It’s cold down here in Clearwater. Tonight, the temperature will approach 32 degrees and a wind chill advisory will be in effect until 10 a.m tomorrow. That is the exact time the Phillies catchers and pitchers will officially start spring training. Unlike previous Phillies spring training camps this one will be more subdued.
I am not particularly as interested this year as previous seasons because the Phillies Front Office has all but written off the season. New team President Pat Gillick has said they are not expected to compete for the post season for two or three years. Never can I recall any professional sports organization writing off a season publicly before it begins even in the name of rebuilding.
I do remember the 2006 season after Bobby Abreu was moved to the Yankees in mid-season when the Phillies started a previous rebuild under Gillick. All of the sudden they started to compete and then G.M. Gillick went out and traded for an old player of his from his Seattle days, Jamie Moyer. The Phillies would only fall a game short of the playoffs.
At the time Baseball Betsy and I were riding back from watching Carlos Carrasco, Mike Zagurski and Andrew Barb pitch for Lakewood that Friday night when the deal was coming down. Barb was one of the players dealt to Seattle for Moyer. The Phillies were paced that year by the likes of rookies Cole Hamels and 33-year old Chris Coste to go along with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins who would form the Phillies core to go on and win the 2008 World Series.
No one expects a similar type scenario to play out this year. Unmovable contracts and players with declining skill sets make moves next to impossible. With Jimmy Rollins gone from the Phillies organization for the first time in 19 years, Cole Hamels remains as the only player of value. The problem is other teams do not want to give up young talent and take on the $94 million remaining on Hamels contract.
Last year in spring training we were excited to watch the likes of Cody Asche, David Buchanan, Mario Hollands and especially Ken Giles try to make the team and they all would contribute at some point during the 2014 season. This year we still have some things to look forward to. Maikel Franco will be there but will likely open the season at AAA so his controllable contract years can be stretch out until after the 2021 season. We are told Roman Quinn in center and J.P. Crawford at short are not yet major league ready and they are not even in the major league camp but might get a cameo in a Grapefruit spring training game or two.
They do have some young guys on the 40-man roster who do have some upside but have yet to show it. So we will be watching minor league outfielders Cameron Perkins, Aaron Altherr and Kelly Dugan. Will catcher Tommy Joseph make it through spring training without injury? That is always the big question. On the mound we will be rooting for Jesse Biddle, Adam Morgan, Nefi Ogando and Hector Neris, as we did with Giles, Hollands and Buchanan last spring.
Other questions to be answered will be about the two Rule Five guys. They must make the 25-man roster or be offered back to the team from which they were drafted last December. Odubel Herrera will get a long look in the outfield and Andy Oliver will get a look as a lefty out of the pen. Herrera had big season winning batting titles in the AA, Texas League and the Venezuelan Winter League but was a bust in the VWL playoffs going 3 for 35 there in nine games. Oliver might have a great slider but can he throw strikes? Last year in the Pirates system at AAA he walked 47 in 64 innings out of the pen.
We are rooting for Freddy Galvis to make it at shortstop taking over for Jimmy Rollins. This will be his fourth season with the Phillies but for the first time he will go into spring training with a chance to be a regular in the opening day lineup. We all know Freddy can field with the best of them but now his bat is starting to come around. In the VWL playoffs he came in third, hitting .390 (23 for 59), but perhaps more importantly he did not hit any home runs. Freddy’s problem has alway been trying to hit the long ball at the expense of everything else at the plate. If he can even come close to his post season numbers last month in Venezuela with a .419 on base percent and 3 for 3 in steals in 14 games he will win the shortstop job this season.
And we will be rooting for Cody Asche. For me Cody Asche and Maikel Franco in the lineup at the same time will form key parts of the new Phillies core of the future. Whether it be Cody at third or in left field, he is the type of hard nose player that winners are made of. We are also a big fans of Cameron Rupp. We expect him to share the catching job with Carlos Ruiz.
So there are some things to watch for at the Phillies major league camp to keep it interesting other than waiting for old, overpaid veterans to be moved in the name of rebuilding. Still, we can not wait for the prospects to report to the minor league camp which opens the first week of March. For they are the guys who will tell us if the Phillies really do have a chance to make the post season in years to come.