A miserable late September stretch tarnished what was otherwise an impressive major league debut for 23-year-old Cody Asche in 2013. Asche, who manned the hot corner for the Phils in August and September, finished the season hitting .235/.302/.389 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 162 at bats. In the minors, Asche hit .295/.352/.485 with 15 bombs and 68 RBIs in 404 at bats at AAA Lehigh Valley.
His final numbers with the big club are somewhat in line with what many expected at the major league level from Asche, who was a nice prospect but not one widely expected to be an impact major leaguer. However, they also don’t tell the entire story. As of September 15, Asche was the owner of .271/.338/.457 slash line. He had displayed a good glove at third and his short, quick swing from the left side of the plate had optimists making Chase Utley comparisons.
Asche then proceeded to close out the season on a 3 for 33 slide, dramatically dropping his numbers across the board. So what was the reason behind his slump? The answer to that question is critical in determining how big a role Asche will play in the future of this team. Did major league pitching just catch up to him, causing a regression to the level many thought was his destiny? Or was it simply fatigue that set in for a player who was playing college ball only two years ago?
Ryne Sandberg subscribed to the latter theory in September, anointing Asche as the favorite to start the 2014 season at third base for the Phillies. Courtesy of Matt Gelb at the Inquirer, the Phillies’ skipper said:
“He’s proven defensively he can play third base. And I think his bat has played. He’s shown a good steady bat. I think down the stretch it’s turned into a little bit of a long season for him possibly. I understand that. But the work ethic and the quality swing for a young guy like that is pretty good.”
Asche earned the nod from Sandberg with his 2013 performance, albeit only two months. While the Utley comparisons are ridiculous – Chase is a once in a generation type of talent – Asche definitely has a good-looking swing and showed enough pop to suggest his bat might play at third in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park. If you’re the type that trusts defensive metrics, you may have some concerns over Asche’s fielding ability (they’re not good). But as Sandberg indicated, he looked competent over there and, at least for me, passed the eye test defensively.
Assuming the Phillies don’t add an impact third baseman in free agency or via trade, Asche will probably be the guy in 2014. Maikel Franco is deservedly a heralded prospect now after a huge season in the minors, but he is only 21 and is the type of raw talent that could use more seasoning. The free agent landscape at third looks pretty bleak, as usual, and the Phils can’t really afford to be trading away what little young talent they have for a significant upgrade – making a full season from Asche the most likely scenario. As Gelb indicated, Asche would be the first homegrown player to start at third base for the Phillies on opening day since Scott Rolen in 2002. If that happens, we should find out exactly what we have in the former Nebraska Cornhusker.
Grade: B+. Asche was well on his way to an A before his dreadful end to the season. While his statistics aren’t all that impressive in their final form, I still give him a B+ simply because I thought his future was either as a second division player or a bench guy on a good team. But to me, he showed the potential for more in his two months. Maybe his final 33 at bats are a red flag, maybe not… we will see. Either way, he earned a longer look for me and it sounds like he is going to get it in 2014.
The bigger problem here is that, while Asche is a nice piece, he probably doesn’t have the talent to become the type of impact bat that the Phillies desperately need to contend again. Such is life when you have star-level money tied up in players that are no longer stars. Additionally, Asche’s presence in the lineup means six of the seven projected regulars will either be left-handed or only useful from the left side of the plate (I’m looking at you Jimmy). That number assumes Darin Ruf is a starter and would drop to six of eight if the Phillies re-sign Carlos Ruiz or add a different right-handed hitting catcher. Obviously, none of this is Asche’s fault… so for now let’s just hope that he emerges in 2014 as the guy that will permanently fill a position that has been a black hole for the Phillies for over a decade now.