Phillies Spring Training Winners & Losers

We know spring training stats don’t mean a whole lot. In fact, they probably mean nothing in the practical sense, but still baseball front offices, the players themselves, the fans, and the media still regard them to various degrees. With that said, I took a cursory look at the Phillies spring training numbers and made some evaluations on who best helped and hurt themselves going into 2010 and beyond.

HELPED

Tyson Gillies, OF

Gillies was one of the two “other” players received with Phillippe Aumont when Cliff Lee was traded to the Seattle Mariners. He hasn’t been graded highly by most prospect evaluators, but the Phillies liked the cut of his jib. He proved them right in spring training in a small sample of plate appearances, showing power, speed, and athleticism. He also showed baseball “smarts” when he quickly circled the bases after a home run so as not to show up the opposing pitcher, David Purcey.

In my opinion, I’m just trying to show respect to the pitcher. He knows he gave up a home run. He doesn’t need you to take about five minutes to run around the bases.

He will start the season in AA Reading. Shane Victorino, 29 years old, is a free agent after the 2012 season. The Phillies hope Gillies will be ready to take over in center field at that time. He has shown great on-base skills, including the ability to draw walks, and has recently developed power, raising his SLG in Single-A from .410 in 2008 to .486 in ’09.

Domonic Brown

Brown was so impressive in spring training that it became reasonable to suggest that he start the season with the Phillies in Washington. It won’t happen, mind you, but it’s not an outright crazy suggestion anymore. He posted a Barry Bondsian .417/.464/.750 line in 24 spring training at-bats, including one of the longest home runs (hit off of Justin Verlander, who finished third in last year’s AL Cy Young balloting) in spring training. Here’s another video in which, as The Fightins says, Ryan Howard and Charlie Manuel are “practically salivating over the kid.”

Brown’s spring training performance has given the Phillies organization and especially Manuel confidence to bring him up at some point this season if they in need of a full-time outfielder whether due to injury or trade. Do not be surprised if he not only gets called up in September but is added to the post-season roster if the Phillies are fortunate enough to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.

Ben Francisco

Francisco, a part-time player, has racked up the seventh-most at-bats of anyone wearing a Phillies uniform during spring training. He has certainly made the most of them as his triple-slash line of .273/.373/.568 indicates. Francisco would be a starter on many teams in Major League Baseball; the Phillies are fortunate to have an above-average hitter — and he was “thrown in” with Cliff Lee last year in the trade with the Cleveland Indians.

He plays passable defense in left field and has gap power, compiling 62 doubles and 30 home runs in the past two seasons. Francisco can still get better, as he is just 28 years old. If he can cut his strikeout rate and increase his walk rate even by just a couple percentage points as well as pick his stolen base attempts more carefully, he may turn into a 2-3 WAR player.

As mentioned on Monday, the Phillies won’t want to start Dom Brown’s arbitration clock if they don’t have to, so if any of the outfielders miss an extended period of time, Francisco provides exceptional insurance and saves the Phillies money in two ways: he himself is not yet arb-eligible and he allows the Phillies to keep Brown in AAA. Add all this to an impressive spring and you have a bench player who has made the Phillies very happy.

HURT

Raul Ibanez

Raul’s just had a rough spring any way you slice it. He has had a terrible time at the plate, hitting .114/.264/.227. To add to the displeasure, he was hit in the right elbow by a pitch on Friday and just returned to the lineup yesterday against the Houston Astros. Ibanez turns 38 on June 2 and despite the great first half last year, he has GM Ruben Amaro grimacing when he remembers the three-year, $31.5 million contract he offered prior to last season.

Jonathan Atwood thinks the Phillies should trade Raul Ibanez and sign Jayson Werth (as opposed to my idea of trading Ryan Howard and signing Werth). The only problem is that he is old and injury-prone and expensive (owed $24+ million in 2010-11) and has historically been a streaky player. The market for a player of that nature is slim to none. His poor spring training performance limits that market even more. If the Phillies have any hope of trading Ibanez for any value, they will have to hope for another monster first half.

Jose Contreras

He has had an awful, awful spring training. In 12 innings, he has allowed 14 runs (12 earned) on 20 hits and 8 walks. The good news is that he has allowed only one home run and struck out 15 batters. Could be a case of bad BABIP. However, pitching coach Rich Dubee is concerned. Per Ryan Lawrence:

“His command hasn’t been good,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “His arm is still getting used to the workload. So does it concern me? Yeah, because I like to see better results. (But) I’m not ready to jump off any bridges.”

Contreras is expected to take over the role vacated by Chan Ho Park. Overall, the bullpen is a mess, so Contreras is not in jeopardy of receiving a demotion or being outright released. With Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero unlikely to be ready by Opening Day, everyone’s role in the bullpen gets bumped up two notches, including that of Contreras. The Phillies cannot afford to have him unable to command his pitches in high-leverage innings.

Of all of the poor spring training performances, this is by far the most concerning.

Antonio Bastardo

The Phillies went into spring training with three left-handers auditioning for the LOOGY role. It sounds reasonable that there would be a 33% chance of finding an effective lefty to use in the bullpen. And yet the Phillies found none they were really happy with in spring training. Sergio Escalona and Mike Zagurski pitched very poorly and were sent down two weeks before the end of spring training, intimating that Antonio Bastardo had earned the role by default.

Unfortunately, Bastardo has also had a poor spring. In eight and two-thirds innings, he has allowed seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits and two walks. The great news, however, is that he has struck out 15. Bastardo has won the role due to his higher upside, but the Phillies are still hoping that J.C. Romero is in top-form as soon as possible.