Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries at Philadelphia Phillies Camp
Baseball is a sport where anything can happen and no time of the year epitomizes that more than spring training, where rookies, veterans and players who aren't even guaranteed a spot on the roster congregate with a common goal: Make the club and win a World Series title.
As you can imagine, spring training breeds a number of interesting results, and the Philadelphia Phillies are no exception. This is a club battling age and injuries, doing their best to prove that they can still compete in the National League East.
Throughout the season, keeping this club healthy is going to be the key to their success. If names like Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are on the field and producing, they can contend.
They'll also have to receive some positive play from a few unlikely sources—we'll call those guys the "surprises"—and avoid players that struggle over long periods of time. For the sake of this slideshow, those guys will be called "busts."
With those parameters in mind, let's update where the Phillies' injuries, surprises and busts stand at this point in camp.
Surprise: John Lannan
After dealing Vance Worley to fill other holes in the offseason, the Phillies found themselves in need of a fifth starter, and a familiar foe, John Lannan, would become the new friendly face.
Lannan, who became quite the villain for Phillies' fans at various points in his Washington Nationals tenure, has pitched very well for his new team this spring. He has made five starts, going 14 innings and allowing five earned runs. He has walked four and punched out eight.
If you remove the Phillies from his career record, Lannan is a .500 pitcher with an ERA lower than four. They're hoping that's not a coincidence. If so, Lannan could be one of the better fifth starters in the division this season.
Surprise: Mike Stutes
After a shoulder injury kept him out for most of the 2012 season, no one knew what to expect out of right-handed reliever Mike Stutes this spring. After he was rocked in his first outing of the spring, there was a general feeling that he wouldn't make the club.
But Stutes is still hanging around with more than half of the Grapefruit League schedule in the books, mainly because he made drastic improvements following that first outing. Stutes has allowed four earned runs—including a solo home run—while striking out seven and walking four.
If healthy, Stutes can be a solid middle reliever. He has a good fastball and decent offspeed offerings. The trick is going to be refining his command, something that he hasn't necessarily shown he can do this spring.
Surprise: Raul Valdes
Raul Valdes hasn't put up the best numbers in camp this spring, but he has shown that he is willing to take on any role that the Phillies ask of him.
After making an impression as an early season call-up in 2012, Valdes suffered a knee injury that ended his season early. He is in camp this spring competing to be the Phillies' long reliever, and the club is stretching him out as such.
Valdes has tossed 13.1 innings this spring and surrendered six earned runs. The biggest concern may be his tendency to allow the long ball, having already given up four home runs this spring. He has also struck out an impressive 16 batters while walking just one.
That's not a bad showing for a guy who came into camp without a guaranteed role.
Surprise: Kevin Frandsen
Kevin Frandsen had such a strong showing over the second half of the regular season in 2012 that fans were clamoring for him to take over as the club's regular third baseman in 2013.
That obviously did not happen, as the Phillies decided against such a promotion and instead acquired Michael Young from the Texas Rangers for a pair of relievers.
Even without a guaranteed role on the club, Frandsen hasn't stopped hitting. He has been one of the Phillies' most consistent performers this spring, posting a batting average that has hovered above the .300 mark for most of March.
While he is technically still battling for a spot on the club as a utility infielder, he would have to do something terrible to lose the job at this point.
Surprise: Freddy Galvis
After doing a terrific job to replace an injured Chase Utley at the start of the regular season, Freddy Galvis' 2012 campaign went downhill. He suffered a Pars fracture of the spine that effectively ended his season before being slapped with a 50-game suspension following a positive test for a banned substance.
It was imperative that Galvis come into camp this spring ready to put his embarrassing rookie campaign behind him. He played an incredible defensive second base, but he struggled at the plate.
This spring, the infielder has shown off some impressive power and versatility—both of which he will need if he makes this club. He has nine extra-base hits and has spent the spring learning to man third base, which would give the Phillies a late-inning option to replace Michael Young.
