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Opinion: Taking Stock In Small Spots

BiseniusIt’s difficult, really, to fill the final spots of a major league team, which is why most managers settle for veteran hands to start a season. Look at last year’s Phillies – Adam Eaton won the final starting spot while Clay Condrey got the last bullpen job. Were both pitchers clear-cut winners of those spots in Spring Training? No, not at all.

Spring Training is nothing more than a warm-up. It gives established players a chance to walk before the marathon begins. It gives the young, unestablished players a chance to dash out to a quick lead, hoping they get noticed enough to win a roster spot at some point during the marathon. And it gives the experienced but garbage players a chance to use all their might to make an impression, hoping the wheels don’t fall off halfway through. The Phillies currently have about 20 players walking and jogging, waiting until April 5 to start the race. There are dozens more trying to charge for a few precious positions.

The five spots (if you can define them hastily) that seemingly have open windows are fifth starting pitcher, swing-middle relief pitcher, utility infielder, infield platoon/reserve and backup catcher. Hand me a poll today, and I’ll tell you Kyle Kendrick, Chan Ho Park, Eric Bruntlett, Miguel Cairo and Chris Coste are likely winners for these spots. Almost no matter what happens.

Still, there are battles, and Charlie Manuel and Co. will scrutinize, criticize and eliminate. A few real contenders live, while a slew of itching hopefuls try valiantly. Two of them – Scott Nestor and Joe Bisenius – may have already wrote themselves off the island, but that doesn’t mean they can win spots with the IronPigs, hoping to find an emergency victory as part of the world champions. Ultimately, that’s why we don’t need to scrutinize, criticize and eliminate a lot of these performances. They are what they are: Chances for the Nestors and Biseniuses of the world to catch lightning in a bottle, and if not, at least pitch well enough to earn Triple-A green cards.

Carrasco and Happ

Today Carlos Carrasco and JA Happ will pitch – both have been mentioned in the Fight For Fifth (TM Phillies Nation, 2009). Can Carrasco win the battle? Sure. But will he? Probably not. Instead, the Phillies want to see if Carrasco’s strong Venezuelan Winter League performance translates against a combination of major league and Triple-A talent. If so, he’s on the short list of callups, and at the top of the IronPig depth chart. If not, he’s still going to Lehigh Valley, but with a little more caution than before. For Carrsaco, this spring is about proving himself for midseason.

Can Happ win the battle? Sure. But will he? Maybe. Happ, Kendrick and Park are the three competing for fifth starter; still, if Kendrick doesn’t self destruct in Florida, he wins. What if Happ pitches extremely well? He’s probably going back to Lehigh Valley, and he’s probably first on the trading block.

At this point, much of Phillies brass has made up their minds about March, April and May. They know who’s going to hover around the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse, and they know who might be in other organizations altogether. The only battle that might really yield interesting results is the battle for Chase Utley’s doppelganger. Jason Donald could find a loophole onto the club, but it’ll take a performance that shows off everything he can do. Really, though, this month is about tweaking the scheme and maybe giving that one fast starter a chance. Maybe. So don’t read too far into Jeremy Slayden’s two-hit game. If he keeps working at this pace for another week or two, okay, then we can stand up and take notice. But for now, it’s all merely tune up work.

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