Since he broke onto the scene as a top prospect in the Phillies org a year ago, Cody Asche has been drawing comparison to current Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. On some level it makes sense, they are both white, both infielders, both left-handed, both have been praised for their work ethic. Marcus Hayes of the Daily News Sports decided to take this one step further.
Philly.com ran the article with the title "Cody Asche could be new Chase Utley", which is pretty bad, the actual title though was "Eventually, Asche should be a leader for Phillies". The title is bad, but the article is even worse.
EVERY GOOD team has a Cody Asche.
Every good team has an unproven prospect trying to win a job out of spring training and profiles as a good but not great player. Cardinals - Kolten Wong, Reds - Billy Hamilton, Red Sox - Jackie Bradley Jr., Mariners - Brad Miller, and I am out of guys, not to mention I would take all 4 of those guys over Asche, but moving on.
The Phillies have been a pretty good team for a pretty long time. No team in history has more losses, but the current Phillies epoch has only two losing seasons in its last 13. That was last season, and it was the result of $40 million of the payroll - Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard - idling on the disabled list.
Schmenkman reached out with some good stats on this and a plea for Hayes to look to sanity:
They also have the 9th most wins in MLB history. Teams with similar franchise W-L%'s (within 5 points): Mets, Brewers, Rangers, Orioles, Rockies, and Marlins. Teams more than 5 points worse: Mariners, Padres, Rays. And while they had a 30-year period (1919-48) with an incomprehensible .371 W-L% (i.e. like going 60-102 every year for 30 years), in the other 101 years of their history they have a winning record. And over the last 40 years (the entire lifetime of a good portion of Mr. Hayes' readers), only 7 of the other 29 teams have a better record. So please - stop perpetuating the hackneyed "losingest team" bit that gives every negadelphian an excuse to wallow in self pity. Ancient history.
Why the long run of relevance? Talent, to be sure, along with two fine managers and some brilliant front-office decisions.
Phillies win totals the last 13 seasons 86, 80, 86, 86, 88, 85, 89, 92, 93, 97, 102, 81, 73. That is a long run of also ran followed by a peak and then crash and burn. I am glad someone figured out that the 2013 Phillies purely failed because two guys who were already hurt were hurt, not the rest of the poor roster construction including aging players and gaping holes in RF and at 3B. As for the relevance, the managers and the front office deserve some credit, but talent is the reason, it is almost 100% of the reason they have been good.
Perhaps just as important, since 2001 the Phillies have had a homegrown sheriff in the clubhouse, a template of professionalism and performance; a Derek Jeter, or a Chipper Jones.
The Phillies figure Cody Asche will become their next sheriff.
In 2001 and 2002, it was Scott Rolen.
I don't know about any sheriffs in baseball other than Brian McCann. Hayes mentions performance here and then lists off 2 Hall of Famers and a player who should be in the Hall of Fame, and then throws in Cody Asche. Now that we have established that Asche is a borderline Hall of Famer we can move on to bigger and better things.
Rolen groomed Pat Burrell. Granted, Burrell's legacy in Philadelphia might feature nightlife notoriety, injury, surliness and strikeouts, but Burrell constantly was at the ballpark 6 hours before game time, repairing his body and preparing his mind.
So it doesn't matter what you do outside the game as long as you as you show up early and work hard.
Burrell groomed Chase Utley, perhaps the most popular athlete in the city's history. Utley is no stranger to the night, and he is no friendly franchise ambassador. But Utley earned unmatched respect the past decade with displays of effort that, given his recent injury issues, border on heroic; Utley is 35, but his hips and knees might be closer to 50.
Reread this paragraph and tell me the conclusion isn't that Chase Utley is Batman.
Also why are these all white hitters, what happened to Rollins's leadership,Howard's public persona, Halladay's icy glare of death, and Victorino's energy?
Which brings the Phillies to Asche. Drafted in the 4th round out of Nebraska in 2011, Asche had just 302 minor league games when the Phillies promoted him to the majors in late July. He has not spent a full season at any level. An excellent athlete and a defensive stud, Asche, like every hitter, needed more seasoning at the plate.
Now we move from tales of the past to just pure lies. Asche is a fine enough athlete to handle major league baseball, but excellent seems a bit strong there. Now the real problem here is the defensive stud label. After watching Michael Young play third base, a poll in the ground is a defensive stud. As recently as last year, scouts and evaluators were questioning whether Asche even profiled defensively at third base -- he lacks the quick feet and footwork you would like and the arm is more average. Overall Asche has done an incredible job to turn himself into an average defender at third base. There really is no need to sensationalize, in the end you trivialize the player because you don't acknowledge who they are, only who you want them to be.
But Utley and his Clint Eastwood demeanor might have been moving on. He could have become a free agent. It was important to let Asche witness what Utley was all about.
Yep the Phillies kept Utley around because of Cody Asche, at no point did it cross their minds that it was good for the team's image or that despite only playing 131 games he was the 6th best second baseman in baseball last year.
Utley signed a 2-year extension with vesting options that, if he remains healthy, could make him a Phillie through 2018, so the sheriff isn't going anywhere.
