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-Royals 5 things: Defending champs awful on the road

Phillies-Royals 5 things: Defending champs awful on the road

Phillies (35-45) vs. Royals (42-36)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies are back home this weekend to take on the defending champion Kansas City Royals after a 5-4 road trip. A six-game homestand begins Friday with the Phils taking on the Royals and Braves before heading to Colorado for four games at Coors Field before the All-Star break.

Let's take a look at Friday's series opener:

1. Royals reeling on the road
Kansas City is positioned atop the AL wild-card race, but the Royals have been one of the majors' worst road teams this season. They're 15-25 away from Kauffman Stadium, the fourth-worst road record in MLB, better than only the Twins, Reds and Brewers. 

K.C. has scored 128 runs in 40 road games, an average of 3.2 per game that ranks dead-last in the majors. It's puzzling given the Royals' talent that they would be so much better at home. It wasn't the case either of the last two seasons, when they went a combined 91-71 on the road.

The Royals did, however, sweep a two-game series in St. Louis Wednesday and Thursday.

2. Banged-up champs
Alex Gordon, the best defensive leftfielder in baseball, returned to the Royals last weekend after missing over a month with a wrist injury. But Kansas City is still undermanned with Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, their second and third hitters, out. 

Moustakas is out for the season with a torn ACL, while Cain went on the DL this week with a hamstring strain.

Cain was hitting .290 for the Royals with a .752 OPS during a streaky 2016 season. 

Moustakas and Gordon suffered their injuries in a collision in late May. It was a genuine blow to the Royals' chances at repeating. Moustakas hit .284 last season with 34 doubles, 22 homers and 82 RBIs. In his place, the Royals have used rookie Cheslor Cuthbert, a 23-year-old from Nicaragua.

Cuthbert has hit .256/.299/.419 in 39 games in Moustakas' place.

3. The DH effect
The Royals' everyday first baseman is Eric Hosmer, a slick fielder and perennial .290-.300 hitter. 

Their designated hitter is Kendrys Morales, who is absolutely on fire right now. He's 12 for 16 with four extra-base hits in his last four games and has hit .455 with a 1.310 OPS in his last 22. Over the last four days, Morales has raised his batting average by 31 points and his OPS by 69.

But ... with the Royals playing this series in an NL stadium, they won't be able to start both. That is, unless they move Hosmer to right field, where he's played just three innings in the last three seasons.

Could be a big break for the Phillies, missing Kansas City's hottest hitter. Stay tuned.

4. Hellickson vs. Kennedy
The Phillies hand the ball to Jeremy Hellickson for his 17th start of the season. He's 5-6 with a 4.23 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP to this point, with 84 strikeouts, 24 walks and 16 home runs allowed in 93⅔ innings.

Hellickson is coming off two good starts in a row, having allowed three runs in seven innings to the Diamondbacks and one earned run in six innings to the Giants.

While it seems like it's been an up and down season for Hellickson, in reality it's been mostly up. He's allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of 16 starts and has truly struggled only four times, in back-to-back starts against the Nationals and Mets in mid-April, in St. Louis on May 2 and in D.C. on June 10. 

Otherwise, Hellickson has kept the Phillies in games and kept hitters off-balance with an elite changeup. 

He's faced Kansas City a bunch from his days in the American League. Active Royals are 16 for 68 (.235) against him with two extra-base hits, five walks and 12 strikeouts.

5. Scouting Kennedy 
The Phillies face Ian Kennedy, the veteran right-hander who joined the Royals on a five-year, $70 million deal this past winter. Kennedy has been solid in his first 15 starts with his new team, going 6-6 with a 3.96 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and .230 opponents' batting average. He's struck out 85 batters in 88⅔ innings.

Kennedy is coming off his most dominant outing of the year, a seven-inning, three-hit, one-run, 11-strikeout performance against the Astros. 

Current Phillies have done little against Kennedy, going 8 for 53 (.151) with just two extra-base hits, a Carlos Ruiz double and Freddy Galvis homer. They do have 10 walks against him, however.

Kennedy is mostly a three-pitch pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball in the 92 to 94 mph range, a changeup in the mid-80s and a curveball in the high-70s. On rare occasions he'll throw a cutter to righties.

