David Adam

Never Too Late: JWCC grad taking advantage of shot in Phillies' organization

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 1, 2018 5:50 pm

Josh Tols was content with playing baseball in independent leagues all over the globe.

He knew his chances of making a major league roster at age 28 were pretty slim, but he was satisfied just to continue playing.

"I read a quote a while back that there are two places to pitch -- the big leagues and everywhere else," Tols said. "There are opportunities to pitch in other countries, and as long as I can keep travelling the world, I was pretty content."

After four years of bouncing around to teams in independent and foreign teams, Tols now is thrilled with his latest stop. He's pitching for the Reading Fightin' Phils in the Class AA Eastern League.

The road to Pennsylvania has been long and winding for Tols.

The native of Adelaide, Australia, came to the United States in 2008. A friend who was helping high school athletes find colleges provided Tols a list of every junior college in the United States and an email address. Tols did the rest and eventually found John Wood Community College in Quincy, where he played for two seasons.

"I just sent an email with a video and some coaches' recommendations to about 200 schools," he said. "I didn't look too hard where (the colleges) were. I'm from a coastal community in Australia, so getting off that plane in St. Louis and after (assistant coach Matt) Stembridge picked me up, seeing cornfields, tractors and deer, it was mind blowing.

"But I had that family feel right away. I got a good vibe from Coach (Greg) Wathen and Coach Stembridge. I'm really thankful I met those guys."

He also pitched briefly for both the Quincy Gems and the Hannibal Cavemen of the Prospect League, then went back to Australia for a year before going to Rockhurst College.

Tols graduated in 2014 and has since continued playing for a variety of teams in independent and foreign leagues -- the Adelaide Bite and the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League, the Las Vegas Train Robbers and the Trinidad Triggers of the Pecos League, and the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association.

Playing independent baseball doesn't pay particularly well, so Tols did various odd jobs to make a few bucks. He worked on a grounds crew and in a retail store, plus he did bricklaying, landscaping and factory work.

He played in a Japanese independent baseball league last year and had signed to play for the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the American Association this spring when he was pulled aside by a scout after a February game in Australia.

"He said, I think the Phillies are probably going to sign you,'" Tols said. "I'm 28 years old. I wasn't expecting to hear from an affiliated scout.

"The dream has always been to pitch in the big leagues, but to be honest, I just wanted to pitch as long as I could. I was kind of stunned. It was kind of out of nowhere. I didn't want to say, No, I don't want to do it.'"

A story by The Athletic's Meghan Montemurro noted that the Philadelphia Phillies have made a commitment to local talent in non-traditional baseball-playing countries. The Phillies have signed players in the past year from Australia, France, New Zealand, Russia and Mexico. All of them are 20 years old or younger -- except Tols.

However, he signed with Philadelphia on Feb. 10, and a month later, he was assigned to Class A Clearwater for four games before he was promoted to Reading.

The 5-foot-7, 185-pound left-hander has been very effective for the Fightin Phils. His earned run average was as low as 1.42 on July 3 and was at 2.20 on Tuesday before he gave up four earned runs and got only one out against Richmond.

Opponents are batting just .128 against Tols, and he's struck out 37 batters in 29 innings over 22 appearances.

"It's pretty much the same thing I've done my whole career," he said. I'm not the hardest thrower, and I'm short. Everyone else is 6-foot-3 and throwing flames, and I come in throwing 65 miles per hour curve balls. It's a new look, and it's kind of helped me, I guess."

Tols has no idea what his future with the Phillies could be. The Eastern League season ends Monday, and Tols already has plans to play in Venezuela. He also has expressed an interest in playing in Europe before he's done.

"What am I going to do next year? I couldn't give you an answer," he said. "I just love the game. I don't care what level. I don't need anyone to tell me if I'm being successful. If I can see as much of the world as possible and pitch in as many countries as I can, I'll be happy.

"I'm just thankful for this opportunity. It came at the right time. No one expected me to be here, but I believe in myself. I'm playing with house money at this point."