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02/20/07 8:44 PM ET

Notes: Rollins taking it to another level

Shortstop says Phils are team to beat in National League East

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- While maintaining his contention that the Phillies are the team to beat in the National League East, Jimmy Rollins expressed another desire.

He grabbed the leadership torch.

In years past, players like Scott Rolen, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu were looked at as leaders, whether they wanted the title or not. They were selected because of seniority, or the status earned through a big contract or splashy arrival as a free agent.

Rollins and Pat Burrell are the most senior Phillies, having both debuted in the 2000 season. Though Burrell has 106 more days of Major League service time, he prefers to blend in. Rollins doesn't.

"I guess the attention has been thrown my way," Rollins said. "I've always considered myself a leader. I wasn't going to step in front of Bobby or Mike, because Bobby was good and Mike was the longest-tenured player up to that point. I wasn't going to step on any toes."

And now?

"I've never been afraid to say anything," he said. "Probably not as boldly [before], because that was their job at the time. Now, you take the shade off and my light tries to shine through."

Rollins pointed the spotlight firmly on the Phillies with his bold statement, proclaiming the club as the NL East's king of the mountain. When he first uttered that last month, Mets third baseman David Wright justifiably took exception since his team won 97 games and captured the division by 12 games.

The Phillies were left to battle for the Wild Card. Rollins again pointed to the improved starting rotation as the reason for optimism, and he cited New York's loss of Pedro Martinez as a big factor.

"[The Mets] had a chance last year to go to the World Series," he said. "They made it to the playoffs; they won the division. Congratulations, but last year is over. They can take it any way they want to, but I'm just stating a fact."

At a time of great optimism -- evidenced by the large crowd present at the first full-squad workout -- Rollins provided continued bulletin-board fodder for his teammates and his opponents. The players didn't see it that way.

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"He's been here the longest," Shane Victorino said. "He's been on these teams. He knows what this team features. He's probably comparing us to teams in the past, and that's why he can make a statement like that. I [thought] that was just confidence that he's trying to build around."

Or words from a player willing to lead.

"I'll let him do all the talking," Ryan Howard said. "He's been here the longest where he can do that. Everybody sets out in Spring Training to want to go to a World Series, and everybody can say it, but the teams that believe it and expect it are the teams that get there."

Howard continued: "The thing with teams that are always in the playoffs every year is they expect to be there. I think that's what he meant. We have to expect to be there and believe we can be there. I don't think he's trying to come off as cocky."

Big crowd: A large crowd showed for the first full-squad workout at Bright House Networks Field.

"It was great to see that kind of support," Aaron Rowand said. "They're excited and so are we."

Quotable: "Losing never enters the conversation -- you never talk about it. Talking about negative stuff doesn't make you better. It's about positive stuff, what we have to work on, and what we need to do in order to win. It's no different this year than it has been in the past. We're concentrating now on getting as prepared as we can for the season." -- Rowand, on what needs to be done for upcoming season

Philling in: Several members of the media are expected to take batting practice on Wednesday, after the workouts. Manuel and hitting coach Milt Thompson are expected to pitch. "Some of you guys better bring helmets," Manuel joked. "Leave those pens at home." ... Pitchers will throw live batting practice on Wednesday.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.