Thursday, February 18, 2016

And The Disappointing Updates Have Begun…


Roster Updates – Do not expect to see Matt Harrison in Phillies camp this spring. Do not expect to see him pitch at all in 2016. "The truth is we're not expecting him to be here anytime soon, if at all this year," general manager Matt Klentak said on Wednesday morning at Bright House Field. "If things go well, we'd be happy to get him back, but the reality is we're kind of in a wait-and-see mode, and we'll just have to play it out. But we're not expecting him here in Clearwater." The news should not surprise anyone who has followed Harrison's health history. He had spinal fusion surgery on June 3, 2014. It was his fourth back surgery in two years and the most radical of the bunch. Harrison's back problems have limited him to 44 innings the past three seasons. Harrison, who saw a back specialist earlier this week, is owed about $28 million on his contract, which expires following the 2017 season. But insurance is expected to pick up much of that. Harrison joined the Phillies in July as part of the Cole Hamels trade with Texas. The Phillies were aware of Harrison's health issues, but they acquired him to offset some of Hamels' salary. Funky Cold Medina: Right-hander Yoervis Medina is not expected to be in camp for another 10-14 days because of visa issues. The Phillies acquired Medina, who is a non-roster invitee, from the Pirates earlier this month for left-hander Jesse Biddle. Medina, 27, is 10-9 with a 3.08 ERA in 146 appearances in his career with the Mariners and Cubs. Turnover: The Phillies will have 65 players in camp, not including Harrison. Only 18 opened camp last spring with the club.

Can He Make The Rotation? – The future for the Phillies is everywhere this spring. Vincent Velasquez is one part of the puzzle, but he is a big one. Velasquez stood in front of his locker in the corner of the clubhouse on Wednesday morning at Bright House Field, where he answered questions from a pack of reporters. They wanted insight from the key piece in the December trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston. "I see all these [camera] lights turned on and I was like, 'Whoa,'" Velasquez said about the sudden attention. "I'm honored. It's really something to take in." The scene stood out to regular visitors to the Phillies' clubhouse. Chase Utley occupied Velasquez's corner locker for the previous 12 years. But Utley is a memory, part of the past, after being traded to the Dodgers in August. The Phillies hope Velasquez is a part of the future. He is a heavy favorite to win the fifth and final job in the rotation. Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff and Charlie Morton are considered locks for the first four spots. "There are a lot of guys with talent in this room," Velasquez said. "Everyone is fighting for a spot." But Velasquez is the favorite because of his talent. The Phillies love his arm, which is why they made Velasquez the focal point of the trade that sent Giles and Minor League infielder Jonathan Arauz to the Astros for right-handers Mark Appel, Thomas Eshelman, Harold Arauz and Velasquez, along with left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. The original four-player return for Giles included Houston outfield prospect Derek Fisher, but Appel and Arauz were late additions after sources said the Phillies had concerns about Velasquez's physical. Velasquez underwent Tommy John surgery on Sept. 22, 2010. "I'm healthy as an ox," Velasquez said. No issues with his shoulder? "I've never had any problems with my shoulder," Velasquez said. "Any type of soreness I've had was in the biceps or triceps. Nothing in the shoulder." The Phillies hope Velasquez, 23, stays healthy and continues to progress from his rookie season in Houston. Velasquez went 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 appearances (seven starts) last season. He has the talent to be a No. 3 starter, although some think he could be a dominant late-inning reliever. But forget about the bullpen right now. The Phillies want Velasquez to start and he wants to start, too. "Definitely, that's where I want to be," he said. Velasquez joked that he is looking forward to hitting in the National League. He seems to have the athletic ability to do it. He caught and played first base in high school. Velasquez learned to throw left-handed, which came in handy during his junior year when he pitched and played center field as a left-hander because he had bone spurs in his right elbow. "I'd look at my reflection and kind of imitate myself," Velasquez said. "When I threw with my left hand it looked trashy, so I eventually made it look normal." So keep an eye on Velasquez during batting practice. If he is in the outfield shagging fly balls, he could be shagging as a lefty. "I don't want to use my right arm. I want it to recuperate, so I'll just throw left-handed," he said. Velasquez played a different sport every day with his father and brothers, while growing up in California. Baseball, football, basketball, golf, tennis, soccer, whatever. "My dad wanted to really motivate us. He wanted us to make something of ourselves," he said. They did. His older brothers, Leonard Jr. and Christopher, fought in Iraq with the Marine Corps. Vincent has the chance to be a key cog in the Phillies' rebuilding efforts. "I don't have a guaranteed spot," Velasquez said. "None of us do. It's going to be a process. It's a little journey I'm looking forward to experiencing and we'll see how it plays out."

The Future Is Now! – Phillies fans get their first look at the future beginning on Thursday. Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro and other pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout at Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla. It will be unlike any Spring Training in recent memory as the Phillies rebuild with a camp full of young players and prospects. Are the Phils expected to be postseason contenders? No. Should they be interesting to watch anyway? Yes. Here is why: The Phillies already have a few young players in the big leagues that look like they could be part of the future core (Nola, Eickhoff, Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera). They also have one of the best farm systems in baseball with seven players in MLBPipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, more than any other team in baseball. How many of those players will live up to the hype? How many will be part of the core of the future? Nobody knows, but finding out should make this year interesting to watch, both at the Major and Minor League levels. In the sixth part of a seven-part series previewing Phillies Spring Training, asks three big questions that must be answered in camp: 1. Where does Ryan Howard fit? Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels are gone, but Howard remains. It is likely that Howard figured he would be elsewhere by now, but the Phillies have had no luck trying to trade him, despite offering to pay most of his salary ($25 million this season, plus a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option). Howard is expected to be in uniform when the club holds its first full-squad workout on Tuesday, but does he want to be here? And how much will he play? Howard has been one of the most standup players in the Phillies' clubhouse for years. He also has been one of the friendliest and most gregarious. He didn't show that side nearly as often last season. There could be any number of reasons for that, but the young players in the clubhouse could use a leader like Howard. In regards to playing time, manager Pete Mackanin has not minced words. He said it will be tough to play Howard over Darin Ruf against left-handed pitching considering their results last season. Will Howard be OK with that? It will be interesting to see how everything plays out as Howard's time with the Phillies nears its conclusion. 2. Will this team hit? Philadelphia scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball last season, and it did not add anybody to the lineup other than outfielder Peter Bourjos, who hit .200 with a .623 OPS in 225 plate appearances last season with St. Louis. Runs are expected to be a struggle again, but the organization hopes there will be at least some improvement with the continued development of Franco, Herrera, Aaron Altherr and others. But if players struggle, there will be plenty of players in Triple-A looking to take their jobs, including shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielder Nick Williams and more. 3. Who will show the kids the way? General manager Matt Klentak said building a positive culture is part of his plan to resurrect the Phillies, who have not had a winning season since 2011. They lost plenty of leadership in the past 14 months with Rollins, Utley, Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, Ben Revere and other veterans being traded. Do the current Phils have enough leadership to show the youngsters in camp the way to not only make the big leagues, but succeed once they're there? The only veterans on the 40-man roster with considerable service time are Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Bourjos, Andres Blanco, Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and David Hernandez. The Phillies could miss Jeff Francoeur, who learned from the best in Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and others. Francoeur almost single-handedly kept the clubhouse upbeat in 2015 during the organization's worst season since 1969. Players responded to him and he showed players like Franco, Herrera and others how to conduct themselves through the grind of the season.

Today In Phils History - Happy birthday to a couple of short lived pitchers with the Phillies in Kyle Abbott (1968) and Tyler Green (1970).  

With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!

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