Ron Costello

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The past has always been a big part of spring training.

Checked into the Raddison Suite Sand Key or the Best Western Seastone Resort, they'd park in the VIP lot, enter the clubhouse, shake and bake their way around the locker room, and enswathe themselves in the tailored red and white pinstripes.

Schmidt would explain the science of hitting the breaker to the Big Piece; Bo would show J-Roll how to jump on a double play, without getting run over — then tell anyone listening how to find the best girly bars in Pinellas County. Golf in the afternoon then drinks and dinner.

Next day they'd pop out of the dugout at Jack Russell or Brighthouse, an inch or two more inner tube around the middle, less hair, more butt, less attitude, and more grateful for the adoration. Some went to the fence and signed their squiggles on hats, balls, hot dog napkins and the backs of women's t-shirts. Young women's t-shirts, of course.

But starting February 18, all eyes will be on the future.

Some will be fresh-faced and wide-eyed just off the farm. Others more mature, "older," if you will — like the 23-year-old Maikel Franco — with 96 major league games under his belt. He'll flick those wrists and send lasers around the field, while the 21-year-old shortstop J.P Crawford, the first time in a big league camp, watches in awe.

It will be Franco's turn in awe watching when Crawford flashes his range and uses those soft hands to turn a double play so fast and smooth you'll swear you didn't see it.

Soon, they'll be playing side by side, maybe hitting first and third in the lineup.

But how soon is soon? Soon could be 2017, or late season 2016. Or soon could be 2018. But whatever, for hungry Phillies' fans, soon can't be too soon. Crawford will likely open the season at Lehigh Valley.

It will be the first time the results of the Cole Hamels trade will no longer just be in newspaper print or on the computer screen, but in the flesh and blood. Nick Williams and Jake Thompson will be in camp.

Williams, 22, a left-handed hitting outfielder who hit .320 with 11 extra base hits after joining Reading late last season; and Thompson, 21, who went 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven starts at Reading. That's not a typo; 1.80.

The former World Series MVP Hamels won't be in a Phillies uni, but he'll be contributing nonetheless.

Several solid catching prospects in camp, too — listening to Chooch on footwork and pitching strategy; and Dutch on manning up and taking charge.

The switch-hitting catcher Andrew Knapp, 24, the California kid who went crazy with the bat at Reading last year — in 41 Eastern League games, he hit a blistering .409. He was the recipient of the 2015 Paul Owens Award, the organization's best minor league player. He hits from both sides of the plate for average and power.

Knapp has the suits upstairs thinking new positions for another Hamels trade alumnus, catcher Jorge Alfaro, 22. But two fine looking catchers — Knapp who will start the season at Lehigh Valley and Alfaro at Reading — is like having two beautiful wives: one will try to out-please the other.

No doubt, Knapp and Alfaro will battle for the top job, and hopefully, will take the advice of the late Yogi Berra on catching and hitting, "How can you hit and think at the same time?"

Mark Appel, 24, the number one pick of the Astros in 2013, will come to camp looking to resuscitate a career and find the plate. Appel, of the Ken Giles trade, has a minor league career 5.12 ERA  and a 1.439 WHIP — that's  walks plus hits per innings pitched — which means a double whammy: he's been hit hard and has trouble finding the plate.

If Appel finds his consistency and command — the Phillies are betting he does — you can add him to the rotation mix: Nola, Morgan, Eichoff, Thompson, Appel— plus Zach Effin, the 21-year-old righty acquired in the Jimmy Rollins trade to the Dodgers. Another Hamel's trade recipient Alec Asher will aldo compete for a rotation spot.

How does that look for 2017?

It's questionable if the Phillies will invite the speedy 22-year-old outfielder Roman Quinn to camp, but they should — if he's healthy. He's had some major health setbacks including a hip flexor tear last season. This switch hitter will compete for centerfield or maybe get in a little first base experience at Lehigh Valley.

Or you can take my brother Fred's advice: "Write these names down:" Jimmy Cordero and Tyler Goeddel, both 23-year-olds should be in camp. The outfielder Goeddel surely will — as a rule 5 pick, the Phillies have to keep him on the 25-man roster for the season. Or give him up.

The Phillies' last rule 5 pick was the current centerfield Odubel Herrera.

Cordero is a 6 foot 3 hard-throwing right-handed reliever who throws strikes and was impressive at Reading late last season. It's possible Cordero could come north with the club, or start the season at Lehigh Valley and be added later. Another pitcher acquired in the Revere trade with Toronto is the 20-year-old Alberto Tirado, who needs time to develop at double and triple-A.

Since Fred knows his baseball, I'd write them down.

For the first time in several years — too many for Phillies' fans — spring training will be a showcase for the future.

When that future will be — and how good the Phillies become — remains a mystery for now!

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