Mar 20, 2014; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg laughs as he talks to the umpire crew before the start of the spring training exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Scouts are just glowing about how the Phillies have looked in Spring Training


Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently the Phillies’ fanbase aren’t the only ones not buying into Ruben Amaro’s idea that age is just a sign of experience.

Ten days away from kicking off their 2014 campaign against the Texas Rangers, scouts and team executives from around the MLB spoke to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, who was careful to point out that Cole Hamels arm injuries and Jimmy Rollins-gate aren’t the only problems on the horizon for the Phils.

“It’s painful to watch that team,” said a third. “That’s an old team, and it plays like an old team.”

Well that age is nothing more than experience right? Right?

I mean, scouts couldn’t possibly be worried that Ryan Howard, who has 15 strikeouts in less than 50 at-bats, isn’t going to return to the form that led the Phillies to give him a monstrous five-year $125 million deal, could they?

“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.

Howard was one of the few question marks coming into Spring Training, that I had some confidence in. I believed that with his legs back under him, he had a chance to maybe play 130 games and hit 30 homeruns again. Obviously those numbers would still be underachieving considering his salary, but right now they sound like a dream scenario. Looks like when Darin Ruf returns from an oblique injury that is likely to cost him the first week or so of the season, a platoon might be in store at first-base.

Jonathan Papelbon appeared to have a return in velocity early in Spring Training, but since then, he has taken a noticeable dip back down to 88-90 MPH on his fastball, rather than the 92 or 93 that he seemed to be hitting early in camp. And when one thing goes wrong for Pap, it seems like everything does–both physically and mentally.

“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.”

If Papelbon, of all people, has no energy, what does that tell you about the rest of the team?

Perhaps the worst sign of all, has been the Spring Traning regression of Domonic Brown, who is currently hitting under .200, and doesn’t appear to look anything like the offensive cornerstone that he showed signs of being in last year’s All-Star campaign.

One scout wondered if rather than this Spring being a fluke, if Brown’s scorching month of May last season, where hit batted .303 with 12 homeruns and 25 RBI’s, was the real fluke.

“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.”

Another scout acted like he was breaking news by saying that Jimmy Rollins was a ‘pop-up machine’, or that Chase Utley might still be the best overall player on the team, despite injury questions and being 35 years-old now.

This article didn’t even get to addressing the Miguel Gonzalez mess or that the Phillies may end up having to use non-roster invitees to fill out the last two spots of their rotation. Hell, there are only so many scouts and team executives around the league to get negative quotes from.

The one sense that I am getting is that by trying to send a message to Rollins, Ryne Sandberg is already being made out to be the bad guy. In reality, Sandberg is trying to energize a team, that frankly seems like they don’t want to play, and even the ones that do are done. That doesn’t go on Sandberg. That goes on one Ruben Amaro Jr., who has flat-out run this team into the ground.

 

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