5 Philadelphia Phillies Storylines to Follow During Spring Training

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5 Philadelphia Phillies Storylines to Follow During Spring Training

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Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies' pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training Feb. 13, less than two weeks from today. After a disappointing 2013 season, the Phillies look to rebound and get back to their winning ways.

There are a few question marks in their starting lineup and rotation that need to be filled. Spring training is the time where players compete and make their case for a spot on the big league roster. The Phillies could use a breakout spring from a few players to solidify their bullpen and starting rotation.

Injuries and inconsistent play plagued the Phillies last season, and they need to form a deeper team this spring. Their core players will need to play up to their ability and potential. The bullpen has been a mess and has to improve. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels top the starting rotation but there are holes and room for competition.

Role players need to step up so manager Ryne Sandberg can rest the veteran players. Young players like Darin Ruf, Michael Stutes and Jake Diekman need to step up during spring training and put pressure on their teammates to battle for roster positions.

Miguel Gonzalez, the Cuban pitcher signed by the Phillies this offseason, is a complete mystery and could end up in the starting rotation. What will Ruf’s role be this season? Who will be the five starting pitchers? Can they stay healthy? Who can the Phillies turn to in the bullpen? Spring training will answer some of these questions, and these five storylines will be fascinating to follow this spring.

John Rader is a contributor for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @jcrader, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Right Field Competition

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Ben Revere and Dominic Brown are locks to start in the outfield in 2014, but right field looks to be open for competition. Ruben Amaro Jr. brought in veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd in the offseason, and he appears to be the top contender for the position.

Darin Ruf looks to be his biggest competitor, but it remains to be seen if he has improved in the field. If Ruf has put in time during the offseason and improved his defense he could give Byrd a real run for his money.

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4. Impact Role Players

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The role players for the Phillies will be critical this season, because the veteran players will need frequent days off. The backup catcher will be a huge role, and it looks like Wil Nieves will have the job entering spring training. He will be competing with a few of the Phillies' top prospects for the job, and it is very possible that they beat him out. They do not want to rush a young player along, but if they can earn the spot in spring then they deserve a shot. The Phillies may be better served playing him every day rather than playing sporadically as a backup.

Ruf may have a tough time finding a regular home in the starting lineup but could still see ample time. He will likely serve as Ryan Howard's backup where he could find a start every week to give the aging slugger rest. He may also find some time in the outfield if the starters struggle or get injured.

John Mayberry Jr. and Freddy Galvis should also see their fair share of time off the Phillies bench. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins will need their maintenance days, and Galvis will be the go-to player up the middle. Sandberg showed last year that he likes using defensive substitutions late in games, so Mayberry might find time in the outfield or on the base paths for some of the slower veterans.

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3. Starting Five

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies will feature Hamels and Lee at the top of their starting rotation, and the rest will be determined during the spring. Kyle Kendrick should land the three or four spot in the rotation, and it sounds like Roberto Hernandez will also find a spot. That leaves one spot open to fill.

Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, Chad Gaudin and the newly signed mystery man, Miguel Gonzalez look to be competing for the final spot. Pettibone proved last year that he can pitch in the big leagues, so his fellow contenders will need to stand out if they want to win the job over him.

Although it is being suggested that Hernandez will land a spot in the rotation, there is room for him to be beat out. Keep an eye on Gonzalez throughout the spring; he could be a huge story if he can come in and pitch his way into the rotation.

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2. Bullpen

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies' bullpen has been an absolute mess the past few years, and they would like to find some stability. Despite Jonathan Papelbon’s comments and struggles at times last season, the closing job will be his through the spring. The setup role is wide-open and anyone’s to win. The hope is for Mike Adams to come back this season and pitch more like the Mike Adams of old. There's no guarantee there, and the Phillies would love to see one of their youngsters step up.

A few names to keep an eye on during spring training: Michael Stutes, Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo. Stutes could be a huge asset this season as he has now had more time to recover from his shoulder surgery and start fresh. Diekman has struggled with his control early, but he has some nasty stuff. If he can dial in and start hitting his spots, he will be lethal out of the bullpen.

Although he is not young or flashy, Bastardo always finds his way back in the setup role for the Phillies. He needs to cut down on walks, but he has continued to be an average setup man. The organization would love for one of the other pitchers to step up and earn the job, but otherwise he could land the gig.

Keep an eye on the pitchers who lose out on the starting job. If the Phillies find their starting five it is possible they will try to transition one or two starters to the bullpen. They have done it in the past, and it’s possible to see them do it again.

Since the bullpen has been such a mess of late, there is no doubt it will be something to watch through the spring. Hopefully a few veterans rediscover themselves and the youngsters can rise to the occasion.

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1. Health

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In order for the Phillies to be successful this season, they will need their veteran star players to stay healthy. This seems like an obvious statement, but health is a major concern for a team whose starting infield's average age is 32.4 -- and that’s with 23-year-old Cody Ashe. Last season Ruiz appeared in only 92 games, but he did serve a 25-game suspension early in the season. He battled injury during the 2011 season, and Sandberg will have to be wary of the wear and tear put on a 35-year-old catcher.

Since the 2010 season when Rollins played only 88 games due to injury, he has been durable averaging 152 games per season, including 160 last year. As long as Revere can handle the leadoff spot, Rollins should be able to find a few more maintenance days to give his 35-year-old body a rest.

Utley has battled knee problems over the past few years, and it is not likely they will just vanish. Last season he played in 131 games, the most since 2009. The Phillies did a good job of monitoring his situation last season and would expect them to do the same this season.

Then there is Howard. He has played a combined 151 games over the last two seasons. If the Phillies are going to be successful they will need production from their first baseman and will need him in the lineup on a daily basis. Howard has not been the same since tearing his Achilles in the 2011 playoffs.

With the core of the team in their mid 30s, you have to wonder if they will be able to stay healthy and field a quality team on a consistent basis. The Phillies will need to get through spring training without losing players or suffering setbacks. If they can stay healthy watch out, but that is a big if.

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