One of these days, we're going to have a post about the Phillies that's positive. This is not one of them, though.
Last week, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal asked three separate scouts about the Phils, and none of them had anything nice to say about anything they saw coming out of Clearwater.
The scouts' early reviews on the Phillies are in. And to put it kindly, they are less than glowing.
"They're awful," said one.
"Painful to watch," said another.
"Their window didn't close slowly -- it shut," said a third.
Remember that? Well, what those quotes lacked in specificity, ESPN's Jayson Stark more than made up for, after talking to a few people in baseball about the Phils on Thursday. All of them said the Phillies are essentially sheep in wolves' clothing.
On Ryan Howard:
The troubling reviews from those on the outside: "Just a guy who’s out there flailing away," said one exec. … "A lot of at-bats, it looks like he’s swinging in case he hits it," said a scout. … "Can’t sit on his back leg to drive anything anymore," said another. … "Doesn’t have any sense of what’s a strike or what’s a ball," said an NL exec.
Yikes. I mean, we all know that Howard isn't the feared slugger he once was, but this assessment of him is downright, if you'll excuse the pun, stark.
On Jonathan Papelbon:
"I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but it looks like he doesn’t want to be out there," one scout said. "His fastball is 89-90 [mph]. His split does nothing. He’s got no out-pitch. I know it’s spring training, and maybe he’s just trying to get ready. But his body language is awful. He’s got no energy at all out there."
But Papelbon is only one worry in a bullpen with "not one guy you can really depend on," another scout said. So what would the Phillies do -- and where would they turn -- if Papelbon doesn’t pick it up and take charge of the ninth inning? "I think that’s actually likely, the way he’s throwing," one scout said. "He doesn’t have one above-average pitch right now."
Woof. Not that this is any really great surprise to anyone. We've been chronicling the decline of his stuff since the middle of last year. And after an initial increase in his velocity this spring, it appears Paps is right back to where he was in mid-2013. He's also making himself virtually worthless as trade bait. Maybe Amaro could get a hoagie for him in July, but I'm not even sure about that.
On Domonic Brown:
"...one concern is that Wally Joyner, the hitting coach who connected best with Brown last year, is in Detroit now. And one scout who noted that says: "I’m starting to worry that that first half last year was an aberration, and the real Domonic Brown is the confused guy we’ve seen this spring."
In the first half last year, Brown had an OPS of .856 with 23 HRs in 384 PAs. In the second half, he had just 156 PAs, with an OPS of .723 with 4 home runs. So far this spring, he's hitting .171, with one extra-base hit and a .229 slugging percentage.
Needless to say, the Phillies MUST get first-half Dom Brown this year and not second-half Dom Brown if they want to be anything close to "good."
On Chase Utley:
One scout’s view: "He’s still their best player. But the Chase Utley of 2006, '07, '08, '09 -- we’re not going to see that guy again."
Stark had trouble finding anyone who was overly worried about Utley's slow start this spring. He's still healthy, his knees are fine, and there's little reason to believe he won't be at least as good as he was last year. Still, it is a little worrisome that his first extra-base hit of the spring was an excuse-me double down the third base line that didn't happen until yesterday. And, there was this note from Tuesday...
On Jimmy Rollins:
Well, he finally broke an 0-for-23 funk Wednesday, with his first hit since March 1. But as much as the manager has stressed hitting "line drives and ground balls and keeping a good stroke," Rollins hasn’t been able to locate that stroke this spring at any point. "I’ve got him with 14 straight balls in the air," one scout said Thursday. "He’s a popup machine."
It appears the "Jimmy Rollins popup narrative" folks are going to have a field day this year if things don't change soon.
Now, bear in mind, this is still spring training, and stats down in Clearwater really don't mean a whole lot. Players are still working on things and if they gave MVP awards for spring training results, Ben Francisco would have at least two of them sitting on his mantle.
Still, you'd like to see these players get things in gear in the last week of spring training, if only to give themselves a little more confidence as they head into Texas for their season-opening series against the Rangers. Because...
If April, May, June, July, August and September look anything like February and March for the 2014 Phillies, "it’s going to be a long, long year," said one scout.
You didn't really need to be a scout to know that.