CLEARWATER, Fla. - While there is little debate about the most important story lines of the spring, the Grapefruit League is not likely to reveal the long-term futures of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay. For most veterans, spring training predicts regular-season performance about as well as a pack of tarot cards. They do not worry about numbers. Most have a routine that they have developed over the years, a combination of knocking off rust and focusing on areas in which they would like to improve.
So what, exactly, can we glean from spring training?
Here are four things to watch:
Adam Morgan and Jonathan Pettibone: Morgan had an impressive debut Friday, pitching two scoreless innings of an intrasquad game. He struck out John Mayberry Jr. and Ryan Howard looking and retired five of the seven batters he faced, eliminating both of his baserunners with doubleplay balls. He keeps the ball down, works quick and appears to have really good arm speed. He also has four pitches, three of which were on display Friday. He struck out Howard on a backdoor changeup that appeared to have really nice movement away from the lefty. He threw a crisp, well-located slider earlier in the at-bat. Morgan also throws a curveball, although he did not use any Friday.
In previous years, neither of these pitchers would be at the top of a list of things to watch. Morgan spent most of last season at high-Class A Clearwater before getting six late season starts at Double A Reading. Altogether he posted a 3.35 ERA with a 9.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 in 158 innings. But the sense of urgency inside the Phillies organization is palpable at Bright House Field. If John Lannan is getting knocked around, or if a starter goes down with an injury, the Phillies are likely going to err on the side of upside and pure talent. And if they think a younger player in the minor leagues gives them a better chance to win than a more experienced player, you should expect them to go with that player.
While it is difficult to envision somebody beating out Lannan for the fifth spot in the rotation, a pitcher like Morgan could position himself at the front of the major league coaching staff's mind. The lefty has already been a fast-riser, going from a third-round draft pick out of Alabama in 2011 to Double A in a little over a year. On Friday, Morgan said he was not expecting the call that came on Dec. 18, when Phillies farm director Joe Jordan extended an invitation to big-league spring training. Morgan still has the voicemail saved.
"I'm playing for over a month with the best players in the world," Morgan said. "I hold myself to a high standard to go out there and I really believe I can compete with these guys."
Don't be surprised if the Phillies end up keeping Morgan in big-league spring training beyond the first round of cuts, when many of the younger players head back to minor league camp.
The young bullpen arms: The Phillies have three bullpen spots to fill, and there's a good chance that the players who will fill them are the ones who have the best command at the end of spring training. All of them have good stuff. But walks have been an issue for Jake Diekman and Phillippe Aumont, two of the contenders for the final three spots. Jeremy Horst's strong 2012 would seem to give him an edge, but Diekman and Raul Valdes will merit consideration. Aumont appears to be competing with Justin De Fratus and Mike Stutes. Expect one of the three to get the nod as a righty in the 'pen.
Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown: On Friday, the duo combined to go 4-for-4 with three doubles in their first four plate appearances. Ruf has hit at every level he has played, from Class A to the Venezuelan League. Brown may have lost his luster for some, but it will be interesting to see how he responds to what is his first legitimate shot at an Opening Day roster spot.
Freddy Galvis and Michael Young: Galvis was spectacular at shortstop Friday, combining with Utley on two doubleplays and making a charging scoop-and-throw to first. Young, on the other hand, was charged with an error when he knocked down a sharp bouncer with a backhand, then unleashed a throw that pulled Ryan Howard off first base. The Phillies seem confident that Young can handle the defensive responsibilities of full-time duty at third base. But that confidence can easily change over the course of the spring, particularly when it is juxtaposed against the slick glove of the young Galvis.