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Cody Asche Getting Reps in the Outfield

Seeing whether Asche can develop defensive versatility could help both him and the Phillies in the short and long term.

You can't prove he's not in the outfield in this picture
You can't prove he's not in the outfield in this picture
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Spring Training hasn't even started yet, but the Phillies are (thankfully) already pumping out newsworthy on-field content.

According to CSNPhilly's Jim Salisbury, Cody Asche is already in Clearwater, at least three weeks ahead of time. What's more is that this is just the result of some logistical oversight or a mis-booked flight. Rather, it seems that Cody is actually a) supposed to be there and b) doing something noteworthy with his time. Salisbury reports that the noteworthy aspect of Asche's activities in Clearwater is that he seems to be learning a new position: left field.

Asche has never been regarded as a stellar defensive third baseman, so a move down the defensive spectrum might make him less of a liability defensively. From that perspective, it's not at all surprising that he is putting in time with minor league coaches to learn the position. Obviously, defense is only one side of the equation, though. The other side, offense, doesn't provide as solid a justification for moving Asche to a position that comes with greater offensive expectations. Over 613 Major League plate appearances, Asche has produced an OPS of .697 (94 OPS+). The league average OPS for a LF in 2014 was .723, compared to. 714 for third basemen, so unless Cody is an exceptional defender in left, he's unlikely to provide more on-field value to the Phillies there than at third.

Within the micro-economy of the Phillies, however, this decision to experiment with Asche in the outfield makes a lot of sense. Let me present you with two facts about the 2015 Phillies, as currently constructed:

  1. One of their top three prospects, Maikel Franco, plays third base and will be ready for the majors sooner rather than later. How soon he'll be ready is a matter of debate, but reasonable people estimate anytime between yesterday and mid-season.
  2. The outfielders currently on the Phillies active roster are, in rough order of ability: Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, Grady Sizemore, Odubel Herrera, Darin Ruf, Kelly Dugan, Jordan Danks, and Aaron Altherr.
So, sometime between now and mid-season, Asche will have to hand his job over to Franco, but the Phillies clearly have a need for a third outfielder. Amaro will talk the talk about Asche having the job to lose and pretending to not know who this Franco fellow you keep talking about is, next question please. But in the end, he knows as well as you do that, barring injury, Maikel Franco will be the Phillies starting third baseman by July at the latest. Asche's days there probably don't have an exact number on them, but they're definitely limited.

Further, even the most optimistic--which likely includes yours truly-- aren't exactly tickled by the idea of Grady Sizemore, Odubel Herrera, or Darin Ruf getting 600-ish plate appearances as a starting outfielder. Turning Asche into a potentially useful piece on the 2015 iteration of the Phillies probably required him to develop a level of competence in the outfield. It's not even a far cry to claim that he should be the opening day starter in left.

Also, it doesn't take too close a look to see that versatility is in vogue in baseball now. The way the Rays and Athletics have assembled their rosters in recent years and their level of success is a testament to the value of versatility. If Asche can develop into a non-up-the-middle utility guy of sorts, that could essentially give the Phillies an extra roster spot to use on some other player.

Asche hasn't shown, albeit in a not gigantic sample, that his bat is, at best, passable for a major league player with his defensive ability. It's possible that developing some level of defensive versatility will be necessary for him to carve out a lengthy career in the majors. At the very least, it will probably be essential to his having a major role with the Phillies in the second half of 2015 and beyond.