We are two months from the 4 year anniversary of the Phillies sending Hunter Pence to San Francisco for Seth Rosin, Nate Schierholtz, and Tommy Joseph. Joseph was the real prize of the deal, a former 2009 2nd round pick who was in AA blocked behind Buster Posey. In the Phillies system he would take the mantle of “Catcher of the Future” from Sebastian Valle. He finished out the year well, and was ranked the #3 prospect in the system by Baseball America. Then it all went to hell.
Concussions are a horrible thing, and catching can cause a lot of them. Each new concussion can lead to more concussions and that is what happened to Joseph. He worked with no technology, even a new helmet in 2015 to try and prevent more concussions. However, a foul ball to the mark gave him yet another concussion, moving him off of catcher permanently. In addition, to keeping Joseph off the field and off catcher, Joseph lost valuable training and development time to the injuries.
It wasn’t just concussions that have limited Tommy Joseph. In 2014 a wrist injury sent him to Florida for rehab, and then while there the injury worsened and his season ended with wrist surgery. As we went through when discussing Aaron Altherr’s injury, wrist injuries can sap power for over a year after surgery. Then there was his vision with Joseph discovering an astigmatism in his right eye. That has since been fixed with contacts. This all means that Joseph entered 2016 fully healthy, and with all the correctable issues, corrected. He went one step forward and he showed up to Spring Training in the best shape of his career, down 25 pounds and more athletic than he had been previously.
Regardless of any changes, Joseph’s calling card will be plus or better raw power. His swing has never really been a problem, it is relatively simple, not particularly fast, but not long either. The lost weight has actually sped up his bat some. His approach, pitch recognition, and feel for contact have been questionable in the past. At his best Joseph shows power to all fields and works contact up the middle and to the gaps. All of this has been improved this year. His walks are a bit down, but that has seemed to be connected to his hot hitting, as his strikeouts remain low.
For now it looks like Joseph will take Ruf’s spot in the first base platoon. The Phillies will face more lefties than usual in the coming two series, and have an upcoming series in Detroit with a DH. This should allow the Phillies to work Joseph in slowly while they get a further feel for him vs major league pitchers. There is not enough data over the past few seasons to say whether Joseph has any platoon splits, the data that does exist this year has him as fairly neutral, but it is hard to draw conclusions.
The bar is extremely low for Joseph as he makes the majors. Darin Ruf is batting .158/.206/.193 this season, good for a wRC+ of 4 and a -1.0 fWAR. If Joseph can not strike out looking in high leverage situations he might be a crowd favorite. In an ideal world Joseph will hit in the .260-.270 range with some walks and 20 home runs a year. That is asking for a lot right now out of guy with almost no track record. If Joseph can hit for moderate power and not look overmatched, he can give the Phillies’ offense a huge boost for this season relative to their current first base production.
Beyond the on the field impact, I am extremely happy for Tommy Joseph on making the majors. He has put in a lot of work and overcome long odds to make it and that is incredible.
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