CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tommy Joseph and Brock Stassi arrived in professional baseball two years apart and with a roughly $700,000 difference in their bank accounts.
The start of their careers could not have been more different.
Stassi was a 33rd-round pick by the Phillies in 2011, reaping a $1,000 bonus and a roster spot on a low-level minor-league team.
Joseph, whom the Giants drafted in the second round in 2009, was one of baseball’s top catching prospects after earning more than $700,000 to skip college.
But the two players have since traveled similar paths that forced them to defy the odds as they chased the major leagues. Joseph and Stassi — two of the better stories in the Phillies’ clubhouse — could break camp as the team’s two first basemen.
“We’re big fans of each other,” Stassi said.
Joseph could have allowed his baseball career to end last year, when he reported to spring training without the security of even a minor-league roster spot. His promising career as a catcher was derailed by a series of concussions. The Phillies forced him to become a first baseman.
Joseph rallied, did well in minor-league camp, earned a spot in Triple-A and then pushed himself to the majors in May. Joseph hit 21 homers for one of the most unlikely rookie years in team history.
“I was pumped for him,” said Stassi who was with Joseph at the start of last season in Triple-A. “We were in Columbus when he got called up. The month and a half that he was down in Triple-A was pretty ridiculous. Even on outs, he was hitting stuff hard right at guys. I couldn’t have been more happy for him after seeing what he had to go through.”
Stassi and Joseph first played together in 2013 with high Class-A Clearwater. Stassi was the 23-year-old backup first baseman, yielding playing time to another high draft pick. The majors were a long shot. Stassi spent the next two seasons in Double-A, winning the Eastern League’s MVP award in 2015 but still far from the majors. It was impressive enough the 33rd-rounder had reached Reading.
He spent all of last season in Triple-A, finally playing just one step away from the major leagues. He reported last month to spring training as a non-roster invitee with an outside shot to crack the team. Stassi is doing his best to force the Phillies’ hand.
The 27-year-old leads all of baseball in spring-training RBIs and is second in homers. He is the team’s top hitter among players with at least 30 at-bats. Stassi would provide the Phillies a lefthanded option to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter, a reserve first baseman to give Joseph a break, and an extra outfielder — Stassi is working this spring in left and right field.
The latest obstacle for Stassi is the roster crunch, which could prove to be enough to keep him off the opening day roster. Stassi is not on the 40-man roster, meaning the Phillies would have to place someone on waivers to make room for him.
His chances may depend on whom the Phillies chose for their final two bullpen spots. Stassi is in luck if the relief roles go to pitchers on the 40-man roster. They will likely add only two or three players that are not on the 40-man roster. Stassi, the player who started his career with $1,000, will find out in less than two weeks if he is able to defy the odds yet again.
“He’s been in that situation ever since he’s been drafted,” Joseph said. “He was always playing behind everybody. It’s great to see from then to now, the dramatic changes he’s made in his swing and how he’s approached things. He’s always been a great person. He’s always been fun to be around.”
But to watch how his game’s evolved has been special.”