OXON HILL, Md. - A year ago, it would have been incredibly unlikely to think that Tommy Joseph would be in the Phillies' plans as they charted their 2017 lineup. The first baseman was on baseball's fringe last December, unsure if he would even be called back to Clearwater for spring training.
But here the Phillies were - in a fifth-floor suite at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel - charting out next season's roster, and Joseph, for now, is the first baseman. Joseph batted .257 last season and slugged .505 as a rookie as he shared first base with Ryan Howard. With Howard's departure, the job appears to belong to Joseph.
"Right now, Tommy Joseph is our everyday first baseman. If that changes by virtue of an additional player acquisition, then we'll adjust," general manager Matt Klentak said. "But I think Tommy showed up last year and hit really from the moment he got to the big leagues. Tommy showed pretty well for himself all year long and we're excited to see what he can do in a little more of a regular role this coming year."
"It's a great opportunity and it's something that I will proudly take advantage of," Joseph said by telephone. "That's what I've been preparing for all winter to this point. I'm just going to continue to prepare for that role as the winter goes on, both physically and mentally. Just take the same approach into spring training that I did last year: Nothing is going to be given to me and I still have to earn the position that I get."
Last season's first base platoon can be labeled a success. The Phillies used it for 43 home runs, the most homers a major-league team received from the position. Joseph found better success against lefthanded pitching but was serviceable against righthanders. His production does not necessarily require a platoon.
Joseph, 25, batted .281 with a .912 OPS in 89 at-bats against lefthanded pitching. He batted .248 with a .774 OPS in 226 at-bats against righthanders. It is worth seeing what type of strides he can make when given a full slate of playing time.
"The key is as we all know players have their ups and downs, their slumps during the course of the year. It's how you get up off your feet and not prolong those slumps is what determines how good of a player you might be," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I think Tommy has got it in him to fight the adversity and be an everyday first baseman, but he's got to prove himself."
If the Phillies opt to platoon, they could wait out the free-agent market and find a first baseman shortly before spring training who is willing to sign a one-year deal. Veterans Logan Morrison, Justin Morneau, and James Loney - all lefthanded hitters - could be available.
The likely candidate from within would be lefthander Brock Stassi, who batted .267 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs last season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. The 27-year-old had a disappointing season after a terrific 2015 at double A. Stassi seemed to rebound this winter in Venezuela as he batted .297 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 32 games.
Next season will give the team a chance to further evaluate what type of player Joseph is and determine how he fits into their plans beyond 2017. The Phillies will return next December to the winter meetings and carve out their 2018 lineup, and it is no longer unlikely to think that Joseph will be in the mix.
"If you want to be an everyday major-league player, number one, you have to be a special guy, the kind of guy that takes the challenges and battles for his role," Mackanin said. "I think Tommy is capable of doing that."