A year ago this time, Tommy Joseph had his whole world in doubt. After numerous concussions, he was told he would never be able to catch again, so he had made the move to first base. Then, the Phillies took him off the 40-man roster last winter, leaving his future in further doubt. Joseph could have easily become one of those stories about a guy who might have been a good ballplayer, if not for all of the concussions that he suffered as a catcher. Instead, Joseph continued to work and drove himself to become better and refused to give up on baseball.
"Tommy was off the radar, he was almost a forgotten man, and all of a sudden, he showed up in spring training and when we saw him on the minor league side, he had lost weight, he looked like a different person," said Phillies manager Pete Mackanin. "The next thing we know, he's down in Triple-A hitting .350 and we just figured, let's call him up and see what he can do here. He started off strong, hit a ton of home runs early and showed us that he deserves an opportunity to be the first baseman. It was a pretty easy decision for us, but now this is a pretty important season for him to see how he can improve."
Even though he stayed positive, Joseph admits that there were times when he thought his dream of playing in the majors just might not happen. Even if he could put aside any doubts that he had in himself or his health, he couldn't really know for sure what the organization was thinking about him and how the viewed him as a potential piece for the future.
"It definitely crossed my mind and I'm sure the organization thought about it too, just for health reasons. That's the easiest way to sum it up, was I healthy enough and was it going to be safe for me to do it? I'm happy that it worked out," said Joseph at a recent Phillies banquet stop.
Not only was Joseph getting the chance to play in the majors, but he was going to be taking time away from Phillies icon Ryan Howard at first base. To his credit, Howard not only was gracious about the move, but talked to Joseph one-on-one and told him to grab the opportunity, easing the transition for Joseph.
"It was a special feeling. You work so long and you go through all the hours and tireless days, and then once you get there, it's worth every bit of it," recalled Joseph of his first day in the clubhouse. "He's [Howard] one guy that, outside of just the baseball stuff, just to see how he handled himself with media, teammates and also, just in the community; that guy's done so much for the community, it's just incredible. That's really where I took the most away from him, was just to see how humble he was, after all of the accolades and everything that he's been able to accomplish, for him to be that heartwarming, good dude, is just awesome."
"They got along very well," said Mackanin of the friendship between Joseph and Howard. "As tough as it was for Ryan to accept the role that I put on him, he handled it as a true professional. Not only did he handle it well for himself, but he made it comfortable for Tommy Joseph, which shows me a lot. He was aware of the fact that Tommy might be a little uncomfortable, knowing that you're taking the place of an icon and moving him out, so I give all the credit in the world to Ryan Howard, because he really did handle that well."
So, Joseph comes to the majors, hits 21 home runs and drives in 47 in 107 games. Not quite all-star caliber numbers, but good enough to put Joseph's name at the top of the depth chart for first base, coming into 2017. Many players will tell you that getting to the majors is quite a battle, but it's not the entire war. The battle to keep your job is sometimes the tougher part of becoming a major leaguer and Joseph could face challenges down the road from Brock Stassi and possibly, a bigger push from first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who will take over first base for Lehigh Valley this season.
Joseph knows that he has a lot of work to do and has to fight to keep his job, but he's ready for the challenge. The battle to simply get past injuries and reach the point that he has was tough, so he's been somewhat conditioned to not let things come easily.
"There's always going to be pressure in this game," said Joseph. "Whether it's the pressure that the organization puts on you or you put on yourself, there's always going to be something that you have to deal with. I'm just making sure that I'm mentally and physically prepared going into spring training and then into the season. I'm happy to have the opportunity and I'm looking forward to it.
"I've tried to prepare every winter for 162 games, this year is just the year that I'm going to get the opportunity to do it. It's definitely been a fun ride over the last year and I'm looking forward to continuing it."
Joseph is one of the young players who are seemingly in on the ground floor of the Phillies rebuild situation. The 25-year old could be the big bat that the Phillies need to help push the continuing growth of the team and Joseph likes the players that are around him and believes the nucleus is there for good things to happen.
"Obviously, this organization is headed in a great direction and the front office has done everything to make this organization one of the strongest in baseball. As a player, that couldn't mean more to you, just to have their support. We've got a lot of good ballplayers in the clubhouse and I'm looking to make something happen," believes Joseph.
This winter, Joseph conquered another task. Being a part of the Phillies banquet that made its way through the homes of the minor league affiliates. That too was all new to Joseph and the stop back in the Lehigh Valley, at the Sands Event Center was especially gratifying for the young first baseman.
"It's nice to see familiar faces and stuff like that. It's always good to be back here. I've never been in a casino like this, it's very nice and it's cool to be here and get to see people," said Joseph with a smile cracking his face. "Always nerves though. It's a pretty big banquet and I've never done one quite like this. It's different to be put in a situation like this, so there's nerves, but I'm looking forward to it, it will be fun. I'm not nervous about being in front of people, I just don't know what to expect, but I'm sure it's going to be fun."
Tommy Joseph 2016 stats