Opening day is just a few weeks away, and Spring Training has brought more questions then answers from the infield.
Ryan Howard, who we thought was ahead of schedule in the beginning of Spring, will now most likely be out until the middle of the summer. This means that the Phillies’ most powerful bat will be silenced for the first half of the season, bad news for an offense that sputtered last year even with him in the lineup.
Chase Utley, due to his dreadful knee, has yet to even participate in a full workout, much less a game.
Finally, there is third baseman Placido Polanco, who was batting well in Spring Training but hurt his thumb sliding back to first; this only adds to last year’s back injury.
These are three of the four starting infielders that the Phillies have, and there are questions marks surrounding each one. The only “healthy” infielder is Rollins, who, with a blink of an eye, could injure himself without warning.
Ryan Howard has had a roller coaster Spring with his injury, an achilles tear suffered on the last play of 2011. After having the surgery, doctors estimated he would be ready around May. When he came into training camp, the news looked even better, as doctors said he could be back a little sooner than that. However, the wound was infected, and while the trainers claimed it was only a minor setback, he has yet to get out of his boot since the repair. His own teammate, Jimmy Rollins, said he might miss the season, as Howard may have to start his rehab over again. The Phillies have yet to give a definitive answer to these comments, and as time passes it looks worse and worse for the slugger.
Luckily for the Phillies, they were prepared for this with the moves they made in the offseason. The acquisitions of Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton, and Jim Thome were good insurance for the position. The breakout season in 2011 from first base candidate John Mayberry Jr. has also given the Phillies another good option for Howard’s replacement. Manuel has said Mayberry will be getting a majority of the time at first, but that leaves an open spot in left field. Some people want to see Brown get a shot, but we probably won’t find out who will be the starter until we get closer to Opening Day.
Moving farther left in the infield, we come to Chase Utley, who most people expected would be ready to go as soon as Spring Training came along. However, that is not the case, because now he has been classified as “doubtful” for Opening Day. Everyone knows that this is a result of his shaky knee, but no one knows what is really going on with it. With Utley’s problems in the past the question must be asked, will he play again? In fact, recent reports have come out saying that Utley will never be 100% again in his MLB career, shocking the Phillies organization.
Once again, the Phillies are lucky they have some insurance at second. After they locked up Rollins for 3 years, shortstop prospect Freddy Galvis, one of the better players in the Phillies farm system, wondered what his future looked like with the Phillies. But his question was answered, as he is now playing second base regularly in Spring Training, and could be the top choice as Utley’s replacement. Also, the Phillies have former Rule-5 pick Michael Martinez, who can help lighten the load for Galvis.
The third injured player in the Phillies infield is none other then Placido Polanco. After looking good in the few preseason games he played in, he injured his finger during Saturday’s game. As he slid back to first base, his finger awkwardly hit the base and he says he heard it pop. After seeing the X-rays were negative, he admitted he was very scared he a severely damaged his finger. However, he should be back sometime next week with only minor issues. But the lesson we should learn from this is not that Polanco is lucky, but that in one simple slide one more piece of our infield could be gone.
While the Phillies have a couple options for the other positions, they’re not nearly as deep at third. Since utility man Wilson Valdez left, the Phillies are left with Martinez and Wigginton to play third, but that is not their preferred position. Therefore, Polanco’s health is crucial this season, and it could be the deciding factor on how they end up in the NL East.
In short, the Phillies have some major issues heading into 2012. Their infield is injured, and although they have some decent back-up players they do not have the budget to go out and get more if need be. They are already edging very close to the luxury tax, which they have said they would like to avoid. Their offense, like last season, will not be very potent, which could lead to some major problems as they must try and win a tougher NL East this season.