Philadelphia Phillies: A Position-by-Position Breakdown at Spring Training

Alec SnyderContributor IIIFebruary 28, 2014

Philadelphia Phillies: A Position-by-Position Breakdown at Spring Training

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Spring training is upon us, and with it comes the annual talk of positional battles. Who will end up winning the job at a certain position? How close are the competitors to unseating the incumbent?

    No, this isn't a political race. But for most MLB teams, spring training holds the distinction of being the time in which players must prove themselves worthy of Opening Day roster spots.

    However, the Philadelphia Phillies aren't most teams. Thanks to a plethora of reasons—whether age, guaranteed salary and/or a lack of prospect depth—almost all of the team's starters are cemented firmly into place. There are a few positions where this is not the case, though, and the issue will be covered at those positions.

    All positions, including the rotation and bullpen, will be discussed in the following slideshow. With that in mind, here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Phillies at spring training.

The Rotation

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starters: Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Cole Hamels (when healthy), Kyle Kendrick

    Likely Starter: Roberto Hernandez 70%

    Potential Starters: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez 10%, Ethan Martin 10%, Jonathan Pettibone 10%

    As practically set as the rotation is, there is still room for competition. When everyone is healthy, the first four spots are fully guaranteed, and they will belong to Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick. After them, though, it gets a little hazy.

    Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, is the odds-on favorite to win the fifth starter's job, but that may be due primarily to salary obligations. When the Phillies signed him this past winter, they guaranteed him $4.5 million—no small chunk of change.

    In his first spring game on Wednesday, he didn't fare too well either, quickly allowing the Toronto Blue Jays to get on the board courtesy of a monster Jose Bautista home run in the first inning.

    Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is still a bit of an international man of mystery. The Phillies—and the public, for that matter—will see him in action for the first time on Saturday against the New York Yankees, who will be sporting their own international signee, Masahiro Tanaka. Gonzalez has not lived up to expectations, reportedly lacking velocity and a harness of the strike zone.

    Due to a lack of other options, though, Gonzalez could wind up as the fifth starter out of spring training, while Hernandez holds down the No. 4 spot due to Hamels' injury.

    And while other starters like Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin would be considered, both are dealing with injuries, the latter being removed from yesterday's spring training game because of shoulder pain, according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News.

    There will be more clarity on this situation in the coming weeks, and there still remains some for the top half of the rotation. But the Phillies have only so many healthy candidates to fill out their starting staff, and they will need to decide on whom to groom for those roles rather soon.

The Bullpen

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Bullpen Locks: Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, Brad Lincoln, Mike Adams (when healthy)

    Likely Bullpen Arm: Justin De Fratus 50%

    Potential Bullpen Arms: Phillippe Aumont 15%, Michael Stutes 15%

    Long-Shot: B.J. Rosenberg 10%, Jeremy Horst 5%, Kevin Munson 5%

    Past the guaranteed contracts, the Phillies bullpen is somewhat of a toss-up like it's been each of the last few seasons.

    Jonathan Papelbon will close and Antonio Bastardo will be the setup man. There's no question about that. Same goes for Mike Adams when he fully recovers from last season's shoulder surgery. Despite Jake Diekman's relative inexperience, he seems to have won over the coaches over the years, and with no other southpaw relievers with his upside, Diekman should be as close as there is to a lock.

    Brad Lincoln is the final lock as well. He's making just over the major league minimum and has no options left, both huge factors in helping him make the team. But with four—and eventually five—of the bullpen spots locked up, which pitchers score the final two?

    Justin De Fratus will be in the bullpen. He's not an official guarantee since there are many other right-handers to compete with him, but De Fratus has shown promise in the majors and his bullpen spot is his to lose. After him is where the competition gets dicey.

    Phillippe Aumont fell out of favor with the team last year after being aggressive with coaches and potentially the front office over his role. However, Aumont still has electric stuff when he's on, so he can't be counted out entirely. As for Michael Stutes would not be in this position if he could prove that his shoulder injuries from each of the last two seasons are completely behind him. Unfortunately, he may never be able to do that.

