NEW YORK - The five Phillies players packed into the three-bedroom apartment at the beginning of spring training with big-league aspirations. "Right in between the stadium and Chick-fil-a," Brock Stassi said. He slept on the air mattress in the living room. Joely Rodriguez, Mark Leiter Jr., Cameron Perkins, and Tom Eshelman were his roommates.
Stassi and Leiter had lived together the previous spring. They both signed for $1,000 as late-round picks. They had been promoted and demoted, patient and productive. Late at night this spring, they talked about baseball and considered their long odds.
Less than three weeks into the season, they were teammates in the majors.
"I never showed up on any prospect lists," Stassi said. "He never showed up on any prospect lists. But we both made it to the top. That's a testament to the Phillies organization. You do your job and work hard, then you'll be rewarded."
The Phillies' rebuilding process will not be accelerated by players such as Stassi and Leiter; the organization's top prospects must develop into big-league pieces or valuable trade chips to push the Phillies toward contention. But that does not diminish the players on the fringe, those who overcame the longest odds. Their promotions can be a lesson for the lesser players in a deep system.
There is opportunity.
"It can be a great motivator for the entire system," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said.
Stassi is a bench bat and Leiter is an extra arm. Neither is guaranteed much, beyond the $2,923 they earn every day in the majors. That is about what they'd make for a month in triple A. Both were respected by players and coaches up and down the Phillies system for their perseverance.
Jordan said their ascension to the majors is a reminder to all of the minor-league players that results - not prospect rankings - still matter.
"If they need an arm or a bat," Jordan said, "we're going to send them the best option we have."
That was what the five players dreamed about in the spring. Eshelman, a 22-year-old pitching prospect at double A who received a $1.1 million signing bonus, was the most acclaimed and the youngest.
Rodriguez, 25, had signed for $55,000 before being traded, dropped from the 40-man roster, and then re-added. Perkins, 26, was a sixth-round pick in 2012 with a $152,000 bonus who meticulously climbed to triple A.
Rodriguez made the team as a lefthanded reliever late in camp. Then the roommates rallied around Stassi.
"Living with Brock," Leiter said, "seeing him go through that two-week period where you don't know if he's making the team but he's earned it, you feel emotionally attached to the situation."
It served as inspiration for Leiter, a 22nd-round pick from NJIT who does not throw hard but developed a reputation in the minors as someone who could fill any role and compete. He had modest goals after Stassi's indelible moment.
"I didn't know if I was even going to make triple A," Leiter said. "I was thrilled. It was the first time I made the team I was hoping to make out of camp."
Leiter may not stick for long; outfielder Howie Kendrick is eligible to return Wednesday from the disabled list. Stassi has slumped with limited playing time in the majors and must produce to keep his job. Both players are well aware of life on a roster's edge.
The Phillies asked Leiter, who was not invited to big-league camp, to arrive early in Clearwater. Same with Eshelman. Leiter started the first exhibition game against the University of Tampa and later appeared in a Grapefruit League game against Detroit. Miguel Cabrera singled. But Victor Martinez and Justin Upton flied out. Leiter pitched a scoreless inning.
He was on the radar, if the need for an extra arm arose.
"You never know," Stassi said. "You never know who's watching. You never know if somebody likes you or somebody doesn't like you. You can just go out there, do your best, and let the rest take care of itself."
Leiter recognized that long before he watched Stassi reach his goal. It served as affirmation for him, and maybe others.
"Seeing everything he went through in spring it felt like a lot of my story is similar," Leiter said. "I couldn't have been happier for him. I was lucky enough to share some of that with him being his roommate and having that night hanging out with him before the team left. To experience it for myself, it was amazing. It really was."
UPDATES ON THREE
1. Edubray Ramos: This is a learning experience for Ramos, thrust into important situations with uneven results. He has an electric arm. Remember, Ramos was out of baseball for two years. He pitched just 200 innings in the minors. He's a young 24.
2. Nick Pivetta: That the Phillies acquired anything for Jonathan Papelbon was impressive. But Pivetta is something. The 24-year-old righthander has 24 strikeouts and two walks in 19 innings this season. That commands attention.
3. John Middleton: Nothing in the Phillies owner's hourlong interview last week with radio rights-holder WIP-FM was more interesting than his disclosure that he emailed Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak the morning after Freddy Galvis' rare mental mistake because he was upset and wanted an explanation. Middleton, in the past, had professed his preference to leave baseball matters to the baseball officials.