At first glance, the 2011 Spring Training hasn’t gone as smooth as most phans would have liked. All-Star 2nd baseman Chase Utley has been dealing with what the team is calling knee tendinitis since the start of the spring. He had a cortisone shot in his knee on Friday and there haven’t been any recent updates on his condition. It seems as though no news is bad news for the Phils. The Phillies are also without top prospect Dom Brown for the next 4-6 weeks and he will likely spend some time in the minors when he returns. But with all of the injuries you could point out. There have been plenty of positives for the 4 time defending National League Eastern Division Champs.
Ben came into the spring fighting for the everyday right field job. Most national baseball pundits assumed the job would be given to top prospect Domonic Brown, but most around the team knew Francisco had just as good of a chance. While Dom has tremendous talent and upside, he would be another lefty in an all ready lefty heavy lineup. If Ben could win the job and bat 5th, it would be a huge lift for the balance of the Phillies lineup. So far this spring he has been given a lot of opportunities and hasn’t disappointed. So far in 25 at bats this spring, Ben is batting .320 with 2 homeruns and 6 RBI’s. He also leads the team in total bases with 18. The Phillies have sounded reluctant to hand him the job after the injury to Dom and would lead you to believe that Mayberry Jr. still has a chance. But I think it’s obvious that he will be your Opening Day starting right fielder. It remains to be seen where exactly he will fit into the lineup, a lot of that has to do with the health of Chase. I would guarantee that he will be in right field and batting somewhere from 5-7 on April 1st.
I was too young to really remember the 1993 World Series loss, but I would be willing to bet the end to last season gave Philly Phans a similar feeling. Howard never seemed to recover from the August ankle injury and was one of the main reasons for the teams down fall in October. During the off-season Howard took the advice of hitting Coach Greg Gross and starting to stand closer to the plate. The reasoning behind this is that he would be able to recognize the off speed pitch off the plate better and not chase as many balls. The drawback is that Howard will be more easily jammed on inside pitches. In the limited at bats I have seen from Howard, I have been impressed with his pitch recognition on pitches he would chase last season. I know it’s a small sample size but the approach seems to be working. His power seems to be there as he is leading the team with 3 home runs. The ball he hit on Sunday at Bright House Field might still be going if he didn’t get so much top spin on it. Howard is going to strike out a lot no matter where he stands, but if he can cut down the bad balls he chases. He will be an even more dangerous hitter.
It’s very easy to overlook the importance Valdez had to the team last season. With the various injuries in the infield, Valdez stepped in and did a great job. Valdez seems to have carried his impressive play into the spring. He leads the team in hits with 9 hits in just 17 at bats, including a solo home run. He also showed his versatility by playing right field where he earned an outfield assist. Wilson is the kind of player who can provide excellent defense and whatever production you get out of his bat is a plus. Valdez’s play so far this spring has cemented his spot on the roster. Plus with the injury to Chase, he might once again play a bigger role than we expected.
I could mention how good Hamels, Halladay or Lee have looked so far, but their performances are no surprise to anyone. Former Starter Kyle Kendrick has quietly had a very good spring. He has been nothing but professional since being bumped to the bullpen and has been very good so far. In his 5 innings, he has given up just 3 hits and hasn’t allowed a run. It is rare that any team goes through a season only using 5 starters, so it is likely Kendrick will get another chance to start at some point during the season. He will also fill the role vacated by Chad Durbin as the team’s long man and a guy who can pitch multiple innings. Kendrick is going to become more expensive over the next few years and if he wants to remain with the team, he must continue to impress.
Yes, you read that right; Baez has had a great spring so far this season. He did get lit up in a “B” game in his first appearance, but those numbers don’t count towards his Grape Fruit League numbers. Ever since then, he has been great. In 3.1 innings, he hasn’t allowed a run while striking out 2. Maybe the most important number, is that he hasn’t given up a walk so far. Baez was horrible for the team last season and needed a good spring to stay with the team. Despite his poor performance last season I still think he can contribute out of the pen. He has a good fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and a hard breaking curveball. If he can maintain the control he has showed, he can be a solid middle reliever for the team.
The Phillies let Durbin walk and they hoped that one of their young relievers would impress them during the spring. Stutes, De Fratus and Mathieson have been given the opportunity to win a job. Right hander Michael Stutes has been the only one of the three to pitch effectively. So far this spring Stutes has pitched 5 innings and only given up 1 run while striking out 8. Even with a strong spring, he still may see himself staring the year with the Iron Pigs. But it is great to know that the team has some young and cheap options to call on if needed.
Even with the recent injuries to some important Phillies there are a lot of bright spots down at Bright House field. I feel the need to mention the impressive play of two players who are fighting for roster spots like Delwyn Young and John Mayberry Jr. As well as veteran Relievers Madson, Contreras and Romero who are locks to make the team and have failed to give up any runs in their brief appearances in Florida. The injures to Chase and Dom have made some try to convince themselves that we are in trouble, but the injuries are minor and this is still a team that will do great things this season.