Working out the kinks and essentially re-learning the game of baseball seems an archaic concept in these days of 24-hour news cycles, year-round strength training and the modern multi-million dollar athlete. Bygone days of doughy, rough and tumble big leaguers struggling with medicine balls while working out in long johns and borrowed hunting caps may truly be fodder for newsreels but there is a natural acclimation for all athletes.
This strengthening and re-acclimation period has always been the purpose of training camp and is essential for baseball players. Believe it or not, even our modern-day professionals take some time off to tend to their
regularly-scheduled lives during the dwindling offseason and when they report to camp, it may take a week of drills and drudgery before the smell of grass and familiarity of team workouts becomes commonplace again.
Building up those
pitching muscles and re-sharpening that batting eye are done only one way –
through repetitive practice and tireless determination. The best hitters usually take the most BP while the most accomplished pitchers often have the
most arduous offseason and in-season routines to maintain their effectiveness.
These 2012 Philadelphia Phillies are coming off a 102-win
season (team record) and while the team boasts five consecutive NL East titles,
two National League pennants and one World Championship since 2007, but not
even 473 wins (averaging 94.6, but more impressively posting progressively more
wins per season with 89, 92, 93, 97, 102) is enough. This team could have
beaten the Yankees in the 2009 World Series and should have been back to the
Fall Classic had it not been for faltering performances in the 2010 NLCS (fell to the SF Giants) and 2011 NLDS (defeated by St. Louis Cardinals). Being defeated by the eventual world champions doesn’t take the sting out of coming up short. After a 162-game season plus postseason and nearly a year’s effort, the very successful Phillies did not reach their goal in 2011.
All of that begins with Spring Training. Can the Phillies
win another 102 games or do they want to save some gas in the proverbial tank for the postseason?
Will the loss of Roy
Oswalt, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Raul
Ibanez be bolstered by the importation of Jonathan Papelbon, Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Lance Nix and Juan Pierre? Can Charlie Manuel lead this team to another championship before riding
off into the sunset or did the 2008 Phillies win despite their folksy, stubborn manager?
Is the core of this proud team too old and injury-prone or do they have another run in them? The 2011 Phillies actually were the oldest overall in
team history (and this was a franchise that once featured Pete Rose, Joe Morgan
and Tony Perez not to mention Jerry Koosman and Steve Carlton in their twilight years) but the 2012 version has shed Ibanez, Oswalt, Lidge, Ross Gload and Wilson Valdez in favor of Vance
Worley, Michael Martinez, Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo.
Jim Thome appears closer to Charlie Manuel’s age than some of these baby-faced hopeful big leaguers but it does take a roster of role-players to make a successful major league season. Let’s hope this bunch has the right ingredients for a championship gumbo!
Spring Training is a difficult time to judge the overall strength of a baseball team but that is why they play the
Grapefruit League gamesHere are five burning questions the 2012 Phillies face
as they head into their second week of split squads, PFP, two-a-days and spring
healthy are they?
The big question mark is the Big Piece. For
the first time since Ryan Howard
ruptured his Achilles’ tendon while making the final out of the 2011 season, we
will get a chance to see the star slugger’s rehabilitation in action. Last we
heard, general manger Ruben Amaro Jr.
was saying that he would be happy if Howard returned sometime in May. Early BP sessions proved promising as Howard’s Herculean swings made fans ooh and ahh like the old days. The reality is, nobody knows when Howard’s body will allow him to endure the rigors of regular-season baseball. His
complications from scarring required a rush trip back to Philadelphia and Howard has not been seen in BP since. Some athletes have returned from Achilles’ injuries in just over 6 months.
Other recoveries have taken closer to a year. Rehabilitation is a day-by-day process, one that requires careful progression, monitoring of results and patience.
The last thing the Phillies want is to rush their $25-million-a-year first baseman back onto the field before the injury is fully healed – and risk losing him for the rest of 2012. Truth is, this team might leave Clearwater without a clear idea of when to expect Howard back and with hopes of a mid-season debut.
Howard isn’t the only question mark. Last year at this time, none of us knew just how bad Chase Utley’s knee was hurting him. The Phillies gave no indication this offseason that they were concerned about the condition of the knee, which required rigorous treatment throughout the season to combat tendinitis. Utley’s health certainly bears watching and he
would benefit from reduced playing time (2 days off per week).
The same is true
of RHP Joe Blanton, who missed most of last season with elbow soreness that at one point prompted a trip to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Reliever Jose Contreras is still working his way back from elbow surgery with no timetable whatsoever.
No one is talking about Cole Hamles one-year settlement and contract negotiations could be in the ballpark of 5 years $110 M but for now, Hamels remains a Phillies.
2. How will
Domonic Brown rebound from his next big test?