The competition is far from over, but it would be a surprise to see one of Galvis and Kevin Frandsen left off of the club. There is room (and a need) for both.
Surprise: Ryan Howard
When you're earning as much money as Ryan Howard is in this sport, it shouldn't be a surprise that you're hitting well in spring training, but the Phillies' first baseman comes with his own, unique set of circumstances.
Howard, who suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon on the final play of the 2011 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, is finally healthy. Now, he is set to begin another rehabilitation—one for his production over the last few seasons.
The Phillies need Howard in the lineup and producing in the middle of the order. They have invested a ton of money into their homegrown power threat, and he has shown signs that he can live up to those lofty expectations this spring.
That's a pleasant surprise.
Surprise: Michael Young
The Phillies' third-base situation required some "out of the box" thinking this offseason, and the club delivered with an interesting answer—Michael Young.
Young, a longtime member of the Texas Rangers organization, is coming off of the worst season of his professional career. The Rangers had moved him into a super utility role and he was unable to deliver the consistency that many had come to expect.
Without a place for him, the Rangers decided to send him to the Phillies this offseason in exchange for relievers Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla.
The Phillies are hoping that they can rekindle Young's consistent approach by giving him the everyday third base job and a spot in the lineup. If they're successful, they'll have found a .300 hitter with some pop, and there is a good chance Young can provide that regardless.
The real question coming into the spring was whether he could play third base.
That's a work in progress. Young doesn't have much range, limiting his ability, but he should be able to play a passable third base by making all of the routine plays. He has also shown some life in that bat this spring, which the Phillies must certainly see as a pleasant surprise.
Surprise: Domonic Brown
Domonic Brown has been the Phillies' best hitter thus far in spring training and it could not have come at a better time.
This is a club that spent most of the offseason looking for alternatives to Brown in the outfield, including a rumor that had the club talking a swap of Brown and Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano. It's not too soon to say that not pulling the trigger on that one was a good idea.
And while there are certain sections of the population that expected Brown to perform well, it is a surprise to see him playing this well, this early in the spring.
Not only is Brown tearing the cover off the ball, hitting for average and tapping into the power that made him a favorite among scouts, but he has also played a very solid outfield throughout the spring.
Brown is sure to be a favorite breakout candidate across the board for the 2013 season, but for now, the Phillies will be happy to call him a pleasant surprise early on.
Surprise: Ender Inciarte
Ender Inciarte came into camp as a 22-year-old outfielder with no experience above A-ball and a reputation for not being able to hit much. Those players don't generally make the club at the end of spring training, but Inciarte is a unique case.
As a Rule 5 draft pick, Inciarte has to remain on the major league roster. Otherwise, the Phillies would have to offer him back to the Arizona Diamondbacks. They could also work out a trade to keep him around, which would negate his Rule 5 status.
While Inciarte certainly has that advantage, he has also played well this spring. He has a strong arm and above-average speed and has played excellent defense, all the while showing he can actually hit a little bit.
He has surprised quite a few people and remains in the running for a spot on the bench, where he would offer some late-innings speed and defense—something that the Phillies would seriously lack otherwise.
Surprise: Aaron Cook
Because the Phillies have a loaded starting rotation with no openings this spring, it is definitely a surprise to see that Aaron Cook has stuck around for this long in camp. So, what's the deal?
The big thing to consider is that the veteran starter has pitched well this spring, surrendering five earned runs over 14 innings and striking out four. The Phillies consider him to be a good "sixth starter" type: A pitcher that can hold down the fort in the event of an injury to a starter.
Cook also has the option of getting out of his minor-league deal early, so the Phillies want to give him a full evaluation. If the club decides to carry a long reliever in the bullpen, Cook would be in the running for that role as well.
So, while his future with the club is still very much up in the air, it has been a surprise to see Cook even make it close this spring. Many believed that he was fodder for the Triple-A rotation from the get-go.
