Asche, Franco may battle for third base in 2014

Cody Asche showed promise with the Phillies before wilting in the final weeks after a long season split between the minors and majors.
Cody Asche showed promise with the Phillies before wilting in the final weeks after a long season split between the minors and majors. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer.)
Posted: October 20, 2013

As the longest season of his career sputtered to a painful conclusion, Cody Asche sought Ruben Amaro Jr. for advice. The 23-year-old Phillies third baseman asked his general manager for an offseason plan - whether he should be learning another position or playing winter ball somewhere.

"I don't know that playing more would be beneficial," Amaro told him.

Asche totaled 625 plate appearances between the majors and minors just two seasons after his professional debut resulted in a .192 batting average at single-A Williamsport. The Phillies watched the rookie wilt in the season's final two weeks. He was batting .271 with a .795 OPS on Sept. 15 but finished at a .235 average and .691 OPS.

Manager Ryne Sandberg called Asche the "leading candidate" to start at third in 2014. Amaro was not as absolute, saying, "I won't anoint Cody Asche as the third baseman, but he is a viable option."

For once, the Phillies have two young and homegrown players to compete for a position in the field. It is a satisfying problem.

"I frankly hope there is a great competition in spring training between Maikel Franco and Cody," Amaro said as the season concluded. "That can create a heck of a situation for us. They're both very, very good young players. A lot of it depends on how they handle it. Cody has handled himself pretty well. He's a little tired right now, mentally and physically. He is an absolute viable option. Whether Maikel is or not, we'll see what we have in spring training with him."

One National League scout said Franco, 21, was the best position player he saw in the minors this season. Others are less effusive in their praise but optimistic about Franco's ability translating to the major-league level. Some are divided on whether he can remain at third base. His foot speed grades among the slowest possible, but his hands and throwing arm are considered capable enough for the position.

The Phillies asked Franco to play eight games at first base for double-A Reading to end the season. That sounded alarms among the scouting community, which would value Franco far less if his future is at first - a more replaceable position.

Phillies officials claimed it was in the name of "flexibility," which raises questions about how much leeway Ryan Howard will have in 2014. First base is theoretically his for the final three years of his $125 million contract.

Asche said he welcomed the idea of a competition. He admitted to tiring at the end of 2013.

"I'm not ever one to try to make an excuse for myself," Asche said. "Whether you want to admit it or not, baseball will do this to you. It happens to the best of them. It's something you have to learn from. It's character-building."

More than one scout and Phillies official have compared Asche's demeanor with Chase Utley's. The two experienced similar beginnings to their careers. Asche batted .235 with a .691 OPS in 179 plate appearances. In 2003, Utley hit .239 with a .696 OPS over his first 152 plate appearances.

Utley did not become an everyday player until 2005. Asche is hoping for to get there faster.

"Not many guys get this opportunity to play every day and learn on the fly," Asche said. "I consider myself lucky to have that opportunity. I've learned a lot from it and it will help me moving forward in my career."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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