ALLENTOWN - Sal Rende isn't the first person to make a comparison between Cody Asche and Chase Utley. He's just the most qualified person to ever compare the two because he has been around both for an extended amount of time.
When Utley started his final of three seasons at triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Rende was a coach at the Phillies' former minor-league location in Northeast Pennsylvania. Rende spent spring training and the first two months of this season watching Asche, who reached the highest level of the minor leagues at a slightly younger age than Utley.
"His makeup is that he's got some Utley in him, which is a good thing when you're playing this game," Rende said before a recent IronPigs game at Coca-Cola Park. "It's just a leave-me-alone and let-me-go-play-the-game mentality. He's got that inner drive where he wants to play every inning and be in every at-bat. Not that a lot of guys don't, but it's really evident when you watch him."
Asche, 22, accepts the Utley comparison as a compliment, but with a caveat.
"It's cool to hear the comparison, but at the same time you want to be your own guy and your own player," he said. "I think Chase is a good role model to have because of the way he goes about the game of baseball. I don't think anybody has ever accused him of not playing hard and I think that's the kind of guy I want to be. I want to do the little things right and help the team win and just play hard."
Asche and Utley have spent some time in the same clubhouse the last two seasons. Asche was playing for single-A Clearwater around this time last season when Utley went through a rehab assignment at the Phillies' spring-training home and the two were around each other again in spring training this year. Asche did not let the opportunity pass without plugging into Utley's wealth of baseball knowledge.
"He's probably annoyed at me by now because I've asked him so many questions," Asche said. "It's just little things about baseball, but I've asked him a ton of stuff. I'm sure he's annoyed with me. I just ask him little things about situations and stuff like that. Just the way he approaches the game and how he handles everything, that's what you want to do. I think he's a guy who has been rewarded because of his hard work."
How soon Asche will be rewarded for his hard work by being called to the big leagues remains to be seen, but he's already made a rapid climb up the minor-league ladder. After a miserable start to his professional career in Williamsport two years ago, the former University of Nebraska star from St. Louis rebounded by hitting .349 in 62 games at Clearwater. That earned him a midseason promotion to double-A Reading, where he hit for average (.300) and power (20 doubles and 10 home runs) in 68 games.
The Phillies were impressed enough with Asche's work at Reading that they promoted him to Lehigh Valley at the start of this season. He's actually younger than Utley when he first played in the International League at Scranton. Asche has held his own, hitting .286 with five home runs and 30 RBIs entering the IronPigs' game Saturday against Norfolk.
The lefthanded-hitting Asche is far from satisfied, and given his demeanor he may never quench his appetite for success. Rende said you could see the third baseman's frustration when he struggled early in the season, and Asche admitted it was there.
"Yeah, because I want to be great," he said. "If I'm not hitting .400 I'm not going to be satisfied. It's just something where you always have to keep working at it and keep adjusting and hopefully things will turn out. I still have a lot of work to do."