By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When the Phillies traded outfielder Hunter Pence last July, the key piece they got in return from San Francisco was catcher Tommy Joseph. After spending the end of last season with AA Reading, the 21-year-old Joseph is currently adjusting to life at AAA as the youngest member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
“I’m hanging in there,” Joseph tells KYW Newsradio. “Obviously it’s a tough thing to do, but I’m enjoying it. Great coaches and great teammates around me that have helped me come into this organization and helped me relax and kind of play my game. All you can do is keep working hard and playing hard.”
Joseph is currently sidelined as he recovers from a concussion he suffered when he took a foul ball off the mask last week and the first month of the season has been a challenge for him, overall. A right-handed hitter, he is batting .209 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 21 games, and he has committed nine passed balls.
But his manager says he’s already made nice strides since the season’s first days.
“Came in (the first week), the game was a little fast, but there was huge learning curve for him (at AAA),” Dave Brundage tells KYW Newsradio. “Especially for a catcher, because not only do you have worry about yourself, but you have to worry about the pitching staff and you’re handling the staff and getting to know the staff. A lot of different new pitchers that he’s trying to get acclimated with and call a ballgame. At the same time, there’s the offensive side of it. He’s handled himself very well since that point.”
The numbers back that up. Six of those passed balls occurred in his first four games of the season. And prior to getting hurt, he was hitting .300 in his last seven games.
There has been a lot of talk about Joseph amongst the fans and the media in Philadelphia since his acquisition in that Pence deal, with most immediately anointing him the catcher of the future in Philadelphia. So has he felt any pressure since that trade?
“I think at first I did,” Joseph says. “But that was a part of the whole roller-coaster that happened. Now things have kind of settled down and it’s starting to become easier for me to understand what actually happened and what I was a part of. For now, everything’s going smoothly and I’m just continuing to work hard for a successful season.”
As for what he is working on:
“Still just getting to know every pitcher that I have to worry about and everybody that I have to catch,” Joseph says. “That’s obviously the biggest thing and being able to handle the ballgame. Do what (Brundage) asks me to do or (pitching coach) Ray Burris asks me to do. I definitely try to take care of those things first and then obviously everything I’ve got to do behind the plate, I need to be more fluid back there. And then at the plate, I need to hit better in situations, I need to put together better at bats and not give so many away.”
But Brundage says the sky is the limit for the young catcher.
“You love his make-up, and you love the way he goes about his work,” Brundage says. “He wants to learn everyday. He’s got a lot to learn, we’ve put a lot on his plate, and he’s handled it beautiful.”
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.