Phillies' spring storylines nearing conclusions
Halladay, Brown, final roster spots among hot topics as Opening Day approaches
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies board a flight for Philadelphia a week from Thursday, which means the 2013 season is just 12 days away.
There have many storylines in camp, but as Spring Training in Florida comes to a close, everybody seems to be talking about five things.
We take a look at those five topics here:
There is reason to be concerned about Halladay. He looked fine in his first two Grapefruit League starts, throwing his fastball in the 89-91 mph range. But Halladay's velocity has dropped since then, as he has had issues in each of his previous three starts. In his third Grapefruit League start, his velocity fell into the 86-88 mph range, as he talked about experiencing "dead arm." Halladay got shelled in 2 2/3 innings in his fourth start March 12, saying he felt lethargic. Then he lasted just one inning in his fifth start Sunday because of a stomach virus.
Everybody is asking if Halladay is healthy. It is a fair and legitimate question to ask, because Halladay and others in the organization said he was fine last March when he was experiencing lower back problems. But while the health question is justifiable, one also might ask this: Is Halladay simply running out of bullets? He turns 36 on May 14. Halladay pitched 2,351 1/3 innings from 2002-12, which ranked third in baseball. He threw 34,423 pitches in the regular season and postseason in that span, not including Spring Training games, bullpen sessions and warmups. Maybe time is catching up to Halladay, although he said in February he does not think he is there yet. It is a grim reality if it is true.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are putting a positive spin on things, saying Halladay's problems simply stem from a few mechanical issues and some problems with his cutter. They say all is well. They certainly hope they are right, because it would be a blow to their chances if not. Halladay threw a bullpen session Wednesday, and pitching coach Rich Dubee said through a team spokesman, "Roy threw very well. He almost lost 10 pounds, so he's just got to gain some weight back and get his strength."
Halladay is scheduled to make two more starts this spring before the regular season, including Saturday in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. While in the past nobody would think twice about a couple of poor Spring Training starts from Halladay, some positive results here would put some minds at ease. And not just the minds of fans. Phils officials are putting up a brave face, but they would like to see some, too.
Is Brown for real? Nobody can be certain, but he looks like a much better player, offensively and defensively, than people have seen the past three seasons. Brown is having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard against both left-handers and right-handers on a consistent basis. He has held his own defensively, posting a .714 slugging percentage this spring, which is significant.
Baseball statistician and author John Dewan found that players who beat their career slugging percentage by more than 200 points in Spring Training have more than a 60 percent chance at beating their career slugging percentage during the regular season (minimum 200 regular season at-bats and 40 Spring Training at-bats). Brown's regular-season slugging percentage entering this season is a modest .388, so he will have a chance to prove Dewan right once again.
Eight of the 12 Phillies on Dewan's list since Spring Training 2005 ended up surpassing their career slugging percentages during the regular season. And of the four players who fell short, two were not everyday players (Eric Bruntlett in 2009 and Pete Orr in 2011) and one got injured midway through the season (Jim Thome in 2005). Maybe Brown can make Dewan 9-for-13.
There are three jobs available and four candidates: right-handers Phillippe Aumont and Mike Stutes, and left-handers Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said a few times in recent weeks that Aumont has been impressive. Dubee has spoken highly of Horst, who had a 1.15 ERA in 32 appearances last season.
If their words are any indication of which way they are leaning, the final job could come between Stutes and Valdes. Both have had success in Philadelphia's bullpen. The Phils are looking for relievers who can throw multiple innings, because they are without a true long man. Stutes said this week he is more than comfortable pitching multiple innings, something Valdes has done in the past.
Four of the five Phillies outfielders appear to be locks: Brown, Ben Revere, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix. That likely leaves Darin Ruf and Rule 5 Draft pick Ender Inciarte competing for the final job. Ruf has been hitting the ball better recently, but he still has to improve defensively. It would not be a surprise for the Phils to have Ruf open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley to continue to get comfortable in left field. Meanwhile, Inciarte could open the season with the team and remain on the roster, presumably, until Delmon Young joins the team, which seems more likely to happen closer to May 1 than mid-April.
There are two utility-infield jobs with three guys competing for them: Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and Yuniesky Betancourt. Manager Charlie Manuel has talked so openly and glowingly so often about his love for Galvis that it would be a bit of a surprise to see him open the season in Triple-A. But the Phillies have played the numbers game in the past, optioning younger players like Galvis to give them more depth.
Betancourt is hitting .450 (18-for-40) this spring, while Frandsen has hit .292 with a .542 slugging percentage. The Phillies must inform Betancourt by the end of the day Sunday if he has made the 25-man roster. If he has not made the team, he can ask for his release. Betancourt's agent, Alex Esteban, told MLB.com that Betancourt hopes to remain with Philadelphia, saying he has enjoyed his teammates and the opportunity. But he also said they would ask for his release if he does not make the Opening Day roster because they believe there are big league opportunities out there. There have been some rumors the Phils could trade Betancourt, but with Sunday quickly approaching, teams might just roll the dice and hope they can sign him if he is released.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.