Big 2012 turned Asche into Phillies' 3B of the future

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Big 2012 turned Asche into Phillies' 3B of the future

When the Phillies set out to address their hole at third base this offseason they looked mostly for a player who would be a short-term fit. Michael Young, signed through 2013, ended up being that guy.The Phillies preferred not to make a long-term commitment to a new third baseman because they believe they have one percolating in the minors. The Phils have not had a homegrown third baseman since Scott Rolen.They hope Cody Asche can eventually be that guy.Asche, 22, forced his way into the teams plans with a brilliant season in the minors in 2012. He opened the season in the single A Florida State League and earned a promotion to Double A in June. For the season, he hit .324 with 33 doubles, six triples, 12 homers and 72 RBIs in 130 games. His on-base percentage was .369 and he slugged .481.Asche did not come out of nowhere. It just seems that way.He was a fourth-round pick by the Phils out of the University of Nebraska in 2011. That summer, the Phils sent him to Single A Williamsport, where he hit just .192 and slugged .264 in 239 at-bats. One team official said Asche had a dead bat that season.Not for long.A 6-1, 185-pound left-handed hitter, Asche reported to the Florida Instructional League in the fall of 2011 and resurrected his bat. He made improvements on his swing load, using his hands and legs more. The results showed in spring training 2012 and team officials decided to fast-track him and send him to the Florida State League instead of the South Atlantic League. By the end of June, Asche was in Reading, where he hit .300 and slugged .513 in 68 games games for the Phillies Double A club.Reading manager Dusty Wathan was not surprised by Asches quick rise.Not at all, Wathan said. I love the guy. Hes a very focused and driven player who works hard at the game and plays hard. Hes a throwback guy.Wathan believes Asche benefitted from his difficult 2011 season, and believes Asche will continue to benefit from it in years to come.I think one of the great things thats going to help him in his career is the struggles he had in Williamsport his first year when he hit .190, Wathan said. When a guy can overcome that, its something. He made adjustments and found success. He stuck with it. Failure can be a plus in this game. All these guys are going to fail somewhere along the line, whether its A ball, Double A, or the major leagues. At some point in time youre going to have a couple of bad months or thats going to be the peak of your career. With a guy having it so early in his career and being able to overcome it -- I think its going to be a tremendous asset to his career.There was one other thing that may have helped awaken Asches game in 2012.He played second base at Williamsport in 2011 as prospects Harold Martinez and Maikel Franco got most of the time at third. In 2012, Asche moved back to third base, the position he played in college.I dont think second was the perfect fit for me, Asche said in a recent interview. Going back to third felt more natural.From a season in which he hit .192 to a season in which he became the Phillies third baseman of the future, it was all a whirlwind for Asche.Things can happen fast, he said. You know that going into pro ball. Anything can happen. Looking back at my season, I think that proves that theory.Asche was not surprised that he rebounded so well in 2012.You have to stay confident in yourself and know that it wasnt just one of those seasons, that this is who you are as a player, he said. This is the player I think I am in my mind. Part of being a good player is having confidence in yourself.Its unclear where Asche will play in 2013. He could go back to Double A for a stint and work his way to Triple A. That will be determined in spring training. Regardless, Asche, like all players on the rise, has work to do in his development.The big questions in his game revolve around power and defense.Wathan, who also managed Asche in the Arizona Fall League, offered his opinion on both.Hes got a chance to be an everyday third baseman, Wathan said. His timetable, I dont know. But I think he will be an everyday guy.For some reason his defense has gotten knocked at third base. I disagree with a lot of people. I think hes going to be a good third baseman in the major leagues. We played him at second (in 2011) to get him at-bats and sometimes it takes time to get adjusted back at your original position.And the offense?Hes a guy who can hit, Wathan said. He makes a lot of contact. Hes still a young hitter who just finished his first full season of pro ball. He hits a lot of doubles and a lot of times power is the last thing to come. If you look at a hitter, I want a guy like this whos going to hit doubles, one who hits the gaps and eventually will be able to drive the ball out of the park.Asche hails from suburban St. Louis, but his family has deep Nebraska roots. He is a proud Cornhusker.I bleed Nebraska red, he said.Someday, he might bleed Phillies red.I have to keep improving my skill set, Asche said. Hopefully I can do that and put the organization in a good position. If you keep progressing, there will be opportunities.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com.

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."