Phillies By the Numbers: Some good, some bad at halfway point

Phillies By the Numbers: Some good, some bad at halfway point

Some good, some bad in this edition of Phillies By the Numbers, 80 games into their season:

80 games in
At 35-45, the Phils are eight games better through 80 than they were last season. 

A year ago at this point, they were 27-53, had scored 268 runs and allowed 399 for a run differential of minus-131. 

This year, they've scored 278 runs and allowed 373 for a run differential of minus-95. Even though their early-season success was built off wins in one-run games, the Phils are still a better team than they were in 2015. 

Herrera's OBP
Odubel Herrera was in the top-five in the majors in on-base percentage for much of the first two months but has dropped to 16th, at .393. Still, that's good for third among all MLB centerfielders, behind only Mike Trout (.422) and injured Dexter Fowler (.398).

Herrera's defense
Herrera has seven errors. No other major-league centerfielder has more than four. And truthfully, Herrera could have a few more if plays were scored differently in the moment. 

Herrera's seven errors are as many as every NL West centerfielder has combined.

Lucky or good?
Herrera also has the third-highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in the majors since the start of last season at .375, behind only Xander Bogaerts (.377) and Paul Goldschmidt (.376). 

You could say Herrera's lucky, but he also has 35 infield hits over that span, third-most in the NL behind Starling Marte and Dee Gordon. That'll keep the BABIP high.

Going the other way
Of Herrera's balls in play, 37.3 percent have been to the opposite field, the highest rate in the NL.

Franco YTD
Through 74 games, Maikel Franco is hitting .243/.302/.435 with 12 doubles, 13 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Through 74 games last season, Franco was hitting .278/.339/.483 with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 47 RBIs.

Franco has played essentially one full season since coming up in mid-May 2015. In 640 plate appearances, he's hit .262 with a .791 OPS, 34 doubles, 27 homers and 91 RBIs.

Walks and whiffs
As committed as the Phillies seem to be, top to bottom, in improving their players' plate selection, the major-league team still barely walks. The Phillies have walked in just 6.5 percent of their plate appearances, last in the NL and second-worst in baseball to the Royals. The Cubs lead the majors at 11.0 percent, but even below-average teams like the Brewers and Braves have out-walked the Phillies by 100 and 31, respectively.

The Phillies have also swung at the second-most pitches outside the strike zone, 31.7 percent, ahead of only the Braves.

And they've swung and missed at 11.3 percent of pitches, the highest rate in the NL.

Major-league pop-ups
Infield flies account for 10.5 percent of the Phillies' flyballs, the highest rate in the NL. Not good.

K/9 unit
The Phillies set the MLB record for the month of April with 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. 

They were middle of the pack, 15th, with 7.8 K/9 in May. They were 12th in June at 8.3.

Overall, Phillies pitchers rank seventh in the majors with 8.72 K/9, behind the Nationals, Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, Marlins and Red Sox.

Uncle Charlie
It's no surprise that the Phillies — with Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez — have thrown the most curveballs of any pitching staff in baseball, 17.1 percent. The MLB average is right around 10 percent, and the Yankees rank last at 5.3 percent.

No NL team has thrown fewer sliders than the Phils' 9.2 percent.

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford finding his groove in Triple A

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford finding his groove in Triple A

Three prospects to appear on the Future Phillies Report this season have graduated to the majors: 1B Tommy Joseph on May 13, SP Zach Eflin on June 10 and RP Edubray Ramos on June 24.

All three have experienced some degree of success, with Joseph homering eight times in his first 110 plate appearances, Eflin settling in after a terrible debut, and Ramos beginning his career with three straight scoreless appearances and five strikeouts.

The Phillies have shown a willingness early in this season to promote young players who may play integral roles in their resurgence, but they haven't gone and won't go overboard. They're not going to call up Nick Williams or J.P. Crawford tomorrow and replace them in Triple A with someone like Dylan Cozens. There is a developmental track and plan for each individual prospect and GM Matt Klentak has shown he won't rush someone up just to fill a major-league spot where production has been scarce.

