Brock Stassi comes from a long line of minor leaguers, most of them catchers. His father, Jim, put in work out west in the eighties, getting at-bats in the California, Pacific Coast, and Texas leagues, before hanging it up. His grandfather Bob trucked out to Albuquerque at 21 years old for a season as a catcher under former Philadelphia A’s pitcher Jimmy Zinn. Even his great grandfather is said to have done a bit of crouching, and his younger brother, Max, has spent most of his playing career in the Astros’ farm system, surfacing with the big club for a couple of swings every year since 2013.
It’s a big deal for anybody to push through and make a major league roster, but it’s especially cool for a Stassi, who have laced up many a cleat in the minors hoping for their big break. At the close of spring training of 2017, as the Phillies were packing up to leave Clearwater after really setting the vibe for the regular season’s first half with a 14-1 loss to the Yankees, Brock received word that the Phillies had a job for him up north if he wanted it.
"I never doubted myself. Ever." - Brock Stassi pic.twitter.com/AjKUVJXk0j— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) March 30, 2017
What that job was, exactly, turned out to be sort of a back-up first base role that also saw him play left field a couple of times. It was a part-time gig, too; the 27-year-old with six seasons as a farmhand only played in seven complete games this year, despite appearing in 51 of them and making 14 starts. But it didn’t matter; Brock’s father, a gym teacher in Yuba City, CA, learned of his son’s promotion when two other teachers ran outside to tell him while he was teaching a class. The whole family showed up in Cincinnati on opening day to see Brock enter the game in the eighth and draw a walk.
And if there were any fairness in the world, we’d be using this space to talk about how Stassi went on to wow everybody, end his substitute teaching career in the off-season, become the next young player with a big bat and a bright future that the Phillies are considering a building block in the years to come. But baseball isn’t fair; it’s boring, and cruel, and doesn’t care if the thrilling subplots with which its seasons start just sort of fade away without the ending we wanted.
Stassi slashed .167/.278/.295 from opening day until he was designated for assignment on August 31. And while his numbers never got where you wanted to them to get, his season was not without highlights (And he did hit .280 when behind in the count).
Take for example his first big league hit in the fifth game of his career: Down 4-2 to the Mets, something inside of him clicked—maybe it was all the homer juice he’d saved up after a four-game dry spell, maybe it was the natural, understandable disgust he felt looking at all those Mets uniforms—and he connected with an Addison Reed offering that trimmed the New York lead to one run (though the Phillies did lose).
His second and final home run of the year, a three-run blast off Brandon McCarthy, was a go-ahead stroke, coming against the eventual National League champions, no less (though the Phillies did lose).
He would peak in about mid-may, in the second game of a double-header against the Nationals. After pinch hitting in the first game and knocking a double off Matt Albers, Stassi got the start at first base in game two and went 2-for-3 with a game-tying RBI (though the Phillies did... well, you know). By the end of that game, he’d forced his BA over .200 for a fresh .229 take on the world, but in June, things had started to spiral again and the Phillies sent him back down to the minors. Only there was no room for him in Lehigh Valley, so they had to jam him onto the Reading roster (he was promoted to the IronPigs three days later).
While back in the minors, then IronPigs manager Dusty Wathan cited Stassi’s bench role and the inconsistencies in playing time that came with it for his struggles. He couldn’t get in a groove, his swing was off, and Wathan saw his job with Stassi during this time to be to “get him comfortable with his swing again." He was a rookie trying to capitalize on sporadic at-bats, unsure of when they would come. It was chewing away at his brain.
Stassi came back to the Phillies on June 20, but didn’t log a hit until July 2. It would be his last hit of the season, appearing in only 16 more games and getting only three more starts. Things were shifting at first base for the Phillies. They were trying to figure out what the deal was with Tommy Joseph, who was spinning tires himself, but had reached a level of production higher than Stassi’s sub-.200 quagmire. Rhys Hoskins was lighting up the minors, destined to be called up in August and make history.
The Phillies DFA’d Stassi to make room for Juan Nicasio at the end of August, and on November 6, he became a free agent. His production just never registered, and we had to learn once again that just because a spring training narrative makes us feel good doesn’t mean it isn’t subjected to the same cruel reality in which every other story is told. The Phillies knew Stassi was a hard worker; when he was tearing up Eastern League pitching in 2015, he credited his work with his brother, Max, for his improvements and caught a lot of people’s attention after going 4-for-8 in an 18-inning affair that concluded with him pitching three scoreless innings. By the time the box score ink was dry on that one, he was leading the EL in a lot of offensive categories.
“This offseason I lived with my brother Max and we broke our swings down from square one,” Stassi said. “We talked to a bunch of different people about our swings. It was [Max]. He’d stay up late breaking down his swings and I was never big on mechanics and video and he said, ‘Dude, you gotta trust me on this. You gotta try it.’ I gave it a try and when I started hitting in the cage I started feeling some of the things he was talking about.
“Ever since then it’s kind of been like a life-changing moment.”
One thing history teaches us is that those Stassis just keep on coming, throwing themselves at the gates of Major League Baseball, so here’s hoping for the best for this one.
And the next one. And the next one...