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For the Philadelphia Phillies, Cody Asche and Tommy Joseph Are Generation Next

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COMMENTARY | I had never heard of Zach Nuding before today. There's a considerable chance that I'll never hear of him again. A little research tells me he's a 2010 30th-round draft pick that has never pitched above A-ball. And that makes sense now. Twice in the seventh inning of the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 Grapefruit League win over the New York Yankees on February 26, Nuding unfurled offerings to Phillies' hitters that would have been hard-pressed to get by a blind man swinging a drinking straw.

The first will live in the lore of Clearwater, Florida Phillies' fans and spring training tourists. Domonic Brown tattooed a 2-2 fastball up into the gracious Brighthouse Networks Field winds that soared over the batter's eye deep in dead center field. That's encouraging in its own right, no matter the arm that served it up. Brown showed legitimate big time power that we haven't too frequently seen. But the second, off the bat of minor-league catcher Tommy Joseph, raised my eyebrow just a twinge north of its normal perch as it dropped just short of the roof of Frenchy's, the tiki bar beyond the stands in left field.

Spring is a time to begin anew, for rebirth. I could go on with more sappy metaphors but we've read them from every flavor of scribe, be it Walt Whitman or Ring Lardner. I don't buy into spring training numbers or stats. I think they're dangerous. I think they're fool's gold. I believe veteran major-league ballplayers go through the paces. Sure, they'd like to get a hit every time they dig into the box. Sure, pitchers would like to notch outs with regularity. But these guys are simply putting in work, like one long stretching and calisthenics session before the marathon begins.

Unless you live in a minor league town and are privileged to view with regularity an organization's youth, spring training is the best time to watch the names we often read about but seldom get to judge for ourselves.

The Phillies' minor-league system has been panned in most publications, but Joseph and third baseman Cody Asche are two young talents that most scouts believe will turn into serviceable or better big leaguers.

Baseball America has Joseph and Asche ranked third and seventh on the Phillies' top 10 prospects list. They are two of the top three positional prospects behind only fledgling shortstop and burner Roman Quinn.

Joseph, the 21-year-old 2009 second-round pick of the San Francisco Giants, acquired in the trade that sent Hunter Pence to the World Series champs to make speeches, is billed as an above average bat with power at the catching position. He still needs work on some of his receiving skills, but work ethic is one of his strengths. Who doesn't like a catcher with work ethic? After reading up on Joseph, watching him turn on a fastball up and in and tattoo it doesn't make me want to light off fireworks, but if you're projected to have power, it's nice to see it on television even if it's a year or two away.

Carlos Ruiz is 34 and coming off his best year. He shows no signs of a letdown, but again, he's 34, and it's unlikely the Phillies commit long term to a catcher who will be 35 when he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season. The Phillies will be keeping close tabs on Joseph's further development this summer.

When it comes to glove work at the hot corner, Asche still needs seasoning, which is why it was pleasant to see him play a solid defensive game against the Yanks Tuesday. Again, there's no reason to have a parade, but to me, this is the essence of spring training. Michael Young was likely a one-year acquisition, and the Phillies will heavily rely on Asche to fill the void at third base in 2014. If Young falters badly, or gets injured long-term, it's possible Asche could be called on sooner.

The book on Asche is that he's a disciplined hitter with a quiet bat, meaning there isn't much movement before he's set to pull the trigger. A disciplined hitter in the Phillies' lineup? That's enough for me to pay top dollar for the Cody Asche AB viewing app (if one existed) to keep track of his every day development.

But alas, we have this month, as we in the north continue to fight off the end of February and welcome in the harsh winds of March, to follow the future while the present puts their work in. If for only today, I liked what I witnessed.

Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has been covering the Phillies for more than three years and has followed the team long enough to know who Nino Espinosa is, and that he passed away of a heart attack at the age of 38. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.


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