Surprise: Yuniesky Betancourt
With few jobs up for grabs as the spring started, the Phillies didn't anticipate having many position battles. One battle that has evolved over the last few weeks has been the utility infielder role, and no player has had more of an influence than Yuniesky Betancourt.
Betancourt, who is in camp on a minor-league deal, has played well enough to change the dynamic of the battle, once thought to be for two jobs belonging to Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis.
Well, not so fast. Betancourt has played well on both sides of the ball this spring, helping to erase the memory of his dreadful defensive performances of years past while flashing some power at the plate.
Betancourt is also putting some pressure on the Phillies to make a decision. He has to be informed of the club's decision to keep him on the major league roster or not by March 24, when he can opt out of his deal the club decides to send him to Triple-A.
This is one of those battles where it is still too soon to project a favorite, although I struggle to see a situation where Betancourt is a better option for the bench than Frandsen and Galvis.
Bust: Roy Halladay
The ideal scenario for the Phillies this spring was that all of their injured veterans from a year ago would return to the field with ease. While Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have inspired optimism, there has been a growing concern over Roy Halladay.
Halladay, now 35 years old, just doesn't have the same velocity that he did a few seasons ago. That's not the biggest concern. He also has been unable to command his pitches in a way that we have been accustomed to seeing.
That's what will make or break Halladay this season. He gets enough movement on his pitches to excel without the velocity, but he'll have to locate them in order to get away with it.
While Halladay maintains that there is nothing structurally wrong with him (read: he's not injured), he has been dealing with a stomach virus that may become a huge obstacle in his preparations for the regular season.
Either way, Halladay certainly has not had the kind of spring that eases the mind of a collectively anxious fanbase.
Bust: Jeremy Horst
Jeremy Horst is pitching much better as of late, but this isn't the kind of spring the Phillies wanted him to have.
Horst, acquired as a "throw-in" in the deal that sent Wilson Valdez to the Cincinnati Reds, was one of the Phillies' most consistent performers in a year where their bullpen spun its wheels all season long. He came into camp as a favorite to win a job but faltered early on.
The big concern for Horst has been the long ball, as the left-handed reliever has already been taken deep four times this spring. For the Grapefruit League as a whole, he has surrendered eight earned runs.
But again, Horst's last handful of outings have been much better than his first few, and with the competition dwindling, Horst's job appears safe, but it's certainly not the route the Phillies wanted to see him take.
Bust: Kyle Kendrick
Kyle Kendrick's last start against the New York Yankees was stellar—something that the Phillies have been expecting to see out of him this spring, as he kept runners off of the base paths and had the ground ball working.
The problem is that it took Kendrick a while to get going this spring. Six stellar innings only dropped his ERA to just above five.
Calling Kendrick a "bust" may be a bit unfair. This is a guy that earned a spot in the starting rotation with a stellar second half when the Phillies needed it most in 2012. Kendrick still needs to step up and pitch like he belongs in a big-league rotation, however.
This last start against the Yankees was a solid building block.
Bust: Erik Kratz
Asking a career minor-league catcher to become your starter at the major-league level sounds a bit excessive. The Phillies are going to do it for the second time in two seasons.
Of course, giving Erik Kratz a shot last season paid dividends. With Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider on the disabled list, Kratz stepped in and picked up right where the hot-hitting Ruiz left off. When "Chooch" returned later in the season, however, Kratz struggled in a more limited role.
That will be the challenge this season.
Kratz, who will serve as the club's starter through the first month or so of the season, will have the tall task of replacing Ruiz in the lineup as he serves his 25-game suspension, only to slide into a bench role upon his return.
He certainly hasn't inspired much confidence this spring, as his batting average as hovered right around the infamous "Mendoza Line" of .200. Although, he has played solid defense and handled the pitching staff well.
Bust: John Mayberry Jr.
John Mayberry Jr. made his MLB debut for the Phillies in 2009 and it seems as though the club has given him more than a handful of chances to win an everyday job in the outfield since.
