Phillies catching prospect Joseph making quick impression

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Phillies catching prospect Joseph making quick impression

The first thing you notice about Tommy Joseph is his presence. Its not so much his physical stature because, though 6-1 and rugged, hes not physically imposing. Its more the quiet confidence he exudes and the way he looks you in the eye during a conversation that makes you reach for the media guide to confirm that hes 21, not 31.

He does have a presence and it carries over to his teammates, Phillies' Double A manager Dusty Wathan said. He works hard. Hes mature. Hes a leader. Those are great assets to have as a catcher.

Wathan should know. Catching is his family business. He caught 14 seasons in the minors and got to the majors with Kansas City. His father, John, is also a former major league catcher.

Joseph became Phillies' property six months ago when the team acquired him in the deal that sent Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. It didnt take him long to make an impression. He quickly supplanted Sebastian Valle as the teams catcher of the future. The publication Baseball America confirmed that when it rated Joseph as the teams third best minor-league prospect. Valle, though still valued in the organization, did not appear in the Top 10.

There will be many interesting dramas to watch in Phillies spring training camp next month. The health of Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and even Cole Hamels will be paramount. Darin Rufs ability to play left field (and the entire corner outfield situation) will be another. How Phillies officials handle their minor-league catching situation might pale in comparison to the aforementioned storylines, but its intriguing nonetheless.

The Phillies have three catchers Joseph, Valle and Cameron Rupp for two starting spots at Double A and Triple A. It will be interesting to see how this puzzle is assembled and its entirely possibly that someone like Valle could be traded. He was reportedly part of a proposed deal for Houston reliever Wilton Lopez earlier this offseason. That deal was never finalized.

Joseph is aware of the Phillies logjam of catchers, and of the decision that must be made on who plays at Double A and who plays at Triple A. He didnt get skittish and run from the topic when it came up in a recent interview. He didnt throw out that trite I only worry about things I can control response. He smiled comfortably and said, Thats a pretty good decision for them to make. Theyve done a great job building their catching.

For the record, farm director Joe Jordan loves the catching depth at the upper levels of the minor-league system and hes looking forward to a spirited battle for jobs in spring training.

No matter where he opens the season, Joseph seems to be on a good track to Philadelphia, and he could be the eventual successor to Carlos Ruiz, who turns 34 this month and is entering the final year of his contract. Ruiz will miss the Phillies first 25 games while serving a suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant late last season. Veterans Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero are expected to fill the catching position while hes out.

Joseph, the Giants second-round pick in 2009, did not catch full-time until he was a senior in high school in Scottsdale, Ariz. Wathan uses that fact to illustrate Josephs potential behind the plate.

Were looking at a guy who has only caught three or four years, Wathan said. Hes kind of learning on the job. Hes in Double A at 21. Thats pretty good.

Joseph threw out 21 of 52 would-be basestealers at Double A Richmond and Double A Reading in 2012. But thats only part of the defensive component that impresses Wathan.

Hes very strong-handed for a young guy, Wathan said. The ball doesnt move a whole lot when it hits his glove. A lot of times thats a thing that comes with maturity and learning how to catch more, but with him I think it comes kind of naturally.

A righthanded hitter, Joseph has good potential in the bat. He hit .270 with 22 homers and 95 RBIs in 514 at-bats in the hitter-friendly California League (Single A) in 2011. Last year, he hit .257 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs in Double A.

Wathan believes theres more in there.

I think 2013 will be a big year for him offensively, Wathan said. He came in and, I think, concentrated so much on his defense and wanted to show everybody that he could catch that I think he put offense on the back burner. Hes one of those guys who is happy if we win a ball game and he doesnt get any hits and he called a good game, which is a very important asset in a catcher, especially a young catcher.

Joseph confirmed: His work behind the plate comes before his work at the plate.

Growing up I was all hitting all the time, he said. As Ive grown up Ive learned that catching is more important. Theres more pressure on you behind the plate than there is with the stick, but I know its going to come because Ive worked hard at it.

Joseph is a cerebral catcher and sometimes that detrimentally carries over to the batters box.

I think Ive got a pretty good approach and I think I understand the game, he said with a laugh. Sometimes I just get in my head too much and start thinking, What would I call here? and I think I get in trouble there a little bit. But for the most part I think Im a pretty good hitter and I know what Im doing out there.

Big-league camp opens Feb. 12 and Joseph will likely be there. The team always invites extra catchers to camp. Surely they will want their catcher of the future there.

