When the Lehigh Valley IronPigs open up the 2013 season tonight, there will be something inherently different with the look and feel of this year's squad.
In past years the IronPigs were filled with grizzled veterans who were still capable of playing in the big leagues with a few sparse prospects sprinkled in.
This year's IronPigs are strewn with the cream of the Phillies crop. According to Baseball America, there are five of the Phillies top-10 prospects in uniform tonight at Coca-Cola Park.
This includes the #3 overall prospect in catcher Tommy Joseph and hard hitting third-basemen Cody Asche (#7). Both are going to be keys to the success of the Lehigh Valley season.
Asche ( pronounced Ash-EE), who will begin his second full season as a pro, hit .324 in 130 games split between Clearwater and Reading. He combined for 12 homers and 72 RBI, exciting the Phillies-faithful with the potential to be a power hitting third baseman.
"I'm very excited to start at Triple-A," said the Phillies 2011 4th round draftee.
"I got some opportunities to play in the big league camp, and that was very exciting for me," Asche said.
"Being my first camp, I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of playing time, I think what was a pleasant surprise is how is how much I got in games."
In eight games, the righy batted .357 with an OPS of .938.
"That's a good building block for this season," Asch said. "I want to use this experience and continue to learn and continue to get better."
After coming over from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence deal last summer, Joseph played 28 games in Reading and is looking forward to his first spring in Lehigh Valley.
Joseph also performed well with the big-club in Florida by racking up a .462 batting average with a homer and two doubles in six games.
"This time last year I wasn't healthy and now I am able to play on opening day so I am excited for that," Joseph said, "I learned a lot (in spring training) and right now I am just going try and carry all of that knowledge and success into the season."
New IronPig skipper Dave Brundage has to remind himself at times that many of his players are just 21 and 22 years old.
"In the long run from Joseph's standpoint he's a young man who hasn't been to triple-A yet and he's getting to know all the faces, he's getting to know all the starters and the relievers. One thing I don't want to do is I don't want to load up and put too much on his plate and ask too much, too soon," Brundage said.
The rotation that Joseph will have to get to know includes a starting rotation that spent time in Reading last year. This includes tonight' starter, Tyler Cloyd (12-1, 2.35), the IL pitcher of the year in 2012, followed by prospects Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan, and Ethan Martin. The rotation will be anchored by B.J. Rosenberg who started and closed games last season in both Reading and Lehigh Valley.
"We got a good staff and a strong bullpen," Joseph said, "The lineup is pretty good, we know how to swing it here. Obviously you want to go out there and wins some ball games and shake some hands after and enjoy that.
The two young players have a lot to work on and will surely be the mainstay-anchors to the IronPigs in 2013. It is certain that the success of the IronPigs will lay on how well these two adjust, learn, and grow on their journey to be a big-leaguer in Philadelphia.