Cody Asche has reached a career crisis point, at least in the original sense of the Greek word: a moment in need of a decision. Drafted in the fourth round out of college, he was never expected to become an all-star, but he showed the potential to be a league-average starter as he quickly rose through the Phillies farm system. From 2012-13, over about 1,000 plate appearances in the minor leagues, Asche produced about 35% above league average on offense, including an approximately .175 isolated power. His pedigree was not superlative and scouts continued to warn that Asche's bat would play down in the majors and his defense would be average at best. Nevertheless, without a doubt, his numbers looked good and he had earned a chance to garner the job that the Phillies have for so long struggled to fill adequately. As a result, he has now had more than a full year and about a season's worth of plate appearances in MLB to prove himself.
Disappointingly, albeit unsurprisingly, Asche has not yet established himself as the league-average starter we hoped for. In about 600 PAs, Asche has produced a bit below average offensively (92 wRC+, 94 OPS+). As he moved from MiLB pitching to MLB pitching, he has made less and worse contact. He has struck out in almost ¼ of his PAs and he is getting many fewer hits on balls in play than he was in the minors. Unless he can improve his ability to make contact and to make solid contact, his offensive production will probably stagnate at its current levels because he does not show much potential for power growth.
Despite this underwhelming offensive performance, Asche could still have been a league average 3B but for his poor defensive play. Both by the eye test and according to advanced defensive metrics, Ache has been bad at preventing runs. I at least was surprised to see that his hands seemed to be gilded with iron and his feet switched at birth. Playing the field in MLB is certainly a difficult task-much more difficult than the players make it seem-and Asche has not yet shown the athleticism or other resources to match himself to the difficulty.
Overall, Asche has spent a full season of MLB baseball as a replacement level player (0.2 rWAR, 0.4 fWAR). Entering his 25-year-old season in 2015, he is still young and might improve. Indeed, Steamer currently projects him to be about a league average player, combining league-average offense with league-average defense. But Steamer is heavily regressing his stats to MLB league average. We who have watched him play cannot be so optimistic, rightly or wrongly. And as Maikel Franco emerges from his development, Asche's opportunity to demonstrate that he can hold down a starting job on a competitive team shrinks quickly. Indeed, if Franco performs well in spring training, Asche probably will find himself coming off the bench. So, this offseason, spring training, and up-coming season should prove decisive for where Asche's career goes.
With so much riding on the year to come, I sat down with Asche for what could only be an exit interview as memorable as it is fake.
Of all the puns on your name which one has been your favorite so far?
That's a good question. There are just so many to choose from. I know which one is the worst: Asche-tray. Really? I hit a walk-off home run and the best you can do is compare me to a receptacle for spent butts? I know I "put the Marlins' lights out" but wouldn't that make me the cigarette smoker and not the ash-tray? Here's a better headline: Asche Homers, Phils Win. No puns but it makes sense. On the other hand, many of my favorites are listed here. And, then, of course, there's Cody Smasche, which isn't a pun so much as a pun as an alter ego.
Haha. Alter ego. Like Clark Kent and Superman.
Exactly like that. Yeah.
Yeah, right. Too bad we can't see Superman more often around here.
Well, Superman isn't real. But you might see Cody Smasche a bit more. I just hope when he comes out I can control him.
Ok. That last comment was a bit odd, but let's get going with the real interview. If I had traded you midseason, would the team have done better or worse?
Neither? I'd like to say that I helped us win some games, more games than we lost for sure. But with a low average and not many homers I can't imagine I would have brought back something that would have changed much at the MLB level. And who would have taken over 3B? Franco? Nix? Blanco? Cedeno? Galvis? Minnie-Mart's twin brother Micro-Mart? Those wouldn't have been upgrades and they wouldn't have been downgrades either, not enough to have much effect anyway. Face it: 3B is just vortex of suck right now.
If only the clubhouse were a less congenial, more angrifying place...
Hmmm. Okay, next question. All my options are open for next year. Should I trade you, release you, or keep you?
I guess, if you can tack me onto a bigger deal in order to draw out a better prospect, you should trade me. Otherwise, why give up a player who could be a cheap bench player or hold down 3B until Franco or someone else forces him out? I'm pretty sure the trade market for a replacement level 3B is something like $1.
Gah, this is depressing! Why are you making me judge myself like this? This can't be good for my delicate athlete's psyche. You know what? I'm starting to get ticked off. And you wouldn't like me when I'm ticked off.
Well, just calm down: we only have three more questions to go. Do you think you will be part of the next great Phillies team?
I've got a better chance than you do. For me it's gotta be a 50/50 chance and it's mostly out of my control. So, I don't think about it.
You know, if this were a drama like Scandal I would be sure that these questions were meant to communicate to me that I suck. However, I'm confident you're not smart enough to write questions with ulterior motives. You're probably just out of ideas and trying to crowdsource the offseason.
Oh, well then, I doubt you'll like these next two questions much. Overall, explain to me how your time with the Philadelphia Phillies has been the highlight of your life?
That's a pretty arrogant question. What's that nickname you have among the fans? Arrogantic? Proudface? Pompousiosity? Oh well, I can't remember, but it fits. Fortunately for you playing in MLB was a dream come true and I've loved playing with J-Roll, Utz, Hamels, Howard, and just about everyone else. If it weren't for them you'd have seen Cody Smasche more often in the clubhouse and then there wouldn't be any of him left to put on the field.
Aren't you kind of contradicting... oh, nevermind you'll just call me smug again. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being "entirely my fault," how do you rate on the its-all-my-fault-we're-in-this-freaking-mess-and-finished-in-last-place scale?
My fault? My fault! I've already admitted I'd like to play better but I didn't slam Cliff's elbow with a sledgehammer. I didn't rip a hole in AJ's lower abdomen. I didn't scare Dom so badly he started swinging the bat with the handle out. This is ridiculous. CODY SMASCHE!