When the Phillies traded for Tommy Joseph, the expectation was that he would be the heir apparent to Carlos Ruiz, not as it turns out, Ryan Howard.
A few days ago, Carlos Ruiz caught his 1,000th game as a backstop. Tommy Joseph, the one-time heir apparent to Ruiz’s throne, hit his first major league home run, that’s right, in the same game. Funny how those things happen sometimes. And while Joseph will never catch 1,000 games for the Phillies (in fact he may never catch again period) that doesn’t mean that the power-hitting now first baseman, doesn’t factor into the team’s long-term plans. Because with Ryan Howard‘s contract nearing its end and the Darin Ruf experiment seeming to be over as well, the team needs someone at first. Joseph very well could be that guy.
As most probably recall, Joseph came to the Phillies as part of the ill-fated Hunter Pence trade in the summer of 2012. The Phillies, desperate to rebuild in the midst of their first non-winning season since 2002, shipped Pence and cash considerations to a contending Giants in return for Joseph, MLB-fringe OF Nate Schierholtz and right handed pitching prospect, Seth Rosin.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) May 18, 2016
Well, like so many of the Phillies’ trades under the Ruben Amaro era, this one failed to net results. Schierholtz played just 37 games for the big league club, hitting .273 with five extra base hits. Rosin, who pitched in just one game for the Phillies and thus far just four in his major league career, just didn’t quite find traction out of the bullpen. And then there was Joseph, the centerpiece of the trade. Hopes were high for the then-20 year old catcher, who scouts had observed to be improving each year in the minors. But unfortunately for the Phillies, Joseph never quite put together a full season as his offensive timing was hampered by injuries, a series of which were concussions, which put his future as a catcher in serious doubt.
Refusing to give up on Joseph entirely, the Phillies organization made the best move they could, both for their future and for that of their young star, by converting him into a full-time first baseman during the 2015 season. Prior to then, Joseph had only played the position sparingly. The transition seemed to go smoothly and with the new role and Joseph’s health back to 100 percent, the player the Phillies brought here because of his power-swinging right handed bat, was finally doing just that. Of course, there was still his plate discipline, which needed work, but overall the Phillies had every reason to like what they saw.
Have a game, Tommy Joseph. HR, 3 hits, diving stop to end the game. Remarkably calm demeanor at the plate for a guy in 1st week in the bigs
— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) May 18, 2016
Heading into 2016, Joseph, at 24, was really at that point where it was going to be make or break. The Phillies needed to see what they had in their new first base prospect and if whatever that was would translate to the major league level. So, after lighting the International League one fire with a clip of .347/.370/.611, six home runs, 17 RBI and 11 runs scored, Joseph got his call-up. And so far, he’s done well with the opportunity, collecting four hits in 10 at-bats and like I previously mentioned, his first MLB home run just the other day. Oh and not to mention, Pete Mackanin trusted his bat enough to bat him clean-up in that same game, making him just the second Phillie in the last 59 years to be put in such a position in their first week of major league games. And Joseph didn’t disappoint, getting three hits including the one that just cleared the foul pole into the stands.
Howard’s contract expires in 2017 and with a .158 average this year and career clip of just .238, it’s not as if the 29-year-old Ruf is the long-term solution either.
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But Joseph, he can be. He’ll be 25 in July, still a few years shy of that prime period for a baseball player, so he’ll only get better. Plate discipline right now is going to be key as that is something that Joseph has struggled without throughout his minor league career. That and remaining healthy. If he can put those two things together and if he can get the consistent at-bats, something his injuries have really not allowed him to do, Joseph has all of the tools to profile as a better than average first baseman.
So as it turns out, while the Phillies may not have gotten their catcher of the future in that trade, they very well may be looking at something just as good in the form of Howard’s long-term replacement.