Still, top pitching prospect Jake Thompson acknowledged how excited he was to see Eflin get the call-up and what it might mean for him.

"For me, seeing the Phillies are actually — especially this early in the season — willing to go get a young guy that's not on the 40-man roster and give him a chance ... not that I need any more incentive to go out and work harder, but seeing that, it gives you a little extra boost," Thompson said earlier this week.

With that, let's take a look at what's going down on the farm:

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
You can tell Crawford has settled into the International League by looking at how many multi-hit games he's had lately. Crawford, still hitting just .229 with a .317 on-base percentage at Triple A and .246 with a .358 OBP on the season, has seven multi-hit games in his last 15. Over that span, the Phillies' top prospect has hit .311 with four extra-base hits and five walks. He's been batting second mostly, in front of Williams. 

For the first time since Crawford ended 2014 at High A Clearwater, he doesn't have more walks than strikeouts. He's walked 18 times with 25 K's with the IronPigs, giving him 208 walks and 209 strikeouts in his four-year minor-league career.

Defensively, Crawford has been strong with Lehigh Valley, committing just two errors in 330 innings and 174 defensive chances. That's been a major key to Crawford's progress through the Phils' system. They wanted more consistent defense from him this season and he's answered the call, improving his fielding percentage from .953 to .975. 

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
While the bash brothers, Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, continue to jockey for the Eastern League lead in home runs, Alfaro keeps hitting out of the three-hole for Reading. The powerful, strong-armed catcher has a seven-game hitting streak and had a five-game extra-base hit streak snapped on Wednesday night. Alfaro has three doubles, two homers, six RBIs and 11 runs over his last six games.

The torrid start Alfaro got off to — 18 for 36 in his first eight games — has allowed his batting average to stay over .300 most of the season. He's at .300/.319/.498 through 236 plate appearances. 

He's still a force in the middle of the Fightin Phils' order, but since returning in early May from an oblique injury that cost him three weeks, Alfaro has hit .262 with just four walks and 44 strikeouts in 44 games. His power hasn't disappeared during that stretch — he has nine doubles, a triple and eight homers in 198 plate appearances — but that .262 batting average more closely aligns with his .266 career mark. Alfaro has not hit .300 or better since he was at Low A Spokane in the Rangers' system in 2011.

Numbers aside, the tools continue to pop out. Alfaro has thrown out 22 of 48 base stealers, a 46 percent success rate.

But that abysmal walk-to-strikeout ratio Alfaro has posted this season needs to improve, at least slightly. Jim Salisbury outlined on Wednesday how concerned the Phillies have become with the walks and strikeouts of their hitters and pitchers (see story).

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
Reading is on an absolute tear. The Fightin Phils have at least seven runs in each of their last seven games, scoring a total 69 over that span. 

Cozens contributed to that attack this week, hitting a two-run homer on Wednesday after Alfaro lined a single past the shortstop in the first inning. The left-handed hitting Cozens crushed a fastball on the outside corner to the opposite field. His power is legitimate and to all fields.

Then on Thursday, Cozens homered again and drove in four runs, giving him 22 HR and 66 RBIs on the season.

But as Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan noted earlier this week, there's no reason Cozens should be in triple-digits already with 101 strikeouts in 344 plate appearances. There have been just three games in Cozens' last 37 that he didn't strike out. A lot of nights, he's whiffing multiple times. And it's not like it's just lefties overpowering him — Cozens has also punched out 72 times against righties, or once every 3.7 plate appearances.

Hitting lefties would be the next step for the 6-foot-6 Cozens, who's also 14 for 15 in steals. He's hit just .197 with six extra-base hits in 77 plate appearances vs. same-handed pitching.

1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Hoskins is another Phillies prospect striking out a lot, but there's been enough production to offset all the whiffs. Not to be outdone by Cozens, Hoskins also homered on both Wednesday and Thursday, tying Cozens with 22. 

What an insane month of June it was for Hoskins, who hit .351 with 13 homers, 33 RBIs and a 1.198 OPS.

In his last 10 games, Hoskins is 17 for 41 (.415) with four doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs and 15 runs scored.

