Cody Asche getting reps in left field
As Maikel Franco has made his way up the Phillies farm system, some prospect evaluators have questioned whether his footwork and first step would eventually force him to move across the diamond to first base. The Phillies would obviously prefer for Franco to stick at third base, but as Chris Mellen concluded in the Phillies prospect list in November, he’s “still a potential regular at first who can hit down a bit in the order with some pop.” The 22-year-old got a chance to man the hot corner during his cup of coffee in September last season and with Ryan Howard still in town for the time being, Franco will likely get another shot to prove he can stick at third during his next crack at the major-league level.
The only problem there is that the Phillies already have another young third baseman vying for playing time. Cody Asche wasn’t as heralded a prospect as Franco but he held his own in his first full season in the majors and the Phillies will want to see if he can develop into a solid-average regular. But as long as Ryan Howard is still in town, there won’t be enough room on the dirt for the two up-and-coming corner infielders.
On Monday, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that the club views Asche as the starting third baseman come Opening Day, perhaps hinting that Franco will begin the season back at Lehigh Valley. But with three weeks until the start of spring training, Amaro also revealed that Asche is already down in Clearwater getting reps and instruction in left field.
Considering Asche as an outfield option didn’t come out of nowhere, as it was an idea discussed by the organization prior to Franco’s call-up and then again before the winter meetings. The Phillies understandably decided against trying Asche in the outfield last season, with manager Ryne Sandberg telling Todd Zolecki of MLB.com at the time that it would be unfair to ask Asche to play a position that he’s never played before. However, if the club likes what it sees from Asche in the coming months, they could take advantage of his potential versatility if and when Franco becomes a mainstay in the lineup.
Asche has never been confused for a Gold Glove defender at the hot corner himself, but the Phillies are currently projected by PECOTA to score the fewest runs in baseball and they will want to keep his bat in the lineup. Asche wasn’t viewed as a high-upside prospect, but the former Cornhusker is still just 24 years old and showed a little bit of pop last season on his way to posting a 95 OPS+. There’s enough there to hope for major-league-average production at the plate.
As for how Asche’s defense would look if he’s called upon to roam the outfield? We’ll have to wait and see before reaching that verdict, but finding a spot in the lineup for him shouldn’t be a problem. Grady Sizemore is currently slated to start the season in right field and is unlikely to stand in the way of Asche getting playing time. There’s also the possibility that the Phillies don’t like what they see from Franco in extended time at third base with the big-league club, which could accelerate the seemingly inevitable breakup between them and Howard.
Four teams talking with Jose Veras
Daniel Rathman mentioned in Monday’s Rumor Roundup that there are several right-handed relievers are still available on the free-agent market and highlighted Jared Burton as an option for teams looking to add to their bullpen at a low cost. In the 24 hours since then, the Rockies cleared the market of one of the remaining right-handed relievers by signing John Axford to a minor-league deal, and another relief option could also soon be on the move.
That would be Jose Veras, who is currently talking to four teams including the Astros about a potential contract, per Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Veras has always been able to miss bats but it wasn’t until 2013 that he harnessed his control, posting a respectable 8.7 percent walk rate with the Astros and Tigers. That all unraveled during his two-month stint with the Cubs to start the 2014 season, as he dealt with an oblique injury and walked nearly a batter per inning before being released and eventually signing with Houston. Things seemed to click again for Veras upon his return, as he posted a 37:16 strikeout-to-walk rate and a 3.58 RA9 in 33 innings with the Astros.
Both the Astros and Veras have talked publicly about a possible reunion, with general manager Jeff Luhnow saying in December that he’s “absolutely” open to bringing Veras back and the 34-year-old reliever going as far as saying that signing with Chicago was a mistake and that he should have signed with Houston last offseason. The Astros have already bolstered their bullpen with the acquisitions of Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, and have been linked to practically every free-agent reliever this offseason. A second reunion with Veras would be one small step further in Houston’s offseason plan to get its bullpen back to a respectable level.
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