Joseph may be impact bat for Phillies in '17

Joseph may be impact bat for Phillies in '17

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Phillies squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who might surprise?

PHILADELPHIA -- Take a look up and down the Phillies' projected Opening Day lineup.

Everybody pretty much knows what to expect from veteran outfielders Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick. The same with National League All-Star center fielder Odubel Herrera. If third baseman Maikel Franco improves this season, it won't stun anybody because he has been touted as a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Cameron Rupp had the fourth-best slugging percentage among qualified catchers last season. If he improves, it's not like folks can say they never saw it coming.

Middle infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez? Unless Galvis suddenly posts a .350 on-base percentage, everybody seems to know what they will do.

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That brings us to first baseman Tommy Joseph, who might be the most intriguing hitter in the Phillies' lineup when Spring Training opens next week in Clearwater, Fla.

Joseph could be the biggest surprise in 2017.

Joseph's RBI single

How so? Joseph hit .257 with 21 home runs, 47 RBIs and an .813 OPS in 347 plate appearances in 2016, sharing time at first base with Ryan Howard. If Joseph had enough plate appearances to qualify, it would have been the highest OPS on the team. His .834 OPS as a first baseman ranked ninth out of 31 first basemen with 300 or more plate appearances.

But if Joseph takes off in an everyday role in his sophomore season -- we're talking 30-plus homers, 90-plus RBIs and an .850-or-better OPS -- the Phillies will have an upper-tier first baseman on their hands, a little more than a year after they removed him from the 40-man roster, and a year after Joseph spent his Spring Training with the club's Minor Leaguers.

And that would be a surprise.

• Who might surprise for each club in 2017?

And it would have ramifications on the Phillies' future plans. Because If Joseph locks down the job, that means the Phillies don't need to consider a free-agent first baseman -- which means they can spend their money elsewhere -- or look to prospect Rhys Hoskins, who will begin the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Can Joseph improve upon his 2016 success? He hit .242 with 17 homers, 34 RBIs, a .282 on-base percentage and a .767 OPS in 283 plate appearances through Sept. 5. He hit .327 with four homers, 13 RBIs, a .406 on-base percentage and a 1.024 OPS in 64 plate appearances the rest of the way. He thinks he figured out a few things late in the season.

If Joseph did and if he can carry those lessons learned into 2017, the Phillies will have their first baseman of the future. And nobody really seems to be talking about that.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.