The Chicago White Sox promoted catching prospect Josh Phegley to the major league roster this weekend. Here is my brief take on the rookie backstop.
Phegley was drafted by the White Sox in the supplemental first round, 38th overall, in 2009. He was a college star at Indiana University, hitting .438/.507/.746 with 15 homers as a sophomore in 2008 and .344/.467/.633 with 17 homers as a junior in '09. Despite the big numbers, not every scout was sold on Phegley, skeptics pointing out that he didn't hit nearly as well with wooden bats in summer competition. There were also questions about his defense, but the Sox felt his issues were fixable.
He was sent straight to Low-A Kannapolis after signing but struggled with the transition to full-season pro ball, hitting just .224/.277/.408. His plate discipline, a strength in college, wasn't very good and his swing looked long and slow.
2010 presented further problems: Phegley was limited to 48 games by a blood clotting disorder called "idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura." He hit fairly well in those 48 games, a combined .284/.328/.415 between rookie ball, High-A, and Double-A, but the lack of playing time made it tough for him to iron out his defense. He had his spleen removed in November to solve the blood disorder.
He stayed healthy for most of 2011 but did not hit well, .242/.292/.368 in 94 games in Double-A, .241/.326/.367 in 22 games in Triple-A, his season ending early due to a wrist injury. His bat looked slow most of the year, although he made some progress improving his glovework. There was some thought that he was still feeling the effects of the blood disorder, as his athleticism (never a big strength) had taken a noticeable dip since college.
He improved slightly with the bat in 2012, hitting .266/.306/.373 in 102 Triple-A games. He also threw out 46% of runners, though scouting reports about his glove remained tepid.
2013 has been much better: .316/.368/.597 with 15 homers, 15 walks, and 38 strikeouts in 258 plate appearances for Triple-A Charlotte. He hasn't hit this well since college.
On defense, Phegley is an effective weapon against baserunners, throwing out 41% of stealers this season and 46% in his minor league career. The rest of his defense is less impressive: he's not especially mobile and has trouble blocking the ball at times, leading to elevated passed ball rates. Still, his effectiveness against runners is a positive asset.
Assuming he doesn't lose his throwing ability, Phegley can hang around the major leagues a long time as a backup. Whether he earns regular playing time will depend on his hitting; are his '13 numbers a fluke or a real breakout? This sort of hitting is certainly out of context with the rest of his professional career and his plate discipline remains questionable. However, there is also the possibility that the blood disorder took a couple of years to fully overcome and that he hasn't been at full strength until now.
If I had to guess, I'd say that Phegley won't come close to hitting .300 in the majors with significant playing time and that his OBP will be below average, but that he'll also show enough power and anti-baserunner ability to stay in the majors for several years.