While the Giants-Patriots Superbowl was hardly a dream matchup for many in Eagles country, there is good news - It's over!
Which means only one thing to baseball fans; spring training is almost upon us!
Phillies pitchers and catchers will report to Clearwater, Florida on Saturday, February 18 while the position players won't be far behind, reporting Thursday, February 23.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia's minor league camp opens March 1 at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater.
So who can IronPigs fans expect to see on Ryne Sandberg's Opening Day roster here at Coca-Cola Park (which just happens to be less than 50 days away)?
This edition of the Pork Barrel Blog will delve into a position-by-position breakdown of who might make Ryno's squad out of spring training. One thing's for sure, you can expect a lot of familiar faces from last year's playoff squad.
Let's start behind the dish.
In all likelihood, Erik Kratz will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate as he did in 2011. Kratz, a Telford, Pa. native, hit .288 with 15 home runs and 53 RBI in 103 games with the 'Pigs a season ago. He was rewarded with a September call-up to Philadelphia. The 31-year-old backstop has made three consecutive mid-season International League All-Star teams. In fact, it was at the2010 Triple-A All-Star game at Coca-Cola Park that Kratz learned he would be called up to the Major Leagues for the first time in his career.
Tuffy Gosewisch will likely backup Kratz this season for the IronPigs. Gosewisch, 28, played 16 games in Lehigh Valley in 2009 but has been the primary catcher in Reading for the past two seasons hitting a combined .244 with 22 home runs and 98 RBI with the R-Phils.
After a mammoth year in Reading, Matt Rizzotti should get the starting nod at first base for the IronPigs in 2012. Rizzotti walloped 24 home runs, knocked in 84 runs and hit just under .300 in 139 games with the R-Phils in 2011. However, the 6-5, 265-pound slugger raked in Reading in 2010 as well before hitting .200 with no home runs in 17 games with the 'Pigs to close out the '10 campaign. Still, with the departure of Brandon Moss, the IronPigs are in need of some 'pop' in the middle of the order and Rizzotti is certainly capable of delivering it.
Cody Overbeck, who was the starting first baseman for the 'Pigs in the second half of last season, is still in the mix and will challenge Rizzotti for the starting job. Overbeck matched Rizzotti with 24 home runs last year, however only six of them came in 68 games at the Triple-A level. The Atoka, Tennessee native hit .321 in the prestigious Arizona Fall League this offseason, yet lacked in the power department hitting one home run and collecting seven RBI in 24 games.
Second Base / Third Base:
We will group these two positions together because it seems they may become interchangeable this season. The Phillies re-signed veterans Pete Orr and Kevin Frandsen this off-season and added Hector Luna to the mix. Orr and Frandsen both saw significant action in the Lehigh Valley in 2011 and both are extremely versatile. Frandsen played 10+ games at every infield position except pitcher and catcher while Orr made starts at 3B, 2B, SS and RF. With utility-man Wilson Valdez now with the Reds, it is likely either Orr or Frandsen will make the Phillies out of camp to serve this role; leaving the odd man out and Luna to fill the second and third base holes for the IronPigs. Luna had a productive 2011 season in Pawtucket hitting .283 with 14 homers and 58 RBI for the PawSox. The 32-year-old Luna has a career .265 average in parts of six seasons with four different Major League clubs.
IronPigs fans can expect young prospect Freddy Galvis to man the everyday duties at short. Galvis, the sixth-rated prospect in the organization, closed out the 2011 season in the Valley hitting .298 in 33 games after a .273-8-35 line in 104 games for the R-Phils. The slick-fielding 22-year-old is the likely heir-apparent to Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia.
There won't be many balls falling in the gaps of the IronPigs outfield in 2012 as the 'Pigs should feature one of the fastest trio of outfielders in the entire league. Domonic Bown, the once highly-touted, number one prospect, will likely spend an entire season here in the Valley looking to bounce back from a rough 2011 season which saw him hurting and slumping. After a broken hand delayed the start to his season, Brown hit a combined .252 with 8 home runs and 34 RBI in 97 games between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia.
The mayor of the IronPigs outfield and fan-favorite, Rich Thompson, will return for his fifth season in the Valley. Thompson thrived under Sandberg's tutelage in 2011, pacing the IL in stolen bases (48) and runs scored (81).
The last starting outfield spot appears to be up for grabs between a pair of speedy veterans - Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre. The 35-year-old Podsednik returns for a second stint with Lehigh Valley after an injury-plagued campaign in 2011. Plantar Fasciitis and a stress fracture in his left foot limited the 2005 AL All-Star to just 20 games last season. However, Podsednik is just a full season removed from a very productive .297-6-51, 35 stolen base campaign in the Major Leagues in 2010.