Each and every time, however, Mayberry has come up short. The 2012 season may have been the ultimate example.
The Phillies lacked an everyday left fielder and first baseman, with Ryan Howard on the disabled list, and Mayberry struggled to hold down either job, with Juan Pierre taking the majority of repetitions in the outfield.
This spring hasn't been any different. With Darin Ruf struggling, the Phillies could have used a corner outfielder like Mayberry—a solid defender with right-handed power potential—but the results have been mediocre at best.
Even after accepting the fact that Mayberry may not be anything more than a right-handed platoon option—which certainly has value—you have to just how much time he has left as a member of the Phillies.
Bust: Laynce Nix
There was a point during the 2012 season where Laynce Nix was realistically the hottest hitter in a lineup battered by injuries. He would then suffer a severe strain to his calf that sidelined him for more than 50 games and hasn't been the same since.
The Phillies inked Nix to a two-year deal prior to last season with the expectation that he would be a left-handed weapon off the bench. Some immediately questioned the club's inclination to give a player like Nix a two-year contract, and now you see why.
Nix came into camp this spring fighting for a job on the roster after a poor showing over the second half of 2012. Even as one of a few left-handed power threats competing for a spot on the bench, Nix has failed to separate from the rest of the pack, namely non-roster invitee Jermaine Mitchell and Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte.
While Nix should still be considered the "favorite" to win a spot on the bench, he certainly hasn't played that way through most of the camp, having slugged just one official home run and posting a batting average that has remained in the low-.200s.
Bust: Darin Ruf
Will the Phillies still give Darin Ruf a shot to play left field when spring training ends?
That's one question on the minds of Phillies fans as the first baseman-turned-outfielder has struggled mightily this spring, not only in left field, but at the plate as well.
Any time you hit more than 50 home runs in a calendar year, however, some team is going to give you an opportunity to prove that you can hit at the major-league level, and that's exactly what the Phillies are doing with Ruf.
Perhaps they would be able to overlook the obvious defensive flaws if he could become the right-handed, middle-of-the-order power bat that the club has so desperately desired.
That hasn't been the case through the spring. Ruf has looked lost on both sides of the ball with only a few bright spots.
He still has time to turn things around, but the only reason that Ruf still has a legitimate chance is because no corner outfielder has done much to remove him from the equation.
Injury: Roy Halladay
Is Roy Halladay hurting?
That was a question that scouts were asking at this time last season when it was noticed that Halladay's average fastball velocity had dipped quite a bit. Both the Phillies and Halladay insisted that the pitcher was healthy, but he would later hit the disabled list later in the season.
Now, with the velocity having yet to return, those same scouts are pondering that same question. Yet again, however, Halladay insists that there is nothing structurally wrong with him.
To make matters worse, Halladay left his last start against the Baltimore Orioles with a stomach virus. Sick before the game, Halladay had attempted to pitch through the illness, but the stomach bug won this battle. He tossed just one inning before tossing something else, if you catch my drift.
Halladay was back to work two days later and intends to make his next start on Saturday. With just two starts left this spring, he'll be under a time constraint to prepare for the regular season.
At the moment, it appears as though Halladay is healthy.
Injury: Delmon Young
The Phillies' most controversial acquisition of the offseason is unlikely to appear in a Grapefruit League game this spring, but he remains the club's only major injury concern at this point.
Delmon Young is eventually going to have an opportunity to prove that he can still play a corner outfield position at the major league level. It's easy to forget that Young—ranked as one of the top three prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America for four straight seasons from 2004-07 (h/t: Baseball-Reference)—is still just 27 years old.
Young, who had ankle surgery in November, has spent the offseason and spring training rehabilitating. According to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, he is now taking batting practice as well as running both on the treadmill and flat ground.
While he is still projected to open the season on the disabled list, Young is progressing nicely and may not have to spend much time away from the club. He is expected to become the Phillies' right fielder when healthy.