The Philadelphia Phillies could have some interesting position battles come spring training, with a few previous starters scrambling for playing time.
One such player, Cody Asche is an interesting case where Phillies fans are concerned. Most seem to have a dispassionate feeling toward him. He’s not the favorite player of many fans. For instance, you rarely see his name and #25 jerseys or shirseys being worn around Citizens Bank Park. And yet you don’t see anyone actually hating on the guy either.
I myself don’t really have anything against him as a player. He’s always seemed like a nice guy on Twitter, regularly retweeting anything someone asks him to promote, and frequently interacting with fans when asked.
There are factions of the fan base that have really, really wanted to turn him into Chase Utley Lite, but that just isn’t going to happen. Asche simply doesn’t have the same level of power or the same patience that Utley possessed. It also seems like the team isn’t sure what to do with him either.
Last year, with top prospect Maikel Franco needing “more seasoning” (read: more days not accumulating major league service time) to start the season, someone had to play the hot corner, and Asche was still the incumbent. He had never done anything bad (.247/.307/.390 in 613 plate appearances in 2013-14), but also had never produced numbers that fit the offensive profile of a top third baseman.
Once Franco arrived, it was obvious that Asche needed somewhere else to go. So, the team decided on a position change. In the middle of the season. To the outfield. For someone who had never played a professional inning in the outfield. Needless to say, the experiment didn’t go as hoped.
Having to learn the new position and all of the accompanying nuances appeared to weigh heavily on Asche, certainly contributing to his poor .245/.294/.395 slash line performance in 2015.
Asche wasn’t very good defensively in the outfield either, with all metrics rating him as a below average left fielder. His offensive game was an even worse fit at a position usually counted on for offensive production.
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Blame for that really shouldn’t fall on him. It was a lack of foresight from the front office that caused him to have to shift in the first place. If they knew Franco was coming, Asche should have been taking reps in the outfield from the first day of spring training – but I digress. The goal now is to see how, or if, Asche can remain on the team in 2016 now that the outfield suddenly is full of competent defenders.
Cracking the Opening Day roster probably won’t be difficult for the now 25-year old. There are at least three players guaranteed significant playing time in the outfield during this coming season in Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos, and Aaron Altherr.
Adding Tyler Goeddel in the Rule 5 draft didn’t help Asche’s case to even become the fourth outfielder. The Phillies need to keep Goeddel on the big league roster all season, or risk losing him back to Tampa Bay. With Goeddel’s talent, and the fact that 2016 is still a “what do we have” type season for the Phils, his chances of sticking are quite good.
That means, barring injury, Asche will be in for a legitimate fight for playing time this season in either the infield or outfield. Playing the numbers game, Asche looks to be the 13th man out of 13 possible offensive positions (assuming Mackanin goes with twelve pitchers), yet his inability to play either shortstop or center field limits his versatility. So what can he do to stay productive?
If Asche is to stay in Philadelphia, his best option would be to become the second coming of Greg Dobbs. Dobbs had four very useful seasons in Philadelphia, becoming Charlie Manuel‘s best pinch-hitting option late in games for a World Series champion. Dobbs hit .261/.310/.421 in 943 plate appearances with the team, and hit .239 as a pinch hitter with seven home runs and 42 RBI during his years here.
Asche’s best advantage over Andres Blanco and Darin Ruf comes from the fact he hits from the left side. Coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter late in games, he’d be able to face top right-handed relief men in the division such as Jonathan Papelbon, Jeurys Familia and A.J. Ramos. For his career, he’s only a .185/.241/.444 hitter as a pinch hitter, but does have two home runs.
He could use spring training to learn to play new positions, such as 2nd base in particular, in order to make him a more versatile player. This would allow him to become a more reasonable choice in the case of a double switch.
Players often talk about having well-defined roles, and the comfort provided in knowing what they are going to be doing, when they are likely to be called upon. If Asche is led to believe that he will be the team’s top pinch-hitting option, he can prepare himself throughout the season to do such a job.
One such way would be in seeking advice from players like Dobbs, or someone such as Greg Gross, himself a former pinch-hitting ace and hitting coach. Picking their brains on how to be a better pinch-hitter could only help Asche remain on the big league roster.
Of course, Asche still has things to clean up if he wants to become an ace pinch hitter to the level of Gross, or even Dobbs. He has a penchant for chasing pitches out of the zone, which according to Pitchf/x, saw him do so at a 33.4% clip, up from 30.6% in 2014. If a player only gets one crack at hitting in most games, he might want to make the best of it, ensuring that they are going after pitches within the strike zone.
Doing these things could lead to Asche keeping a role on the team. It could also lead to another club taking notice, just in case that club’s 3rd baseman goes down with an injury. Perhaps then, Asche can be traded to a team, and get a second chance at being a starter that he will probably never again receive here in Philly. Here’s hoping he’s willing to accept the challenge.