I’ve spent all summer being skeptical of Josh Phegley, so why stop now that he’s been recalled?
He’s 25, 2013 has been the third-straight season in which he’s seen action in Triple-A, he’s never finished a year, at any level, with an OPS over .800 before. The blood disorder complications that offer a go-to reason why his progress stalled took place back in 2010. His pitch blocking has improved from the days where it was legitimate to wonder whether his lower half was made of cheesecloth, but he’ll still inspire the wrong kinds of A.J. Pierzynski flashbacks.
But he’s also hitting!
Phegley was hitting at Triple-A to tune of .316/.368/.597 over 258 plate appearances. There are teams that struggle to find a place to slide a hot-hitting prospect, there are teams that have very specific areas of need, there are teams that are willing to move pieces around for an offensive boost and then there’s the White Sox, who have used Jeff Keppinger at designated hitter this season. If there’s anything to Phegley’s bat, anything at all, he can be slid into the lineup. That he happens to catch is more of a convenience.
I was in favor of allowing A.J. Pierzynski to walk because his 2012 performance was not–as A.J. is showing–repeatable, his presence wasn’t going to save a Sox team that wasn’t being built to contend anyway and it was worth the time to see what Flowers could do. Now, with the season holding way less promise than it did even three months ago and Flowers being negative value added, curiosity is more than enough motivation to shuffle through another option.
That’s reflected in Ventura leaving it open for Phegley to command the role by allowing him to share it.
“He’s here to play,” Ventura said. “He’s earned the right to come up and that’s part of playing well in Triple-A. He’s earned a promotion.”
The only real way for two right-handed catchers who were ostensibly brought into the organization for their offense and certainly not their pitch-blocking skills to form a rotation is for one to subjugate the other to the bench by outperforming him. If Phegley’s capable of sniffing league average, that’s exactly what he’ll do.
There’s a disinclination to believing in any White Sox position prospect not drafted under the new approach, especially a slowly progressing college player. In his first game, Phegley did nothing to make anyone forget that this is the biggest jump in levels the sport has to offer and that he’s probably never seen changeups as good as the ones Jeremy Hellickson threw at him in his entire life. No indictments were made about his bat speed on Friday, but he’ll need to be able the counter the pitching attack plan of “the same pitch over-and-over again until he stops waving at it” going forward.
But the bar is simply so impossibly low. Tyler Flowers is so improbably lost from the good approach that once provided a reasonable floor to his ability to get on base. Hector Gimenez, while blessed with the goofy, demonstrative and playful demeanor ideal for a backup catcher, was also unremarkable at everything on the field like a true backup catcher. There’s just very few ways the White Sox end up regretting this move.
Chasing down dreams of Phegley’s dominant bat is the type of stuff last place teams should spend the second half doing.
Similarly, since he also made his debut on Friday, giving extended spins to Simon Castro and the like is also a good way to spend the time, and not just because Castro struck out four batters over three shutout innings. Nothing hammers home the replaceability of bullpen members like racing up mid-tier prospects and having them offer similarly acceptable success.
Whether the spate of relief prospects being rifled up to Triple-A–Jake Petricka, Daniel Webb, along with Andre Rienzo, who has been in Charlotte all year–exist simply to spare more explorations of Brian Omogrosso, Ramon Troncoso and David Purcey‘s viability or to provide confirmation that the sky won’t fall in if even Addison Reed is determined to be more valuable to a short-term contender than to the White Sox long-term plans, their presence is productive all the same.
Nick (@n_schaef) expressed some curiosity in seeing Castro take a start away from Dylan Axelrod before Jake Peavy‘s presence does it for him. The current state of Axelrod–getting beaten so soundly that Rays announcers were remarking at his hittability–makes anyone interesting over him. Castro getting a shot would be edifying, but it depends on whether the Sox switching him to the pen in Charlotte before he was brought up was to accelerate his arrival or in recognition of his struggles to consistently repeat his delivery and likely relief future. I would think a healthy Charlie Leesman might make a smoother transition, but there’ obviously room to tinker
The thing about playing guys who don’t have a future as starters is that at 34-49, the Sox have likely already been doing that all season.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan