Former Indiana University catcher Josh Phegley has joined Giant's reliever Jake Dunning as the second active Hoosier in Major League Baseball in the 2013 season. Both players have made strong debuts this season but Phegley's is the most recent and dire for his club. The White Sox' production from the catcher position this year has been terrible and many within the fanbase were clamoring for this change a month ago. Well they finally got it and through three games Phegley is delivering.
Josh is a Terre Haute (North) native and Indiana Mr. Baseball who came to Indiana University with a starting position already lined up for his taking. He played in 46 games, while starting at catcher in 42 of them. His hitting was fine at a .232 clip and the defense was very good. He threw out 35% of base runners while only committing two errors.
He came back as a sophomore and earned second team All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball News and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America. He earned those honors by hitting .438 on the season with 15 home runs. For those of you that aren't big baseball fans, the professional record for batting average in a season is .440 and that was performed in 1894. Even in college that's an insanely good batting average. As a senior he followed that up with a .344 and 17 home run season.
That's the kind of hitting to get you first round draft consideration. In fact, I believe he would have gone much higher than the 39th overall that he did but in the summers he seemed to struggle a bit more with the wooden bats that the professionals use. The White Sox were willing to overlook the depressed summer ball numbers to take a gamble on him at the back end of the first round with a sandwich pick.
Once a professional, some of the doubters seemed to be right to be suspicious about the gaudy numbers with an aluminum bat. In Low-A ball he hit just .224 in 214 at bats. Even worse his on base percentage came in at a very ugly .277. Only getting on base 27% of the time when you get a hit 22% of the time is very bad.
A year later Phegley encountered another obstacle in his fight for the majors. He only played 48 games due to a very rare blood disorder in which the body experiences a very low platelet count, spontaneous blood masses and lengthy bleeding time from minor injuries. Essentially his blood would not clot appropriately and casual traumas experienced in baseball, especially as a catcher, become much more dangerous to the individual. This disorder was solved by the removal of his spleen in November of 2010.
Phegley came back in 2011 but still struggled to hit with any consistency. Despite his struggles the White Sox continued to move him up the system and he finished the year with 22 games in triple A ball before suffering a season ending wrist injury. Despite the hitting woes his defense was slowly improving behind the plate to where many scouts thought he would be able to stick to catcher at a major league level if not necessarily a good defensive one. Progress continued in 2012 with 102 games of Triple A baseball. He was noticeably better on defense throwing out 46% of attempted base runners. He finished the 2012 season at .266 with a .306 on base percentage. Not good but much more acceptable than previous campaigns.
This year's campaign took Phegley from an unlikely major leaguer to mid-season replacement quite surprisingly. Some are attributing the jump to him finally being over his blood disorder and regaining some athleticism that he lost due to the disease, but whatever it is he found his way onto the mid-season Triple A All-Star team. Hitting at a .316 clip with a .368 on base percentage his numbers were suddenly not just good but very good. Enough so that White Sox fans were clamoring for his call up to replace the floundering Tyler Flowers at the major league level.
He finally got that opportunity this past Friday. In a game against Tampa Bay, Phegley got the start at catcher in place of Tyler Flowers. Phegley went 1 for 3 with a 1 RBI single, 2 strikeouts and a RBI sac fly. Not too shabby for a major league debut despite the loss to the Rays. In his second game on Sunday he got the start again and clubbed his first major league home run in a 1-4 appearance. Last night in game three he clubbed another home run and picked a leaning runner off first base in the seventh.
Phegley strong start isn't going to save the White Sox season, but perhaps he can be the start of a major rebuilding project. If he can continue to perform he has a shot to stay there for quite some time. Despite being projected as a major league backup he's off to a hot start and is proving that he may be more valuable than any other option the Sox may have. Manager Robin Ventura said when they called Phegley up that "he's here to play" which means they're going to give him all the opportunity in the world to earn that spot. He's to him continuing his hot start and winning a position long term. Not only would it be great for the Terre Haute native and his home town but it would be a big deal for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Good luck big guy.