Velasquez in spotlight as Phillies open camp

After being acquired from Houston, right-hander will battle for rotation spot

Velasquez in spotlight as Phillies open camp

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The future for the Phillies is everywhere this spring.

Vincent Velasquez is one part of the puzzle, but he is a big one. Velasquez stood in front of his locker in the corner of the clubhouse on Wednesday morning at Bright House Field, where he answered questions from a pack of reporters. They wanted insight from the key piece in the December trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston.

"I see all these [camera] lights turned on and I was like, 'Whoa,'" Velasquez said about the sudden attention. "I'm honored. It's really something to take in."

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The scene stood out to regular visitors to the Phillies' clubhouse. Chase Utley occupied Velasquez's corner locker for the previous 12 years. But Utley is a memory, part of the past, after being traded to the Dodgers in August. The Phillies hope Velasquez is a part of the future. He is a heavy favorite to win the fifth and final job in the rotation. Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff and Charlie Morton are considered locks for the first four spots.

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"There are a lot of guys with talent in this room," Velasquez said. "Everyone is fighting for a spot."

But Velasquez is the favorite because of his talent. The Phillies love his arm, which is why they made Velasquez the focal point of the trade that sent Giles and Minor League infielder Jonathan Arauz to the Astros for right-handers Mark Appel, Thomas Eshelman, Harold Arauz and Velasquez, along with left-hander Brett Oberholtzer.

The original four-player return for Giles included Houston outfield prospect Derek Fisher, but Appel and Arauz were late additions after sources said the Phillies had concerns about Velasquez's physical. Velasquez underwent Tommy John surgery on Sept. 22, 2010.

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"I'm healthy as an ox," Velasquez said.

No issues with his shoulder?

"I've never had any problems with my shoulder," Velasquez said. "Any type of soreness I've had was in the biceps or triceps. Nothing in the shoulder."

The Phillies hope Velasquez, 23, stays healthy and continues to progress from his rookie season in Houston. Velasquez went 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 appearances (seven starts) last season. He has the talent to be a No. 3 starter, although some think he could be a dominant late-inning reliever.

But forget about the bullpen right now. The Phillies want Velasquez to start and he wants to start, too.

"Definitely, that's where I want to be," he said.

Velasquez joked that he is looking forward to hitting in the National League. He seems to have the athletic ability to do it. He caught and played first base in high school. Velasquez learned to throw left-handed, which came in handy during his junior year when he pitched and played center field as a left-hander because he had bone spurs in his right elbow.

"I'd look at my reflection and kind of imitate myself," Velasquez said. "When I threw with my left hand it looked trashy, so I eventually made it look normal."

So keep an eye on Velasquez during batting practice. If he is in the outfield shagging fly balls, he could be shagging as a lefty.

"I don't want to use my right arm. I want it to recuperate, so I'll just throw left-handed," he said.

Velasquez played a different sport every day with his father and brothers, while growing up in California. Baseball, football, basketball, golf, tennis, soccer, whatever.

"My dad wanted to really motivate us. He wanted us to make something of ourselves," he said.

They did. His older brothers, Leonard Jr. and Christopher, fought in Iraq with the Marine Corps. Vincent has the chance to be a key cog in the Phillies' rebuilding efforts.

"I don't have a guaranteed spot," Velasquez said. "None of us do. It's going to be a process. It's a little journey I'm looking forward to experiencing and we'll see how it plays out."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.