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

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez elected to baseball's Hall of Fame

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez elected to baseball's Hall of Fame

NEW YORK -- Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Wednesday, earning the honor as Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero fell just short.

Steroids-tainted stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were passed over for the fifth straight year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. But they received a majority of votes for the first time and could be in position to gain election in coming years.

Bagwell , on the ballot for the seventh time after falling 15 votes short last year, received 381 of 442 votes for 86.2 percent. Players needed 75 percent, which came to 332 votes this year.

"Anxiety was very, very high," Bagwell said. "I wrote it on a ball tonight. It was kind of cool."

In his 10th and final year of eligibility, Raines was on 380 ballots (86 percent). Rodriguez received 336 votes (76 percent) to join Johnny Bench in 1989 as the only catchers elected on the first ballot.

Hoffman was five votes shy and Guerrero 15 short.

Edgar Martinez was next at 58.6 percent, followed by Clemens at 54.1 percent, Bonds at 53.8 percent, Mike Mussina at 51.8 percent, Curt Schilling at 45 percent, Lee Smith at 34.2 percent and Manny Ramirez at 23.8 percent.

Players will be inducted July 30 during ceremonies at Cooperstown along with former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, both elected last month by a veterans committee.

Bagwell was a four-time All-Star who spent his entire career with Houston, finishing with a .297 batting average, 401 homers and 1,401 RBIs.

Raines, fifth in career stolen bases, was a seven-time All-Star and the 1986 NL batting champion. He spent 13 of 23 big league seasons with the Montreal Expos, who left Canada to become the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season, and joins Andre Dawson and Gary Carter as the only players to enter the Hall representing the Expos.

Raines hit .294 with a .385 on-base percentage, playing during a time when Rickey Henderson was the sport's dominant speedster.

Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star who hit .296 with 311 homers and 1,332 RBIs, was never disciplined for PEDs but former Texas teammate Jose Canseco alleged in a 2005 book that he injected the catcher with steroids. Asked whether he was on the list of players who allegedly tested positive for steroids during baseball's 2003 survey, Rodriguez said in 2009: "Only God knows."

Bonds, a seven-time MVP who holds the season and career home run records, received 36.2 percent in his initial appearance, in 2013, and jumped from 44.3 percent last year. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, rose from 45.2 percent last year.

Bonds was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using PEDs, but a jury failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements and convicted him on one obstruction of justice count, finding he gave an evasive answer. The conviction was overturned appeal in 2015.

Clemens was acquitted on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury, all stemming from his denials of drug use.

A 12-time All-Star on the ballot for the first time, Ramirez was twice suspended for violating baseball's drug agreement. He helped the Boston Red Sox win World Series titles in 2004 and `07, the first for the franchise since 1918, and hit .312 with 555 home runs and 1,831 RBIs in 19 big league seasons.

Several notable players will join them in the competition for votes in upcoming years: Chipper Jones and Jim Thome in 2018, Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay in 2019, and Derek Jeter in 2020.

Lee Smith, who had 478 saves, got 34 percent in his final time on the ballot. Jorge Posada, Tim Wakefield and Magglio Ordonez were among the players who got under 5 percent and fell off future ballots.

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season.