Two batters later, 22-year-old third baseman Cody Asche drove a pitch to leftfield for a double, which was followed by a monster homer to left by 21-year-old catcher Tommy Joseph. For an organization that is often deemed to be lacking young position players with serious upside, Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Yankees was a welcome sight.
While it is way too early to characterize the sequence as a vision of the future - it played out against a pitcher who last season topped out at high-Class A as a 22-year-old - we should at least note the fact that the trio of players involved play positions that are short on long-term answers. Anybody who has paid passing attention to the Phillies over the past few years is familiar with Brown's story, and with the fact that the big-league club has seen corner outfielders Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Hunter Pence leave over the last 5 years without finding a fixture in left or right. Joseph, a catcher with serious power, was acquired from San Francisco last July in the trade that jettisoned Pence and opened the door for Brown.
But it is Asche who is perhaps the most intriguing of the three, both because we know the least about him and because he plays a position that has vexed the Phillies ever since the Scott Rolen era came to a sour end. Since the start of the 2003 season, the team's third basemen have combined to hit the second-fewest home runs in the majors (120) while posting the second-lowest OPS (.694).
Asche, a fourth-round pick out of the University of Nebraska in 2011, burst onto the Phillies' radar last season when he tore up the Florida State League for high-Class A Clearwater, hitting .349 with a .378 on-base percentage and .447 slugging percentage in 62 games. The performance earned him a promotion to Double A Reading, where his on-base numbers held steady while his power numbers spiked. After hitting just two home runs and 18 total extra-base hits in 270 plate appearances in Clearwater, Asche tallied 10 home runs and 33 extra-base hits in 289 plate appearances in Reading.
"I like Asche," manager Charlie Manuel said after Tuesday's game. "He looks good. He's got a quick bat. Also, I see a kid that likes to play. He's got a lot of determination."
In fact, when you talk to Asche and watch him go about his business, you can't help but compare his demeanor to Chase Utley's. Over the summer, his manager at Double A Reading, Dusty Wathan, summed up the lefthanded-hitting Asche by saying, "He's a ballplayer." And while that may sound trite, it fits.
"It's a great opportunity to be out here," Asche said. "You want to come down here and leave a good impression so if something happens at the top, you are in their mind and they will evaluate you for an opening."
Asche has as much to prove defensively as he does at the plate. After the Phillies drafted him, they tried to make him a second baseman, and he played that position for all 64 games at Williamsport in 2011. Last year, they moved him back to his natural position, and that is where they are using him this spring. He committed an error in his first Grapefruit League game, but Tuesday made three solid plays on balls that were more than routine.
For the past 5 years, the Phillies have seen excellent defensive play from the hot corner, with the strong-armed Pedro Feliz manning the position for two seasons and Gold Glover Placido Polanco anchoring the spot in between injuries from 2010-12. This year, the Phillies traded for 36-year-old Michael Young, who has not played the position regularly since 2010. Young will be a free agent after the season, and, like this past offseason, the free-agent crop is projected to be woefully thin.
There is a reason the Phillies invited Asche to spring training less than 2 years after they drafted him. Along with Brown and Joseph, he gives the organization reason to hope.site
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