Writer’s Roundtable: Spring Training Excitement – Phillies Nation
2012 Spring Training

Writer’s Roundtable: Spring Training Excitement

How close is Dom Brown to the major league roster?

As Spring Training is underway in Clearwater, we here at Phillies Nation have gotten together to answer the tough questions.

Well, today’s tough question is: What are you looking forward to seeing most during Spring Training?

Each of our contributors have given their thoughts. See if yours matches.

JON NISULA – The pitching staff:

What intrigues me most heading into spring training is how the pitching staff will be rounded out. We all know that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels will be the top three pitchers in the rotation, and that new acquisition Jonathan Papelbon will take over Ryan Madson‘s old role as closer.

But what about the rest? We can probably assume that Vance Worley will be the 4th starter and that Antonio Bastardo will be a set up man for Papelbon, but neither of those things are set in stone nearly as much as the Aces and the Closer.

The fifth starter and remainder of the bullpen are the two things that I’m going to look at closest. Will Joe Blanton be healthy enough to be in the rotation, and if so, will he be the 4th or 5th starter? Where do Jose Contreras, Dontrelle Willis, David Herndon, Michael Stutes and others come into play when building the bullpen?

AMANDA ORR – Jonathan Papelbon:

Besides the excitement of the return of baseball, I am eager to see how Jonathan Papelbon adjusts to his team.  It will be interesting to see how he adapts to his new teammates and what his presence will be in the clubhouse.  I’ve heard mix reviews about Papelbon’s personality in the clubhouse, and now Phillies fans will find out the truth.

I’m also excited to see how the fans embrace their new closer and how Papelbon embraces his new fans. Will Phillies fans be bitter about replacing Madson or the expensive contract? At last years Red Sox game at citizen bank park, I saw Papelbon interacting with BoSox fans during batting practice.  It’ll be interesting to see if he will do the same with Phillies fans this spring.

JAY FLOYD – Jake Diekman:

Jake Diekman is a pitcher I am really looking forward to seeing against Grapefruit League competition this spring.  The 25-year-old lefty reliever took great strides in 2011, changing his arm angle during his long toss warm up program, which helped him add some considerable velocity to his fastball, hitting 95 MPH on a regular basis.

With a K/9 rate of 11.49 last year as a member of the Double-A Reading Phillies and a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League in which he held opponents to a .079 batting average in 11 appearances, Diekman has proven himself deserving of a solid look by Phils’ brass this spring.

The 6-foot-4-inch 190-pounder, who was added to the Phils’ 40-man roster this off-season, stands a good chance at making a splash at the big league level this year, if things go his way and needs arise in the Philadelphia bullpen.

NICK STASKIN – Dom Brown:

I am most interested to see how the Domonic Brown angle plays out.  Ruben Amaro has more or less said, anything short of hitting .400/.500/.600 with Gold Glove defense will keep Brown in AAA to start the season. But what if Brown does have a strong spring? And what if Mayberry struggles? I have yet to find one person who likes the Layne Nix signing, so I think we all know what we are getting there.

However if Brown has a strong spring and still gets sent to AAA, I think it seals the fact that he will never be an everyday Phillie, and perhaps nothing more than a trade piece this July.

DON MCGETTIGAN – Healthy Utley/Polanco:

I want to see Chase Utley and Placido Polanco healthy and ready for full seasons.  With Utley, we know the player he is, and how much better the Phillies are with him in the lineup.

I think Polanco’s importance sometimes gets overlooked.  We know he plays solid defense (tip of the Phillies front office for realizing he could transition to 3b), but the thing that the Phillies missed most in the playoffs last year was a steady, contact-hitting third baseman.  When he’s healthy, that is the perfect description of Polanco’s offensive approach.  Last year, he started with a tremendous month of April…  In 26 games, he hit .398, scored 18, drove in 19, and sported an OPS of .972 … while I am obviously not looking for anything like that, if Polanco can be something like his career .301 Avg/ .346 OBP/ .406 SLG, the Phillies should be fully ready to take advantage of their weak early schedule, even without Ryan Howard in the lineup.  Being healthy, and starting strong are big keys to the 2012 season – and that all starts in Clearwater.

IAN RICCABONI – Juan Pierre:

While Laynce Nix has tremendous power against righties and surprisingly strong defense, I’m more excited about the addition of Juan Pierre. Pierre in his career (.296/.345/.363) has arguably out-hit Nix (.244/.288/.430) and, similarly, only trails Nix in power against righties (.288/.334/.364 v.  .253/.296/.451, career).

The Phillies have had an aggressive-conservatism on the basepaths that has not disappeared with the loss of Davey Lopes in 2011 that could maximize Pierre’s value. While Pierre only successfully stole bases at a 61% success rate last year, his career 70% success rate is very good; I anticipate Pierre will be able to replicate the 70% success rate  even with declining speed as Pierre will not be the only station-to-station threat as he was in Chicago last season. Most of Pierre’s value will not necessarily be steals based: Pierre scoring from first on doubles and scoring from second on hard hit line drives to outfielders could be an invaluable tool in creating more runs.

With the perceived need for small-ball, the 2012 Phillies storylines I’m looking forward both involve Juan Pierre. Will the Phillies make the most out of having a legitimate speed threat come off the bench? Will the Phillies attempt to manufacture runs late in the game more so than swinging for the fences? With the signing of Pierre, he, at worst, gives them those options.

COREY SEIDMAN – The Works:

1) Health progression from Joe Blanton, who sounds like he’s fully ready to go.
2) Platoon success from Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton
3) Anything but disaster from Vance Worley, because while Spring Training starts don’t indicate future success or failure, the latter could be damaging to the psyche of a pitcher who figures to regress a bit in 2012.
4) Actual competition for the fifth outfielder’s slot.
5) Something from Chase Utley. The first report doesn’t make it sound like Utley will do much at the start of Spring Training. I don’t know that Phillies fans can take another Spring of constant delays to Utley’s start time.

PAT GALLEN – Hamels Contract:

On the field, I’m most interested in seeing who will win the job as the 25th man on the roster. This topic is far more important.

Cole Hamels’ contract situation is staring us right in the face and it’s quite bright. Yet, you can’t look away from the light. It hovers over head and will until the solution is resolved. Hamels spoke to the media on Monday and exclaimed his desire to remain in red pinstripes. You can take him for his word, but the fact of the matter is, the Phillies are approaching dangerous ground. Any time negotiations move into the regular season, it’s tough to get a deal done.

I’ve been of the group that thinks a will get done, although with every passing day, my confidence wanes. Let’s get this done, and soon!

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