Hunter Pence could be the likeliest candidate for a big season for the Phillies in 2012.
The Phillies got off to a shaky Grapefruit League start this weekend as they dropped two games to the Yankees (8-5 Saturday and 7-4 Sunday).
Luckily it's springing training and the results essentially don't matter. But that doesn't mean these games weren't marked by a few interesting story lines.
1. We are still waiting on Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz to make their spring debuts.
2. The Phillies are getting a look at plenty of minor-league talent.
3. The bullpen might not be as set in stone as first thought.
4. The defense isn’t very sharp right now (4 errors) as players fill in at positions that could differ come the regular season.
5. Hunter Pence could be in mid-season form already.
A lot of the other story lines I mention above will work themselves out. But something that would be wonderful to be telling of things to come is the hot start of Pence.
The Phillies right fielder went 2 for 5 with two two-run homers -- both coming off the starting pitcher -- against the Yanks.
Pence, 28, could be due for a breakthrough season in his first full season in red pinstripes. He has back-to-back 20-plus homer, 90-plus RBI, 80-plus run seasons and this season should be no different -- maybe even better (30, 100, 100?).
With the Phillies remaining lefty-heavy; Pence should get to see the occasional situational lefty considering he will likely be batting between lefties Chase Utley and the combo of Ryan Howard/Jim Thome/Laynce Nix. Over his career Pence has averaged about a homer every 21 at bats against lefties while it drops to a 1 per every 26.6 at bats against righties.
Those extra at bats against lefties should help the free-swinging Pence.
But even if opposing managers counter Pence with a righty, the Phillies slugger should be able to handle it. Pence is batting just .008 batting average points less and .060 OPS points less versus right-handed pitching rather than left-handed pitching.
It looks like fantasy baseball players have taken notice of Pence’s potential in the Phillies lineup this season. On average he has been the 12th outfielder picked in ESPN leagues and is ranked 14th by KFFL.
Let’s hope we all take notice of Pence’s potential becoming a reality once the regular season begins. With Howard on the shelf and guys like Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco likely to get plenty of games off, Pence will carry the burden of a possibly offensively challenged lineup -- how he takes on that challenge could mean the difference between a long October run and another disappointing season for the Phils.