It is easy to forget that Brown entered last season as one of the
top prospects in baseball, or that he at least held his own in 210 major league plate appearances, hitting .245 with a .333 on-base percentage, .391 slugging percentage and 5 HR.
By the end of the year, Brown was mired in the first extended slump since he burst onto the radar, the trade for Hunter Pence having left him with a
stinging demotion to Triple-A and the sudden need to learn a new position. Make no mistake: Brown is still highly regarded around the league, and enters this spring with far less external pressure than he did a year ago, when he was in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot before breaking a bone in his hand. Don’t be surprised if, 6 weeks from now, we are once again talking about whether he deserves a spot in the majors.
Brown will benefit from a full season in AAA and the reduced pressure from not having to perform at the major league level. Long term, this benefits everyone as it will give the organization a true sample of what Domonic Brown might become!
This Spring 2012 Brown has managed to go 2-8 and injure some part of his right hand for the fourth time since 2009. This thumb sprain should not be prohibitive, but it comes on the heels of another bd defensive play predicated upon poor fundamentals (in this instance taking a bad route to the ball and then diving futilely).
Calling Brown “a raw talent” is glossing over the fact that he is an average feast-or-famine hitter with a long swing and terrible defensive tools. While Brown may someday be a five tool player, right now he has proven that he can hit (though way too many strikeouts and still hasn’t mastered breaking pitches), hit with power, run and… well… dive all over the place trying to make up for an iron glove, a weak arm and absolutely no sense of direction in the outfield.
Brown can’t read a ball’s trajectory off the bat, has not yet mastered taking the proper angle on a ball and doesn’t seem to have better depth perception than your average pirate (that’s the eye-patch scurvy variety rather than a Pittsburgh ballplayer). Critics say he will never learn while fans say he needs more time. A full season in AAA
would make Brown a mid-level prospect but comparisons to the likes of Jason
Heyward or Bryce Harper are borderline delusional.
3. Can Jim
Thome play first base?
The odds would seem to be against the
41-year-old veteran contributing much in the field. Jim Thome is a true team player and has said he will try his hardest to get his body into shape to play first once a week or as much as he can. The future Hall of Famer hasn’t played at all in the field since 2007 and has done so only four times at first
base since his first stint with the Phillies ended in 2005. At this point, Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry Jr. and even Laynce Nix seem like better shots to fill in for Howard.
Thome’s progress will be interesting to watch this spring and do not count him out of the mix.
4. How much better is the rest of the National League East?
The Phillies do not play the Miami Marlins or the Nationals during Grapefruit League play. Even if they did, those games would provide a poor
barometer for the upcoming season with split squads, minor league talent and games
dominated by guys wearing number 73. That being said, it will be fascinating to
monitor the buzz surrounding both teams.
National baseball writers from various
outlets make their spring training rounds and do enjoy infusing some life into
morobund teams. Hope springs eternal for the Pittsburgh Pirates or Houston
Astros but that hope is usually dashed long before Memorial Day for such perennial
pretenders. How healthy is Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who missed most of last
season with a shoulder injury? What about Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg, who
returned from Tommy John surgery with a strong performance late last season?
Both teams made significant splashes in the offseason via free agency – not to
mention new stadium deals and other cosmetic changes. After seeing their new-look rosters on their respective new-look fields together, will any brave souls predict a power shift in the NL East? Most likely not but the Phillies should expect more competition from their historically punching bag brethren. 102 wins may not be in the cards unless the Mets really stink.
5. Is this Bullpen Not-Ready-for-Primetime?
Jonathan Papelbon signed a $50M deal but leads a corps of essentially unproven save artists. Last year, Michael Stutes played his way into an early-season call-up with a strong spring. The same occurred in midseason when Antonio Bastardo overcame his historical struggles to blossom into a first-rate
lefty reliever. Others followed but none were as effective as Stutes and Bastardo. Could a well-regarded righty like Justin De Fratus do the same in 2012? What about lefty Joe Savery, who re-invented himself as a reliever last season after first moving from the rotation to the field and
then back into the rotation? There are other intriguing names in camp, including Arizona Fall League all-star game participant Jake Diekman, as well as MLB veterans like Scott Elarton and Joel
Should Joe Blanton and Vance Worley round out the starting
rotation, Kyle Kendrick would
re-assume the role of longman/spot starter but David Herndon, Piniero, Elarton, Dontrelle Willis, Jose Contreras, Chad
Qualls, Phillipe Aumont, David Purcey, Brian Sanches, Dave Bush and
possibly Jeremy Horst could all have
a say in this. At some point this season, most or all of them will be asked to fill a role at the big league level. Some will be diamonds in the rough while others will prove excellent trade bait.
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About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org