for the Phillies for the last three years?
Could Cliff Lee even garner consideration?
With most of the lineup itself intact and predictable, all that's left is guessing the order Charlie's going to pencil them in on April 1, against the Atlanta Braves.
Halfway through spring training, we'll do our best to get it right.
1. Ben Revere, CF
Bold prediction alert: Charlie Manuel will finally ruffle the feathers of the Phillies lineup and slot speedster Ben Revere in the leadoff spot over longtime occupant Jimmy Rollins.
Revere, acquired by the Phillies over the winter from the Minnesota Twins for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May, has already established himself as a great baserunner and great defender in center field.
What Revere offers to the Phillies is something they have lacked since trading Michael Bourn to the Astros for Brad Lidge before the 2008 season, and that's a young, legitimate base-stealer.
Juan Pierre was fantastic on the basepaths for the Phillies last year, but he's come and gone. Shane Victorino set a career-high in steals last season, but some were with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the trade deadline.
Even so, both Victorino and Rollins have not been full-time speedsters on the bases, as they both have power aspects to their game as well.
Whether or not Rollins is amicable to this should not be the point anymore. J-Roll hits for more power and gets on base less than a leadoff hitter should, and it's time he hits somewhere in the lineup that suits his attributes best.
The same goes for Revere, and in his case, he should see the first pitch thrown to a Phillie in the batter's box this season.
2. Michael Young, 3B
Another acquisition over the offseason, Michael Young is ready to step into a full-time third base role.
Or is he?
Young's defense has looked erratic and mediocre at best thus far, and while he's made a few decent dives for passing balls, he's also committed a few too many errors at the hot corner. Knowing Young's defensive tendencies, this was to be expected, but considering that Kevin Frandsen has looked better defensively than Young, that should be an indicator as to just how terrible Young's defense has been.
However, as of late Young's offense has picked up a bit.
Against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, Young hit a home run in a Phillies loss, and Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he went two-for-four with two RBI including a bases-loaded single, according to Phillies.com.
The hope here is that Young just needs more time to focus on third base throughout spring training, as he's constantly had to worry about manning other positions in the past. Now that third base is his only position, Young has less to worry about and he himself maintains that he sees improvement coming, per Phillies.com.
Whether Young can be defensively sufficient is still a concern, but his batting should keep him a solid number two option and split up the left-handed batters near the top of Manuel's lineup.
3. Chase Utley, 2B
It's good to have Chase Utley playing in spring training games.
After missing the last two years of spring training as a result of nagging knee issues, Utley is finally back to some sort of normalcy. He's played in most of the Phillies' spring training games this year and appears healthy entering the 2013 season.
Utley's patellar tendonitis and chondromalacia have cost him severe playing time in 2011 and 2012, but the hope is that offseason conditioning and new strengthening techniques will allow Utley to stay on the field for most of the 2013 season.
That's good, considering that even when he returned last season, some of his power and baserunning abilities still remained.
Even though he played in only 83 games, Utley managed to slug 11 home runs and steal 11 bases.
Over the course of a full season, that's well over 20-20 numbers, and for a 34-year-old Utley, that's stellar. Anything he can contribute offensively and defensively is a plus, but potential 20-20 ability is terrific.
Defensively, Utley has looked good in spring training and there's been no reason to think his knees can't hold up just yet (knock on wood).
With the potential Utley still possesses, he'll be in the three-hole on Opening Day, just as always.
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
Whether or not you agree, having The Big Piece in tow for a full season will be nothing but beneficial.
After returning from a torn Achilles tendon injury last season, Ryan Howard's performance turned heads for all the wrong reasons.
Howard hit just .219 with an abysmal .295 OBP and pathetic .423 SLG.
What was encouraging in his 71 games, though, were his 14 home runs and 56 RBI. Howard's ability to hit the long ball seems intact, while his ability to drive in runs despite a low batting average is still sufficient.
Spring training thus far, however, has been absolutely incredible for Howard.
He's batting .370 with a .400 OBP, .815 SLG, has hit three home runs and has 10 RBI to his credit in 10 games. Howard has been nothing short of awesome so far, and the hope is that his success will translate into the regular season.
Howard's big home run years came when he had more weight on his frame, and while I'm basing this solely on appearance, it looks to me as though Howard has gained weight in the offseason. If he's able to hit better as a result, though, then by all means I'm for it.
Here's hoping Howard recaptures his power and becomes the feared hitter he once was.
5. Darin Ruf, LF
The above photo basically embodies Darin Ruf's spring to date.
He's had little success with the bat and his fielding has been just as frustrating. It's been unfortunate to watch.
Coming off a 2012 season in which he went from zero to hero, Ruf has had high expectations over his head entering 2013 spring training, but he has failed to meet any of them.
