It's been more than a decade since the Philadelphia Phillies arrived in Clearwater, Fla., for spring training with such dismal expectations - at least according to the prognosticators.

But when pitchers and catchers officially report Wednesday - everyone is due Feb. 17, with the first full squad workout the following day - the players and coaching staff won't be thinking about the potential for 90-plus losses and a last-place finish. They'll still be aiming for the postseason.

Here are five things to watch as the Phillies toil under the Florida sun in Ryne Sandberg's first spring training as manager.

For starters

It wouldn't be spring training without pitching concerns, and after aces Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the Phillies starting rotation is one big question mark. (Things could change, of course, if the Phils sign a free agent such as A.J. Burnett, though that seems unlikely).

Right-handers Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez, the free agent signee formerly known as Fausto Carmona, are all but guaranteed spots. Who knows if that's a good thing?

Kendrick went 10-13 with a 4.70 ERA last season, including 3-9 with a 6.45 ERA in his final 14 starts. Hernandez, pitching for Tampa Bay, went 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA in 32 games, 24 of them starts.

Fighting for the fifth spot will be righties Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone.


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We'll start with Pettibone, who went 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 18 starts last season before landing on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Obviously, he must show he's healthy.

Then there's the mystery man, Gonzalez. The 27-year-old Cuban defector signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Phillies in August, and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team's scouts thought he could be a No 2 or No. 3 starter.

Amaro backtracked last month, saying: "We don't know what we have in Gonzalez; it'd be nice to get lucky. He's got a ton of ability. Whether he can step up and be a true No. 3, I don't know that. He has the arsenal to do that. It's a little bit of a longshot, but not out of the realm of possibility."

Hardly a ringing endorsement. Remember, too, that Gonzalez has pitched only a few competitive innings over the last two years and there are concerns about his health. The Phils originally were going to sign him to a six-year, $48 million contract before it was reworked after the pitcher saw team doctors.

Ethan Martin and Chad Gaudin, signed as a minor league free agent, also figure to get some starts.

Age old questions

According to baseball-reference.com, the Phillies had the third-oldest roster in baseball last season at 30.0 years, behind only the New York Yankees (31.8) and Los Angeles Dodgers (30.5).

We know how that worked out.

So, what did the team do in the offseason? It got even older.

Here are the notable offseason additions: outfielder Bobby Abreu (39), outfielder Marlon Byrd (36), catcher Wil Nieves (36) and pitcher Roberto Hernandez (33).

That doesn't count the re-signing of catcher Carlos Ruiz (35) or that the rest of the Phils' core is a year older.

Of the 59 players who will report to Clearwater, 19 will be at least 30, nine at least 35.

Two of those guys have much to prove. Right-handed reliever Mike Adams is coming off shoulder surgery. First baseman Ryan Howard, whose season ended July 5 due to knee issues, hasn't been healthy since he tore his left Achilles to end the 2011 postseason.

The only way the Phillies can expect to contend this year is if the multitude of aging players stays healthy - and put up circa 2008 numbers.

It's not likely, but for the Phils to have any chance they must leave Clearwater in good shape.

Ruf shape

Slugging first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf just can't get any respect.

Despite hitting 14 home runs last season - giving him 17 in his first 330 plate appearances - and ending the season as the starter in right field, the 26-year-old goes into spring training with no guarantees.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said following last season that Ruf "is not a right fielder" and that "he's going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form."

The odds don't look good. Marlon Byrd was signed to play right field, Domonic Brown will be in left and Ryan Howard will play first. John Mayberry Jr.'s ability to play center field and Bobby Abreu's left-handed bat give them advantages in the battle for a bench spot.

But Ruf certainly can make things interesting by showing improved play in the outfield. The team definitely needs his right-handed power.

New faces

It will be interesting to see how much of an opportunity third baseman Maikel Franco gets in his first big league spring training.

The team's top prospect is coming off a breakthrough season split between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. He combined to hit .320 with 31 homers and 103 RBIs, including .339 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs with the Fightin Phils.

Several months ago, it was thought Franco and Cody Asche could compete for the starting job. That doesn't seem likely now. For one, Asche proved himself quite capable last summer and fall. Secondly, Joe Jordan, the Phillies director of player development, said last month that in a perfect world the 21-year-old Franco, also slated to see time at first base this season, would open 2014 back in Reading.

The Phils' top pitching prospect, left-hander Jesse Biddle, also will be attending his first big league spring training with a chance to impress and set himself up for a call-up later in the season.

Talking point

The most surprising news of the offseason was that Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews were out as broadcasters, a fallout of the Phillies' new TV deal with Comcast SportsNet.

So, there definitely will be a different sound on Comcast's first Grapefruit League telecast, scheduled for Feb. 26.

Todd Zolecki reported last week on phillies.com that former Phils Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs were talking to CSN about joining play-by-play man Tom McCarthy.

The network, Zolecki reported, originally wanted to hire just one person, but those plans apparently changed after Moyer and Stairs each had strong auditions.

It will be interesting to see who will be the new voice(s), how he or they will do and how he or they will be accepted by the fans. In a lot of ways, those guys are as much a part of the team to fans as Cole Hamels and Chase Utley.