Brock Stassi has a storybook ending to spring training

Brock Stassi has a storybook ending to spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There was no holding back Brock Stassi this spring and when he achieved his goal, there was no holding back the tears.

"I can finally say I'm a big-leaguer," the 27-year-old first baseman/outfielder said moments after learning he'd earned one of the final two spots on the Phillies' opening day roster late Thursday afternoon.

"It's a dream come true. I really don't have words to describe it right now."

Words were not needed. The tears in Stassi's blue eyes said it all.

An against-all-odds professional baseball journey that started when he received a $1,000 signing bonus as a 33rd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2011 will take him to Cincinnati and the Phillies' season opener on Monday.

Daniel Nava, another first baseman/outfielder, will also be there. Nava and Stassi were chosen for reserve roles with the club while 22-year-old prospect Jesmuel Valentin, the third candidate for one of the final two spots on the bench, was sent to Triple-A so he could play every day and further his development.

The Phillies cleared room on their 40-man roster by designating outfielder Tyler Goeddel for assignment.

Nava, a 34-year-old who has played in the majors with Boston, Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Kansas City, came to camp on a minor-league contract and earned his way onto the club by hitting .362 (17 for 47) with a .944 OPS.

As happy as Nava was to make the club, he couldn't help but get caught up in Stassi's elation. Nava has walked a few miles in Stassi's spikes. He was an undrafted player and began his pro career in an independent league before signing with Boston in 2008.

"It's awesome," Nava said. "I've been in his position. Also, we have unique stories. Neither one of us were big prospects or big signs so when he started sharing his story I was happy for him that he was doing so well, and to make the team -- it's special. It's special, your first one. He earned it. Nothing was given to him. Everyone was pulling for him and now we're all pumped for him."

A couple of years ago, Stassi thought his baseball dream was dying. He feared he might get released in spring training 2015. But he made the Double-A roster that spring, revamped his swing and had a huge season that earned him Eastern League MVP honors. He was invited to big-league camp last spring and spent all of 2016 at Triple A. He was invited back to big-league camp this spring with the mindset of winning a job.

And he did it with his lefty bat and good glove work at first base and in the outfield.

Stassi started hitting early in camp and never stopped. For the spring, he batted .333 (19 for 57) with six homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.099 OPS.
 
Stassi got the news in a meeting with manager Pete Mackanin after Thursday's 14-1 loss to the Yankees.
 
"What number do you want?" Mackanin asked Stassi, who wore non-roster number 78 in camp.
 
Stassi was speechless.
 
"I didn't really know what to expect," he said of the meeting. "I was pretty nervous. When Pete asked what number I wanted -- it was pretty special."
 
After getting the news, Stassi tried to call his folks. No answer.
 
"They’re working," he said with a laugh.
 
But they will be in Cincinnati on Monday.

And a lot of people who pulled for him along the way will be there in spirit, as well.

"My scout, Joey Davis -- he drafted me in the 33rd round -- he saw something in me," Stassi said. "I'm so thankful."

Stassi's dad, Jim, is a physical education teacher in the Sacramento area. A former catcher, Jim Stassi made it to Triple-A with the Giants before becoming a successful high school coach in Yuba City, California, where he coached his three sons. Max, also a catcher, has played in the majors with Houston each of the last four seasons.

Even Mackanin got a little caught up in Stassi's story.

"I got a little choked up, to be honest with you," Mackanin said. "I've sent a lot of guys to the big leagues as a Triple-A manager. I had my share of sending guys down and releasing them, which is the worst part about my job. But over the years, I have sent a lot of guys up and it's always fun. 

"This was special to me. And I know it was to (player development director) Joe Jordan because Brock earned every bit of it. He's just a good-looking player. He gives you good at-bats. He's a good defender. He plays the game the right way."

Stassi's journey to the majors was difficult. Staying in the majors is not easy, either, especially for a rookie reserve who must learn to stay sharp when the at-bats are not plentiful. 

Stassi realizes that.

"I'm going to celebrate tonight, but it's not done," he said. "I don't just want to get here, I want to stay here. I accomplished one of my goals. I'm just looking forward to the next one."

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.