At the midway point through spring training, the Philadelphia Phillies are a team with just as many questions as answers.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. While some surprisingly poor performances are undoubtedly a cause for concern, there has been strong competition in the Phillies' camp this spring and some battles are now a question of who is going to cave first.
So now, with half of the Grapefruit League slate officially in the books, it's time once again to update our predictions on the Phillies' 25-man, Opening Day roster.
What will the lineup look like on Opening Day? Which players "on the bubble" find their way into the bench or bullpen?
Needless to say, the last few weeks of Grapefruit League action are going to determine a lot for the Phillies in the early portion of the regular season. Here's where things stand now.
The Phillies' biggest move of the offseason was to acquire Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins for Vance Worley and Trevor May. He's going to be in center field on Opening Day.
The big question surrounding the club's new center fielder is where he is going to hit in the lineup. I'm not entirely convinced that Charlie Manuel will relent and bat Revere leadoff, but he has played very well at the top of the order while Jimmy Rollins has been with Team USA.
It's just a gut feeling at this point, but Revere will be somewhere at the top of the order—either first or second.
What happens to Jimmy Rollins if Charlie Manuel finally caves and bats Ben Revere leadoff? He could conceivably go in a number of different directions, one of the most plausible being that Rollins stays near the top of the order.
In the past, Manuel has preferred to have both his first and second hitters have good speed, with Rollins and Shane Victorino a recent tandem.
If Revere were to lead off, Rollins could definitely hit second. Having some speed at the top of the order could give the Phillies some options. They'll be able to give a few different guys some looks in the middle of the order, including Michael Young, who is also an option to hit in this spot.
Either way, I wouldn't be surprised to see Revere and Rollins hit one and two.
After spending two straight Opening Days on the shelf, the Phillies will have their longtime second baseman on the field and healthy to kick off the 2013 campaign.
Like some of the other hitters in this lineup, Charlie Manuel has a few options with where to bat Utley. He has toyed with hitting him second this spring, but it is much more likely that Utley takes his normal position in the batting order: Third.
As the season moves on, Manuel may experiment with splitting up his lefties, but Utley should spend the majority of his appearances hitting out of that familiar third spot in the order.
The one player that is a lock to open the season with a regular position in the batting order is Ryan Howard, who will be hitting fourth and playing first base.
Howard, who has been hitting the ball very well this spring, was out of the lineup recovering from an Achilles injury at this time last season. A year later, Howard looks as though he may be able to recover some of that All-Star potential.
If the Phillies are going to score runs in 2013, this guy will be a big part of the reason why. They sorely missed his power in the middle of the order when he was out of the lineup last season.
The Phillies are in a bit of a bind as to who will hit fifth for them on Opening Day.
If Carlos Ruiz were available, he would be a good fit. But "Chooch" is set to begin serving a 25-game suspension on April 1. Darin Ruf has the right-handed power to hit in this spot, but he has struggled mightily in spring training. Domonic Brown, on the other hand, has been on fire, but hitting him fifth could line three lefties up in a row.
That's part of the reason I have the lineup organized this way. If Charlie Manuel decides to hit Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins in the first two spots, one player that he could drop to fifth is Michael Young. He doesn't have the power that you would like to see in this part of the order, but is a solid, right-handed bat.
Young is also a possibility to hit in the second spot, with the one guarantee being that he will be in the lineup and playing third base on Opening Day.
Baseball is a funny sport.
As long as he keeps up something close to his current pace, it looks as though one of the players the Phillies had the least faith in at the start of camp will wind up being their spring MVP.
After a few disappointing seasons to start his MLB career, Domonic Brown has spent the first few weeks of the Grapefruit League destroying baseballs. He has also played solid defense in the outfield, which was one of his biggest flaws in his young career.
When camp started, the Phillies were expected to have a "position battle" to determine their outfielders, but this one hasn't been much of a fight. Brown delivered the early knockout and should be one of this club's everyday corner outfielders moving forward.
Darin Ruf hasn't had a good spring. He has played a bit better as of late, but that's not enough to compensate for the miserable performance that he put on early in camp.
