CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tommy Joseph unwrapped the plastic that covered a red Nike chest protector and shin guards. While seated at his locker, he strapped the new equipment to his body, and approved. For Joseph, just being able to wear catcher's gear was gratifying.

His future behind the plate was jeopardized last season because of persistent concussion symptoms. It limited him to 36 minor-league games. When asked how many career concussions he endured, Joseph said, "Three I think. Maybe more. I don't know." Another could require a position change for the 22-year-old prospect.

"That definitely crossed my mind for sure," Joseph said. "Obviously, being out for as long as I was, it'll cross your mind. You get a lot of time to think when you're not allowed to do stuff. I thought about it. I want nothing more than to put on the gear. I'm happy I get the chance to do that again."

Once cleared, Joseph flew to the Dominican Republic for four weeks of winter ball. He played nine games for Estrellas de Oriente, batted .192, but took a foul tip off his face mask and survived.

"It was a little scary at first," Joseph said. "I got hit and just tried not to think about it. I didn't have any symptoms when I got hit. An inning or two goes by and all is forgotten. It seems good."

Joseph, the centerpiece from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence trade, was considered one of the game's top catching prospects before the most recent concussion suffered last May. His stock was no higher than when he departed spring training last March. Joseph impressed during a brief stint in major-league camp.

His value will significantly diminish if he cannot stay at catcher. For now, Joseph is healthy and projects as the starter for double-A Reading. Cameron Rupp, 25, should start at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Joseph's lost season played a small part in the Phillies extending Carlos Ruiz for three more years.

"Everything seemed like it's coming so fast and I'm moving so slow," Joseph said. "At first we thought it was just me being out of shape from not playing for a while. Then we realized it was something to do with the brain. We looked into it further."

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