He’s not going to make it. // Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.
The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.
Josh Phegley – Unsatisfactory catcher
Age by 2014 Opening Day: 26
Contract: Three more pre-arbitration years, if you’re interested.
Relevant stats: MLB: 65 games (one of which involved two-thirds of an inning at second base), 213 plate appearances, .206/.223/.299, 34 wRC+, 2.3 BB%, 19.2 K%, .093 ISO, threw out 13 of 43 (30%) of basestealers, eight passed balls, 25 wild pitches.
AAA: 61 games, 258 plate appearances, .316/.368/.597, 166 wRC+, 5.8 BB%, 14.7 K%, .281 ISO, threw out 24 of 59 (41%) basestealers, eight passed balls
Interpretation: The only thing he carried over from his incredible first half in Triple-A Charlotte to the majors was impatience at the plate. He was terrible. One of the ten worst players in the league at any given time.
Emblematic split: After hitting three home runs in his first week in the bigs, Phegley hit one more all season, and slugged .266.
Pre-season expectations: Between health problems and general badness, Phegley was an offense-first catcher who had yet to play a full season with an OPS over .700. His defense was reported to be prohibitively bad even if the bat did come alive.
Quote of the year: “The offense is going to come. I’m not real worried about it.”
Josh’s story: Phegley had seen Triple-A in parts of 2011 and all of 2012 and not done much with it, so little was expected of him starting out in Charlotte once more. If anything, that added a grain of salt when he started the season clocking everything for extra bases. Between the fanbase’s impatience and predisposition toward Tyler Flowers, stumping for Phegley after a handful of hot weeks in Charlotte became the calling card for knee-jerk decision makers.
But when Phegley was still flirting with a .600 slugging percentage in Triple-A after three months and Tyler Flowers had officially abandoned all notions of a plate approach, checking to see whether Phegley had really unlocked all of his offensive potential at once became the only humane thing to do.
There seemed to be something there for a week. Phegley flipped three balls into the left field seats in his first seven games, including a back-breaking grand slam that spurred a surprise win in Detroit over Anibal Sanchez. In his last flourish before the All-Star break, Phegley knocked a game-tying ninth inning single through the middle against the Phillies, and everyone entered the second half feeling pretty decent about the rookie, despite the .233 OBP.
Phegley’s power was always more of the ‘full body lunge’ variety than a natural pop, and that sort of physical commitment to golfing the ball was evident on nearly every pitch. It quickly became easy to find Phegley lunging recklessly at 55-foot breaking balls in the dirt, as the grip-and-rip approach that had freed Phegley to dominate in Triple-A was quickly and easily exploited by major league-quality off-speed pitches. Of players who received over 200 plate appearances, Phegley only had the 20th highest swing rate (behind many White Sox) but only A.J. Pierzynski more recklessly chased pitches out of the zone. Without Pierzynski’s incredible contact ability, this approach just worked to make Phegley an incredibly easy out.
Not only was his .223 OBP the very worst in baseball among hitters who received more than 200 plate appearances, with 3.38 pitches per plate appearance, he failed at the plate alarmingly quickly. He needed 81 major league plate appearances to get his first walk, and just in case you’re under the impression that he showed improvement after breaking through, he went his last 25 plate appearances of the season without a hit.
While the offense was horrific, the defense was every bit as bad as feared. He matched Tyler Flowers’ tally of eight passed balls in a half-season, which put him ahead of several AL teams. Phegley’s small size and slow hands had made him a poor defended for most of his minor league career, so that he was still better than J.P. Arrencibia reflects some of the strides he’s made. The one defensive tool Phegley has always boasted was a cannon arm, but while a 30% caught stealing rate is nothing the White Sox can sneeze at, his rushed actions often made him inaccurate, and he racked up four throwing errors in his scant playing time.
He wasn’t a great baserunner, either. There wasn’t really an area of his game where troubling deficiencies weren’t evident. Consider a world where Phegley was the Opening Day catcher and Tyler Flowers was the mid-season replacement.
Assessment: 2014 isn’t a win-now season, so perhaps returning a healthy Flowers and backing him up with Phegley is not as offensive as it seems at first glance. Phegley was getting his first taste of major league baseball and struggles are expected, but this kind of across-the-board awfulness cannot be trusted with any sort of regular playing time.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan