Ten Dark Horses

While the media focuses on once-and future-MVPs Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley, newcomers Geoff Jenkins, Brad Lidge, Pedro Feliz and even Cole Hamels' chiropractor or Kyle Kendrick's travel agent, I'm hoping Charlie Manuel gives a good look at my dark horses.

Adam Eaton

Charlie Manuel recently listed Adam Eaton as the favorite to win the number five spot in the starting rotation this spring. So why is he on a dark horse list? Because Eaton was arguably the worst starting pitcher in the league last season, and if that doesn't make you a dark horse, I don't know what does.

Just a few seasons ago, Adam was a decent starter. That's ancient history by now. Eaton's lucrative three-year contract is the talk of the town, but if Eaton's salary influences the roster decision this spring, a mistake is likely to be made.

The Phillies can't afford mistakes if they hope to win their first playoff game since 1993.

Adam Eaton will collect just as much money on the couch as he would on the mound for the Phillies. His contract is a sunk cost. That money is spoken for and there's nothing the Phillies can do to get it back. On the other hand, Adam Eaton can't hurt your pennant chances playing X-box, so there's no reason to compound your losses by trying to coax and squeeze a return out of him on the field. A bad investment is a bad investment, sometimes you have to cut your losses.

Charlie Manuel must let the best man win the number five starter's job. If the real winner on a level playing field happens to be Adam Eaton, then more power to him. But if Adam looks anything like the pitcher he was last season and someone else shines this spring, there's no reason to waste a roster spot on him.

J.D. Durbin

In the pick-a-Durbin sweepstakes, the Phillies hope Chad doesn't leave them hanging.

Chad Durbin is on a mission to beat out Adam Eaton for a spot in the rotation. If not, he'll most likely spot start and pitch in long relief.

But if J.D. Durbin out-duels Eaton and out-Durbins Chad, the Phillies will face a difficult decision. Neither Durbin has options, which means the Phillies risk having them claimed off waivers if they don't head north with the team.

J. D. has occasionally kept calm enough on the mound to harness his above average stuff, but most times he just gets himself into trouble. Chad was a Jekyll and Hyde last season, coming apart at the seems after a respectable first half.

J.D. is running out of time, but a tremendous spring could earn him a spot on the team. Likewise, if Chad can't revert from Hyde back into Jekyll, there might be some awkward results.

Clay Condrey

Like the Durbins, Clay has no options, so this may be his final spring with the Phillies.

Clay Condrey was mostly mediocre for the Phillies out of the bullpen last season, showing brief flashes of brilliance while logging a career high 50 innings. His 5-0 record can't be overlooked, and going 2-for-2 in save opportunities helps, but the 1.54 WHIP and poor peripherals are uninspiring.

Clay's status might also come down to Adam Eaton. If Eaton loses his job to a Durbin or another right-hander, he will probably open the season on the disabled list, not in the bullpen. Eaton hasn't fared well in relief and is generally against the idea. Most likely a roster spot would open for a right-hander in the bullpen, and this is where Condrey fits in.

Francisco Rosario

Rosario is another right-handed pitcher with no options and mediocre numbers last season. Still, Francisco pitched well in the recent Caribbean Winter League and should be watched closely by the Phillies this spring. To lose him on waivers would be regrettable if he shows continued progress. Command remains his bugaboo.

Rosario is on the bubble and the time to shine is now. He could start or relieve. Other right-handed dark horses include Rule 5 pick up Lincoln Holdzkom, Joe Bisenius, and the recovering Scott Mathieson.

Travis Blackley

The Phillies are looking for two left-handed relievers to step up behind J.C. Romero on the depth chart. Romero will be the set up man, but given his on-again, off-again career, the backups are critical.

Aussie Rule 5 pick up Travis Blackley is one of a pack of left-handers who stand a chance to make the team. Rule 5 means he either makes the team or has to be offered back to the team the Phillies claimed him from, in his case the Giants. Sometimes the original team has no room and lets the player go. But with two spots open for a lefty in the pen and an open audition for a spot in the rotation, Blackley may never get a better chance to stick.

Vic Darensbourg

Darensbourg is another lefty reliever with an outside chance of winning a job. As a non-roster invitee, the Phillies could sign him to a one-year deal without much trouble or expense, but a place on the 40 man would have to be cleared. At 30 years old, he has major league experience, but more than anything, he's a lefty. Vic will have to beat other dark horse lefty relievers Shane Youman and Brian Mazone, who's back from Korea.

Jason Jaramillo

Chris Coste will probably keep his job backing up catcher Carlos Ruiz, and I sure hope he does with his book due out soon. But if anyone knows to take nothing for granted, it's Coste.

Behind solid incumbent Carlos Ruiz, Jason Jaramillo is the next in a line of catchers of the future. Top backstop prospects include spring training invitees Lou Marson and Tuffy Gosewisch. Marson, winner of back-to-back championships in low-A and high-A, is perhaps the best of the bunch. Another young gun, Travis D'Arnaud, should arrive next spring with a major league glove in hand.

Jaramillo, a Triple-A all-star, also fields his position well. What's more, he switch-hits, which makes him a valuable bench player. Jaramillo may yet blossom into a star, and the Phillies need to see as much of him as they can with the other rookies pushing him from below. Sooner or later a trade will be made and the Phillies can't afford to lose the wrong catcher of the future.

Since Jaramillo can be optioned to the minors, it may take the rest of the season to overtake Coste. But if Coste has a terrible spring and Jaramillo shines, Coste might complete the transition to his new media career a little sooner than he hoped.

J.A. Happ

J.A. Happ hit a wall last year due to injury after a couple of minor league seasons on the rise. Happ is a control lefty with steady, unspectacular stuff, and projects as a bottom of the rotation starter. Most likely, since he has two option years remaining, he'll start the season in Triple-A. But if he shows exceptional command in spring training and the other candidates for the starting rotation falter, the Phillies could decide to keep him in place of Eaton. Or, J.A. could be a default choice as a lefty in the bullpen. Another dark horse lefty who can start or relieve is Fabio Castro, who also has two option years remaining.

Ron Chiavacci

A non-roster invitee, 30 year-old righty Ron Chiavacci is coming off an impressive season at Triple-A Toldeo. Maybe the time has finally come for Chiavacci, a Scranton, PA native who graduated from Kutztown University and treats each start like another day at The Office. He's a consistent Quad-A type player, much like Greg Dobbs was, and could be a sleeper this season. If he beats out Adam Eaton this spring, the Phillies can add him at the minimum salary.

Josh Outman

Most likely rookie Josh Outman will start the season at Double-A, where he struggled a bit at the end of last season. He's not even on the 40 man roster and adding him would mean removing someone else, so the odds are steep of him forcing the Phillies hand so soon.

Expect to see Outman in Philly much later this season. Outman likely won't be this year's Kyle Kendrick, but then again, a jump like that is as unlikely as a trade to Japan. Josh needs more seasoning to gain command of his stuff, but if he's the only lefty that really shines in camp, the Phillies will have to bring him up sooner than they prefer.

Mr. Manuel, Mr. Gillick, please don't even think about Eaton's contract. Let bygones be a steady stream of bygones. Give these dark horse candidates a long look. Make sure Adam Eaton out-pitches them in fair competition, especially those with no options. We can't afford another dreadful fifth starter, nor can we lose players who might contribute by making wrong roster decisions. I'm not saying Anderson Garcia, who was just claimed off waivers by Seattle, is going to be this year's Justin Germano, but the claims may continue. When your pitching staff ranked in the bottom-third of baseball last season, the margin for error is thin.



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