Meanwhile, Pierre, 34, has been one of the most durable players in the Major Leagues over the past decade, appearing in at least 145 games in 10 of the last 11 seasons. The Mobile, Alabama native has swiped 554 career bases in 12 seasons, including a career-best 68 in 2010 with the White Sox. Last season, Pierre hit .279 with 27 stolen bases in 158 games.
The IronPigs 2012 starting rotation should be one loaded with quality, veteran pitchers who have proven track records. Back in the fold for his third season in the Lehigh Valley is 35-year-old RHP Nate Bump. Bump, was an All-Star for the 'Pigs in 2010 going 8-4 with a 3.35 ERA. The Penn State product is looking to bounce back after a rocky 2011 campaign.
Other likely candidates for the starting rotation include 2011 IronPigs starters RHP Dave Bush and RHP Ryan Feierabend. Bush, 32, joined the 'Pigs late last season after spending time in both the Rangers and Cubs organizations in '11. The Pittsburgh native and Wake Forest product made just four regular season starts for Lehigh Valley but did earn the win in the IronPigs first ever playoff victory, allowing one earned run in 6.2 innings against Pawtucket. Feierabend, who led the team with 10 wins in 2011, also resigned with the Phillies.
Philadelphia signed a perennial IronPig killer when they inked LHP Pat Misch to a Minor League deal this offseason. The former Giants teammate of Kevin Frandsen has combined to go 20-15 with a 3.65 ERA in three IL seasons (2009-11) - and an incredible 5-1, 2.40 ERA in 9 starts vs. Lehigh Valley (and had 2 2B, 4 RBI as a BATTER against the Pigs last season).
The baby of the starting rotation could be 25-year-old RHP Austin Hyatt. The Phillies 15th-round selection in 2009 went 12-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 28 starts for Double-A reading a season ago.
Another youngster who may find himself in the mix is RHP Tyler Cloyd who went 9-4 with a 2.77 ERA between Clearwater and Reading in 2011. Cloyd, 24, was an 18th-round pick in 2008 by the Phils.
Other contenders for the IronPigs rotation include veterans RHP Joel Piniero and RHP Scott Elarton. Both have logged several years in the Big Leagues winning a combined 160 career games. Piniero seems to be the more likely option after winning seven games for the Los Angeles Angels last season. In his previous two years, the 33-year-old won 25 games, posting a 3.64 ERA for the Cardinals and Angels. Meanwhile, Elarton hasn't appeared in the 'Bigs since 2008 and struggled in his last stint in the IL - going 1-2, 8.24 ERA in 16 games in 2010 with Charlotte. Elarton did have success in the IL in 2007-08 with Buffalo, combining to go 2-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 24 relief appearances.
The bullpen, one of the main strengths of the 2011 IronPigs, should look very familiar again this season. Combined the 'pen went 38-16 with a 2.83 ERA a season ago. The bullpen should feature some mix of RHP Phillipe Aumont, RHP Justin De Fratus, RHP David Herndon, LHP Joe Savery, RHP Michael Schwimer and RHP Michael Stutes depending on how things work themselves out in spring training.
The Phils signed some veteran bullpen arms including LHP Raul Valdes, RHP Brian Sanches, LHP David Purcey and LHP Dontrelle Willis that could see action here in the Lehigh Valley. A former Phillie, Sanches spent the most time in the majors last season among the pitchers in this group - going an impressive 4-1, 3.94 ERA in 39 games for Florida despite a couple of stints on the DL (hamstring/elbow). Valdes went 0-1, 3.00 ERA in 13 Major League appearances last season with the Cardinals and Yankees. Purcey, meanwhile, bounced around three Major League clubs, posting a 5.61 ERA in 33 outings. Ofcourse, Willis is the most well-known name of the group, however he has struggled to regain his All-Star form going 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA last season for the Reds. The 2003 Rookie of the Year with the Marlins did, however, post a sub-three ERA in 13 starts for Triple-A Louisville last season.
Here are a few key departures from the IronPigs 2011 squad:
RHP Scott Mathieson: Signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan's Central League.
LHP Mike Zagurski: Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Adam Worthington.
OF Brandon Moss: Signed as a free agent with the Oakland A's organization.
OF Delwyn Young: Signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox organization.
RHP Ryan Edell: Signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Orioles organization.
With a whole month of spring training ahead of us this list could obviously change significantly come April 5 at 7:05 p.m. when the IronPigs trot out for the first time in 2012 against the rival Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
But what's most important, no matter who suits up Opening Day, is that baseball is back!