Joseph looks forward to watching Ruiz. He admires the bond that Ruiz has with Phillies pitchers.

Thats a superstar staff and hes their guy, Joseph said. Those pitchers love him.

Someday, Phillies pitchers might feel the same way about Joseph.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com

On deck? Phillies' Scott Kingery, Tom Eshelman receive honors in future home

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On deck? Phillies' Scott Kingery, Tom Eshelman receive honors in future home

Sixteen players made their major-league debut with the Phillies this season. More players will come as the 2018 season unfolds.

Scott Kingery and Tom Eshelman will likely be among them.

Kingery and Eshelman were at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday to be honored as this year's winners of the Paul Owens Award for top position player and pitcher in the Phils' minor-league system.

Kingery, a 23-year-old second baseman from the Phoenix area, batted .304 with 29 doubles, eight triples, 26 homers and 29 stolen bases between Double A and Triple A.

Eshelman, a 23-year-old right-hander from the San Diego area, went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA and an 0.97 WHIP in 23 starts between Double A and Triple A. In 150 innings, he struck out 102 and walked just 18.

Prior to being honored on the field before Tuesday night's game, both players stopped by the Phillies clubhouse. They were surrounded by many familiar faces, former teammates who'd made the jump from the minors to the majors this season. It affirmed for Kingery and Eshelman just how close they are to reaching their major-league dreams.

"Obviously it’s just one step away," Kingery said. "And every time you see one of your good friends you’ve played with for the whole season make that step up and start doing well, it gives you a little bit of confidence, knowing that, 'Hey, I was playing with these guys yesterday and now they’re making their big-league debuts,' so it does."

Eshelman had a front-row seat for Rhys Hoskins' heroics in Lehigh Valley. Hoskins was the International League MVP and Rookie of the Year this season, and has come to the majors and stroked 18 homers in a little more than a month.

"Rhys is kind of a hometown hero in my town," Eshelman said. "I’ve been getting a lot of text messages and direct messages on Instagram, like, ‘Hey, did you play with this guy?’ It was fun to watch him in Triple A and Double A last year, but to watch him up here doing what he’s doing, it’s incredible. All of these guys. They’re all kind of chipping in. It’s cool to see the success that they’ve had."

Kingery and Eshelman were both selected in the second round of the 2015 draft. Kingery, a University of Arizona product, went 48th overall to the Phillies. Eshelman, a strike-throwing machine out of Cal State Fullerton, was selected by the Houston Astros two picks ahead of Kingery.

The Phillies acquired Eshelman in general manager Matt Klentak's first big trade, the one that sent Ken Giles to the Houston Astros in December 2015. Eshelman came over to the Phils in a package that included headline pitchers Vince Velasquez and Mark Appel. Velasquez has struggled with injury and inconsistency in his two seasons in Philadelphia and Appel has had similar problems in the minors.

Eshelman does not possess eye-popping, radar-gun-wowing stuff, but he throws quality strikes and limits walks. Basically, he pitches.

"He's the best executor of pitches that we have in the system," director of player development Joe Jordan said. "He might not have the type of weapons that get you talked about a lot, but his stuff is plenty good to pitch in the major leagues. He's got four or five pitches and he can use them all. He's great at reading swings. He's smart enough to know when a hitter is sitting soft and elevate a fastball and it will look 94 when it might be 90-91."

Eshelman likely will be invited to big-league camp in February and could make the jump to the majors next season.

"This is an organization on the rise and I’m happy to be a part of it," he said.

Kingery played well enough this season that he could have earned a look in the majors this month, but the Phillies' front office is trying to retain as many young players as possible. Kingery does not need to be protected on the 40-man roster this winter and that will allow the Phillies to add a different prospect to the roster and protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Kingery will be in big-league camp next spring — he was a standout in big-league camp this spring — and could very well be ready for the majors on opening day. That, however, does not mean he will be there. The Phils could look to push his potential free agency back to after the 2024 season by keeping him in the minors for a few weeks at the start of next season. That might not make fans happy, but it makes baseball sense.

The Phils are expected to shop second baseman Cesar Hernandez this winter to clear a spot for Kingery. Ditto shortstop Freddy Galvis as it relates to J.P. Crawford.

"Personally I think I’ll try to block most of that out," Kingery said. "I know it’s probably going to be tough. I’ll probably see some of it. I’m just going to do what I can this offseason to give myself the best shot to come into spring training and have a good year."