But the Phillies don't have many options to play left field early in the season. John Mayberry Jr. is an option, but we've seen that song and dance. Laynce Nix is a platoon player at most.
The dream scenario for the Phillies and their outfield situation this spring was for both Ruf and Domonic Brown to live up to their potential, but only half of the equation has done so. Now they have questions to answer moving forward.
Ruf's future comes down to how the Phillies view his spring. Is this an adjustment period for him to learn how to handle left field or a tryout? If it's the former, and that's my opinion, I still believe that Ruf is the starting left fielder on Opening Day, or at the very least, half of a platoon.
But Ruf is on the bubble right now and it would not be entirely surprising to see him optioned to Triple-A if he continues to struggle like this.
Erik Kratz stepped up and played well when the Phillies needed it most last season. They'll hope to catch lightning in a bottle twice by handing the reins to him with Carlos Ruiz out for the first month or so of the upcoming campaign.
The catcher's first priority is going to be defense. He calls a good game and manages the running game well. If he can add some offense from the bottom of the order, that would be great.
The real test for Kratz is going to be figuring out a way to transition from starter to backup once Ruiz returns.
The last few months have witnessed Cole Hamels become exactly what they believed he would when he made his MLB debut: An ace among aces.
Hamels avoided a looming free agency last July when he inked a six-year, $144 million deal to remain with the Phillies. Now, he is positioned to lead the club into battle as the Opening Day starter in front of names like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
And it's a well-deserved honor. Hamels is at the top of his game right now and is a legitimate Cy Young contender this season.
On most levels, the Phillies should just be happy to have a healthy Roy Halladay in their starting rotation.
Then again, after a second consecutive poor start this spring, the club once again finds itself wondering whether or not their only right-handed ace is truly healthy.
Halladay, who pitched very well early in the spring, has given way to a lack of velocity and command, raising the level of concern that he may once again be dealing with an injury.
While only time will truly tell, it's also possible that Halladay just can't prepare for the season as quickly as he used to. The man is 35 years old and increased his workload this spring. He came away from his last start feeling "lethargic," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Could he be dealing with an injury? Sure, that's a possibility. But let's give it some time to find out before giving in to mass hysteria.
It's funny how things work out sometimes in this game. The Phillies will start their most valuable starting pitcher from 2012 third in the rotation.
And that's not a knock against Cole Hamels, who pitched very well last season. Cliff Lee was just incredible, something that sounds kind of funny when re-read because he won just six games last season. Pound for pound, however, few pitchers were better than Lee.
He returns in 2013 as the only pitcher to reclaim the same spot in the rotation. Maybe there is a bit of magic in that third position, and with a bit more help from a solid lineup and improved bullpen, Lee could approach 20 wins this season in a hurry.
After stepping into the starting rotation last season, first to replace an injured Roy Halladay and later to replace the traded Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick is finally enjoying a bit of security this spring, in camp as the Phillies' fourth starter.
That security was earned over the second half of the 2012 season, when Kendrick was realistically one of the best pitchers on this staff. The Phillies were evidently confident enough to trade Vance Worley in the offseason, all but guaranteeing Kendrick's spot.
In this upcoming season, Kendrick is going to have to solidify his spot in the starting rotation once and for all. The Phillies can't afford to watch him be hit around throughout the year. He'll need to perform at a level closer to his 2012 peak to stick around.
The Phillies' pursuit of John Lannan was a curious one. This is a pitcher that the Phillies owned when he was a member of the Washington Nationals and weren't particularly fond of after he broke Chase Utley's hand on a hit-by-pitch.
But both sides are ready to let bygones be bygones and work towards a common goal—toppling the Nationals and winning a World Series.
Lannan, who was the Opening Day starter for the Nationals in 2011, was demoted to Triple-A following spring training that following year. He requested a trade, but the Nationals never found a partner and he pitched most of the season in the minors.
When the club shut Stephen Strasburg down at the end of the season, Lannan stepped into the rotation and pitched well.
The Phillies are hoping that he can bring some consistency to the back end of their starting rotation, and if you remove his performances against his new club from the equation, he's suddenly a .500 pitcher who may be able to do so.
