CLEARWATER, Fla. — Asia can wait. Right now, Tommy Joseph is focused on playing in the major leagues. Maybe with the Phillies. Maybe with someone else.
Joseph, who hit 43 homers for the Phillies the last two seasons, is a man without a position in this camp. A series of concussions forced him to give up catching. The emergence of Rhys Hoskins and later the signing of Carlos Santana pushed him off first base. So Joseph finds himself angling for a reserve role with the club, and with management intent on having versatility on its bench, Joseph received a crash course in playing the outfield on Monday. Twenty-four hours later, he started in left field against the Tigers on Tuesday. It was his first experience in the outfield. Ever. He received a passing grade.
“The way camp has gone, everyone is going to have that opportunity to show their versatility and today was my opportunity to play left field,” Joseph said after the 11-6 loss to Detroit. “That’s one thing that’s transpiring in baseball. The more positions you can play, the better off you’ll be in getting an opportunity — no matter what team you’re on. That’s the way I looked at it. Give it a shot.
“When it comes down to it, you’re going to do everything you can to help your team win knowing that ultimately it’s a tryout for all the other teams, as well. Every team is watching every other game, whether they’re scouting you because they’re going to play you, or they’re looking at you because you might be valuable to their team.”
There are several ways Joseph’s situation could work out over the next month. He could make the club. He could be optioned to Triple A. He could be waived if the club needs 40-man roster space. He could be traded. What won’t happen — not now, at least — is him playing in Asia. There was serious interest in Joseph from teams in Japan and Korea this winter. Joseph spoke with former Phillie Darin Ruf, who is entering his second season in Korea, to get his opinion on the experience. In the end …
“You never want to give up the opportunity to play in the major leagues,” Joseph said. “Darin loves it over there. His family loves it. He recommended I go.
“But I want a chance to be here and play in the big leagues.”
Joseph played four innings in the outfield. He moved to right field on the fly for an out when the Phillies shifted for a matchup. Enterprising manager Gabe Kapler did not rule out doing that during the season.
“We continue to want our guys to be flexible and we want to give everyone their best chance to demonstrate that flexibility,” Kapler said. “First base is a position that we have some depth at on our major-league roster. We want Tommy to have every opportunity to succeed so we want to give him some looks out there — and we got his bat in the lineup and that’s an important factor as well.”
Joseph had a single, a double and drove in a run.