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.

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."