More Sports:

May 12, 2015

After another loss, Asche sent down to triple-A to learn left field as Franco’s big-league return nears

The box score will show that Carlos Ruiz’s errant throw on Gregory Polanco’s steal attempt in the seventh inning provided the Pirates with the critical unearned run that stood as the difference in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win on Monday night. It sure didn’t help. The ball sailed past Chase Utley and Freddy Galvis into center field and allowed Polanco to take third, from where he would score on a sac fly.

If Chooch’s throw was Reason 1A why the Buccos got their fourth run, how Polanco got on base in the first place was probably 1B. The lefty-hitting Polanco slapped Jake Diekman’s fastball toward third base. As you would expect with a 99-mph offering, the ball was hit sharply. This wasn’t a routine play by any means. With that said, the ball hit Cody Asche’s glove in the perfect backhand position. Even though he didn’t have to move, the third baseman couldn’t squeeze the ball and it squirted out of the infield for a hit. At least that’s the way the official scorer felt. In all honesty, it was a play that should get made.

A few hours later, Asche was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the primary purpose of getting reps in left field.

“When you’re talking about a position change and being asked to go to the minor leagues, I think after thinking about it he thought if he goes down there and gets after it, it could be a fairly short stint,” Ryne Sandberg said. “When he’s ready, he’ll be back. It wasn’t easy, though.”

"The next time we bring him to the big leagues it should be for good, we hope. That will be up to him, but that's the hope,” Amaro said. 

Let’s start with the last part of what Sandberg said there, because that seems to be the most straightforward: While it certainly must not have been easy sending Asche down to the minors, he wasn’t going to be manning the hot corner for the big-league club much longer. The Phillies farm system isn’t great in general, especially so when it comes to position players. There’s only one top prospect in the system knocking on the door of the majors, but unfortunately for Asche, he happens to play third base.

Maikel Franco and his tasty triple-slash of .336/.359/.520 aren’t going to be in the minors for much longer. Sure, they’ll be there at least until Friday, which is when the Phillies can move back Franco’s free agency another year until after the 2021 season. The odds-on money is on the 22-year-old Dominican making his way down the Northeast Extension shortly after, though.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. talked to reporters before Monday’s game, and the subject of Franco obviously came up. The Phillies general manager is preaching patience with his promising prospect — From reading many minor league writers, Franco’s biggest issue is an over-aggressive approach at the plate — but it seems like the kid will be coming up sooner rather than later.

“We don't want to bring until we're sure it's time for him to come,” Amaro said. “He got his feet wet a little last year. I think that was good to get an understanding for what it's like to be in the big leagues and have a little bit of a precursor. The next time we bring him to the big leagues it should be for good, we hope. That will be up to him, but that's the hope.”

Plain and simple, Asche wasn’t playing very well either offensively or defensively. He definitely wasn’t producing enough to block someone with Franco’s potential. Of all qualified third baseman, his .632 OPS ranks 19th out of 23rd. Asche was also toward the bottom of most of the advanced defensive metrics, which link up nicely with plays like the missed opportunity on Polanco’s grounder.

Before throwing a million numbers at you, it should be noted that there is a human side of this story. It’s about a guy who isn’t close to the worst player on the Phillies’ 25-man roster and also one of the few that could theoretically be part of the team’s future, even if that’s in a bench role. Now, he’s headed to the minors because of the way the organizational chips fell. If he played right field or was a starting pitcher for instance, he’d probably be back at The Bank tomorrow.

Quietly answering questions in front of his locker last night, Asche looked stunned and possibly a little shaken by the news. There are a lot of perks to being a professional athlete, but publicly being told that you’re not of the highest caliber certainly isn’t one of them.

“I’m surprised,” Asche said. “I mean, it’s all I really have to explain about that. Surprised, but I understand.”

Then again, Asche wouldn’t have received this opportunity in the first place on most teams. The question now turns to where he goes from here. Sandberg was asked last night if a move to the outfield (and potentially less stress in the field that goes with it) could in turn relax Asche at the plate.

“That’s a possibility,” he said. “I’ve seen that before, and I think that he has the ability to play a solid left field. The early things that he’s done and his foot speed, knowledge of the game, instincts… I think he’ll take to it very good.”

I’m actually pretty optimistic that Asche can make the transition, at least in the field. Left field is a position where many teams have historically sacrificed defense for offense, anyway. With all of the talk about defense, the major concern if his bat stick in left, much less anywhere (which brings into question the whole point of sending him down in the first place). If the organization is as high on Asche as Sandberg says, he’ll get another chance soon enough. The Phillies’ entire outfield situation is a pretty fluid thing.

“I’ll never stop believing that I’m a big-league baseball player,” Asche said. “I think whatever challenge comes my way, I’ll handle it fine and I’ll be back in this uniform soon.” 

Minor League Report

Columbus 6, LEHIGH VALLEY 2: The Iron Pigs (9-23) gave up four eighth-inning runs and dropped another one despite a two-run homer from the aforementioned Maikel Franco. Franco also added another hit to raise his batting average to .341. Joely Rodriguez delivered a quality start, going seven innings and only surrendering two earned runs. Domonic Brown went 1-4 with a double.

Harrisburg 6, READING 3: Jesse Biddle took the loss, giving up four runs (three earned) in six innings of work. He also struck out and walked three batters, respectively. Roman Quinn went 2-4 at the dish and stole third base twice, and Aaron Altherr homered. The Mighty Art Charles (that’s his name now) took an 0-fer, but is still batting a scintillating .378.

Stomach Illnesses 1, Clearwater 0:

LAKEWOOD 8, Asheville 2: Ricardo Pinto went seven strong for the BlueClaws and picked up the win. Carlos Tocci went 0-for-4, but Deivi Grullon picked up an RBI double.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann