Catching prospect Joseph salvaging 'lost season'

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Catching prospect Joseph salvaging 'lost season'

READING, Pa. -- If this is a lost season for the Phillies’ minor league catcher Tommy Joseph, consider him on a search and rescue mission.

The Phillies’ top catching prospect is playing at Double A Reading where he’s working his way back from an early-season concussion that has plagued him for most of the year. Until the injury Joseph seemed to be on the proverbial fast track to the big leagues.

Still just 21 (he turns 22 on Tuesday), Joseph began the season playing for Triple A Lehigh Valley. With catcher Carlos Ruiz in the last year of his contract, a good season at Triple A from Joseph could have been a ticket to a roster spot in the big leagues in 2014.

But on May 4, Joseph took a foul ball off his mask and missed the next month of the season. He was activated and went to Single A Clearwater to get back into shape, but lasted just five games before post-concussion symptoms put him back on the shelf.

Joseph returned to action at the end of June, played a handful of games for Clearwater and now finds himself back at Reading.

“Right off the bat people were saying I could go down to Florida, I’ll be there a couple of weeks to get my feet under me and work my way back up,” Joseph said. “There were a lot of setbacks and it ended up taking a lot longer than people wanted it to.”

Now Joseph is back in Reading where he landed last July when he was acquired by the Phillies with right-handed starting pitcher Seth Rosin and outfielder Nate Schierholtz in a trade for Hunter Pence. But don’t consider 2013 a lost year for Joseph, because as far as he’s concerned, nothing has been lost.

Sure, Joseph has missed out on catching everyday at Triple A, but he doesn’t believe that has slowed him down.

Lost year? No way.

“People who say that obviously don’t believe in me,” Joseph said. “It’s not a lost year. I still get to play every day for the rest of the season and most likely in the winter, too. I don’t understand how it would be a lost season. When you’re in the minor leagues it’s a grind every day to get to your goal, which is the big leagues.”

Still, Joseph has appeared in just 36 games this season at all of his stops. On Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium against Blue Jays' affiliate New Hampshire, Joseph went 2 for 4 with a double in just his third game for Reading. In those 36 games, Joseph is 22 for 123 (.179) with four doubles and three homers. He also has struck out 30 times, though just 15 times at Triple A and once for Reading.

“He’s put some good swings on the ball,” Reading manager Dusty Wathan said after Thursday’s game. “He might be around the ball just a touch, which is why he hit some balls foul. But he smoked a double and muscled a single through short and third.”

Joseph hit eight homers in 80 games for Double A Richmond before the trade and just three in 28 games after joining the Phillies. However, at Single A San Jose in 2011, Joseph pounded 22 homers in 127 games and he hit 16 in 117 games as a 17-year-old in 2010. That shows Joseph has power when he gets a chance to be in the lineup.

However, to get to the big leagues as catcher, it’s all about defense. Wathan, a catcher in 14 pro seasons, likes what he sees in Joseph.

“Defensively, he’s really clean at receiving,” Wathan said. “He did miss a block with [lefty pitcher Jesse] Biddle, but he hasn’t caught him a lot and that’s a tough curveball to block in a tough location.

“He has a great arm, he’s pretty accurate, he receives well and calls a good game. He’s a good leader and has a lot of intangibles that aren’t physical tools.”

Better yet, Joseph is back behind the plate with no restrictions. After a first half of a season in which he spent more time on the sidelines than he’s used to, that’s all that matters to the catcher.

“I’m getting there. It’s nice to be out there with the team again and playing every day. That’s what I want to do,” Joseph said.

“All the [concussion] symptoms are gone, so now it’s just a matter of getting back to where I was and playing the game I love and doing the things I was put on this earth to do.”

Biddle headed for the Futures
Top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle was held to 75 pitches in Thursday’s start because he’s slated to pitch in the Futures All-Star Game in New York on Sunday.

Nevertheless, it was a bit of a rough outing for the lefty. In four innings, he allowed four runs on four hits and three walks. He had five strikeouts, threw a wild pitch and allowed a homer on a hanging curve.

This season, Biddle is 3-9 with a 3.33 ERA and has 107 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings. But he hasn’t received much run support. Actually, he’s lucky if he gets a run.

Winless since May 21, Biddle has received just 10 runs of support in the nine games since that last win. In his last 14 starts, Reading has given Biddle just 18 runs of support with just 29 runs in his 18 starts.

With run support like that Biddle is lucky to have won three games.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. 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 Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.

Phillies avoid arbitration with Jeanmar Gomez, exchange figures with Cesar Hernandez

Phillies avoid arbitration with Jeanmar Gomez, exchange figures with Cesar Hernandez

Updated: 7:50 p.m.

The Phillies and relief pitcher Jeanmar Gomez on Friday avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $4.2 million, according to a major league source.

Friday was the deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures. The Phils avoided arbitration with shortstop Freddy Galvis on Thursday with a one-year, $4.35 million agreement.

Second baseman Cesar Hernandez is the team's lone remaining arbitration-eligible player. 

Hernandez and the team exchanged salary proposals on Friday. Hernandez is seeking $2.8 million. The team offered $2 million. The two sides can continue to negotiate and if a settlement is not reached, an arbitration panel will decide on Hernandez's 2017 salary by picking the player's asking price or the team's offer. Agreements are typically stuck at or near the midpoint before a hearing is even needed. Hearings are held during the first two weeks of February, if needed.

Hernandez made $525,000 in 2016. He hit .294 with a .371 on-base percentage and led the majors with 11 triples.

Cody Asche and Darin Ruf were also set to enter arbitration years but Asche was non-tendered and Ruf was traded to the Dodgers.

This is Gomez's final arbitration year; he's set for free agency after the season. It's a nice raise for a reliever who made $1.4 million in 2016.

Gomez surprisingly emerged as the Phillies' closer early in the season. He was the one man in early April who seized the late-inning opportunity and he carried the closer's job into the final weeks of September.

Gomez saved 37 games in 43 opportunities after registering just one in his career prior to 2016. He had a 2.97 ERA with 34 saves on Sept. 1 but had a rocky final month, allowing 17 earned runs in eight innings. It raised his season ERA to 4.85.

The Phillies added some relief depth this offseason in Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek. They also have Hector Neris, who had a 2.58 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 80 innings last season, consistently showing a disappearing splitter. 

So it's no given Gomez keeps the closer's job in 2017. In fact, it would seem unlikely given his shaky September and the type of stuff Neris and Benoit possess.

CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury contributed to this story.