He's hit righties and lefties alike, and you can't even argue that Reading's home park has been the sole reason for his surge — Hoskins has 21 extra-base hits on the road and 20 at home.

Hoskins and Cozens have homered in the same game 10 times for Reading, which is 57-23 on the season.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams returned from his latest hustle-related benching with a two-hit, two-RBI night for Lehigh Valley Wednesday. He's hit .322 with a .907 OPS over his last 29 games as the power has returned. 

Williams is up to .288/.330/.461 on the season. He said Wednesday that he expected the production to increase as the weather heated up, and that there were times in April and early May when the conditions in central Pennsylvania made him think, "I'm a long way from home."

Williams is another player striking out too much, with K's in 25.8 percent of his plate appearances, but he doesn't seem fazed by that growing total. "I do strike out a lot but I make contact a lot, too. It's not like I just go up there and strike out all the time," Williams said. "I work the count."

In a 1-on-1 interview earlier this week, Williams also gave reasons for his recent success vs. lefties (see story).

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson has a 0.76 ERA in June, having allowed three earned runs in 35⅓ innings. He's lowered his season ERA from 4.23 to 2.88. Even though Thompson is striking out just 6.3 batters per nine innings, he's dominating the opposition because he's generating so much weak contact. 

His groundball rate also continues to rise. Thompson's sinker is quite a weapon. He's induced nine double plays in his last three starts.

Read more about Thompson's hot streak here.

RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Appel's first season in the Phillies' system ended Wednesday when he underwent elbow surgery. It was not the type of scenery change Appel wanted after falling well short of expectations with the Astros. In eight starts with the IronPigs, Appel went 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

In 291⅓ minor-league innings since being drafted first overall by Houston in 2013, Appel has posted a 5.04 ERA and allowed 30 more hits than innings pitched.

And so he'll have to wait until 2017 to get his career on track. Appel turns 25 in two weeks.

C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp was named an International League All-Star Wednesday, even if his numbers don't really jump out at you. He's hit .258/.327/.402 with 18 extra-base hits in 254 plate appearances. He's also in another mini-skid, going 4 for 22 with 10 strikeouts over his last six games.

Knapp hasn't found his footing yet at Triple A. He'll need some more developmental time offensively and defensively. And the Phillies won't rush either of their young catchers to the majors with Cameron Rupp playing so well anyway.

OF Mickey Moniak (GCL)
Moniak made his rookie ball debut for the Gulf Coast League Phillies this week, going 1 for 7 with a walk, an RBI and two strikeouts in his first two games. He should get about 50 games in at rookie ball as his pro career begins.

Also with Moniak in the GCL right now are Cornelius Randolph, last year's first-round pick who is rehabbing a shoulder injury, and Jhailyn Ortiz, the 16-year-old Dominican power prospect the Phillies signed last summer. Ortiz went 2 for 4 with two doubles, four RBIs and three runs on Thursday.

SP Nick Pivetta (AA)
Pivetta left Wednesday's start after three innings with groin tightness and Reading manager Dusty Wathan told reporters he's day to day. Pivetta hopes to avoid missing a start because he's pitched so well lately, allowing just four runs in his last 28 innings.

Pivetta, the return from the Nationals in last summer's Jonathan Papelbon trade, has been a nice surprise at Double A this season, going 7-4 with a 3.31 ERA and 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. He struggled at that level last year, posting a 7.27 ERA in 10 starts at Double A Harrisburg and Reading.

Like Thompson, Pivetta's main pitch is his sinker.

SP Ben Lively (AAA)
The man is human. Lively suffered his first loss of the season on Monday, allowing a season-high five runs in six innings. He's 3-1 with a 3.11 ERA at Triple A and 10-1 with a 2.45 ERA overall in 16 starts this season.

Lively's command has been remarkable this season, as he's held the opposition to a .177 batting average, stifling lefties and righties alike despite rarely throwing harder than 90 mph. His strike-throwing ability could get him a look with the Phillies later this summer. Spots figure to open up for guys like Thompson and Lively if/when Jeremy Hellickson is traded and if the Phils decide to go to a six-man rotation later in the year to preserve the arms of Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Nola.