Big 2012 turned Asche into Phillies' 3B of the future

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Big 2012 turned Asche into Phillies' 3B of the future

When the Phillies set out to address their hole at third base this offseason they looked mostly for a player who would be a short-term fit. Michael Young, signed through 2013, ended up being that guy.The Phillies preferred not to make a long-term commitment to a new third baseman because they believe they have one percolating in the minors. The Phils have not had a homegrown third baseman since Scott Rolen.They hope Cody Asche can eventually be that guy.Asche, 22, forced his way into the teams plans with a brilliant season in the minors in 2012. He opened the season in the single A Florida State League and earned a promotion to Double A in June. For the season, he hit .324 with 33 doubles, six triples, 12 homers and 72 RBIs in 130 games. His on-base percentage was .369 and he slugged .481.Asche did not come out of nowhere. It just seems that way.He was a fourth-round pick by the Phils out of the University of Nebraska in 2011. That summer, the Phils sent him to Single A Williamsport, where he hit just .192 and slugged .264 in 239 at-bats. One team official said Asche had a dead bat that season.Not for long.A 6-1, 185-pound left-handed hitter, Asche reported to the Florida Instructional League in the fall of 2011 and resurrected his bat. He made improvements on his swing load, using his hands and legs more. The results showed in spring training 2012 and team officials decided to fast-track him and send him to the Florida State League instead of the South Atlantic League. By the end of June, Asche was in Reading, where he hit .300 and slugged .513 in 68 games games for the Phillies Double A club.Reading manager Dusty Wathan was not surprised by Asches quick rise.Not at all, Wathan said. I love the guy. Hes a very focused and driven player who works hard at the game and plays hard. Hes a throwback guy.Wathan believes Asche benefitted from his difficult 2011 season, and believes Asche will continue to benefit from it in years to come.I think one of the great things thats going to help him in his career is the struggles he had in Williamsport his first year when he hit .190, Wathan said. When a guy can overcome that, its something. He made adjustments and found success. He stuck with it. Failure can be a plus in this game. All these guys are going to fail somewhere along the line, whether its A ball, Double A, or the major leagues. At some point in time youre going to have a couple of bad months or thats going to be the peak of your career. With a guy having it so early in his career and being able to overcome it -- I think its going to be a tremendous asset to his career.There was one other thing that may have helped awaken Asches game in 2012.He played second base at Williamsport in 2011 as prospects Harold Martinez and Maikel Franco got most of the time at third. In 2012, Asche moved back to third base, the position he played in college.I dont think second was the perfect fit for me, Asche said in a recent interview. Going back to third felt more natural.From a season in which he hit .192 to a season in which he became the Phillies third baseman of the future, it was all a whirlwind for Asche.Things can happen fast, he said. You know that going into pro ball. Anything can happen. Looking back at my season, I think that proves that theory.Asche was not surprised that he rebounded so well in 2012.You have to stay confident in yourself and know that it wasnt just one of those seasons, that this is who you are as a player, he said. This is the player I think I am in my mind. Part of being a good player is having confidence in yourself.Its unclear where Asche will play in 2013. He could go back to Double A for a stint and work his way to Triple A. That will be determined in spring training. Regardless, Asche, like all players on the rise, has work to do in his development.The big questions in his game revolve around power and defense.Wathan, who also managed Asche in the Arizona Fall League, offered his opinion on both.Hes got a chance to be an everyday third baseman, Wathan said. His timetable, I dont know. But I think he will be an everyday guy.For some reason his defense has gotten knocked at third base. I disagree with a lot of people. I think hes going to be a good third baseman in the major leagues. We played him at second (in 2011) to get him at-bats and sometimes it takes time to get adjusted back at your original position.And the offense?Hes a guy who can hit, Wathan said. He makes a lot of contact. Hes still a young hitter who just finished his first full season of pro ball. He hits a lot of doubles and a lot of times power is the last thing to come. If you look at a hitter, I want a guy like this whos going to hit doubles, one who hits the gaps and eventually will be able to drive the ball out of the park.Asche hails from suburban St. Louis, but his family has deep Nebraska roots. He is a proud Cornhusker.I bleed Nebraska red, he said.Someday, he might bleed Phillies red.I have to keep improving my skill set, Asche said. Hopefully I can do that and put the organization in a good position. If you keep progressing, there will be opportunities.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Could be locked-in Hellickson's final start with Phils

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Could be locked-in Hellickson's final start with Phils

Phillies (45-55) at Marlins (53-45)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After three straight series losses to begin the second half, the Phillies head to Miami for three games with the Marlins. It's the second leg of a 10-game road trip that takes the Phils to Atlanta for four games later in the week.

Let's take a look at the series opener:

1. Hellickson's sendoff?
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 21st and potentially final start for the Phillies tonight in South Florida. The Marlins are one of the teams after him, so it's possible he could just switch clubhouses later this week. 

Hellickson has boosted his trade value substantially over the last five weeks, posting a 2.54 ERA with five quality starts in six tries. He enters Monday's game 7-7 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Those are better and more consistent numbers than you'll find attached to many other pitchers on the trade market, rentals or otherwise. 

It was on this day last year that Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter against the Cubs which turned out to be the tipping point for the Rangers, who several days later traded the Phillies six players, four of whom were intriguing prospects now thriving in this organization. Hellickson isn't going to no-hit the Fish tonight, but if he has a similarly well-timed good start, it could result in a better return for the Phils this time around, too.

Hellickson's last start was against the Marlins in the only game in last week's four-game series that the Phillies won. He allowed one run on five hits over eight innings with eight strikeouts.

Hellickson's control has been superb this season. He's walked just 27 batters in 119⅔ innings, or 2.0 per nine innings. That's nearly a full walk per nine less than his previous career rate of 2.9. It's a major reason that Hellickson has been able to maintain a sub-4.00 ERA despite allowing 19 home runs in 20 starts.

2. Scouting Cosart
The Phillies will face their former farmhand Jarred Cosart, who is 0-1 with a 7.98 ERA in three starts this season. It's been a troubling year for Cosart, who missed a month with an oblique injury and has spent most of the season struggling at Triple A. He had a 5.22 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 12 starts with Triple A New Orleans.

Way back in 2011, Cosart headlined the Astros' return in the Hunter Pence trade. Houston received Cosart, Jon Singleton, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana for the rightfielder. None panned out in the Astros' organization, with Cosart getting traded three years later, Singleton continuing to struggle in the minors and Santana ending up in Milwaukee.

Cosart has disappointed the most of the bunch. After going 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA in 2014, his career has taken a downward trend. He's never been a big strikeout guy despite throwing in the mid-90s, and his control has always been poor. Cosart has walked 15 batters in 14⅔ innings this season and 4.3 per nine innings in his major-league career. 

He did have success, though, in three starts against the Phillies last season, going 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA and 12 strikeouts to three walks in 15 innings. But this lineup is much different than that one. 

Cosart is mostly a three-pitch pitcher who uses a cutter, sinker and curveball. The cutter is his main pitch, averaging 93 mph. 

3. Injuries piling up
In the span of just a few days, Maikel Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist, Cameron Rupp was hit in the helmet and Andres Blanco fractured a finger. They've been three of the Phillies' five best offensive players this season.

Franco returned Sunday to replace Blanco, a good sign that he should be ready to go this week in Miami and Atlanta. But each Franco at-bat bears watching because wrist injuries can sap a player of his power. 

Rupp, too, could return to the starting lineup as soon as tonight after passing MLB's concussion protocol. He's hitting .276 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and an .810 OPS in his breakout 2016 season.

4. Bourjos back to Earth
After hitting .410 in June, Peter Bourjos has hit .227 in July with a meager .263 on-base percentage. He's 4 for 36 (.111) over his last nine games with one walk, one RBI and 10 strikeouts.

Bourjos is another player the Phillies could trade this week to clear up room on the roster for Aaron Altherr and/or Nick Williams. In Bourjos and Jimmy Paredes, the Phils have replaceable outfielders who don't figure to factor too much into their future. It wouldn't simply be wishful thinking to say that by next week, the Phils' starting outfield could be Williams in left field, Odubel Herrera in center and Altherr in right.

Altherr's rehab assignment ends Wednesday. At that point the Phillies must decide whether to call him up or option him to Triple A. 

5. Almost Thompson time?
It's no coincidence that IronPigs ace Jake Thompson pitches tonight, the same night as Hellickson. Thompson would be a ready-made replacement for Hellickson in the rotation if/when Hellickson is dealt. Thompson is on a ridiculous roll at Triple A, having allowed just four earned runs over his last 62⅓ innings spanning nine starts. He's lowered his ERA from 4.23 to 2.29 over that stretch thanks to a sky-high rate of weak groundballs.

Even if Thompson were to struggle tonight, the Phillies would still likely turn to him to replace Hellickson. There doesn't seem to be much left for him to prove at Triple A, where every International League starting pitcher with an ERA even close to his 2.29 has been called up to the majors.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday (see game notes).

Hellickson's value has rebounded significantly this season after he struggled in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks' trading him to the Phillies for limited value in the offseason. 

In 20 starts this season, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, posting a 3.84 ERA with just 2.0 walks per nine over 119⅔ innings. He also has a career-best strikeout rate of 8.0 per nine innings.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.