Taking a first long look at the Phils
Some early observations on the Phillies' 2013 spring training:
n I'm thrilled that corner outfielder Domonic Brown is playing his way into a starting role. Through Thursday, Brown was batting .417 (5 for 12) with a double, two homers, three RBIs, three walks, seven runs scored and just one strikeout in six games.
My dad and I have long disagreed about Brown. He thinks the 25-year-old former top prospect will never amount to a hill of beans, while I believe he possesses the ability to be an everyday player in the majors -- even a good one.
Brown's performance has caught the eye of the team's brass and allowed him to separate himself from the rest of the outfield logjam, where no one else has really stood out. He's credited assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner with helping his stance, so I'm glad to see the club's decision to hire two batting coaches -- Joyner and Steve Henderson -- is already paying off.
n On the other hand, outfielder Darin Ruf -- a converted first baseman who led the minor leagues in home runs last season -- was hitting just .167 through five spring games, and regularly butchering balls in the field.
It's too bad Ruf is being forced to play a new position, but Ryan Howard is entrenched at first base for the foreseeable future, so if the 26-year-old harbors any hope of being a regular in the majors, he'll need to make the switch.
Most scouts consider Ruf no better than a fringe prospect, largely because of his age, but I'm rooting for the guy to succeed. The good news is, he got his first two hits of spring training in Thursday's game against the Braves, so maybe he's relaxing a bit.
The problem is, Ruf's going to have to smack a fair number of homers to compensate for his defensive deficiencies, and at this point, I don't see that happening.
n Some of the young bullpen guys -- including B.J. Rosenberg, Michael Stutes and Justin DeFratus -- struggled in the early games, but Stutes and DeFratus have the ready excuse that they're coming off injuries. Closer Jonathan Papelbon also got bombed in his first appearance, but I'm not really worried about him or set-up man Mike Adams.
Also, hard-throwing lefty Antonio Bastardo is off to a promising start, with two scoreless innings and, amazingly, zero walks.
Adding more bullpen depth, I think it's good the Phillies signed veteran Chad Durbin -- back for his second stint with the club -- so they aren't as dependent on the youngsters. Durbin had a decent year with the Braves in 2012, recording a 3.10 ERA in 76 games, so I hope he replicates that as a reliable sixth- and seventh-inning reliever for the Phils.
n The starting pitching looks good so far, with Cole Hamels already appearing in midseason form.
I'm not the least bit worried about Hamels and Cliff Lee, who I think will have fine years. Roy Halladay also seems to be making progress.
I would hardly call John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick the best fourth and fifth starters in the National League, but the Phillies could do a lot worse in that area. That duo just needs to keep the team in games and pitch five or six innings.
The key to me is the health of Hamels, Lee and Halladay. If each of those guys makes 30-something starts and is reasonably effective, the Phillies could be in the playoff hunt in a year when most people are counting them out.
Paula Wolf is a staff writer for the Sunday News. Email her at email@example.com. She also blogs about sports at lancasteronline.com/blogs/wheelchairqb.