On the second-to-last day of July 2013, Phillies pitcher John Lannan put down his bat. Probably more confused than anyone else about keeping the eventual world champion Giants at bay for seven innings, Lannan accepted handshakes from well-wishers as a 23-year-old rookie stepped into the on deck circle to take his place.
Cody Asche would begin his major league career moments later as a pinch hitter with a pop-up to second. He wasn't the sexiest Phillies prospect, but necessity and timing had caused his promotion. It seems strange now that we once compared Asche to Maikel Franco, but there was a point where people were also comparing Asche to Chase Utley, as well. It feels safe to say that so far he has proven that he is neither of them.
It's not that the Phillies have had a shortage of guys who can hit under .250 and strike out in a quarter of their at-bats. It's that Asche was a new, young, organically sourced face, at a time when we were all getting sick of Michael Young's face. Not that he doesn't have a nice face. I guess what we were sick of was his body, and the things it would do on occasion.
But Asche was new! And he was fast(er than Young)! And he would hit on occasion! And he was from Nebraska! That's where Richie Ashburn was from!
Looking back, you can see where our eagerness to build some sort of future from the Phillies' meager minor league offerings took hold. And Asche didn't help kill the eagerness by doing things like,
So, at the end of exactly 300 games, the Phillies have a third baseman who they believe they've turned into an outfielder and who has proven so far that he can dance around a .250 BA and knock 10-12 home runs in a full season. He joins a team of current outfielders, some of whom work better than others, and a couple of viable options coming down the pike from Lehigh and Reading.
It's easy to think we've seen all 25-year-old Asche has to offer and that Franco and guys like Nick Williams and Roman Quinn make his role less critical. The fact that he's coming back from a left oblique injury that has kept him away from the action for the entirety of the season thus far also does not really bode well. But the Phillies dropped him off in Clearwater for a rehab start, and he homered there. Then on Tuesday night, they dropped him off in Reading.
Cody Asche just hit a two-run HR at Double-A Reading. He's playing three games in a row for first time in his rehab.— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) May 24, 2016
For a guy who has been a ghost all year, it's cool to see him thundering his way back toward the majors (as distant as the thunder might seem at times). The Phillies are seeing what they've got this year, and getting another look at Asche is part of that.
I'm sort of curious to see what Asche can do in this new clubhouse of relaxed - sometimes too relaxed - young players. Guys like Odubel Herrera and Tyler Goeddel are walking and clapping and tripling and being overlooked by their own team and just in general having a ball out there, and they are both guys other teams felt fine about letting go in the Rule 5 draft. Does Asche's ceiling rise at all under the tutelage of Pete Mackanin, in a place where change is sneaking in little by little? The Phillies have slipped of late, but have been infuriating baseball outcome-calculators all season long. Asche will need time to adjust, as anyone would, but perhaps he gets caught up in this tornado of barely-effectiveness that has been rampaging through the locker room since the team left Cincinnati.
There have been hints of role-playing on this team, whispers of platoons and such, but Asche's splits against lefties and righties aren't at all dramatic. He might be the most .250-hitter in the history of the sport. Every number he's got seems like it's within a few points of it.
- vs. RHP: .245 (.703 OPS)
- vs. LHP: .245 (.652 OPS)
- Home: .245 (.688 OPS)
- Away: .247 (.699 OPS)
- 1st half: .252 (.682 OPS)
- 2nd half: .241 (.703 OPS)
- as 3B: .246 (.695 OPS)
- as LF: .252 (.688 OPS)
And, so on.
The Phillies have been meeting behind closed doors to shrug at each other about how to improve the offense internally all season. The first plan was to get Darin Ruf out there. That plan is now mercifully over. The return of Asche offers them, if nothing else, another option to slot into a corner outfield role - another tool to tinker with - where he will find it easy to outperform one or two of his predecessors at the plate (in theory).
Asche says he "doesn't believe" he's "been defined" yet as a major leaguer, and at 25 years old, he may be right. Already, this season has seen a pulse of new blood pump through the roster. Asche differs from someone like Tommy Joseph because we a) feel like we've already seen what he's selling and b) he's been hurt this whole time, not tearing up AAA pitching. But like a long-gone Game of Thrones character leaping back into the chaos, it's intriguing to see what he will contribute to the overall plot. Will it be "hitting .250"? At this point, a guy reliably hitting over .225 in this lineup would be an offensive leader of team.