I'm wearing my Charlie Manuel body-language-reading glasses right now, but I'm pretty sure I'm correct in saying that few things draw the veteran manager's ire like errors committed in spring training games. Look at Manuel's background and you'll understand why. As a player, he was never a guy who showed up to spring training knowing that he had a job. And when you are trying to win a job, you need to do all of the little things. So when a utility man with one year of big league experience commits two errors, Manuel notices. When a left fielder trying to erase doubts about his defensive ability allows a routine fly ball to pop out of his glove, Manuel notices.
All that being said, Manuel knows that it is a long spring, and if Michael Martinez and Domonic Brown perform flawlessly for the rest of March, the mistakes they made on a sunny, blustery day in Tampa will be forgotten.
Martinez is the heavy favorite to enter 2012 as the Phillies' utility man, a role he seemed to cement after Wilson Valdez was traded to the Reds. The two errors he made while playing second base yesterday will not erase the body of work he created for himself during last year's regular season. Are the Phillies in trouble if Chase Utley misses time? Absolutely. But that was the case even before yesterday's game. Manuel has always been complimentary of Martinez's defensive ability. It's the offensive side of things where the Phillies will feel the pain in the event of an Utley absence.
Brown is another story.
He's the most interesting man in the camp, at least from my perspective. In the first two Grapefruit League games of the season, we have been reminded why you don't give up on a player just because he has a bad couple of months at Triple-A after a stinging demotion from the major leagues. Yesterday, Brown went 2-for-4 with a triple, which followed a Grapefruit League debut in which he went 1-for-2. The 24-year-old prospect has not struck out in six at-bats, and has shown a good eye at the plate against a variety of pitches. The Phillies seem determined to enter the season with John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix in left field, but a strong spring could put Brown in position for a first-half call-up if the position turns into a glaring offensive liability. Personally, I think that any developing Brown still has left to do will only come by way of regular playing time at the major league level. Defensively, he needs to play in major league outfielders with major league pitchers on the mound and major league hitters at the plate to develop the feel for fielding the position. He needs to play in games that matter to reinforce the importance of putting the ball away when he has it in his glove. He needs to attempt to steal bases against big league pitchers and big league catchers to learn how to beat a throw from home and sell a steal to an umpire. Yesterday, Brown got what looked to be a good jump only to be thrown out at second base on a close call that might have gone in his favor with a better slide (he might very well have been safe as it was).
From the Phillies' point of view, jobs are not things that can be given away on a team that is expected to win a sixth straight division title. It is difficult to resign ones self to dealing with growing pains when the line-up already faces significant questions in the absence of Ryan Howard. The ideal situation for a Brown call-up would be a healthy division lead with an offense affords the kid the opportunity to blend into the bottom half of the order.
Right now, Brown appears to be competing for a place at the top of the queue should that situation develop. He will have plenty more chances to erase yesterday's fielding hiccup.
Today's coverage from Clearwater. . .
-One of the cool things about covering baseball is that you get to watch plot lines develop before your very eyes. Last week, Matt Gelb spotted Freddy Galvis working with Sam Perlozzo on fielding ground balls at third base and second base. It turned into an interesting story on the short stop's desire to expand his versatility beyond his natural position, which will be filled by Jimmy Rollins for at least the next three years.
-Speaking of plot lines developing, I still remember talking to some Phillies folks shortly after the club acquired Roy Halladay for pitcher Kyle Drabek, outfielder Michael Taylor and catcher Travis D'Arnaud. At the time, Drabek drew most of the attention as the center piece of the trade. But the Phillies knew that, given their expanding payroll and the other talent they had in the minor leagues, the right-hander was expendable. The guy they really hated to part with was D'Arnaud, who at the time was 20 years old and had the potential to develop into a marquee bat at a premium position. Last year, he took a big step toward fulfilling that potential, hitting .311/.371/.542 with 21 home runs at Double-A New Hampshire. Now, heading into his 23-year-old season, D'Arnaud is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 17 prospect in the game. The Phillies would do the deal again if it was the only way to acquire Halladay. At the same time, they realize that his presence would go a long way toward quelling concerns about the lack of young talent in their minor league system. Bob Brookover has more.
-Imagine if the Phillies win 102 games again. Imagine if they enter the postseason as the top seed again. Imagine if they play the Cardinals in the first round again. Now, imagine if they have to face Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at Busch Stadium before playing a single home game. That could happen this year. And Roy Halladay isn't thrilled about it, writes Phil Sheridan.
-Zach Berman takes a look at Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, who made their spring debuts on Saturday.
-Tuffy Gosewisch is a guy who might be familiar to Phillies fans. He's been in spring training since 2008, but has yet to spend a season above Double-A. It is easy to forget that a player's desire to reach the major leagues does not diminish even as he nears 30 years old. Roy Halladay says he wants to see Gosewisch get a break at some point. In fact, everybody seems to feel the same way. The break might not come this year, but plenty of people think that Gosewisch has the defensive skill set to play in the majors at some point. Here's the story on one of the oft-overlooked players in the Phillies organization.