A closer look at Nick Williams' surprising, impressive rookie season

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A closer look at Nick Williams' surprising, impressive rookie season

With less than two weeks to go before baseball season ends, now's a good time to begin looking back at the most surprising developments, stats and trends for the Phillies in 2017.

In no particular order, we'll run these throughout the fall, starting today with Nick Williams' success against left-handed pitching.

• • •

Williams has had an impressive rookie season overall, but his success against same-handed pitching has been the biggest surprise in Year 1.

In the upper minor leagues in 2015 and 2016, Williams hit .223 with a .583 OPS.

As a major-leaguer, Williams has hit .282 against lefties with a .775 OPS, a double, two triples and two homers.

Makes me think back to a conversation with Williams in the summer of 2016, when things started to click for him vs. lefties.

"I've been seeing lefties a lot better lately," Williams said then. "A lot of them kind of do the same thing to me and that helps. I just want to master, really figure out what I'm trying to do and what they're trying to do to me. I didn't like when [managers] thought I couldn't hit a lefty and they would call a guy in from the bullpen just to pitch to me. It bothered me, I didn't like that, them thinking it could just take a lefty to get me out. I worked on it, worked on it, and I got better at it.

"Breaking balls away, sometimes they try to come in, but usually if they throw me a breaking ball that's a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. There's a couple times you can tip your hat to them for hitting a certain spot, but really, when lefties throw me a breaking ball for a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. Just staying patient and the one that's an inch off, two inches off, just bite your lip and take."

Williams won't place high in NL Rookie of the Year voting because it's been an impressive class with Cody Bellinger (the lock), Rhys Hoskins, Paul DeJong, Josh Bell and Kyle Freeland. (I think the Padres' Dinelson Lamet will be the third-best player among that group next year.) In other years, he'd be more of a top-five consideration.

Consistency over 300 PAs

Williams' strong summer has been overshadowed by Hoskins-mania, but his production has been consistent.

Through 298 plate appearances with the Phillies, Williams has hit .287/.339/.478 with 14 doubles, four triples, 10 homers and 48 RBIs. 

Project that over 162 games and you get 32 doubles, nine triples, 23 homers and 109 RBIs.

That doesn't mean that if Williams plays 162 next season he'll absolutely hit all of those marks, but it's an idea of what a full, healthy season from him might look like.

"Nick Williams looks like the Phillies' rightfielder of the next six years" couldn't have been said with nearly as much certitude just six months ago.

Still think the Phillies waited too long?

I'd argue this is more indicative of the Phils' front office moving Williams along the right way.

They wanted him to show more plate selection before bringing up to the majors and he obliged, walking eight times in his final 13 games at Triple A after walking eight times in his previous 65 games.

(Since this is the internet and at least a few will be inclined to label me a Phillies apologist for those previous two paragraphs, I do think they waited at least two months too long with Hoskins, maybe more.)

Williams just turned 24 on Sept. 8. He celebrated with a three-run homer off of Max Scherzer and a 4-for-5 night at Nationals Park. 

He's shown power to all fields, and though he's never been much of a base stealer, his speed stands out.

Finding a decent comp

So Williams has hit .287/.339/.478 in his first 300 plate appearances. 

Before this season, Justin Upton hit .268/.347/.472 over a decade (wow, does time fly).

Pretty similar, right?

Back to that 162-game projection for Williams of 32 doubles, nine triples, 23 homers and 109 RBIs.

From 2007-16, Upton averaged 32 doubles, five triples, 27 homers and 86 RBIs per 162 games.

Williams' 300 plate appearances are far, far different from Upton's 6,000. But if Williams can start hot next season and remain consistent throughout 2018, a left-handed hitting Justin Upton with a skill set to bat second through sixth ain't bad.

So, is this sustainable?

Williams has a .376 batting average on balls in play. The league average is .300, so some will be quick to holler out that Williams will regress.

But keep in mind that just because the league average BABIP is .300 doesn't mean all players end up there. From 2014-17 in the minors, Williams' batting average on balls in play fell in the .355 to .365 range.

And this season, there are 33 players with a BABIP of at least .350. So it's not necessarily a major fluke that Williams has hit the way he has to this point. 

When putting the ball in play, fast players like Williams get on base more often than those with average speed. Williams already has 10 infield hits.

Next April and May are going to be really important for Williams. He'll start facing pitchers for the second, third and fourth times, and the rest of the league will have a better idea of how to get him out. These early returns are promising, though.