With Erik Kratz forced into a starting role early in the season, the Phillies found themselves with a minor issue this offseason—who was going to serve as the temporary backup catcher?
It's a small role that could have been filled from within the organization. Steven Lerud performed a very similar task last season when both Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider were injured.
Instead, the Phillies decided to bring in a catcher from outside of the organization. Humberto Quintero is a 10-year MLB veteran who spent last season with the Kansas City Royals. He is well regarded as a solid defensive catcher, although he won't be doing much hitting.
The real question for Quintero isn't so much what happens in the month of April, but what happens when Ruiz is ready to be activated.
Could the month of April serve as an extended battle between Kratz and Quintero, or will the latter accept a demotion to Triple-A later in the season?
Had Delmon Young been healthy enough to start the regular season with the club and Darin Ruf had even an average spring, this may have been a very different slide about John Mayberry Jr.
Over the last couple of seasons, the Phillies have given Mayberry every opportunity in the world to become an everyday player. Now they're faced with the fact that it's just not going to happen. At his best, Mayberry is a bench player.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Phillies need a guy who can hit for power against left-handed pitching, but there are times where it is tough to make room for a part-time player.
Early in the season, Mayberry could see playing time as part of a platoon if Ruf can't pull it together. I think it is more likely, however, that he opens the regular season on the bench.
One player that seems to be all but guaranteed a spot on the bench this season is infielder Kevin Frandsen, who is tearing the cover off of the ball this spring.
Frandsen's batting average has spent the early portion of the Grapefruit League slate north of the .350 mark and he has played solid defense at a few different positions on the infield.
He came into camp with some competition from Freddy Galvis and that may still be the case, but it would be a big surprise at this point to see Frandsen not make the team. He'll be a utility infielder come Opening Day.
With Delmon Young set to open the season on the disabled list, it seems as though the Phillies will have room on the bench for both Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis—not a bad idea given the age and health of the club's starting infielders.
Galvis is coming off of a tough rookie year. He made a name for himself by playing incredible defense as Chase Utley's stand-in, but later suffered a Pars fracture of the spine, followed by a 50-game suspension for a positive test of a banned substance.
He has something to prove this spring and has played well, hitting for more power than the club is used to and playing his standard of above average defense.
At one point over the offseason, I would have been surprised to see both Galvis and Frandsen make the club. Now I would be surprised to see one of them left off, although, Yuniesky Betancourt is doing his best to make the decision difficult. (h/t: Jim Salisbury, CSN Philly)
Here is one of the closest battles of the spring.
After an incredibly slow start to the spring, Laynce Nix has turned up the dial at the plate. He now has seven hits in 29 plate appearances, which may not sounds like much, but is a vast improvement over his slow start.
On the other hand, Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte has been impressive this spring. He has used above average speed and defense and a very strong arm to begin winning over some of the coaches.
When all is said and done this spring, this one will come down to who can be more productive immediately. That's why I think that Nix is currently the favorite. After all, Inciarte has never played a single inning above A-ball.
The likely scenario here is that Nix will open the season on the club's bench while the Phillies try and figure out a way to keep Inciarte in the organization.
Ruben Amaro Jr.'s questionable pursuit of "veteran relievers" strikes again.
At a glance, Chad Durbin had a very good season with the Atlanta Braves in 2012. When you dig a bit deeper, however, you'll notice that he wasn't actually all that effective, posting an unsustainable, low BABip of .251 and a strikeout to walk ratio of just 1.75.
Does he bring some experience to this bullpen? Sure he does. Durbin is a 13-year veteran who has pitched in Philadelphia before. But at what cost does this experience come?
The Phillies have some very good relievers in camp with significantly more upside. They may not all be pitching well at the moment, and Durbin is all but guaranteed a spot, but this is a move that could draw comparisons to the Chad Qualls signing if Durbin does not pitch well early on.
The Phillies, who like to carry seven relievers, likely have three spots open for competition in their bullpen. Realistically speaking, one of those spots already belongs to Phillippe Aumont. That leaves two spots for a handful of candidates.
