By Sam Bush

Tommy Joseph finally made his major league debut last May, a couple months before turning 25, and he went on to have a solid rookie season.

He finished with 21 home runs in 315 at-bats, and with Ryan Howard no longer on the roster, Joseph has a chance to be a part of the team’s future at first base.

”I don’t think it was so much the power numbers, it was getting to the major leagues and having a healthy season. That was really the most gratifying thing,” Joseph told the AP yesterday before the Phillies’ first spring training full-squad workout. ”As a ballplayer, your job is to come in here and give your manager the opportunity for you to play every day.”

Staying healthy has been an issue for Joseph, a top prospect in the Giants’ system before he was traded to Philly in the Hunter Pence deal.

Joseph was a catcher then and had shown solid power at the Class A level, but his career was nearly derailed by concussions.

From 2013-15, Joseph played only 121 games in the minors. Finally, an impressive start at Triple-A last year earned him a promotion, and after about a month with the Phillies, he’d supplanted the struggling Howard at first base.

Howard hit much better after the All-Star break, and by the end of the season, he’d managed to reach 25 home runs, giving the Phillies two options with power at first base. But the Phils let Howard go , and he remains a free agent.

”Tommy’s got some issues he’s got to take care of,” manager Pete Mackanin said. ”It’s like any other hitter – the better you learn the strike zone, the more at-bats you don’t give away.”

Joseph had 75 strikeouts and 22 walks last season, finishing with a .308 on-base percentage. Even when he was hitting well at Triple-A, he drew only four walks in 27 games, so it’s no surprise that his selectivity at the plate remains an issue.

”Young players, when they come to the big leagues, it takes a little while to figure out what type of hitter you are and where your strengths are. He knows he’s a very good low ball hitter,” Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs said. ”So, just a matter of reminding him, over and over and over, ‘Hey, listen, you’re a low ball hitter, take your walks. You snuck up on some teams last year with the power you had.”’

Joseph’s platoon split is also a potential issue. In the majors last year, his OPS was better against left-handed pitchers (.912) than against righties (.774) – and now Howard is no longer around to take up at-bats against right-handers.

Joseph is hopeful that with more experience, he can keep improving.

”I’ve been hitting against right-handed pitching my entire minor league career. The only way you progress in the major leagues is having the opportunity to face those guys,” he said. ”Getting an opportunity would be great, and allow me to continue to progress.”

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