His home run hitting ability in the minors last year gave him a major league shot and the Phillies' lack of other internal options in left field gives him a shot at a major league job.
But is Ruf capable of handling that just yet?
His defense has looked sloppy and he has seemingly committed more errors than clean plays. He did gun down a runner at home plate the other day, but that aside, Ruf's play on more difficult plays has been average at best.
It needs to be better, or else he may not have a major league job.
Offense is supposed to be Ruf's biggest weapon, as he's known for his plate discipline and eye in the batter's box. Along with his newfound power, Ruf should be batting better, but in spring games he's hit just .130 with a .286 OBP and a .174 SLG.
He has no home runs thus far, either. It's been nothing but a disappointment, but there's still time.
Ruf likely will get the job either way, but if he wants to win it because Charlie endorses the move, he'll have to do better than he's done so far.
6. Jimmy Rollins, SS
Jimmy Rollins hasn't shown his face in Phillies spring training for quite some time.
It's been strange not seeing him make beautiful defensive plays at shortstop, but until the World Baseball Classic ends in late March, J-Roll will continue to be a no-show.
Rollins has had momentum going his way in recent seasons.
While his batting average dipped to .250 in 2012, his OPS of .743 was his highest since the 2008 season. J-Roll's 23 home runs were encouraging as well, and he continued to rack up stolen bases, snagging 30 last year as he had done in 2011.
Defensively, 2012 saw Rollins continue to make effortless plays at shortstop and led him to win his fourth NL Gold Glove and there's no reason to think his defense will slow down in 2013.
However, what could slow down are his legs—now 34-years-old—it wouldn't be the biggest surprise.
What warrants J-Roll's demotion to the six-hole more than anything is his current ability.
Rollins has never been an on-base machine, as his .316 OBP from 2012 suggests. He's been able to be a good hitter as a result of decent power, and hitting further down the lineup would allow him to tap into that power more regularly.
Having some speed lower in the order doesn't hurt, either.
Ultimately, it's time Rollins relegates his leadoff spot to Ben Revere. Hopefully Charlie feels the same.
7. Domonic Brown, RF
Domonic Brown finally earned his job as an everyday regular for the Phillies.
After three or so years of on and off promotions and demotions to the majors and minors, Brown looks like he's rediscovered the magic that had previously anointed him Baseball America's fourth-best prospect in the game prior to the 2011 season.
In spring training thus far, he's raked the ball and has looked adequate defensively.
On offense, Brown continues to impress, batting .348 with a .500 OBP and .783 SLG in 10 games to date. He's tied with Ryan Howard for the lead in home runs with three, including a tape-measure smash against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
Defensively, Brown hasn't committed any errors yet. So far, so good.
There isn't much to say about Brown except that he's finally found the tools he needs to be successful.
Like the aforementioned Howard, you just hope they can translate into the 2013 season.
8. Erik Kratz, C
If not for Carlos Ruiz's 25-game suspension from Adderall use, Erik Kratz may not have a job at all.
Spring training tends to have a heavy impact on roster slotting going into the season, and while Kratz was very good as the backup catcher in 2012, his spring training in 2013 has been just awful.
He's batting .091 with a .091 OBP and a .364 SLG. Simply put, he's been pitiful.
The Phillies are fortunate in that they have a surplus of catchers in the minor leagues.
Catchers like Sebastian Valle and Steven Lerud could contribute in the majors in 2013 as backups, while minor league signing Humberto Quintero is the favorite to make the roster as the original backup catcher.
Could Quintero realistically get the opening day start if Kratz continues to struggle?
In my opinion, it's a possibility.
Kratz needs to hit like he's proving his worth, and it just doesn't look like that's the case right now. He needs to step up his game, and until he does, he shouldn't be guaranteed anything.
What will Charlie's opinion be come opening day? Will he opt for Kratz? Probably, but the decision may not be as easy as it was initially thought to be.
9. Cole Hamels, P
Yes, Cole Hamels will get the opening day nod. There's no reason to think otherwise.
After inking a six-year, $144 million contract extension in July, Hamels finished the 2012 season as the Phillies' most consistent starting pitcher.
Cliff Lee was better at times, but by season's end it was Hamels who looked like the ace of the bunch.
With an aging Roy Halladay, a surplus of left-handed starters in the rotation, what the Phillies may lead you to believe is that they may opt with a southpaw starter for the opener to split up the righties and lefties accordingly.
In reality, it's because Hamels has been the best starter over the last two years for the Phillies and deserves his due. Now, he'll finally get it.
Hamels has been lights-out in spring training with six strikeouts and has yet to allow a run in five innings of work.
He's been the Phillies' best starter this spring and in recent seasons. It's time to hand him the ball for the first game of the season and let him take over as the Phillies' ace of the future.