Brock Stassi in contention for Phillies roster spot

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It was time for Brock Stassi to start looking at colleges, but no schools had any interest. Stassi, who was entering his senior year at Yuba City High School in Northern California, was running out of time. He looked to be a player with a questionable future.

"So he basically had two choices," said his father, Jim, who coached Stassi in high school. "He could keep doing what he was doing and go to a junior college or he could start working his butt off. He chose the latter and that's when the phones started ringing.

"And he hasn't stopped from there."

It is that same work ethic - the one that finally grabbed the attention of college coaches - that has powered Stassi into contention for one of the final spots on the Phillies' opening day roster. The 27-year-old Stassi homered Tuesday for the second time this spring in a 7-5 Grapefruit League win over Baltimore.

"I feel good right now," Stassi said. "I'm just trying to take it day by day. Today was a great day, but I have to come back to work tomorrow. Tomorrow is a new day."

In 2011, the Phillies drafted Stassi in the 33rd round, a place usually reserved for players who fill out the rosters of the minor leagues' lowest rungs. For Stassi, it was a chance. The Phillies drafted him as an outfielder, but he found out on his first day in Williamsport that he would be playing first base. Stassi grabbed his new glove and began to work.

He developed into an excellent defender. Stassi made just one error last season. His defense, well regarded by the Phillies, could be what pushes Stassi onto the roster. Manager Pete Mackanin said Stassi is "one of the best first baseman that I've seen in a real long time."

The Phillies need a capable backup for Tommy Joseph. They also need an extra outfielder. Stassi, who is working this spring in the outfield, would fill both roles.

"Any time the manager gives you praise is great," Stassi said. "But I've seen guys that are great defenders that don't work at it and slack off and lose their defensive skills. He thinks I'm great now, but maybe I kick a couple balls and it might not be the same opinion. So I have to keep working on it and get better and better every day."

Stassi batted .267 with a .369 on-base percentage in 117 games last season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. He adjusted his swing toward the end of the season and used that adjustment to find success this winter in Venezuela. It was something that reminded his father of when Stassi returned home in 2014 from a disappointing double-A season. Stassi worked to adjust his swing, learning from his failure. He responded by capturing the 2015 Eastern League MVP award.

"He had his back against the wall for a long, long time," Jim Stassi said. "It's not something that's new to him. He's been fighting through it forever. That's why it doesn't really surprise me that he's in the situation he is right now, hopefully making the 25-man roster out of spring training. Because he's been battling his entire career."

Stassi's 33rd-round selection brought him a whopping $1,000 signing bonus. He likes to tell people that he lost 30 percent of his bonus on the night he received it. Their stares widen when he tells them he lost it at a blackjack table inside a Connecticut casino. This guy must be nuts, Stassi figures they are thinking. Then he tells him his bonus was just $1,000. And everyone laughs.

It's a story he tells as an introduction, something light to break the ice. It's also a nice reminder that Stassi entered professional baseball with no guarantee. Just $1,000 and a spot on one of the organization's lowest teams. And now he has pushed himself to the brink of the major leagues.

"For the little money I've made, I'm doing it because I love competing," Stassi said. "I love winning. The money's great and it's life-changing, but I want to be in the big leagues and be a big-leaguer. That's why I do this."

mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen