At its core, spring training is a small sample size of players doing their best to shake off the rust in anticipation of the upcoming regular season, but it also carries all of the blessings and curses of a that sample size.
Regardless of who you are, if you play well through the month of March people anticipate your regular season. This rings especially true when a team like the Philadelphia Phillies receives good performances from players like Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown.
That's the blessing. If you play well in a small sample size, you have the opportunity to throw up some impressive numbers and crank the hype machine into full gear prior to the regular season.
The curse is equally as powerful. Any player that performs poorly over a small sample size generates concern. Take a look at Roy Halladay. He is a two-time Cy Young Award winner with a pair of no-hitters, including a perfect game, under his belt.
But he hasn't pitched well this spring and people are concerned about his future. Is that a warranted concern?
Spring training is ultimately a handful of exhibition games, but they're important games for a lot of players. They could help to determine a job. They play a role in what kind of start the team gets off to.
There will be a number of players under a lot of pressure as the second half of spring training begins. Here they are.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
At what point should there be some concern about Cliff Lee?
Any spring training statistic should be taken with a grain of salt, but it is worth noting that Lee has already surrendered three home runs this spring. When he was roughed up last season, that was a big part of the reason why (and it wasn't often).
Lee has also allowed 10 runs this spring, though just seven of those were earned, and issued four walks. He isn't having a terrible spring and is likely just preparing for the regular season, but with Roy Halladay's health up in the air, the last thing the Phillies need is another headache in the rotation.
At best, this spring was always going to be awkward for Carlos Ruiz. Over the offseason, the Phillies catcher was caught not once, but twice, for using a banned substance (the amphetamine Adderall) and suspended for the first 25 games of the regular season.
While he has played well this spring, Ruiz has appeared in just seven games. The Phillies need to prepare Erik Kratz as the starting catcher and their real starting catcher has taken a back seat as a result.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on Ruiz, not just through the remainder of the spring, but throughout the regular season. He'll be under the microscope as fans, scouts and baseball personnel attempt to figure out whether his fantastic 2012 season was a result of legitimate progress at the plate or a banned substance.
That's not a good place to be heading into a contract year.
How bad were Phillies' third basemen last season? Michael Young hit .277/.312/.370 with eight home runs for the Texas Rangers last season and it was considered one of the worst seasons of his professional career. Yet that production was still better than all of the Phillies' third basemen combined.
That's what makes the acquisition of Young an interesting one for the Phillies. They're hoping that sticking him in the lineup everyday at one position will help him bounce back at the plate.
That's a reasonable gamble.
In fact, Young has hit well this spring. The real pressure is one the other side of the ball, where he'll be replacing an above-average defender in Placido Polanco at third base.
Young isn't exactly a spring chicken and doesn't have the range he used to. He'll have to use the remainder of the spring to refine his game at the hot corner. Defense could be a huge area of concern for the Phillies this season.
Getting him on the field in spring training was the first step. Now that it appears as though Chase Utley will be in the starting lineup on Opening Day, he needs to heat up at the plate a bit.
Utley has had an unusual spring. He's hitting below the Mendoza Line with half of the Grapefruit League schedule in the books, but he has walked quite a bit and the result has been an on-base percentage that hovers in the .350 area.
The real pressure for Utley this spring was getting on the field. Now that he has accomplished that, the pressure will be refocused into his numbers at the plate. The Phillies would like to see him drive that batting average up and hit for some power.
For a man that has never made a major league club out of spring training, the Phillies are asking a lot of Erik Kratz this season.
With Carlos Ruiz out of action through the first month of the season, the starting catching duty will belong to Kratz, who filled a similar role last season when Ruiz and Brian Schneider were both on the disabled list and played well.
This season they'll ask him to wear a few different hats. He'll have to manage the pitching staff full-time through April before moving into a backup role when Ruiz returns.
The pressure is on Kratz this spring to prove that he can do it. He went into a long slump at the end of 2012 and hasn't hit well this spring. He needs to move into the regular season with some level of comfort. Otherwise it could be a long month with Ruiz on the shelf.
The Phillies entered spring training with a handful of corner outfielders and no one guaranteed a job on Opening Day. Now, with about half of the spring in the books, Domonic Brown is the only outfielder who is playing above a level that is even average.
In fact, Brown has been one of the club's most valuable players this spring, replacing the fear among many fans (and perhaps front office personnel) that he was a "bust" with a general optimism moving closer to the regular season.
Now the pressure is on for Brown to continue to play well. The Phillies will likely hand over the reins to a starting outfield gig to Brown and see if he can finally live up to that potential. He'll have two weeks or so left in the spring to continue to impress.
The Phillies have given John Mayberry, Jr. a lot of chances to become a regular player over the last few seasons. With Darin Ruf in the fold this spring, it sure seemed as though the Phillies were ready to give up on him.
Not so fast.
With Ruf struggling mightily this spring, the door has been thrust open yet again for Mayberry to come in and steal a job. He has the right-handed power bat that the Phillies are looking for and is a much better defender than Ruf. So what's stopping him from winning the job?
Yet again, Mayberry is off to a slow start this spring. He hasn't been able to grab the bull by the horns and play well enough for the Phillies to call him an everyday outfielder. At most, he is an interesting platoon player with some upside.
The pressure is on Mayberry to turn things around this spring. A solid couple of weeks at the end of the Grapefruit League slate could be the difference between sitting on the bench and getting plenty of at-bats once the regular season begins.
Kevin Frandsen didn't have the luxury of having a guaranteed spot on the roster when spring training ended, but he has been one of the hottest hitters around and has all but secured a spot on the roster.
Frandsen, who has posted a batting average north of .300 over most of the Grapefruit League schedule, is likely to break camp as one of the Phillies' utility infielders, but he'll have some competition for the job. Freddy Galvis and Yuniesky Betancourt have also played well and will be gunning for his job.
While Frandsen has done an excellent job of securing his position this spring, he'll have no time to rest on his laurels. The pressure is on to keep Galvis and Betancourt at bay and continue to play well.
After missing more than 50 regular season games in 2012 with a severe strain in his calf, Laynce Nix has some competition for a spot on the bench this spring in Rule 5 draft pick Ender Inciarte.
A little competition may be a good thing for a guy like Nix, however. The Phillies expect him to hit for power off of the bench and play both corner outfield positions, as well as first base in a pinch. A little extra motivation should make that a bit easier.
Now completely healthy, Nix needs to prove that he can be a threat against tough right-handed pitchers, either as a platoon player or late in games as a pinch hitter. He doesn't provide the speed and defense that Inciarte could, so Nix is going to have to win a job with the bat this spring.
After suffering a Pars fracture of the spine that effectively ended his season, Freddy Galvis received some more bad news when Major League Baseball suspended him for 50 games following a positive test for a banned substance.
Needless to say, Galvis has something to prove this spring. He's in camp fighting for a job on the major league roster as a utility player and has done a nice job, not only showing off his defense once again, but also hitting for some power at the plate.
There is no guarantee that he begins the season with the Phillies, however. Yuniesky Betancourt is also playing well and fighting for that second utility infielder spot (assuming that Kevin Frandsen is well in the lead).
Galvis will have to play well through the remainder of the spring if he wants to make the club. There is certainly a scenario where he could open the season in Triple-A.
After he struggled in his first appearance of the spring, I pretty much wrote Mike Stutes off. I still think that he can be a solid reliever for the Phillies, but that he would need to spend some time in Triple-A after missing nearly an entire season in 2012.
Well, here we are—halfway through spring training—and Stutes is not only hanging around, but pitching well and in contention for a spot in the bullpen.
Stutes has pitched well since that first start and is a legitimate candidate to open the season in the bullpen as a member of the Phillies.
He still has a long road ahead of him and will have to show that he can command his offerings—something that has plagued him over the early parts of the spring. However, if Stutes can show that he is the best option for that final spot, the Phillies will take him.
The next two-plus weeks will be the difference between MLB and Triple-A for this right-handed reliever.
Even after pitching well for the Phillies in 2012, Raul Valdes came into camp as an underdog. Knee surgery prematurely ended his season last year and the Phillies had a ton of relievers in camp, hurting his chances.
Here we are more than halfway through the spring, however, and Valdes is still around. He has pitched well in a long relief role and, because he is already a member of the 40-man roster, he has a decent chance to break north with the Phillies.
If the Phillies decide to carry a long reliever, Valdes' biggest competition will be Aaron Cook, who is in camp on a minor league deal. He'll need to pitch well over these last two weeks to secure a spot.
The Phillies' bullpen is crowded.
It's so crowded that a reliever who posted an ERA of 1.15 over 32 appearances last season is fighting for his job in spring training.
That man is Jeremy Horst, and that success from the 2012 season gives him a leg up on the rest of the competition this spring, despite the fact that he has not pitched all that well, surrendering four home runs over eight appearances.
