I just looked up Phillies third basemen on Baseball Reference to see when they last had one who performed at an above average offensive clip. I had to go back to my freshman year of high school, to David Bell’s 107 OPS+ in 2004, before I was comfortable anointing him. If you visit this site regularly you’ve been saturated with recent discussion regarding the Phillies situation at the hot corner. Offensive futility has reigned supreme at third base for nearly a decade now. While it was certainly fun watching Pedro Feliz play gorgeous defense there for a few years and Placido Polanco has been likeable, if demure, in various facets of seamdom, we justifiably want more from that position.
We’ve examined external options via trade and free agency but only in passing/comments have we mentioned what some may now feel is an internal option at third base, if not now, in the near future. That option is Cody Asche. I saw plenty of Asche in Reading during the second half of this year but waited on writing up a formal report on him when I heard he had been assigned to the Arizona Fall League. I wanted to see if any notable development would occur after new instructors from other teams got a hold of him for a month. After another handful of my own evaluations and some talks with people who get paid to have an opinion on baseball players, I can present to you an ironclad assessment of what Cody Asche is and what he might be.
The first thing I look at when evaluating a player is his physical composition. What does the body look like now and what will it look like in three, six and nine years from now? Asche has an average body with no notable physical limitations (he’s not fat or hurt) and no exceptionalities (he’s not built like Yeonis Cespedes, either). He has skinny forearms which contribute to a lack of raw power (which we’ll talk about later). He has little to no physical projection remaining, unless he decides to eat his way out of baseball. A rather uninteresting physique.
Asche’s bat, on the other hand, is quite interesting. He’s limited by below average power, but he should make plenty of contact. It all comes from incredibly sound hitting mechanics. Asche displays quiet feet, quick hands that explode forward from a good hitting position and a bat path conducive of contact. He’ll spray balls all over the field and should gap quite a few doubles. My ESPN colleague, Keith Law, has stated that Asche is loading his hands deeper than he was in college which opened up the possibility for Asche to hit for more pop, even if it’s modest pop. It all boils down to a slightly above average hit tool and below average power. The below average power could harm his on-base skills in the majors as pitchers challenge him, unafraid of Asche doing any real damage on his own.
Asche’s defense at third base was the main hang up for me whilst watching him this season. He looked so terrible at times that I thought working him in both outfield corners and at first base for the next two years was the best course of action, hoping he could become a useful, four corners bench bat. He showed marked improvements in Arizona. Asche will now comfortably make routine plays and exhibits confidence attacking softly hit balls in on the grass. He wasn’t doing these things during the summer. He has a fringy arm, at best, and his hands aren’t soft enough to cleanly field well struck balls, even when they’re hit right at him. He’s still not good over there, but he’s now passable. Asche is also a below average runner, timed between 4.34 and 4.27 from home to first.
To recap, the tools look like this:
It’s the profile of a below average regular but keep in mind these things don’t occur in a vacuum. The Phillies scored plenty of runs with Abraham Nunez suiting up at third base almost every day so Asche might just have to be a reasonably un-embarrassing fallback option. It’s not a sexy OFP, it’s not an exciting profile to put together, but this is the job. I’d send Asche back to Double-A to start 2013 and move him to the Lehigh Valley if he keeps hitting. He could see a cup of coffee in September or earlier if injuries force him up.