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February 01, 2017

The Q&A ... with Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph

Tommy Joseph won’t have to worry about knocking elbows with the guy next to him as he puts on his uniform this spring and he’ll enjoy the rest of the perks when they come, too.

The former top catching prospect was removed from the roster a little more than a year ago and reported to spring training in 2016 by checking into the crowded confines of the minor league clubhouse at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla.

After quickly re-emerging as a formidable hitter early into the Triple-A season, Joseph graduated to the big leagues in May. He won’t just report to big league camp with the rest of Phillies major leaguers in two weeks, he’ll also have a place in the starting lineup as the team’s regular first baseman (now that Ryan Howard’s Phillies career is no more).

Just don’t tell that to Joseph, who hit .257 with 21 home runs and an .813 OPS in 107 games in 2016.

“The job isn’t given to me," Joseph said. "I still have to win it. I’m not going to walk in and have it.”

The 25-year-old Joseph, acquired in July of 2012 in the Hunter Pence trade only to have his progress as a top prospect derailed with a series if injuries, most notably concussions that cost him a future as a catcher, is still developing as a hitter.

His progress was on display daily as a rookie. He hit seven home runs in his first 16 big league starts. … but he had a .293 OBP and 47 strikeouts in his first 208 plate appearances. But in the season’s final six weeks, Joseph slashed .280/.333/.538 in 37 games.

Joseph doesn’t take stock of his numbers nightly, but he’s aware of them, and he understands which numbers are important in the modern game.

“Really, my whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking,” said Joseph, who had 26 walks and 87 strikeouts in 447 plate appearances between the Phillies and Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season. “I started listening a lot more to what veterans across the league would say about on-base percentage or OPS. Obviously, everybody looks into slugging [percentage] when you play a position on the corner.

“But there are times when you have to walk. And how important OPS is to a ballclub -- no matter what position you play -- I think it helped me put into perspective that every at-bat is important, no matter what I do.”

With Howard gone and prospects like Rhys Hoskins not yet big league-ready, Joseph should get plenty of at-bats this season to see if he can boost his OPS, say, 100 points, and closer to the 1.000 number he’s “focused on.”

But there’s plenty of time for that. First, let’s run the jovial Joseph through the latest edition of The Q&A.

I went to your baseball-reference page and the nicknames listed there are “The Scorpion” and “ToJo.” I feel like we need to work on those.

     Tommy Joseph: The Scorpion came from (Ryan) Howard. The only significance or the reasoning behind that was there are scorpions in Arizona. And when we started talking about where I was from and where I grew up. And I’m assuming he played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the (Arizona) Fall League [Fact check: he did not! Howard, inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame three years ago, played for the Desert Dogs] so, Scorpion, boom. ToJo is something I’ve had since high school. It’s just the easiest one with the T-O J-O.

What do most of the guys in here call you?

     Most of my teammates, just Tommy. (Cody) Asche and (Cameron) Rupp would call me ToJo. Teammates in the past have called me ToJo.

Never Tommy Boy though?


That’s unfortunate.


Was it tough leaving the Giants organization – assuming you were a Giants fan as a kid since they hold spring training in Scottsdale?

     No. The Arizona Diamondbacks.

Oh, crap, I forgot you’re young.

     Yeah, they showed up when I was 6- or 7-years-old, so it was like, ‘This is a no-brainer.”

I’m forgetting you guys are a lot younger than me.

     They won the World Series when I was 10-years-old, so, it was a pretty big deal.

Your favorite player from that team?

     Luis Gonzalez. I mean he was everybody’s favorite player. There were others. Tony Womack – stud. Steve Finley – stud. It was full of great players.

So you’re a fan of all of the Arizona teams – Cardinals, Suns?

     I am a Cardinals fan. If I root for football teams it’d be the Arizona Cardinals. I don’t really follow the NBA much at all. So I can’t say. But I’d root for the Suns, sure.

Who is the best player in the Phillies organization from the Phoenix area?

     So that narrows it down to Cozens and myself.

Scott Kingery - he was drafted two years ago.

     You can’t count Kingery, he’s from California!

No, he’s from the Phoenix area, too. He told me a couple of months ago that his high school career ended on a Cozens’ walk-off home run, knocking his team out of the playoffs.

     Really? Ok, so it’s Scotty Jetpacks, myself and Cozens? Then it’s myself. No brainer.

Nice. We’ll see who the last one standing is. [Laughs]

How do you like what the front office has done this winter, adding two veteran bats, Clay Buchholz? They’ve clearly made a point to improve this team. Has to make you happy, right?

     Absolutely. That’s all you want as a player in this clubhouse, knowing that the front office is making a difference and getting us going in the right direction. I think they’ve done an incredible job with that. I mean with the talent in our clubhouse, which is great, and the talent in the minor leagues, which is incredible, I mean, it’s pretty self-explanatory when you watch those guys play. I’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot of them. There’s a lot to be excited about. I have nothing but great things to say (about the front office), they’ve done a phenomenal job.

A lot of people on the outside still see this very much as a rebuilding team and think it’s a couple years away at least. But I feel like your own career arc shows that sometimes you can’t predict things, that sometimes maybe you should expect the unexpected. We don’t know what’s going to happen, maybe a lot of guys do surprise.

     Yeah, well I think the core group of front office personnel that’s come in – it’s not easy to just walk in one day and boom, change the culture. They’ve been here for, what, this is their second full season now?

Yeah, this season will be their second.

     I think they’ve done an incredible job moving into that transition and changing the culture in the clubhouse, in the front office, and with how we do things as an organization. It’s been awesome. But you’re right, expect the unexpected because everybody can come out from anywhere.

What was it like playing behind Ryan Howard last season? Was there any one thing you were able to take from him into your own career?

     Just that if I can be half the person that he was, I know that I’ve had a successful career, just as a teammate. You know, take all the accolades and home run numbers – that’s stuff that I can’t control. But I can control how I treat you guys in the media, how I treat my teammates, how I treat the fans. And I think those are things that he was so great with, I mean from Day One of being around him, watching how he handled things. That’s what I took away from him most, just having the opportunity to watch that.

Anyone else stand out as being impactful since you came into the Phillies organization, maybe someone in the minor leagues, a coach?

     Ernie Whitt. He’s the catching coordinator. Ever since I’ve been with the Phillies he’s somebody I could go to like a father figure. He’s the best. And everybody in this clubhouse and everyone in every clubhouse in the minor leagues would say the exact same thing. That’s how much he means to the organization.

He’s Team Canada’s coach, too, right?

     Oh yeah, he’s the skipper for Team Canada. That’s for sure.

He was obviously with your when you were still catching and when we talk about your career arc you can’t leave out the concussions. During that time – and during a time when it’s really become a big issue throughout sports – did you read up about the CTE stuff, do any deep dives or watch any documentaries?

     Yeah, I still haven’t seen the concussion movie with Will Smith, so I should probably watch that.

The PBS documentary was really good. I can’t remember the name. [Editor's note: It's called "League of Denial."]

     It’s on the internet or Netflix for sure. I’ll search for it. But, yeah, I did look up all the information when I had the injury. I obviously know that whenever anytime someone gets (a concussion), I’m more than happy to talk to them about what I had to go through and how tough it is to respond from that stuff. But I think it should be taken very seriously.

Are you to the point where if you had a kid you’d be cautious about deciding whether or not they should play football.

     [Uncertain noise]

So it hasn’t gotten to that point yet?

     It hasn’t gotten to that point. But I’ll let you know when I have a kid how I’m feeling. [Laughs]

Did you get married recently?

     Over the All-Star break.

And your wife (Ali) is in the military, right?


Which branch?

     Air Force.

How cool is that?

     She’s way cooler than I am. We’ve had the opportunity to meet some really incredible people.

Anyone stand out?

     I mean not like any big wigs or anything like that, but just having that military tie is neat, she’s pretty proud of it.

Does she fly?

     No, she’s actually a labor and delivery nurse. So a little different track.

Where did you guys meet?

     High school.

OK, rapid fire. Last good movie you saw?

     Umm… I have to remember the last time I watched a movie.

Nothing in the theaters lately?

     Oh, I haven’t been to a movie in the theater in like years.

Yeah, I haven’t gone as much with so much good TV lately.

     I wish I could tell you the last movie I saw in the theater.

Let’s switch it up, last show you’ve marathoned?

     I finally watched House of Cards.

OK, nice. That’s one of the ones I haven’t seen.

What’s your favorite thing about Philly?

     The history. Growing up in Arizona, there’s not a lot of history. So getting the opportunity to spend a lot of time downtown (here), it’s been great.

Where’s your favorite place to visit otherwise?

     I’ve been to quite a few Caribbean islands. So, any of them. I’ve got no preferences right now. But I love the island lifestyle.

Go anywhere good this offseason?

     I went on a cruise with my wife with some friends.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21