That doesn't mean he can't use a deputy.
Two things here, I really hope that Asche gets deputy's badge to wear around Spring Training. Also why isn't this a TV show, you could cast Maikel Franco as the young hot shot who calls out the sheriff, the young deputy then takes the sheriff's place, and you have Asche and Franco with pistols at High Noon.
"Comparisons are comparisons," Asche said. "If you want to be compared to someone, he's probably a good guy to be compared to, because he's a great player, great person, hard worker. The guy means business. He's the definition of a professional."
Seriously did you expect Asche to say anything else.
The similarities are eerie.
Be afraid, very afraid
Both seem more hewn than grown; wiry muscle blending into angular bone; 6-1 frames carrying about 200 pounds, topped by brownish, thick hair. Both have short, violent, lefthanded swings, which are designed to make balls scream into the alleys but can make balls travel 400 feet.
Maybe not, so Asche is going to be Utley because he looks like Utley, this makes so much sense now.
As for the swings, I like Asche's swing, it is quick and it can spray line drives across the field. From 2005 to 2009 Chase Utley averaged 29 home runs a season. Asche has some power but it would be surprising if he ever topped 20 HRs in a major league season.
As for Utley's swing, it was violent, and he got to the ball like a lightning strike. Go watch Utley highlights during his prime, it is the definition of bat speed and quick to the ball. It might be the most brutally efficient swing in baseball.
Like Utley, Asche accepted a position switch in the minor leagues for the good of the franchise. Utley moved from second to third base in case he needed to replace Rolen; Asche, from third to second, in case he needed to replace Utley. Neither managed the switch.
Asche played second base in Williamsport in 2011, it was an unmitigated disaster in the field and at the plate. When drafted teams doubted Asche's ability to stay at third base and many scouts thought he was best suited to be moved behind the plate to catcher. Given the Phillies drafted a college third baseman in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, they gave Asche a try at second base. He made the switch back to third that fall and impressed so much with his improvement in the field and at the plate in spring that the Phillies sent him to Clearwater to start the year. Given the success the Phillies have not thought about altering his defensive position.
Asche's locker sits next to Utley's, but, just as significantly, it's next to Ryan Howard's, too. Howard is the sort of superstar, with the Subway commercials and perennial MVP consideration, who can show Asche how to do what Utley has failed to do: to be The Man every day, not just when the whim suits him. Utley never would have agreed to the 10 days of glad-handing that Asche just experienced as the centerpiece of the team's annual minor league winter caravan.
Just an aside here, in 2008 Ryan Howard finished 2nd in the MVP voting and Chase Utley finished 14th. Howard hit .251/.339/.543 and Utley hit .292/.380/.535. Utley was just barely edged in WAR by Albert Pujols 9.2 to 9.0, Howard was less valuable than Brad Lidge who finished 8th in the voting and came in with a whopping 1.7 WAR. Howard was a perennial MVP candidate, because MVP voters are dumb.
The assumption of this paragraph is that at some point Asche will be the face of the franchise, this seems almost as premature as assuming he is going to be the next Hall of Fame bound leader of the Phillies.
But never mind all of that, Hayes sticks an underhanded jab at Utley here. After saying it is all about professionalism, hard work, and performance he says it is also now about being a marketable figure. At no point does it cross Hayes mind that Asche headlined the minor league tour because he was the last person on the Phillies major league roster to have gone through the minor leagues.
Of course, Utley has never come into camp fat, or out of shape, or distracted by contract issues.
Neither did Rolen (he had issues but was not distracted).
Neither did Ryne Sandberg, nor Larry Bowa.
In fact, Sandberg and Bowa might shape Asche as much as Utley.
Asche should flourish under a manager such as Sandberg, who, as a player, complemented breathtaking talent with a paranoic work ethic. So did Rolen, and Burrell, then Utley; all, at some point, under Bowa, as a manager.
We start by taking jabs at the rest of the members of the team, now we strip all of the impetus for improvement away from the player and give it to the manager, there was no Utley or Rollins or Rolen or Burrell before they met Larry. The truth is a manager can only do so much, the player needs to have a good work ethic to succeed as well. And yes all of those guys had it. But they had something more than Asche, immense talent. Don't get me wrong Asche is probably one of the Top 30 third basemen actively playing baseball right now, but he is not in the league of any of those names, other than perhaps Bowa, in terms of raw talent. You can work as hard as you want, but you still need to physically be able to handle facing the best baseball players on the planet every night.
Sandberg bravely has hired Bowa as bench coach. Bowa was an All-Star and Gold Glove shortstop, then a coach, then the manager of the Phillies, and that managerial stint re-established a culture of winning. If his interpersonal skills matched his baseball genius, Bowa would have more than that single manager of the year award he won in 2001 with the Phils; he probably would have a pennant or two, and he would probably have a manager's job.
A good manager is worth maybe a win or two on the field. Talent wins. For more on Sandberg's bravery read this.
But this, too, is to Asche's benefit. Bowa played with Mike Schmidt to his right. When Bowa finishes with Asche, there won't be a third baseman with better fundamentals than Asche, who will be an eager pupil.
