Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Potential Breakout Players to Watch in Spring Training
Philadelphia is still in the throes of the third-snowiest winter in the history of the city, according to Steve Strouss of CBS Philly.
The cold and gray have aptly mirrored the feelings of Philadelphia Phillies fans about a team full of players in the winters of their respective careers.
Five of the probable everyday eight are at least 34 years old. The marquee free-agent signing on the offensive side of the ball is 36-year-old Marlon Byrd.
The Phillies made more news recently by shoring up the pitching staff, agreeing to terms with free agent right-hander A.J. Burnett, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
At 37 years of age, Burnett should fit right in at the regulars' canasta games.
So it is an old team. Very old, really. And it could use an infusion of youth.
Where might that come from?
Cody Asche was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take over at third base after the Phillies found out just how close to retirement Michael Young really was.
Asche did not play poorly, but his .235 average with five home runs in a bit less than two months of action did not exactly announce him as a franchise cornerstone.
Still, the rest of the Phillies infield sort of are what they are at this point. The odds against Ryan Howard, Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins replicating his best career season are beyond astronomical.
Asche's Triple-A numbers at Lehigh Valley in 2013 were quite good. He hit 15 home runs and batted .295 before his call-up.
The Phillies would take a full season of a .295 batting average and 15 home runs in 2014 from Asche right now if they could.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
Everything you have ever heard about Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to this point was either sketchy or outright negative.
Unfortunately, the recent news on Gonzalez is not too encouraging, either.
You will recall that Gonzalez originally agreed to a contract in the range of six years and $60 million, only to have some questions that arose from his medical history reduce his value to three years and $12 million, per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports.
Axisa's latest report suggests that Gonzalez is, um, not going to challenge Cliff Lee for the ball on Opening Day or anything. Per David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News, manager Ryne Sandberg said, "I'm interested to see him build arm strength."
But as Axisa noted, "being concerned about a pitcher's arm strength during the first days of camp is pretty silly."
Even if Gonzalez does not make the Opening Day Phillies roster, a few impressive outings in Clearwater could pave the way for Gonzalez to grab the fifth spot in the starting rotation later in the season.
Phillies center fielder Ben Revere pointed out recently that when he went down for the season on July 13, 2013, the Phillies were 3.5 games out of a wild-card spot and hovering around .500.
Everyone knows how that story ended.
Still, Revere is one of the few rays of hope for the Phillies entering 2014. Before his injury, Revere was batting .305 and had already stolen 22 bases while learning the tendencies of pitchers and catchers in the National League.
A full season of Revere hitting around .300 and stealing 40 or more bases will be exciting to watch, whether it translates into a huge turnaround in the win/loss column or not.
Phillies fans will want to see from his spring training that Revere's speed and batting eye did not leave him as his broken right foot from last July healed.
Middle relievers are by definition not exciting subjects. Nor are late-inning guys, unless they are closers.
Which is why it is easy to lose a pitcher like Jacob Diekman in the headlines earned by the pitchers who pile up wins and saves.
Diekman sneaked up on the 2013 season, only getting called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in June. His early numbers were understandably volatile; an outing on June 30 where he gave up two earned runs and got only one out spiked his earned run average by three full runs.
He got markedly better as the season wore on. His 1.98 ERA in August was very good. His 1.08 ERA in September was fantastic.
If Diekman's September carries over into his spring training, he could lock down the eighth-inning role for the Phillies.
The last time Darin Ruf went to Clearwater for spring training, the expectations and hopes of Phillies fans that he would become the next Greg Luzinski or Pete Incaviglia got the better of him.
In retrospect, it was ridiculous to project Ruf into an everyday major league left fielder when, A. He had never played left field regularly before, and B. He had only 33 major league at-bats in 2012.
Ruf's 2013 season was a bit of a disappointment. He did launch 14 home runs in 293 at-bats; he also batted a below mediocre .247 and struck out 91 times.
The hope for Phillies fans is that Ruf, a post-hype sleeper now, can refine his batting eye while continuing to develop his power.
If Ruf does end up in a platoon with Ryan Howard at first base, the Phillies need him to hit for the power Howard's absence takes away.