In truth, the signs were there throughout those last couple of years. A one-time top prospect clinging to a dream of returning to the major leagues, Cody Asche found himself consistently working to help those around him reach that level instead.
“I could kind of always feel it as a player,” Asche recalled. “I just was always kind of the person organizing cage work in the offseason. Always the person the guys would come to and talk to about their swing. Always down to sit in a cage and just watch.
“Really just infatuated by hitting. I just love it so much.”
That love has indeed brought Asche back to the big leagues, but not in the way he once imagined. Last week, the Orioles officially added the 32-year-old to their major league staff as offensive strategy coach, the club’s only coaching change coming off 2022′s unexpected success. Asche spent the year as Baltimore’s upper-level hitting coordinator after a season as the Philadelphia Phillies’ Low-A hitting coach.
“The hire itself is such a phenomenal promotion, in my opinion,” said Dustin Lind, the San Francisco Giants’ director of hitting and a close friend of Asche’s. “I think that he’s really a rising star in the industry, and it’s because he’s obviously got a lot of feel for how the major league team operates, but he’s also very much a self-starter that goes out and works hard.
“He’s got this breadth of knowledge that will allow him to take all this information and use the context of his major league playing experience to really connect with the players on a level that very few coaches, in my opinion, can do nowadays.”
Asche and Lind first spoke in 2017, with the former seeking any avenue to improve and reaching out to the latter, then a physical therapy doctoral candidate at the University of Montana, over social media trying to do so. The Phillies’ fourth-round pick in 2011, Asche was in the majors just more than two years later, arriving as Philadelphia’s seventh-ranked prospect according to Baseball America. By the time he began working with Lind — “I gave him the keys to the car and said, ‘Hey, change my swing.’” — Asche had hit .234 in parts of five major league seasons, spending most of 2017 with the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A team. He spent 2018 and 2019 in the minors and independent ball.
“I had a fairly quick rise to the major leagues,” Asche said, “and a fairly quick fall out.”
His time with Lind did not go to waste. As Asche tried to learn how he could be successful, he gained a broader understanding of keys to hitting, feeling he had “to be on the forefront of what was coming next and trying to get better because I just didn’t really have the talent that I was just gonna be able to skate by.” He entered 2020 hoping for another opportunity, but when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport, he returned to school and finished his degree at the University of Nebraska, beginning to prepare for the next step in his baseball career.
Having worked with Asche for a few years, Lind understood what he knew and what he didn’t, and they worked together to fill those gaps, particularly when it came to game planning and body movement.
“He really challenges every concept that’s put in front of him,” Lind said. “He’s a very skeptical person, and so he wants to see the evidence, and he wants to see the evidence that that’s going to work. He’s never going to take anything at face value, and he’s just always going to question. And he’s willing to change his stance on a position if he’s presented with strong enough evidence, but he’s just very good at analyzing how good an argument is.”
Lind watched as Asche’s mindset transitioned from the player’s “How do I make myself better?” to the coach’s “How does this individual player in front of me get better, and what’s the path for that player to be the best version of themselves?” during the past two years. After making his way around the Orioles’ affiliates throughout 2022, Asche will build on that work next season, saying his new role will have him be a “jack of all trades” in his work with hitting coaches Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte and helping serve as an in-game conduit to the front office for manager Brandon Hyde and bench coach Fredi González.
Although his exact duties are to be determined, Asche credited executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, assistant general managers Sig Mejdal and Eve Rosenbaum, and director of player development Matt Blood for “hiring people and then allowing the role to morph into something that gets the most out of that person and allows you the opportunity to be successful.”
His playing experience adds another element to the Orioles’ coaching staff, as neither Fuller nor Borgschulte reached the majors. While Asche said he believes modern hitters simply want quality information regardless of who delivers it, Lind said Asche “can connect with players on all ends of the spectrum” because he’s experienced their highs and lows himself.
Noting that the Orioles are “really, really deep” in terms of young, talented hitters, Asche said he looks forward to helping the group of them he worked with last year transition to the majors, something he struggled with himself. He hesitates to say his career would have gone differently had he arrived in the majors now, when hitters have much more available information on opposing pitchers — rather than simply being told “Good luck, he throws hard,” as Asche recalled hearing about Craig Kimbrel and José Fernández — and pitching machines that specialize in replicating those pitchers’ full repertoires. But alongside Fuller and Borgschulte, he’ll strive in his new role to eliminate those kinds of wonders for Baltimore’s next wave of prospects.
“Would it have made me from a fairly average major leaguer to, like, an All-Star? Maybe not, but I think what it would have done is allowed me to exit the game with less what-ifs, and that’s the kind of thing that keeps you up at night as a player,” Asche said. “That’s why I strive to be that now, not for, like, the ‘next Cody Asche,’ per se, but just for the next hitter that could kind of get lost in the shuffle of that transition to the big leagues if they didn’t have the quiet support that we’re available to provide now.
“I’ve probably been preparing for this my entire career, honestly.”