    Rounding out the list are the long-shots. B.J. Rosenberg has a slight edge over the remaining two since he showed promise down the stretch, but he's better suited as starting pitching depth in the minors. He's also 28 years old, which doesn't help his cause.

    And at the caboose of the candidates train are lefty Jeremy Horst and righty Kevin Munson. Horst has dealt with a mysterious elbow injury and no public report has come out on his condition. Now that Diekman has emerged as a possibly dominant southpaw reliever for the Phillies, Horst could fall out of favor. Munson realistically has no shot with the depth above him, though his status as a Rule 5 pick could motivate the Phillies to put him on the roster in an effort to hold onto him.

Catcher

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starter: Carlos Ruiz

    With the ink on his new three-year, $26 million contract still drying, veteran Phillies catcher has more to prove from a worthiness standpoint than ever before.

    Now guaranteed a deal that has been largely considered a massive overpay, Ruiz will have to show that he's able to maintain offensive consistency all season long, while continuing to call a stellar game behind the plate. For now, 2014 is the issue, but going forward, so will 2015 and 2016, when Ruiz will be 37 years old.

    Ruiz started 2013 on the restricted list due to a 25-game suspension for unwarranted Adderall use, but the "good" news is that he has a medical exemption for it for 2014 and will be allowed to take it all season, according to Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    He's got the starting job locked down. Whether or not he proves worthy of that distinction this season, and in seasons yet to come, is what stands as the biggest question.

    And Ruiz will have to answer it.

First Base

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starter: Ryan Howard

    Ryan Howard has the starting first base job locked down under two conditions: First, he has to stay healthy, and second, he has to produce, especially against lefties.

    So far, both have surprisingly happened. Granted, the Phillies are only two spring training games deep, but Howard has looked rather decent to date.

    He had two hits—including a home runagainst Phillies lefties Jesse Biddle and Cesar Jimenez in the team's intrasquad game on Tuesday, while he also managed a hit off Toronto Blue Jays southpaw starter J.A. Happ on Wednesday.

    He's in the best shape he's been in, in years and it's shown in early spring action. Defensively, Howard's still very shaky and will have good and bad days. But offense is what he's supposedly paid for, and the more of it that he can provide, the better he and the Phillies lineup can be.

     

Second Base

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starter: Chase Utley

    Chase Utley also comes into 2014 with a new contract, though his is of the extension variety. Signed last August to a two-year deal with multiple options dependent on health and playing time, Utley could be around for just the two years, or he could be around for four or five, if he stays productive.

    Last year, Utley did just that for the first time since 2010. He did miss some time in May and June, though that was due to an oblique injury, so the good news is that his knees stayed healthy all season long.

    He won't have any competition at second base, thanks to his salary and, of course, his offensive potential. When he's on the field, Utley is an added bonus to the Phillies lineup. He gets on base and is easily the Phillies' best situational hitter.

    Defensively, Utley regressed slightly last year, but he's still above average at the position. That's all he'll need to be for the team to succeed, so what the Phillies really need from Utley, in all facets of the game, is more of the same from last year.

Third Base

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Likely Starter: Cody Asche 70%

    Potential Starter: Maikel Franco 30%

    The hot corner is the hot topic in spring training for the Phillies in 2014. Although prospect Cody Asche performed rather well in about two months of playing time to close the 2013 season, he faded down the stretch. The Phillies got a nice look at him in game action, but it doesn't mean that he's guaranteed a spot.

    Enter Maikel Franco.

    The Phillies' top prospect, Franco emerged on the scene last year as a hitter for both power and average across High-A and Double-A, slugging 31 home runs and batting .320 with a .925 OPS. Defensively, he's adequate, though his range is his biggest issue. However, Franco's arm is stellar, so there's no issue in getting throws across the diamond if he moves quickly enough to the ball.

    Franco has impressed early in spring training, per CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury. If he continues to do so throughout spring training, the Phillies will have an interesting battle on their hands.

