Asche working to become Phillies' long-term answer at third base

Posted: January 18, 2013

PERHAPS NOT coincidentally, the winningest decade in Phillies history has coincided with the presence of three infielders who are arguably the best players at their respective positions in Phillies history.

Former MVP and four-time Gold Glove winner Jimmy Rollins has played more games at shortstop than any other Phillie. Former MVP and three-time All-Star Ryan Howard has hit 300 home runs in parts of nine seasons in red pinstripes. Five-time All-Star and unofficial team captain Chase Utley was on pace to be one of the most productive second baseman in baseball history before his knees betrayed him the last 2 years.

Rollins at shortstop, Howard at first base and Utley at second. A winning trio that's a third baseman shy of the perfect quartet.

If you brush aside the beginning of Scott Rolen's career - which did not end well in Philadelphia - third base has been the black hole in the infield. "What's on third" isn't just a line from the popular Abbott and Costello comedy routine. It's a question fans have found themselves asking as spring training nears and instability at the position continues.

There has been no shortage of short-term answers, from Pedro Feliz and Placido Polanco to David Bell, Abraham Nunez and Wes Helms. This year it's seven-time All-Star Michael Young, who came to the Phillies in a trade with the Texas Rangers last month. But Young isn't young - he turns 37 next October and is entering the final year of his contract.

The long-term answer the Phillies have been seeking for almost a quarter-century may have walked into the clubhouse on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. That would be Cody Asche, one of seven players the team has in town this week for its annual Prospect Education Program.

Asche, 22, (pronounced ASH-EE) hit .324 with an .849 OPS in his first full minor league season between Class A Clearwater and Double A Reading. He hit 12 home runs, 33 doubles and collected 72 RBI in 130 games, earning the label "third baseman of the future" in the process.

"I think that's what drives me more than anything, knowing that there are expectations," Asche said while standing at a locker stall that sat neatly between Howard's and Utley's. "I thrive from having these great expectations. I think that helps. When you're in the offseason and it's 10 degrees and you're in the middle of Missouri, you don't really want to go hit or work out; you want to lie around. So I think that kind of stuff helps drive you more than anything."

Asche, a fourth-round pick in 2011, is just 2 years removed from gearing up for the Big 12 baseball season at the University of Nebraska. He had played just 68 professional games in the minor leagues before last season.

So Asche likely won't be ticketed for Philadelphia until 2014 at the earliest. He won't even be in big-league camp next month.

But Asche does plan to catch up with Camp Clearwater's most famous alumni next month: Mike Schmidt will be at the Carpenter Complex for his annual stint as a roving hitting instructor.

"I learned that today, that's very exciting," Asche said. "Being around this place for a few days, Mike Schmidt is everywhere. He's a Hall of Famer. The best-case scenario, you are Mike Schmidt.

"Being in Reading, there's a [Schmidt] quote on the batting-cage wall about never being satisfied about your performance. What drove him was the pursuit of perfection. I used to read that quote everyday when I went in for my early work. That quote really sunk in with me. I love that quote."

Darin Ruf, who showed Schmidt-like power as Asche's teammate at Reading, also saw the quote. And while he was often the main attraction, Ruf had a firsthand view of Asche's own breakout season.

"I thought his approach and personality impressed me the most - he's pretty even-keeled like myself," said Ruf, who also played against Asche as a senior at Creighton. "From the few times I played him in college, I remember how he played hard all the time no matter the score, and that's the way he still plays it."

After making the jump from Clearwater to Reading, Asche hit .300 with 10 home runs in 68 games. At the prospect level where some prospects are stopped, Asche kept on hitting.

"I think it was a credit to all of the coaches we have throughout the organization, whether it be 'Hendu' [Steve Henderson], John Mizerock, our hitting coach in High A, [Chris] Truby and Dusty [Wathan], our managers, and Doug Mansolino, our infield guy. All of those guys, I felt like they really had an interest in me and really cared about my progression," Asche said.

"They really cared about how I performed. And I think that's really important for younger players. I was new to professional baseball, that was my first full season. So I think that was important, to feel that they cared about you progressing as a player. They were always there with open minds, always ready to help me work."

Asche still has to get to Triple A before he can officially call Citizens Bank Park home.

But after a productive 2012 season, he is at least on the path to possibly solving the 2 decadelong search for a regular third baseman in Philadelphia.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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