Horst has pitched much better as of late and he is going to need every ounce of that good fortune to reclaim his spot in the bullpen, especially if the Phillies decide to bring a long reliever north, which could leave him as one of a few pitchers fighting for one job.
Horst should still be considered a favorite to make the club, but he is on the bubble right now. He'll need to pitch well over these two-plus remaining weeks of camp to solidify his spot in the bullpen for the upcoming season.
The Phillies made a curious selection in this year's Rule 5 draft when they picked outfielder Ender Inciarte out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Without much of a hit tool and having yet to play a single inning over High-A ball, Inciarte didn't seem like a guy who had a home on an MLB team.
But he has had a solid spring and brings speed and defense to a bench that would lack both without him around, which is part of the reason he has stuck around for so long.
As the Phillies sort through their bench options, Inciarte is a name to keep an eye on. He would be a very good option as a late-innings defender or pinch runner and has actually hit the ball well this spring.
He'll have to continue to play up to those lofty expectations and battle with Laynce Nix over the next few weeks, but there is a scenario in which Inciarte makes the club.
Most of the conversation regarding a utility infielder early in the spring was whether there would be room for both Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis, but Yuniesky Betancourt has had a good camp and is drawing some of that attention his way.
Betancourt, who was with the Kansas City Royals last season, is in camp on a minor league deal, but can opt out of his contract on March 24 if he is not added to the major league roster.
The Phillies still have a few days to evaluate him, but it sure seems as though as long as he is playing well, Betancourt will find an MLB job somewhere. Here is a snippet from Nick Cafardo's column in the Boston Globe:
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, Phillies — He has improved his visibility, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team deal for him before the season. The best thing that happened for Betancourt is Jimmy Rollins playing in the WBC. Betancourt is also in good shape, which has been a challenge for him in the past. With a March 24 opt-out in his minor league deal, he’s on the Cardinals’ list as they attempt to replace Rafael Furcal.
As long as he continues to play well, Betancourt should be on an MLB roster on Opening Day.
There may not be a spot in the starting rotation for Aaron Cook, but he has pitched well this spring and has thrown his hat into the mix for one of the final spots in the Phillies' bullpen.
The Phillies, who have always preferred to carry a long reliever, have used Cook in a role similar to that this spring. As a veteran pitcher, he has the option to opt out of his minor league deal before camp ends to pursue an MLB opportunity.
By stashing him in the bullpen, the Phillies would be able to hang onto a guy that they consider a very good sixth starter in the event of an injury.
To make that a viable option, however, the pressure is on Cook not only to pitch well through the remainder of the spring, but to show that he can make that transition into the bullpen as well—a switch that is not always easy on veteran arms.
To say that Darin Ruf "choked" this spring would be putting it lightly.
The Phillies, who rewarded him with a promotion to MLB after he tore the cover off of the ball in Double-A Reading, expected him to come into camp and compete for the open left fielder job.
The realistic expectation was that he would be a poor defensive outfielder who could give the club a solid right-handed bat in the middle of the order. Well, half of that expectation was realistic; Ruf has played a miserable left field this spring.
The real problem here is that he hasn't tapped into the raw power that made him a spectacle in the minors last season and gave fans hope when the Phillies were out of the race in September.
With two weeks remaining in camp, the pressure is definitely on for Ruf. He can still win the left field job, especially with Delmon Young on the shelf. However, he'll have to prove that he can play a passable defense in the outfield and leave his struggles out there.
If Ruf can't hit, there isn't a spot for him on this club.
Here we go again.
After getting roughed up by the Detroit Tigers, Roy Halladay left the mound shrouded in concern. His fastball was lacking its usual pop, as has been the case throughout the spring, and he was missing his spots badly at times.
Following that start, he told reporters, including MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, that he felt "lethargic" following a modified throwing program that accounted for an off day, but that he was physically healthy. That made his next start, against the Baltimore Orioles on St. Patrick's Day, a big one.
Halladay labored through one inning before the Phillies pulled him. He was sweating profusely on the mound and leaned over a few times. Following that inning, the Phillies announced that Halladay was leaving with a "stomach virus."
Can you believe them?
It's certainly a curious time for a stomach virus, as Halladay is once again fighting off injury concerns, but it should be noted that teammate Jonathan Papelbon was also scratched with an illness and the good old "eye test" confirmed that diagnosis—Halladay looked sick.
Will he have enough time to prepare for the regular season? The rest of the spring—sick, injured or healthy—is going to be a pressure-packed event for Halladay.