MIAMI — That Ryne Sandberg's endorsement Wednesday of Cody Asche as the "leading candidate" to start at third base in 2014 came as little surprise says plenty about the 23-year-old's impression. He arrived in the majors July 30, and assimilated into big-league culture with 40 starts.
The Phillies have not started a homegrown third baseman on opening day since Scott Rolen in 2002. Asche is primed to end that drought.
Sandberg said he would make that clear in his final message this season to Asche.
"I'd say come in and be ready to win a job," Sandberg said. "You've shown you can play here. You've shown you can play at this level. Come in and be ready to take the job."
The manager chuckled.
"I might say that to 25 or 35 guys in the locker room," he said. "They might all get the same message. He'll be one of the guys to hear that."
Asche sat Wednesday for the second straight day. He entered the game 1 for his last 18 and Sandberg saw a young player worn down by the six-month grind. Asche, after all, was playing college ball two years ago.
The Phillies possess no other clear candidate for third base. The free-agent market is barren like it was last winter. Top prospect Maikel Franco emerged with a superb season, but has yet to play above double A. Franco could push his timetable with a big spring. The Phillies played Franco at first base near the end of the minor-league season, which opens another possibility.
For now, the job is Asche's to lose.
"He's proven defensively he can play third base," Sandberg said. "And I think his bat has played. He's shown a good steady bat. I think down the stretch it's turned into a little bit of a long season for him possibly. I understand that. But the work ethic and the quality swing for a young guy like that is pretty good."