Sox title inspires Phils' prospect Tommy Joseph

Sox title inspires Phils' prospect Tommy Joseph
November 1, 2013, 1:45 pm
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A concussion suffered behind the plate in May forced Phillies catching prospect Tommy Joseph to miss valuable developmental time in 2013. (AP)

The sight of Shane Victorino knocking a three-run double off the Green Monster and basking in the glow of the Boston Red Sox's World Series title surely struck a chord with Phillies fans on Wednesday night.

Victorino was one of the most goodhearted guys to come through the Phillies’ clubhouse in recent years and it was difficult not to be happy for him.

The Red Sox's championship resonated with Phillies’ catching prospect Tommy Joseph for another reason.

Watching the clinching game at his offseason home in Florida, Joseph found himself rooting for a man he has never met -- Boston catcher David Ross. Joseph felt a pulse of excitement when Ross snagged the final pitch to complete reliever Koji Uehara’s series-sealing strikeout of St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter.

“I watched the postgame interview and he still had the ball in his back pocket,” Joseph said. “Wow. That’s something special.

“I was very happy for him. I watched every game and it was awesome to see how he became their No. 1 catcher. Having followed what he went through and how he persevered, I was pulling for him.”

Joseph and Ross have something in common. Both suffered concussions after taking foul balls off the mask during the 2013 season. Ross missed more than two months as he struggled to return to active duty.

Joseph, 22, suffered his concussion on May 4 while catching for the Phillies’ Triple A Lehigh Valley team. He made it back for a handful of minor-league games but had to shut down for the season as the symptoms returned in July.

“I just wasn’t right,” Joseph said. “I felt like I was always one step behind.”

Joseph knows a lot about concussions. He suffered two of them while catching in the San Francisco Giants organization, missing a week in 2010 and another in 2012.

“This one was the hardest to come back from,” he said. “You can’t rehab a concussion. You just have to give your brain time to heal.”

And that’s what Joseph did. He spent the summer resting. And healing. He participated in baseball drills during the Phillies’ Florida Instructional League season from mid-September to mid-October and has been cleared by doctors to return to game action behind the plate. The Phillies are trying to get him some work in one of the Latin American winter leagues, but if he can’t be squeezed onto a roster at this late date, his return behind the plate will have to wait until spring training.

Either way, Joseph is ready.

“I finally felt like myself during instructional league,” Joseph said. “During the summer, I was telling myself I was normal but I wasn’t. I feel confident saying I’m back to normal now. I just have to play and get between the lines and be part of the game again.”

Joseph was treated by top doctors, including Micky Collins, the Pittsburgh-based concussion specialist that treated Ross. Collins also treated Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz when he suffered a concussion in June 2010.

Joseph is an important guy in the Phillies’ system. He was the primary pickup in the 2012 trade that sent Hunter Pence to the Giants. After the trade, Joseph immediately was tabbed as the Phillies’ catcher of the future.

The concussion suffered by Joseph this summer and his difficult recovery resulted in Phillies officials considering a position change for the player. Joseph has a promising bat, some power potential and could be a potential fit at first base.

For now, the plan is to keep catching. And Joseph is all for it.

“I got to see some of the best doctors in the business, including Dr. Collins, and he thinks I’m good to go,” Joseph said. “I’m not worried.”

Foul balls off the mask are an occupational hazard for a catcher. If Ross was the World Series example of triumphing over a concussion, then St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, a former catcher, was the flipside; a concussion helped cut short his playing career.

Joseph, who now wears extra padding in his catcher’s helmet -- he wears a traditional mask -- is ready for the challenge that next foul ball to the grill will bring.

“Nobody will know until I get hit again,” he said. “It will happen. I’m actually excited to have it happen. It’ll be a weight off my shoulders. Unfortunately, there’s no other way to find out.

“The doctors say, ‘If you get another one, we’ll treat it and take care of you.’ Everyone says no worries.”

Joseph played in just 36 games in 2012. He knows he has lost key developmental time. With good health, he should be able to recoup it. He doesn’t turn 23 until July.

But one thing is clear: Joseph will not be ready to challenge for the Phillies’ starting catcher’s job in spring training. A year ago, there was a thought within the organization that he could be Ruiz’s replacement as soon as 2014. Now, the organization is looking to re-sign Ruiz, who is a free agent. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said that re-signing Ruiz is a “priority” because “we don’t have anybody who is going to step in.”

Joseph will let team officials worry about who catches in 2014 and beyond. He has great respect for Ruiz, a man who knows what it’s like to catch the final out of a World Series.

“My goal is to just stay healthy,” Joseph said. “Other goals will come after that.

“I just play. If Chooch is back, that will be great. He’s a good guy to be around and I know the guys love pitching to him.”

During his time on the sidelines over the summer, Joseph researched catchers who had suffered concussions. He read extensively about Ross and his road back.

So, as he watched the World Series, Joseph felt a connection with the Boston catcher.

“I’ve been there,” Joseph said. “With a few more steps, maybe I’ll get to do what he did someday. To catch the last pitch of the World Series -- that’s every catcher’s dream.”

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