A Closer Look at Tommy Joseph

The Phillies called up Tommy Joseph exactly a week ago, which means I am technically a week late in getting this to fantasy owners looking for some depth at first base. I blame the timing of the Phillies who need to be more cognizant of this writer’s publishing and writing schedule. I intend to touch on Joseph’s past, as well as looking forward to what lies ahead in his future as well, which is a bit difficult with his lack of past experience.

The name Tommy Joseph may sound familiar to some of us as Joseph was said to be the major piece the Phillies were receiving in the Hunter Pence deal with the Giants. Joseph was originally a catcher and was thought to be the potential successor to Carlos Ruiz once he developed and Ruiz declined. Concussions and a season ending wrist injury in 2014 has taken a lot of playing time away from Joseph, who has played in a grand total of 500 minor league games since 2010. He played some 1B throughout his minor league, but wasn’t moved into full-time 1B duty until last season. He has suffered three concussions throughout his minor league career, and that will always be a concern. Thankfully, he is not behind the plate anymore so that may not be as frequent or pressing of an issue.

As a result of these injuries, we do not have a ton of data on Joseph to paint a very clear picture. Last season in AAA, he struggled triple-slashing .193/.220/.301 in 175 PA’s. It was difficult to find him on most prospect lists or publications that cover minor leaguers, which is understandable after a pretty underwhelming minor league career. Then Joseph finally seemed to find a groove in 2016 as he was raking in AAA, triple-slashing .347/.370/.611 in 100 PA’s.

The power is nice and he has shown spurts of it in some small samples across his career. The .263 ISO seems high and I wish we had a larger sample to base that off of to see how real it is. The most recent data I can offer is 2014 in AA, where he had an ISO of .269 in 87 PA’s before getting hurt. Even though the power may not be sustainable, it is not necessarily a mirage if he continues to hit, which is a bigger question I have.

I am admittedly biased and prefer hitters that control the strike-zone well, so I tend to overemphasize walk rates in a lot of analysis. In AAA, he had a walk rate of 1.7% in 2015 and 4.0% in 2016. That certainly scares me if he is going to become an everyday player. There are always exceptions, but I don’t see him mashing for an extended period of time in the pros unless he improves his plate discipline. I don’t want to dive deeply into what he has done so far as a pro since he has only 11 PA’s. So far, he has a HR, a BB, and 4 K’s.

On a positive note, according to Joseph, there were some vision issues as well last season and he has since had that fixed. He had astigmatism in his right eye and currently wears a contact in that eye. There is no doubt that improved vision can make a huge difference, and this could explain the drastic improvement from last year to this year, but I will not say that the reason for certain. There are so many other factors that lead to improvement and it would be irresponsible of me to claim that Joseph’s strong numbers are solely the result of this procedure, and is sustainable as well. The article cited above also mentions him losing weight, which is the classic spring training story people always seem to fall for.

If Joseph was on the long-side of the platoon, I would be more apt to give him a shot. Especially when Josh Shepardson checked in on Joseph last week, and noted that he is catcher-eligible in CBS leagues, it’s always nice to find another catcher eligible player in those deeper leagues. Ryan Howard should get most of the playing time against right-handed starters, while Joseph starts getting a look against lefties. He may be a nice pinch-hitting option with his seemingly more aggressive approach at the plate. Picking him up on your fantasy team would really depend on how deep your league is, but I am not expecting him to be a true keeper just yet. He’s two months away from 25 and it would be great if he turned a corner with the bat and can avoid injuries, though the vision story is encouraging to hear. I just need more data and exposure to say he is a guy you should be running to pick up.

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