That really isn't Asche's problem, but ok. I know that Bowa is known for his infield defense, but the fact that he played next to Schmidt nearly 30 years ago is just trying to slip a Hall of Fame third baseman into a discussion about what should be the Phillies new third baseman, it is a slippery slope that ends up with bad comps.
For 2 months last season, Asche absorbed every morsel of knowledge that shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Utley offered.
"There's a lot of little things that happen in-game that they're so smart about. It blows you away," Asche said. "You have to be on the field to know what's going on. Positioning; when to pick off; when the pitcher needs to use the slide step; stuff like that. In-game knowledge they have so much of, you can't equate it to anything else."
The depth of his own ignorance shocked Asche.
"It worried me," Asche said. "I thought I was pretty smart, and then I see these guys. It blew me away."
I think Asche comes across very well as a hard worker, but you are projecting a lot on this kid to magically become an elite defender like his two fellow infielders. I think Asche is going to get better in the field, but so is any other minor leaguer who comes up.
Rest assured, Asche will study. Like Utley, he is not one for diversification.
Rolen turned down Division I basketball scholarships to play baseball. Burrell and Sandberg could have been college quarterbacks.
Asche dabbled in football until he hit high school, but he quit after his freshman season. He might be the world's biggest Cornhuskers football supporter. He drove 6 hours to Lincoln to see Nebraska football games this offseason, and he's the one Philadelphia resident still enamored of Eagles kicker (and former Husker) Alex Henery.
I don't see how any of this is relevant unless we want to take jabs at Domonic for being a Cowboy's fan.
Asche does not even watch basketball.
Asche, who is from Missouri, appreciates the speed and violence of hockey. His favorite player with the Blues was beefy enforcer Tony Twist.
You get the feeling that Asche, like Utley, might be a good guy in a bar fight.
Now we are really reaching for straws, unless I missed where bar fights scored you runs. Do you get points for concussions, or is that only in the NFL?
Whatever captures Asche's fancy, he gives his full attention.
Sometimes, he gives it too much attention.
What is it, is he paying too much attention to baseball, but I thought you said he didn't diversify. What can he do to please you?
Asche found himself exhausted after 6 weeks in the big leagues. He had never played into September; never played this hard; never faced pitchers who had seen him on tape, analyzed his weaknesses and attacked him with a pitch-by-pitch plan.
Welcome to the big leagues kid. In all seriousness, this is why minor league stats don't translate to the majors. Once you get the to the big leagues, other teams will find your weakness and exploit it until you adjust or you are out of baseball. In the minor leagues the main goal is to make each individual player better, winning the game is very low on the importance list. Winning is nice in the minors because it can help reinforce good habits and build confidence, but it is no where near the main goal of the game.
Asche hit .271 with five homers, seven doubles and a triple and drove in 20 runs in his first 38 games. Then, in the last 2 weeks of September, he hit .091 - 3-for-33 - with only one extra-base hit; a double.
Usually a batting-cage rat who spent more time at the ballpark than the security guards, Asche could not pry himself out of bed before the last possible minute.
"The main thing I learned last season is, when the going is tough you stick to your roots," Asche said. "No matter how hard it is to get up at the same time and get to the field at the same time, you've got to do it, and you've got to love it."
Baseball is hard, I can't really argue with numbers and Asche quotes, though he is really trying to build him into the stereotype blue collar hard worker.
To that end, Asche picked up a trainer and followed the prescribed Phillies program at Sports Enhancement Group in St. Louis. He became somewhat fanatical about his diet. He now is fitter and stronger and more flexible, but he won't let himself push past 208 pounds.
Not 215, or 210, or even 209; but 208.
"Between 200 and 208 pounds," Asche said. "That's when I can still be agile, and quick, and run, and beat out some ground balls."
I really like Asche as a player and these are good things to hear if they weren't being compared to the best hitter on the team since Mike Schmidt.
Already, Asche's solution to failure is to ignore fatigue; to work harder; to improve at all costs. His objective is not necessarily to hit home runs, or to hit a big payday, but, rather, to make sure he can beat out a ground ball in late September.
Yay lets all play small ball. In reality this just reads as anti-Rollins, Brown, and Howard. We are celebrating small ball and marginal improvements in the grand scheme are good to say but they don't make a player an elite leader and baseball player. If Utley had worked on hitting HRs he would have altered his swing and changed the entire way his skills worked together. In an individual sport like baseball, you get paid because you are good at playing baseball. This is the argument writers use against players like Joey Votto all the time, and in the end you want the guy putting up the best stats because he will help your team win in the long run. This isn't a knock against Asche, he is making himself a better player.
In the end I think Cody Asche is going to be a fine baseball player, it may not be for the Phillies if Franco forces his way into the third base job, but he should have a long career. The problem is that everytime someone writes a piece that builds up another prospect or rookie as the savior you do the fan base and the player no justice. It is near impossible for Asche to be Chase Utley, and trying to think he will be makes you miss the player he is. Hayes is making the favorite narrative of the stereotypical "Philadelphia fan", who drives sports talk, of a hard working, humble, blue collar player. Fans are smarter than that, fans gravitate towards players who are good at their job.