BRADENTON, FL- Indiana catcher Josh Phegley should become yet another “college guy” who turns into a high draft pick.
The Terre Haute product was scouted but not selected out of high school in 2006. Phegley was dismissed by scouts as a “college guy”, a worn-out label that refers to a good prep player who isn’t a pro prospect. Three years later, Phegley has proved otherwise. In our preseason rankings, we have Phegley listed as the best catcher available (PGX #20 overall) in the draft with a chance to go in the first round.
Phegley started behind the plate and played against West Virginia University today, hitting third in the lineup.
I came early to watch him hit in the cages (there was no on-field pregame at McKechnie Field) and saw a very strongly built 5-10, 215 kid who looked like a catcher. Phegley has manufactured his body from the weight room. He’s thick and strong in his legs and hips, with a solid torso and broad, sloped shoulders.
He showed a short stroke with lift while hitting in the cage. From his appearance, I wondered if he would be too stiff with his hands to make adjustments against “good movement” pitchers in the game.
Phegley would go 4-5 today with an opposite field single thrown in. He seemed to handle everything though he never saw a fastball over 89 MPH. From batting practice, I thought I’d find a power hitter who might be too stiff to make adjustments but what I found was almost the opposite. Phegley showed a lot of bat-head control, making adjustments mid-swing in both a bloop hit to left and the single to right. With his ability to generate average bat-speed off a short stroke, he should be able to hit a big league heater.
The power is what didn’t translate. Despite his physical strength and late swing extension, there isn’t much loft. I see him as a hitter who hits for average and only occasional power.
Defensively, I believe Phegley will be solid-average to plus. He received the ball easily and though he wasn’t particularly shifty, he had soft hands and a comfortable crouch. Phegley’s also blessed with a short release and good feet. One scout told me he had graded Phegley’s arm-strength at 65 when he was a freshman. Rotator cuff surgery may have robbed some of what that scout saw, but I can still give him a 55 which is solid-average.
For me, he is a pure catcher, but I’m sure he could play first base or the outfield if his organization wished to make him more versatile; he’s a 35 runner but seems to have good reactions. Phegley actually played the last three innings in left field. I don’t doubt he could play third base by his tools, but it would take considerably more work to teach him that position.
Above it all, Phegley played aggressively and with a hint of cockiness. The way he ran the bases, the way he blocked balls, and the way he swung through the ball showed me that he’s a grinder.
There’s no projection with him, he’s fully filled out and his raw tools are maxed. But there’s enough there already to make him a big league catcher with just a couple years of seasoning. I believe he has a chance to become a solid big league starter and at least a backup. Without the on-field makeup, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him in the first or sandwich round, but his demeanor puts him over.
OTHER HOOSIER NOTES: Indiana is loaded this year. They are favored to win the Big Ten and have five players ranked among our Top-500 draft prospects. But today wasn’t their day as they lost 14-4 to West Virginia with their ace on the mound…. Rightfielder Kipp Schutz (PGX #265) didn’t make the trip because of an emergency appendectomy. I was very curious to see the lefthanded hitter. The 6-4, 200 redshirt sophomore is also a guard for the Hoosier basketball team…. Ace lefty Matt Bashore (PGX #116) had a miserable outing for Indiana, getting pulled in the fourth after yielding six runs and eight hits after just three full innings of work. Bashore showed a projectable, lanky pitcher’s build (6-3, 200) with decent arm-action and a stress-free delivery. He also threw 87-90 MPH but he was too straight (on his four-seamer),too high in the zone, and had too early a break on his slider to fool hitters. Bashore did show some promise with his curve and also with a two-seam fastball (86-88 MPH), but the command was way off and he didn’t battle his way out of trouble. Scouts will stay on him because there’s a lot to work with, but he’ll have to pitch much better to go by the fourth round as our preseason ranking suggests…. Centerfielder Evan Crawford (PGX #181) was hot-and-cold. A rangy 6-2, 165, with loads of projection, Crawford also showed a fair instinct for center field and the agility (and 60 speed) to play the position all the way up. His arm is nearly average as well. Crawford’s issues are hitting against anything off-speed. After a first inning single on a low fastball, Crawford was carved up all night by curveballs, change-ups, and sliders. There’s no load in his swing and his first movement with his hands is forward. The swing is also on the long side and though his bat-speed projects to average down the road, it is below-average right now. The body and the peripheral tools are impressive enough to keep him as a draft follow, but scouts will need Crawford to make adjustments with the bat before he can go in the first seven rounds.
Saturday afternoon I will watch Cocoa Beach High lefty Brian Johnson (PGX #299) pitch on Florida’s space coast. Johnson is a sleeper for the draft. Committed to Florida, he’ s a big-bodied (6-3, 230) lefty with average velocity and plus pitchability for a high school senior. After his game, I’ll head northwest to watch righty Austin Hudson (PGX #160) pitch for the University of Central Florida against Virginia Commonwealth in Orlando. Check back for my blog!