Friday, February 19, 2016

Spring Training Has Officially Begun!


Who Are You Again? – Pete Mackanin patrolled the Carpenter Complex on Thursday morning looking pretty much like everybody else. Mackanin watched the players, then he checked the back of their jerseys to read their names. "I'm trying to put a name to the face," Mackanin said. Only 18 out of the 65 players in Phillies camp opened Spring Training last year with the team. Many of the new faces this year include the organization's top prospects. Of the seven players in MLBPipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, six are at Bright House Field. Could they join the Phillies before the end of the season, or will the organization take things more slowly knowing they have a long rebuild ahead of them? "We had a good first day," Mackanin said following the first workout for pitchers and catchers. "The timing worked great, we had guys moving. A lot of guys in camp. Boy oh boy. I looked at that clubhouse, and it was full of people. A lot of energy. A lot of competition. I think that's going to breed a lot of excitement." There is more energy in the clubhouse than in recent seasons for a few reasons. First, there are more young players, and young players want to prove themselves. Second, even the more established players know no job is completely safe. Third, Mackanin simply is more gregarious than former manager Ryne Sandberg. "I took a course on motivation in college one semester," Mackanin quipped. But Mackanin can easily see why this camp feels different, even if more energy might not translate into many more wins than last season, when the Phillies lost 99 games. "Back when I played, players came into Spring Training to get in shape," Mackanin said. "Everybody was overweight and most -- 60 percent of the guys -- smoked. You were here to get in shape. Over the course of time, it's changed quite a bit. We've got a lot of finely tuned athletes. Players are not stupid. They know that jobs are available. They know that there are things they can do to make an impression. We talked to them at the end of last year to let them know that, as I've always said, you're auditioning all the time. You don't take anything for granted. You have to earn the job. I don't care what you did last year. It's basically what have you done for me lately. The players sense that. They know there are jobs available, especially in the pitching department. "So I think everybody is real eager to show what they can do. We have a lot of new faces, a lot of guys who have been other places and have had success. I think they feel like they have an opportunity to show that they're not fading away, that they're ready to make their mark and get back on track." Mackanin also touched on a couple other topics on Thursday: On experience being a factor when it comes to the Opening Day starter: "We're going to talk about it, and we'll decide on the guy who we feel is the best guy suited for the job. Experience is very important, but at the same time, for example, I liked the mound presence of [Jerad] Eickhoff and [Aaron] Nola. Neither one of them showed any fear. That's a big part of it. That being said, experience is a definite factor." On innings limits for the team's young pitchers: "We'll come up with a plan. We're certainly going to take care of some of these guys. We're not going to overdo it. Just wait and see. I told Nola, for example, the last outing he pitched, I told him, 'I'm taking you out of the game here,' and he said, 'Why?' I said, 'We're taking care of you, but next year we're not going to take care of you.' If we feel he's capable of throwing 200 innings, he's going to throw 200 innings. But once again, we're going to have to discuss that in-house." On a potential lack of leadership amongst the position players: "We'll find out during the course of the spring. We've discussed that. You always like to have a leader in the clubhouse. I posed this question to [bench coach] Larry Bowa and Mike Schmidt. I said, 'When you guys played and you were successful, did you need somebody to be your leader? Did you need somebody to tell you how to play and what to do?' To a man, they all said no, because that was their makeup. There's going to be enough players with good makeup that I think out of that bunch one or two guys might rise to the occasion and become the leaders. It's something you can't teach. You just have to hope it evolves."

Ruiz Has A Lot To Offer – Carlos Ruiz sees few familiar faces in the Phillies' clubhouse these days. Jimmy Rollins? He has been gone since December 2014. Cole Hamels and Chase Utley? They were traded last July and August, respectively. Ruiz, 37, is one of only two remaining members of the Phillies' 2008 World Series championship team. In fact, he is only one of two remaining members from the Phillies' last postseason team in '11. Ryan Howard is the other, but Ruiz stood alone on Thursday morning at Bright House Field as Phillies pitchers and catchers held their first official workout. The team conducts its first full-squad workout on Tuesday. "I miss those guys," Ruiz said. "They're part of my family." But the family has broken up as the Phillies are rebuilding. Ruiz is the oldest player in Phillies camp, which is likely his last. He is in the final year of a three-year, $26 million contract, following the worst season of his career. The Phillies have a $4.5 million option for Ruiz for 2017, but unless he finds the fountain of youth, they are expected to take a $500,000 buyout instead. Ruiz hit .211 with two home runs, 22 RBIs and a .575 OPS in 320 plate appearances in 2015. Catcher Cameron Rupp started 56 of the team's final 92 games (60.9 percent) and 33 of the final 49 (67.3 percent). That trend is expected to continue this year. "I'm going to try to enjoy every day," Ruiz said. "This is part of my life, and I don't know how long I'm going to be here. I know I want to enjoy my teammates, this organization. … But I don't want to think about that because I'm real excited about this year." Some Phillies fans have wondered what value a catcher like Ruiz might have in 2016. The reality is he has plenty, even if he cannot perform like he has in the past. Ruiz has been one of the most-respected and well-liked players in the clubhouse for years. The Phillies are looking for leadership. Ruiz can provide some. Ruiz obviously has a wealth of knowledge he can impart upon Rupp and catching prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. Ruiz has caught some of the most dominant pitchers of his era, including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Jonathan Papelbon and Brad Lidge. Ruiz has started 46 postseason games, too. He caught some of the most masterful pitching performances in Phillies postseason history, including Hamels' run as a World Series and National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 2008, as well as Halladay's no-hitter in Game 1 of the 2010 NL Division Series. Think Ruiz can't teach a few things to the Phillies' young pitchers and catchers? "I like to be around young guys because they make me feel young, too," Ruiz said. Ruiz got to camp early this month and has already been working with Alfaro, who is one of's top 100 prospects. "He has good hands and he can swing the bat," Ruiz said. "He's a guy you have to keep your eyes on. He's young, but he can play." But Ruiz wants to offer more than advice and knowledge. He still believes he can play. He battled some weakness in his left shoulder last season, following surgery in 2014. He said the shoulder feels fine. "Whatever happened last year is over," Ruiz said. "I come into this year with a different mentality, ready to go." So if Ruiz proves he still has something left in the tank, how much longer would he like to play? "Right now I go day to day," Ruiz said. "I don't know how long. It depends on how my body feels, but right now I feel good. I feel strong. I believe I can still play every day. It's not in my hands. The only thing I can control is what I do on the field. I'm ready. We'll see what happens."

Today In Phils History - In the 1980's the Phillies had a stud on their roster but didn't know it. Dave Stewart, born on this day in 1957, didn't find success until after his time in Philadelphia. The following decade, in 1992, the Phillies shipped off Charlie Hayes to make room at 3rd base. 

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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