Future at hand as Phillies enter Spring Training

Howard's playing time, offense are questions heading into camp

February 17th, 2016

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies fans get their first look at the future beginning on Thursday.

Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro and other pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout at Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla. It will be unlike any Spring Training in recent memory as the Phillies rebuild with a camp full of young players and prospects.

• Spring previews: Prospects | Comeback candidates | Newcomers | No. 5 starter battle | Projections

Are the Phils expected to be postseason contenders? No.

Should they be interesting to watch anyway? Yes.

Here is why: The Phillies already have a few young players in the big leagues that look like they could be part of the future core (Nola, Eickhoff, Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera). They also have one of the best farm systems in baseball with seven players in MLBPipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, more than any other team in baseball.

How many of those players will live up to the hype? How many will be part of the core of the future? Nobody knows, but finding out should make this year interesting to watch, both at the Major and Minor League levels. In the sixth part of a seven-part series previewing Phillies Spring Training, MLB.com asks three big questions that must be answered in camp:

1. Where does Ryan Howard fit?

Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels are gone, but Howard remains. It is likely that Howard figured he would be elsewhere by now, but the Phillies have had no luck trying to trade him, despite offering to pay most of his salary ($25 million this season, plus a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option). Howard is expected to be in uniform when the club holds its first full-squad workout on Tuesday, but does he want to be here? And how much will he play?

Howard has been one of the most standup players in the Phillies' clubhouse for years. He also has been one of the friendliest and most gregarious. He didn't show that side nearly as often last season. There could be any number of reasons for that, but the young players in the clubhouse could use a leader like Howard.

In regards to playing time, manager Pete Mackanin has not minced words. He said it will be tough to play Howard over Darin Ruf against left-handed pitching considering their results last season. Will Howard be OK with that? It will be interesting to see how everything plays out as Howard's time with the Phillies nears its conclusion.

2. Will this team hit?

Philadelphia scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball last season, and it did not add anybody to the lineup other than outfielder Peter Bourjos, who hit .200 with a .623 OPS in 225 plate appearances last season with St. Louis. Runs are expected to be a struggle again, but the organization hopes there will be at least some improvement with the continued development of Franco, Herrera, Aaron Altherr and others. But if players struggle, there will be plenty of players in Triple-A looking to take their jobs, including shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielder Nick Williams and more.

3. Who will show the kids the way?

General manager Matt Klentak said building a positive culture is part of his plan to resurrect the Phillies, who have not had a winning season since 2011. They lost plenty of leadership in the past 14 months with Rollins, Utley, Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, Ben Revere and other veterans being traded. Do the current Phils have enough leadership to show the youngsters in camp the way to not only make the big leagues, but succeed once they're there? The only veterans on the 40-man roster with considerable service time are Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Bourjos, Andres Blanco, Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and David Hernandez.

The Phillies could miss Jeff Francoeur, who learned from the best in Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and others. Francoeur almost single-handedly kept the clubhouse upbeat in 2015 during the organization's worst season since 1969. Players responded to him and he showed players like Franco, Herrera and others how to conduct themselves through the grind of the season.