If all goes according to plan, 23-year-old Cody Asche will be the Philadelphia Phillies starting third baseman for the 2014 season (and beyond). Following the trade of Michael Young, Asche was installed at the hot corner and didn’t look back. Set the world on fire he did not, hitting only .235 and slugging a mere .389. However, Asche showed enough pop with his bat (five homers, eight doubles, 22 RBI in 162 at-bats) and moxie with his glove to inspire confidence going into the new season that he could handle the third-base job on a full-time basis.
What about this is significant, you ask? Just another young prospect trying to show he can make it in the big leagues, right? Well sure, but what Cody Asche represents is the first homegrown third-base prospect to debut in the majors since – you guessed it – Scott Rolen made his debut for the team in 1996.
17 years ago.
Lorde was born after Rolen’s debut. That’s a long time ago.
Since Rolen was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2002, the Phillies have filled the hot corner with the likes of David Bell, Wes Helms, Mike Cervenak, Greg Dobbs, Pedro Feliz, Tyler Houston, Pete Orr, Placido Polanco, Cody Ransom, Michael Young and the incomparable Abraham Nuñez. To be sure, some of these players performed admirably for the Phillies – Feliz was an excellent role player for the two World Series teams and Polanco made an All-Star team in 2011. None, however, were long-term answers.
Each of these players came with high expectations, free agent price tags or both. What each of these players represented, though, was a makeshift filler until the next prospect could take its place simultaneously with the organization’s failure to produce a legitimate major league third-base prospect. As a result, third base has been a money pit for a decade now with limited offensive upside to show for it.
What Asche truly represents is two-fold: hope for the future and financial flexibility for the present. On a team littered with players in their mid-30s, the trio of Asche, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown are the only everyday players who can be considered young and provide a glimpse into the next possible winning Phillies team. It is far too early for Asche to be considered the future at third base (Mikael Franco may have something to say about that), but what is significant is that the Phillies are affirmatively giving him the ball and asking him to run with it. Not unimportant as well is the fact that Asche’s development illustrates at least modest success at the third base position in the minor leagues — a position they have been dreadful for almost two decades at delivering. At this point, any minor league success is also worth nothing.
This is not an opportunity that has been afforded to recent prospects, such as Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf\ or a plethora of bullpen arms. Fans have been pining for the team to give some of their prospects, blue chippers or not, a chance to see what they have and give the team a shot of youth in the arm. This is something the Phillies desperately need to do as their core ages out of the game so they know what they have, and Asche is getting that chance. This is significant.
What may appear to be more important, however, is the financial upside of allowing Asche to be the starter. Asche is not eligible for arbitration until 2017 and cannot become a free agent until 2020 when he turns 30. It is no secret that this team’s payroll is bloated. Collecting a bunch of All-Stars in their 30s comes at a price, and the Phils need salary relief where they can get it. Asche provides them that relief at a time when it is most needed.
He may never be an All-Star, a .300 hitter, a Gold Glover, a Silver Slugger or a 25-HR guy, but what he does provide is what is most important to the Philadelphia Phillies right now – financial flexibility, commitment and youth. This may make him one of the most important prospects (Domonic Brown notwithstanding) to debut for the Phillies in quite some time. Fans should embrace it.