Over the offseason, I considered Jeremy Horst to be a shoo-in for one of these positions. He was incredible during the 2012 season and should have earned a spot that was his to lose in spring training. Now, after a poor start to the spring, we have to ask the question.
Has he lost it?
Horst has been hit hard this spring, surrendering eight earned runs in just 7.1 innings. For comparison's sake, this is a man who allowed four earned runs all of last season. While that should not be forgotten, we also have to consider that he could very well be a fringe reliever who caught lightning in a bottle for one season.
One guy that is really pressing him is Jake Diekman, who would be the benefactor of Horst's loss at this point.
Diekman has struck out 13 batters in eight innings this spring, and if there is one surefire way for a reliever to excel at the major league level, it's to rack up the strikeouts.
But there is a catch. Diekman was roughed up in his last appearance of the spring, allowing three runs on four hits and issuing a walk.
The Phillies have always maintained that if Diekman could show some command, he'd have a spot in the bullpen. Well, he is having a better spring than Horst, even if only slightly at this point, and looks as though he could be a real weapon against left-handed hitters.
I would call it a surprise, at least right now, to see the Phillies take two lefties to fill those final spots, so this could very well be a battle between Horst and Diekman.
I'm giving the edge to the latter.
Another reliever who has struggled this spring is Justin De Fratus, considered to be one of the Phillies' better prospects over the last few seasons. He missed the first half of the 2012 season with an injury and was expected to be a favorite to win a spot out of camp this spring.
I still think that he is.
The Phillies are a club that has always maintained that they will bring the best pitchers north with them. Well, De Fratus is one of the best relievers this club can offer.
He got off to a slow start, but has pitched better in more recent outings. As the Phillies continue to make cuts, with right-handed pitchers B.J. Rosenberg and Tyler Cloyd among the latest victims, there are fewer and fewer names ready to challenge De Fratus for his spot.
At this point in time, it would be a surprise to see De Fratus optioned to Triple-A. The Phillies could make that decision if they decide that they need a real long reliever, however, in which case names like Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez should be considered.
The World Baseball Classic didn't end on a happy note for Team Canada and Phillippe Aumont, but the good news is that, unless something goes drastically wrong between now and the end of camp, he should be in the Phillies' bullpen to open the season.
It's easy to love Aumont's potential as a reliever. He's a huge guy with a big fastball and knee-buckling offspeed pitches, making him an idea option for the later innings if he can command his offerings, and with the way things have gone in the past, that's a huge "if."
There is nothing left for Aumont in Triple-A, however. He is ready to contribute out of the major league bullpen full-time.
Antonio Bastardo had an up-and-down year in 2012. Through the first half of the season he was a major problem in the Phillies' bullpen, struggling with control and giving up a few too many home runs. Over the second half he was much better, striking out hitters with relative ease.
The Phillies hoped to see more of that second half success out of Bastardo this spring, but instead have been shown more inconsistency.
Even with that in mind, it would take an impressively bad spring for Bastardo not to have a spot in the bullpen. With Mike Adams aboard, the Phillies have the luxury of using Bastardo much more efficiently in the later innings, in favorable matchups, this season.
A lot of things went wrong for the Phillies last season. One of the biggest concerns was a bullpen that blew 13 leads in the eighth inning, leading the Phillies to search for a decent setup man over the offseason.
They wound up coming away with one of the best, signing Mike Adams to a two-year deal.
Adams is recovering from offseason surgery to treat a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, so the Phillies are taking a bit of a risk on him. He's had a very good spring so far and doesn't appear to be dealing with any symptoms, so expect him to be ready to go on Opening Day.
Jonathan Papelbon hasn't pitched well this spring, but he is one of the few poor performers early in camp that you shouldn't be worrying about as Opening Day rounds into focus.
In the past, Papelbon has been the type to struggle in non-save situations. That's not an excuse for his poor performance, but it's more difficult to mentally prepare to pitch in the third inning of a Grapefruit League game for a closer.
Papelbon will be ready to go on Opening Day and there have been no indications that we should expect him to struggle once the games count.