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.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.