Back in 2001, the Phillies used Travis Lee at their first baseman. He was solid, but unspectacular, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 90 runs.
The team was thinking bigger when they drafted Howard that season in the 5th round. Looking back, that pick was an absolute steal. They used veteran and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome for a couple years before him. But in 2005, the rookie replaced the legend. Howard took over at first, the Phillies traded Thome and the rest is history.
Back in 2012, the Phillies were coming off a 102-win season. But the age of their players was setting in and they were in the midst of a poor season. So at the deadline, they shipped outfielder Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. The prize in return was Joseph. He was the top catching prospect of the Giants and one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball.
So how did Joseph become the first baseman who is going to (most) likely start on Opening Day next season?
A series of concussions sustained in the minor leagues made it seem like Joseph would never actually play again. But he persevered through it all and made the switch to first base prior to 2016. The 25-year-old started out on fire down in Triple-A so the team had to call him up. He hit 21 homers in 315 at bats and followed by being the next rookie to replaced a legend. The Phillies will undoubtedly choose to exercise a team option on Howard after the World Series has concluded.
It would be great if the transition goes as well as it did when Howard took over at first base. The team won a World Series, he won a league MVP and hit just under 400 home runs. But it is unfair to just expect Joseph to fill Howard’s shoes because they are just too big to fill. Instead, Joseph can continue to progress as he did this season into next year.
In his first two months of play this year, from May-June, he only walked five times compared to 40 strikeouts. From July to the end of the season, he walked 19 times. He struck out 40 times again in that span. His on-base percentage was well below .300 in June, but he got it up to .308 at the end of the year.
It is that kind of determined improvement that shows Joseph can adjust. And of course, he will always have the power. It is tough to project numbers based on performance in a limited amount of time, but it is safe to think Joseph would have hit 30 home runs if he was on the Opening Day roster. And his numbers might have been even more significant if he was not in a platoon at first base.
Joseph did something only five other rookies have ever done in Phillies history. This, of course, was hitting 20 home runs. Other names on that list? Howard, Dick Allen, Scott Rolen to name the big ones. Those are not names to shrug at.
There is reason to believe that Joseph won’t be a name to shrug at soon either.
PJ Hyduke is a Staff Writer for Outside Pitch MLB covering the Phillies. Follow him on Twitter