    Asche remains the odds-on favorite to win the job, thanks to what he's shown in the majors already, but it won't be long before Franco enters the serious conversation. With a good spring and a mediocre one from Asche, Franco could, in fact, win the job outright. More likely than not, though, Franco will start the year in Triple-A and take over the job midway through the year.

Shortstop

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starter: Jimmy Rollins

    No contest here, despite casual fan support for Freddy Galvis.

    Rollins will make $11 million in the final guaranteed season of his three-year, $33 million contract, though that doesn't mean he won't stick around longer. With a $5 million player option at worst and an $11 million vesting option at best in hand for 2015, J-Roll will be around for next year if all goes according to plan.

    In 2013, though, the exact opposite happened. Rollins stopped hitting home runs, got on base at a lower clip than his already-low career rate and failed to steal 30 bases for the first time since injuries riddled him in 2010.

    Defensively, Rollins really regressed. For the first time in his career, Rollins' defensive metrics came in, in the negatives, which was quite the shock, considering he came off a Gold Glove season the year before. That downward trend can't continue if the Phillies want to win—they can't afford to let it happen.

    Rollins is the player who arguably needs most improvement in 2014. If he doesn't piece his game back together, it's going to be a long year for the Phillies' former MVP.

Left Field

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starter: Domonic Brown

    Domonic Brown entered 2014 spring training with a guaranteed major league job for the first time in his career. Regardless of how his spring goes, he'll hold onto it. The much more important question at hand is whether he can replicate his breakout 2013 season.

    Last year, Brown stepped up in a big way, slugging 27 home runs and driving in 83 runs on his way to his first All-Star nod. However, questions abounded about his consistent power, as a large portion of his 27 bombs came within a two-week stretch to close out May and begin June.

    Brown is nothing to write home about defensively, so his offense is what's going to keep him relevant and on the field. If that fails to materialize, he could be in trouble.

    But until the Phillies see otherwise, there's no reason for Brown to do a complete 180-degrees. If he can still hit 20 home runs, the Phillies will take it—as long as the rest of the lineup produces around him.

Center Field

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starter: Ben Revere

    Despite a foot injury that ended a promising 2013 season, Ben Revere comes into 2014 with an all but guaranteed job in center field. He offers speed and explosiveness that is second to none on this Phillies roster.

    When he's hot, Revere can also hit for a rather high average, and he did just that in 2013. However, the concern is that, aside from steals, he offered little else. In order to be a productive leadoff hitter, Revere will need to improve his OBP immensely.

    With the glove, Revere struggled last year, running incorrect routes at times to the ball. That will need to improve as well, or it could provoke the Phillies to seek an external upgrade, be it at the trade deadline or in the 2014-15 offseason.

    Revere may have the most on the line in 2014 since he'll need to show that he can be productive for a full season. The Phillies will give him the benefit of the doubt heading into 2014, but that may not be the case in 2015 and beyond if he struggles throughout the season.

Right Field

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Starter: Marlon Byrd

    Another familiar face returned to Philadelphia in the form of Marlon Byrd, and even if he's not the player he was with New York and Pittsburgh last year, he should provide an upgrade over what the Phillies had in-house.

    Whether he's worth $8 million for said upgrade is a different story, but the focus is on the positives for now.

    Byrd had a ton to prove at this point last year. Coming off a 2012 season, in which he failed to produce and was slammed with a 50-game suspension for a banned substance, Byrd was fighting for both a job and his career. He has since saved both and will try to earn his keep in Philadelphia over the next two years.

    At his best, Byrd is a right-handed power threat who can drive in a run when called upon. Chances are that he'll be more of a guy who continues what's already happened before him—that is, move the runners along the basepaths or hit a single or double to start some sort of offensive momentum.

    That's what the Phillies are paying him to do, at least. Will Byrd live up to expectations? If they're lowered, then yes. But if the Phillies expect him to be a right-handed version of Domonic Brown from last year, they may be gravely mistaken.