Philadelphia Phillies: Young Pitchers Look To Hurl Their Way Past NY Yankees

Greg PintoCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2011

Michael Schwimer
Michael SchwimerAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

When the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees square off in the Grapefruit League opener tomorrow afternoon, and again on Sunday afternoon, we'll see a bunch of familiar, big league names.

Cole Hamels, who has been ticketed as one of the Phillies' "four aces," will get the start on Saturday, while Joe Blanton will lead the charge on Sunday. Also scheduled to appear this weekend are a couple of bullpen staples in JC Romero, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge.

For those five pitchers, spring training is nothing more than a tune-up—a means of reestablishing their "stuff" while they set themselves up to face major league competition over the course of a 162-game regular season and, as every team dreams, the postseason.

However, for other guys that are slated to pitch this weekend, having successful outings against the Yankees and other Grapefruit League competition is more than a tune-up—it's a way of proving their mettle as they fight for a spot on the major league roster. 

One man that will throw after Hamels on Saturday afternoon is right-handed starter, Vance Worley. After spending much of the offseason in contention for the fifth starter's job before the Phillies inked Cliff Lee, Worley found himself in a peculiar situation. Talent-wise, he seems like an easy pick to make the team as a long reliever, but there's more to the decision than that.

The Phillies, who already have two other long relievers in David Herndon and Kyle Kendrick, may have to make a financial decision as to who gets the spot in the bullpen. Talent-wise, Herndon is the weakest link and Kendrick isn't too far behind him.

However, after avoiding arbitration with the Phillies for one year and $2.45 million, the team may be hard-pressed to pay him guaranteed money to pitch in AAA.

For that reason alone, it seems like Worley has his work cut out for him as he begins his campaign to make the roster on Saturday. According to pitching coach Rich Dubee, both he and Kendrick will be stretched out as starters during the spring, but they will compete for the same spot in the bullpen.

Last season with the big league club, Worley logged 13 innings and posted an ERA of 1.38, striking out more than eight batters per nine innings while showing good control.

In the long run, however, Worley's best bet may be to go back down to AAA and pitch regularly as a starter. The long reliever will see very few innings behind this starting rotation and having depth in the minor league system could be a necessary cog in the machine for the Phillies.

If Worley doesn't win the job out of spring training, he could also be called on to start a game before Kendrick.

Another interesting name to watch on Saturday is left-handed reliever, Mike Zagurski. With Romero and Antonio Bastardo the most likely left-handed relievers to crack the Phillies bullpen this spring, Zagurski has his work cut out for him.

With little left-handed depth, the Phillies may need to call on Zagurski should one of the oft-injured Romero and Bastardo go down with an injury. The major aspect they'll be keeping an eye on is control.

After yet another call-up this past season, Zagurski disappointed all the same. He posted decent numbers in AAA, highlighted by big strikeout rates and shaky control, and when he got to the big leagues, practically fell apart.

The Phillies will be looking for some consistency out of Zagurski, who could be on his last leg with the team.

Also appearing in the game on Saturday are a couple of interesting right-handed pitchers. The first is waiver claim Brian Schlitter. The Phillies, who were the team to originally draft him, picked up Schlitter off of waivers from the Yankees earlier in the offseason. 

Though he'll likely join new AAA manager Ryne Sandberg in the minor leagues, where he spent most of 2010 as Sandberg's closer in the Cubs system, he could show that he'd be a nice call-up in the event of an injury.

Looking to join the hunt for that long reliever's spot as a long shot is former Seattle Mariner, Ryan Feierabend. Showing versatility as both a starter and a reliever, the Phillies will look at him as the latter, but could stretch him out over several innings. He features a standard repertoire of fastball, changeup, curveball and slider, and won't blow anyone away with his "stuff," so like Zagurski, he'll need to show control in his inning or two.

The Phillies will throw two of their more interesting relief prospects on Sunday, however, when right-handed hurlers Michael Schwimer and Justin De Fratus take the mound.

Schwimer, who stands at a towering 6'8", 240lbs, brings quite the presence to the mound. He features a live fastball and though his off-speed pitches are still a work in progress, he could earn a middle relief role on his fastball alone.

Over the course of his minor league career, he's shown average control and big strikeout numbers. In 20 innings with the Phillies' AAA affiliate, he posted an ERA of just 1.80.

If one relief prospect made strides toward making a name for himself in 2010, however, it was right-hander Justin De Fratus. In my personal opinion, I find it hard to believe that De Fratus hasn't cracked the Phillies top 10.

After making his debut in 2007, De Fratus hasn't posted a FIP (fielding independent pitching) above 2.59. At the highest level last season (AA), he posted a record of 1-0 with an ERA of 2.19 in 24.2 innings and later that year in the Arizona Fall League, completely blew away the competition, all the while, developing a slider.

He features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, along with a new slider and changeup, could be a part of the Phillies bullpen as early as 2011. With Danys Baez on a short leash and De Fratus ready to bust on to the show, it may not be long before De Fratus, or any of the other listed relievers, are wearing red pinstripes.

Of course, it all begins this weekend.