PHILADLEPHIA -- Mike Schmidt retired in May 1989. Five years later, he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Twenty-four years later, the Phillies are still trying to find a long-term solution at third base.
Scott Rolen came the closest, but his reluctance to sign before becoming a free agent forced a trade. Charlie Hayes, Dave Hollins, Todd Zeile, David Bell, Abraham Nunez, Pedro Feliz and Placido Polanco have all been regulars since, with varying degrees of success. All-Star Michael Young, acquired in a trade, gets his turn in 2013. But he's 36 years old.
Which is why an otherwise ordinary transactions note took on a little extra significance. The Phils announced Wednesday that Cody Asche was among six additional non-roster invitees to big league camp in Clearwater, Fla., along with right-handers Justin Friend and Kyle Simon, catcher Tommy Joseph, outfielder Joe Mather and left-hander Adam Morgan.
It's just the latest signal that the Phillies are hoping that Asche, just 22, could be their third baseman of the future even though he has only a season and a half of professional experience.
And Asche, the team's fourth-round Draft pick out of Nebraska in 2011, doesn't shrink from the attention.
"I think expectations are always a good thing," Asche said recently, while attending a prospect orientation seminar at Citizens Bank Park. "It's a motivation factor. Some guys like to be someone who just floats under the radar. But I think more satisfaction comes from meeting and exceeding expectations. It's always good when you have people on your side, saying good things about you and hoping you'll succeed. I think that just creates a good aura around you and helps you out."
Asche isn't even intimidated when Schmidt's name is invoked, even though he's considered by many the best third baseman of all time. In fact, Asche was thrilled to learn that Schmidt annually visits Spring Training as a guest instructor.
"That's very exciting," Asche said. "Being around [Philadelphia] for five days, Mike Schmidt memorabilia is everywhere. He's a Hall of Famer. Best-case scenario, you are Mike Schmidt. That's a guy I'm excited to meet and learn from. I mean, being in [Double-A] Reading, there's a quote he had on the batting cage wall about never being satisfied with your performance. Because what drove him was always the pursuit of perfection. I used to read that quote every day going in for my early work and that really sunk in for me. I love that quote."
The ascent of Asche, ranked the organization's 16th-best prospect by MLB.com, has been dizzying. Breaking in at Class A Williamsport in 2011, he batted just .192 in 68 games with two home runs and 19 RBI. Asche also made 15 errors.
After that, Asche went to the instructional league in Florida. He was also moved from second base to third, his more natural position. And Asche's career took off. In 130 games between Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, he batted .324 -- tops among all Phils Minor Leaguers -- with 33 doubles, six triples, 12 homers and 72 RBIs.
"He came a long way last year," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "We talked about it a lot, that he made a mechanical adjustment. He's got some things to work on offensively and defensively. But he's also one of those guys who, if I were betting on whether or not he'd be able to improve in some of those areas, I'd bet that he's one of those guys.
"Because he seems to be one of those baseball rat type guys, where he's not going allow impediments to stop him. We'll see how he continues to progress. Obviously, he's got a chance to swing the bat. He's got a chance to be a decent third baseman. We'll see how he progresses."
Asche said the most important adjustment he made was mental.
"Coming from college, you're in a comfort level," he said. "You've been there three years. You know everybody associated with the program. You know your coaches, you know your teammates. Then all of a sudden, I'm in the middle of Pennsylvania for the first time. I don't think there's anything you can pinpoint. There's not one thing you can put your finger on and say, 'That's what caused it.' I just felt more comfortable. I was familiar with the people I was going to be learning from, familiar with the players. I think that helped a lot.
"I have extreme confidence in myself. This past season, I think that's who I am. That's something I always thought, even through all my struggles in Williamsport. I just kept in my own mind, 'I'm a great player.' I think having confidence in yourself keeps you on an even plane, so your highs don't get too high and your lows don't get too low."
Which doesn't mean Asche thinks he already has it made.
"I think there are areas I can improve in both offensively and defensively," Asche said. "As you move up, the game changes at each level and you have to make tweaks to your game. Adjustments are things I look forward to doing. Seeing how they approach you differently and making those minor tweaks so you can stay ahead of the next person. I think that's fun. That's really what I enjoy."
The Phillies have invited a total of 19 players to big league camp. For a couple weeks, at least, Asche will be one of them, and that says something about how he's viewed by the organization.
Not to mention that he'll get to meet Schmidt.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less