David Murphy: Team Tuffy has plenty of fans

Tuffy Gosewisch, who appears headed for Opening Day at Triple A, can count Roy Halladay among his many fans.
Tuffy Gosewisch, who appears headed for Opening Day at Triple A, can count Roy Halladay among his many fans. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 05, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Turns out, everybody is rooting for Tuffy Gosewisch. Colin Curtis, a non-roster invitee in Yankees camp? Team Tuffy. Roy Halladay, a two-time Cy Young winner? Team Tuffy. And if you believe that a catcher's value cannot be measured by batting lines and stolen base percentages, then you will end up on Team Tuffy, too.

"Honestly, I would take him any day of the week," Halladay said. "I really would."

You might know the name. Born James Benjamin Gosewisch, his parents decided on a more appropriate moniker during a toddler-hood in which he rained destruction upon everything he touched. For the past 5 years, he has been more Lenten resolution than catching prospect, appearing on the Phillies' roster in February and lingering until sometime in March. He has never appeared in an All-Star Futures Game like fellow minor league back-stop Sebastian Valle. He has never been involved in a blockbuster trade like former prospects Lou Marson and Travis D'Arnaud.

But there is a reason Gosewisch was behind the plate yesterday for Halladay's Grapefruit League debut. There is a reason he is an active participant in bullpen sessions throughout the spring. There is a reason that, after 3 straight years at Double A Reading, he finally appears headed for an Opening Day at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

And if you think Gosewisch is resigned to life as an organizational catcher and future coach, well, you haven't talked to him.

"I don't want to be pigeon-holed in that role," Gosewisch said. "I want to play every day in the big leagues for a long time. Whatever path I take to get there, it's not going to be a straight one. I just come to the park every day and work as hard as I can and take advantage of the opportunity when I get it. I don't know when it's going to be. Obviously, I would have hoped it was sooner. But it is what it is. And when I get the opportunity, I want to be prepared."

The climb can seem torturous. At Horizon High in Scottsdale, Ariz., Gosewisch starred for one of the top programs in the country. He then moved on to Arizona State, where he became the second catcher in school history to start three seasons, sharing a lineup with stars like Andre Ethier and Dustin Pedroia. In 2005, he was named MVP of a Sun Devils team that reached the College World Series while featuring future major leaguers Travis Buck, Jeff Larish and Curtis.

But at 28 years old, with 6-plus years of minor league service, Gosewisch has played just 16 games above Double A (he finished the 2009 season at Lehigh Valley).

"Ever since I've known him, he's been a commanding leader," said Curtis, who played in 31 games for the Yankees in 2010. "He's always been the hardest-working guy. I think everyone just kind of saw that and followed suit. I think that's kind of how it is still. I always see him around and see how hard he works. I'm always rooting for the guy."

At times, such reviews can feel like a curse. A minor league hitter is judged first and foremost by his bat. In 2006, Gosewisch played in 95 games for high-Class A Clearwater, working with young future major league starters like J.A. Happ (2.81 ERA in 13 games), Kyle Kendrick (3.53 ERA in 21 games) and Cole Hamels (1.77 ERA in four games). But the next season, the Phillies sent him to low-Class A Lakewood and replaced him with Marson, a 21-year-old who was thought to have more upside as a hitter. In 2010, Gosewisch set career highs in his second stint at Double A, hitting .241 with a .353 on-base percentage, .405 slugging percentage and nine home runs. Yet when Opening Day assignments came down last March, he found himself heading to Reading again.

It's times like last March when Gosewisch reminds himself of players like Carlos Ruiz, who did not reach the majors until he was 27, or fellow non-roster invitee Erik Kratz, who was 30 when he finally got the call.

"He's improved every year we've had him," said Mick Billmeyer, who was a minor league catcher before joining the Phillies and ultimately moving into his current role as bullpen coach.

After hitting 18 home runs in his first four seasons in the minors, Gosewisch has hit 22 in the last two. Most important, particularly for a catcher who has never hit better than .252, he has earned the respect of one of the game's consummate professionals.

"He's smart, he tries hard, he receives the ball well," Halladay said. "He's always in your ear. He wants information. He uses information. He's a pitcher's dream. He really is. You want to see a guy like that get a break, because he deserves it, and I think he'd do a hell of a job wherever he went.

"He reminds me a lot of Carlos. He's calling his game, but when you get out of the game, he sits down and wants to know everything, wants to talk about it, wants to learn about it, wants to get better. To me, he's a diamond in the rough, for sure."

Gosewisch is the kind of player who will have a job in baseball as long as he wants. Right now, though, there is only one thing that he wants. "More than anything," he said.

Read David Murphy's

blog, High Cheese at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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