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Phillies prospect Overbeck keeps it all business despite slow climb

ALLENTOWN - Try digging into Cody Overbeck's innermost thoughts and you are likely to get stuck on the top layer.

ALLENTOWN - Try digging into Cody Overbeck's innermost thoughts and you are likely to get stuck on the top layer.

The 25-year-old first baseman from Tennessee tries to keep everything as simple as the swing that serves as his most compelling baseball tool.

Overbeck, a ninth-round pick out of the University of Mississippi in 2008, was not protected on the Phillies' 40-man roster over the winter despite the fact he has hit double-digit home runs in every season since joining the organization.

That fact alone would tick off a lot of kids trying to make the challenging climb from minor-league prospect to big-league player. Maybe it bothered Overbeck, too, but you'll never get him to admit it.

"I understood the guys who went on there, so I couldn't really get mad about it," Overbeck said before playing a recent game for the Phillies' triple-A Lehigh Valley affiliate. "It's a business decision and that's how it worked out. I would have liked to have been on there, but I couldn't do anything about it."

And so Overbeck went about his business in a professional matter. He hit .321 in the Arizona Fall League, then returned to Lehigh Valley, which is where he finished last season, and batted .313 with a team-high 14 RBIs in April.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Overbeck's name was in the conversation about the 40-man roster, but the Phillies did not feel they would risk losing him if they left him unprotected.

Overbeck's omission from the 40-man roster does not mean the Phillies have soured on his ability.

"I think he just needs experience and to continue to develop offensively because that is probably his biggest weapon," Amaro said. "And then finding a place where he can play consistently. He really doesn't have a consistent position, and right now if he puts himself in a position to play a couple of the corners, then it gives himself some more versatility as far as being a National League player."

IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg referred to Overbeck as his "best regular player" through the first month of the season.

"He has been very steady, and from what I've seen he's trying to work his way out of here," Sandberg said. "He just has a very basic, fundamental approach up there with his stance, and there is not a lot of extra stuff going on. He's ready to hit."

Sandberg believes the Arizona Fall League experience helped Overbeck gain the confidence needed to play at the triple-A level.

"It definitely helped me mentally," Overbeck said. "But I thought I could compete out there. To be honest, I thought the pitching was better here in triple A than it was in the fall league, so it wasn't like it was something I haven't seen before."

Overbeck left Mississippi as a third baseman, but he has played almost exclusively as a first baseman or designated hitter the last two seasons. Sandberg hits him grounders at third before each game and plans to get him more playing time at that position, too.

"His defense has tightened up," Sandberg said. "He does a nice job around first base and he is taking ground balls at third base. I think that would be another good option for him to go on from here. I think a little bit of left field is in the mix in the future, too."

Overbeck's future sure sounds as if it will be as a utility player known more for his bat than his glove. It's a role that Ty Wigginton has turned into a nice living at the big-league level, and that type of player has to prove he has power.

A year ago, Overbeck hit a combined 24 home runs at double-A Reading and Lehigh Valley. He also hit 24 home runs between single-A Clearwater and Reading in 2010.

"He has power and he has shown it," Sandberg said. "Oftentimes in the minor leagues it isn't about hitting 25 or 35 home runs. It's doubles, it's balls driven into the gaps, and he has also popped balls out of this ballpark the last part of last season, and he hit one to right-center field a few days ago. For a right-handed hitter, his stroke to right field with pop is pretty impressive."

And that's the ticket that could eventually earn him a spot on a major-league roster.