Phillies Call-Up : Tommy Joseph
By Jason Slater
The Philadelphia Phillies called up a young 1st base prospect more than a month ago, and after a hot start he has cooled down considerably.
Each week here at TBOH, I take a look at a Phillies prospect who has recently been promoted to the big leagues.
I take an in-depth look as to who they are and where they come from, looking inside the numbers. I also examine how they may be utilized by the Phils in the future.
This week’s featured Phillies call up is actually their most seasoned rookie at this point, first baseman Tommy Joseph.
Since this series didn’t start until well after ToJo’s promotion back in May, why not have a look at his performance over close to two months thus far.
Tommy was called up to the big league club and asked to start at first base on May 13, going 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in his debut.
He would pick up his first ML hit the next night against the Marlins, and homer for the first time the game after, going 3-for-4 and taking Wei-Yin Chen deep in the 2nd inning.
It’s been a series of peaks and valleys for Joseph over his entire professional career. To truly appreciate the 24-year old, one has to go back to the beginning.
Joseph was drafted as a catcher out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Arizona by the San Francisco Giants in the 2nd round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft.
The 2010 campaign saw Joseph displaying some early power for Augusta (A) of the South Atlantic League. His power was especially promising for a catcher, whacking 16 homers and driving in 68, while slashing a disappointing .236/.290/.401 and striking out 100+ times.
He had an excellent year in 2011, with San Jose of the advanced-A California League, smashing 22 home runs to go along with 95 RBI. He also produced 33 doubles and scored 80 runs over 127 games. A respectable .270/.317/.471 slash line showed promise of things to come.
2012 saw Joseph traded at midseason to the Fightins along with Nate Schierholtz and Seth Rosin in the Hunter Pence deal, a sure sign Philadelphia was entering a rebuilding phase.
Splitting time between both the Giants and Phillies AA affiliates at Richmond and Reading, both of the Eastern League, Joseph had an up and down year. He finished with only 11 HR and 48 RBI, with a notably average .257/.317/.399 slash line.
2013 was the beginning of what would prove to be a series of injury plagued seasons and multiple concussions for Joseph. He saw time in rookie ball, A-ball, AA, and his first appearance at AAA, where in 21 games he batted a paltry .209/.264/.358 with three homers and 14 RBI for the IronPigs.
Joseph was off to good start in 2014 for AA Reading, clubbing five homers, driving in 19, and slashing an excellent .282/.345/.551, only to be robbed of another season due to concussion issues.
Last year saw Joseph make the switch to first base. He produced a white-hot 13 game rehab strip of games in rookie ball, slashing an insane .485/.585/848 (1.434 OPS !).
However, there was also an abysmal 45-game stretch where he struck out 33 times, walked only three times, had only three home runs. His .193/.220/.301 line made him an expendable asset when the off-season arrived.
“The Scorpion” was actually waived off the 40-man roster by the Phillies back in October, and could have been a Rule 5 pick, but every other club passed.
He was invited to Philadelphia’s minor league spring training at Clearwater, hit well, and was assigned back to AAA Lehigh Valley.
There in 27 games before being called up to the majors, Joseph ripped the cover off the ball. He slashed a nasty .347/.370/.611 and clubbed six home runs while driving in 17 runs in exactly 100 plate appearances.
Tommy had a fairly hot start with the Phillies after being promoted, smashing seven homers in his first 21 games, something no Phillie had ever achieved. Through those first 21 games, he was 21-for-65, with a .333 on-base percentage, and with a .677 slugging percentage.
It was at this time, with Ryan Howard struggling mightily, that he earned the starting nod from manage Pete Mackanin.
“I talked to Ryan (Howard) today and told him, I’ve got to go with Tommy Joseph right now. I can’t sit (him). I can’t justify not playing the guy”, said the Phils skipper per CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury after talking with both of the sluggers.
That very night, June 10, Joseph would produce what arguably would be his best game in red pinstripes to this point, nailing a pair of two-run homers in Washington, one in the 3rd off Stephen Strasburg, and one in the 8th off tough lefty Felipe Rivero.
Joseph went on a hot streak from June 2 through 10, going 11-for-24 over a stretch of games against Milwaukee, Chicago and D.C..
Baseball is game of ebb and flow, and Joseph’s current 1-for-20 cold streak is evidence of this. He’s seen his .243 batting average drop to a Mendoza-line threatening .215, and his OPS has dipped from a promising .745, almost 100 points down to .657.
In 141 plate appearances this season, Joseph has struck out 37 times, and walked only three times in nearly two months, so there are currently a lot of holes in Tommy’s offensive approach that he still has to work out, but the big league power can’t be ignored.
His overall glove work at first base has been an upgrade over Howard’s, with Joseph committing only three errors in 262 chances, good for a .989 fielding percentage.
With Howard slashing an utterly pathetic .151/.213/.344 as of July 4th, Joseph has been given the time and the plate appearances to work through his rookie growing pains. But Howard has been given a few more appearances against righties of late than he had been seeing prior to Joseph’s recent struggles.
Who knows what the future may hold for Joseph? He appears to be more of a stopgap than a stud at this point. He turns 25 years old on the 16th of this month, and the Fightins have the benefit of observing Joseph entering into what is normally considered a player’s prime.
Whether he ends up sticking at first with the Phillies remains to be seen, he’s a temporary alternative to the Phillies’ continuing woes with ‘The Big Piece’. There remains a very real chance that Howard is dealt this month before the trade deadline, which would likely make Joseph the full-time starter against all pitching.
He was recently quoted as saying, “This is what I wanted, an opportunity to play in the big leagues. I’m enjoying my time. I’ve come up through the minor leagues with a lot of these guys and to get the opportunity to play with them in the big leagues..I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
I’d have to say, by the early reactions from Philly crowds, that the fans have certainly enjoyed having Tommy as well. He’s fast becoming a crowd favorite at Citizens’ Bank Park .
If Joseph can snap out of this latest slump and start to put some more consistent at-bats together after the All-Star break, utilizing his raw power as in the past, then Tommy might just find himself donning red pinstripes as a starter beyond this season.