We're finally here, folks -- pitchers and catchers report by Tuesday and we're just two weeks away from the Phillies' first exhibition game. In advance of the Phils' trip to Clearwater, let's take a look at the top storylines heading into spring training.
1) How healthy are the stars?
Chase Utley hasn't played a spring training game since 2010, but he's poised to play this time around. Utley has taken a different approach to his offseason conditioning, working out regularly through the winter to keep his knees in shape. The thought is that the downtime he had the last two winters was worse for his chronic knee condition.
Roy Halladay has thrown a lot in recent months and all signs point to a healthy return for the soon-to-be 36-year-old. Halladay was healthy for just a small portion of 2012, and was significantly worse when he returned from his seven-week DL stint than he was before it.
Ryan Howard has apparently gotten himself into better shape than he was in last season, but nobody has yet seen him to confirm it.
If one of these three guys misses significant time in 2013, another third-place finish can be expected.
2) Revere, Adams and the Youngs
Ben Revere will have a chance to lead off all spring with Jimmy Rollins away for the World Baseball Classic. Revere really needs to seize that leadoff job, because the rest of the lineup shakes out better when Rollins can be put into a run-producing role. Given the context of this team, Charlie Manuel might finally be willing move Rollins in the order.
Michael and Delmon Young are each coming off of horrible seasons. While Delmon has proven he is little more than a platoon player, Michael Young is a candidate to bounce back. No, he isn't the player who hit .311 from 2003-11, but he could absolutely be the guy who hit .284 with a .774 OPS in 2010. That would be huge; Phillies' third basemen have hit .263/.323/.370 since 2007.
Mike Adams, meanwhile, will make the biggest impact if he is healthy. Adams said in his introductory press conference that he will be ready for Opening Day following corrective surgery for his thoracic outlet syndrome. If he is, the Phillies will have fixed their eighth-inning woes (29th in ERA in that inning in 2012) with the best setup man in baseball since 2009.
3) Will Ruf earn a job?
The Phils head to Clearwater with five outfielders vying for two spots. Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown are the most intriguing candidates. Brown can finally earn everyday duty heading into his fourth season by hitting well in the spring. And Ruf is out to prove that his 41-homer season was no fluke. If Ruf can be even adequate in the field, there's reason to believe he could be a Pat Burrell-like offensive contributor, maybe minus a dozen walks.
4) Don't overvalue spring stats
While numbers will be important for players like Ruf and Brown, spring training stats are meaningless for pretty much everyone else. It would be nice for guys to perform in Clearwater, but keep in mind that spring training stats are rarely indicative of how a player performs from April-October.
Last spring, for example, Placido Polanco hit .429 and Shane Victorino hit .311 with a .849 OPS. Polanco went on to have the worst year of his career, and Victorino failed to come within 70 points of that OPS in any month during the season.
Pitching-wise, Halladay had a 5.73 ERA in six starts, then had a 1.95 ERA in five April starts. Vance Worley had just two walks in 20 innings, then struggled with control and had 18 in his first 48 frames of the 2012 season.
The spring is for working on adjustments and getting good swings. When the games don't count, process matters way more than results.