CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies departed their spring home on Friday and will make a brief stopover in Philadelphia before heading to Cincinnati to open their 135th season on Monday.
The goal of any team in spring training is to stay healthy and the Phillies did that. Now the rebuilding club will attempt to take another step forward, improve on the 71 wins it put up last season and find out which young players on the roster will be around for the long haul while giving a good-looking group of prospects another year to grow in the minors.
Here are a few notes, quotes and observations as the Phillies exit Clearwater and head for the regular season:
• Starting pitching should be this team's strength. The five arms that the Phillies have assembled have the potential to keep games close for six innings most nights. But, with the exception of Vince Velasquez, who looks primed for something big, the starters' ERAs were high this spring. In particular, Aaron Nola had an ERA of 8.38. Jerad Eickhoff finished at 6.86 and Clay Buchholz at 6.65
"I choose to believe that it's just spring training," manager Pete Mackanin said.
Nola showed that his elbow was sound. His velocity was actually up a tick or two. But it's hugely important that he re-find the pinpoint command and ability to locate that made him special in college and special for his first 25 big-league starts.
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A better read of this rotation will start Monday when Jeremy Hellickson gets the ball.
• The Phillies' tight 40-man roster drew a lot of attention this spring and affected some decisions for the opening day roster. The Phils could continue to have tough calls with the 40-man roster during the season, especially if they need catching help and determine that prospect Jorge Alfaro, who is on the 40, is not ready. At that point, the Phils might have to consider bringing up Logan Moore and making a tough call on whom to lop off the 40-man roster. Ditto in the outfield. If the Phils needed a backup outfielder and didn't want to have a 40-man prospect like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams or Dylan Cozens play part time, they might have to look at adding Cameron Perkins, who had a nice spring, to the roster. Again, who goes? Tyler Goeddel would have been the first outfielder to come up, but he was designated for assignment, a move that took him off the 40-man roster and possibly out of the organization, to make room for Brock Stassi.
• Freddy Galvis had a brilliant spring with the glove. His big test this season will be improving his on-base skills as he tries to hold off top prospect J.P. Crawford. Early in camp, Galvis bristled when he was asked about Crawford. From this perspective, that was a good thing. Maybe he's ready to dig in and make improvements. Internal competition is a wonderful motivator and it's good to see that Galvis isn't conceding anything.
• Jeanmar Gomez had a terrific spring, allowing just four hits and one run over 9 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one. He will open the season as the closer, but Mackanin continues to use qualifiers like "for now." Clearly, Mackanin remembers the struggles that cost Gomez that role last year. And so it seems Gomez will be on a short leash.
• Newcomer Howie Kendrick showed unselfishness at the plate, moving runners by clearly trying to hit the ball the other way. File that under a veteran who knows how to play the game and set a good example.
• Maikel Franco's swing looked a lot more under control. We can't recall his helmet popping off once. This is a big year for him as he tries to prove that he is a player worth building around to a front office that already has its eye on coming free-agent markets.
• The buzz coming from next door at minor-league camp was significant, as much as these ears have ever heard. There was lots of talk about the Triple A team mashing the ball, about 18-year-old pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez's dominating performances (word is team officials had to slow him down a little), about the strides another big-armed prospect, Franklyn Kilome, has made, and about the way the ball jumps off the bat of Cole Stobbe, last year's third-round pick. The minor-league season opens Thursday and it will be a fascinating five-month ride as the organization has real prospects worth monitoring.
• Aaron Altherr scorched the baseball over the final week or so of camp. Everything seemed to come off his bat hard. He is really liking the adjustment he has made in his stance. At the suggestion of new hitting coach Matt Stairs, Altherr lowered his hands. Altherr says it has helped him see the ball better and be quicker to the ball. Back in 2010, when he was still playing, Stairs made the same suggestion to Jayson Werth, whose body-type is similar to Altherr's, and it helped him earn a huge contract with the Washington Nationals.
• Second base prospect Scott Kingery was the talk of the first half of the Grapefruit League schedule, with Mackanin saying it looked as if the 22-year-old was on a fast track to the majors. But it was another 22-year-old second base prospect that stood out late in camp. By virtue of his being on the 40-man roster, Jesmuel Valentin, who is a month younger than Kingery, got to hang around until the final cut. He hit .366 with a .934 OPS. He will start at Triple A and Kingery at Double A. As stated above, internal competition is good and the Phils have some at second base. And lest we forget, Cesar Hernandez does not turn 27 until May.
• Eickhoff made good strides with his changeup. It'll be interesting to see where that takes him as he looks to build on last season's breakout, 197-inning season.
• One of the most memorable quotes from camp was provided by director of player development Joe Jordan, who, in talking about pitcher Drew Anderson said, "We have scouts who will tell you he might be our top pitching prospect." Anderson will open the season at Double A in a rotation that will include former first-round pick Shane Watson, who is back from injury and throwing in the mid-90s.
• It was pretty sweet to see the reactions of Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi when they were told they'd made the club. Both of their dads played pro ball and topped out in Triple A so there's a lot of joy in those households.
• Entering camp, Knapp knew he had a chance to make the team because he was already on the tight 40-man roster. But early in camp, he did not look good at the plate. He started off 1 for 22 and was clearly pressing because he knew what was at stake. Once he got the vibe that he was going to make the club, his play improved dramatically, at the plate and behind it. He threw out four runners on the bases in the final week of camp, one with a hat tip to Valentin for a nice pick, and showed extra-base pop. He had a three-run double in the spring finale Friday.
• Zach Eflin looks to be in terrific shape and could be poised for big things now that his knees don't hurt anymore. He had surgery on both of them in the fall to fix tendinitis issues. The Phillies will give him a few more weeks to build leg strength, so he will open the season on the disabled list before moving into the Triple A rotation.
• Reliever Colton Murray had a tremendous spring. He gave up just two runs in 11 innings, held hitters to a .161 batting average and had a WHIP of 0.91. He was taken off the 40-man roster in October, but will give the team something to think about if he continues to pitch well at Triple A.