So we’re finally here, Spring Training has arrived.
The sound of balls thumping into mitts and gloves, and bats striking balls, will be heard all across Florida and Arizona for the next six weeks as the Phils and the other 29 Major League Baseball teams prepare for the 2016 regular season.
To help get Phillies fans caught up with what happened over the off-season, and prepare for some of the more interesting story lines as the Grapefruit League unfurls, let’s present a little primer to get the ball rolling.
They are all young, all likely long-term pieces of the Phillies rebuilding program and future, and all playing in their 2nd big league season.
Thanks to his midseason injury a year ago, Franco still has just 393 plate appearances on the back of his baseball card. He is a 25-30 homer, 85-100 RBI bat waiting to happen, and likely hits in the #3 hole in the batting order for the forseeable future.
Herrera could end up in either left or center field. He is a high-average bat, but needs to run more to become a true offensive weapon.
Nola is a natural #2-3 starter, but could be the best the rotation has to offer at this point.
Hellickson will turn 29 in early April, and is a former AL Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove winner who is assured a rotation spot.
Also assured a spot is the 32-year old Morton, a veteran of eight big league seasons. Both are righties.
Oberholtzer and Velasquez each came from Houston in the Ken Giles trade. Oberholtzer is the early line favorite for the 5th starter job.
Velasquez has the talent to start, though many see him as a potential closer one day. If he doesn’t win the 5th starter job, he likely heads to AAA Lehigh Valley. Hernandez could become the new closer.
Bourjos is a glove-first player who could start in center field. Goeddel was the team’s top selection in the Rule 5 Draft, and could see significant time as the 4th outfielder.
There are a couple of potentially interesting situations in the infield.
Will manager Pete Mackanin go with a strict 1st base platoon of the lefty-swinging Howard and the righty bat of Darin Ruf?
All the available evidence says that is what would be best, but it will be Mackanin’s call. Watch both how he uses the two, and how they perform.
At 2nd base, can Darnell Sweeney steal the starting job away from Cesar Hernandez – and does it even really matter?
The outfield should be interesting as well. Herrera, Bourjos, Goeddel, and Aaron Altherr are all good athletes who can potentially form a solid defensive unit, if nothing else.
Where does Cody Asche fit in, if anywhere? Best bet is that he makes the team as a super utility player, covering some 3rd base and some left field.
The 5th starter battle is most likely to come down to lefties Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan, and righties Velasquez and David Buchanan.
The combination of experience, talent, and minor league options favors Oberholtzer, though he could also be used out of the bullpen if one of the others simply flat-out wins the job.
The bullpen should be wide open, aside from Hernandez, who seems a lock and the likely closer to start the season.
While it is a real longshot for any of the youngsters to make the team, they will gain valuable experience to help prepare to begin at AAA, with possible in-season call-ups on the horizon.
The Phillies have a handful of non-roster players with big league experience whom they have invited to spring training, who could potentially factor into the mix, either in Philly or with a job at Lehigh Valley and a possible in-season promotion.
There is one player who is of the most particular interest to me, and that is sophomore starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff.
Is he as good as he pitched after coming over in the Cole Hamels deal from Texas last season?
Eickhoff enters the spring having been virtually handed a spot in the starting rotation. Few could have seen that coming when the trade was made. I’ll be watching to see if he remains effective this spring.
To some extent it will be the performances and health of these players over the next six weeks that will determine their role with the organization.
But in a very real way, it will be the judgment of Mackanin and his coaching staff in a number of situations.
A player might not seem to have statistics to win a role, but the staff may see things in practice and in games that are missed in a box score.
One thing that is certain about the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies: the final page will be fully turned from the old glory days – and man, were they glorious – to a new age of players who will make up the core of what we all hope will be the next glory age.
The team is still not likely to win this year, but we should begin to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel of losing baseball.