Former Indiana University catcher Josh Phegley was promoted to the major leagues by the White Sox Thursday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The list of Indiana University baseball products who have prospered in the major leagues would not fill a complete lineup card.
There is Ted Kluszewski, who flexed his biceps for the Cincinnati Reds. Big Klu hit his last home run in 1961. There is Mickey Morandini, remembered as much for his mullet as his 1,200 hits. He's been gone 13 seasons.
Now another Hoosier is positioned to prosper: catcher Josh Phegley.
Four years after the Chicago White Sox drafted Phegley with the 38th overall pick in the MLB Draft, they promoted him to the major leagues Thursday. Phegley will make his big-league debut Friday night against Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays, batting eighth in the White Sox lineup.
Is Phegley ready?
Ask Billy Hamilton, the speedball outfielder for the Louisville Bats. Phegley threw out Hamilton by five feet on a steal attempt when Charlotte visited Louisville Slugger Field last week.
Ask the people who pick the players for both the MLB Futures and Triple-A all-star games. Phegley, 25, was selected for both events, but he'll gladly miss both now that he's in the major leagues.
You can ask Joel Skinner, Phegley's manager with the Sox AAA team. Skinner said Phegley has all the looks and tools of a big-league catcher – and Skinner caught in the big leagues.
He answered the question diplomatically when I asked him last Friday after he lined a home run to the left-field corner against the Bats.
"I think it's tough not to think about it," Phegley said. "I've done everything I can. I just need to keep going. I'm happy with where I am right now. I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself to do too much."
Phegley has already done plenty while delivering his finest pro season. His .316 batting average ranks first for catchers (and sixth overall) in the International League. So do his 41 runs batted in. Ditto for his 15 homers, a career high Phegley has produced in a half-season. Phegley is figuring it out. He managed only a combined 15 home runs in his last two complete minor-league seasons.
Phegley has played more like the guy who was the third catcher selected in 2009 and less like the guy who played only 48 games in 2010 because of an autoimmune system disorder that led to the removal of his spleen and questions about his full-time availability as a catcher. Blood clotting was a major problem.
There were days when Phegley's low platelet count left him at risk even brushing his teeth. Instead of learning how to call a game, Phegley learned how to sit quietly with an IV drip.
Some wondered if he would be able to keep playing. Many were convinced he'd have to change positions. Phegley kept working toward this day even as doctors struggled to solve the issue until the spleen surgery in 2010.
Now Phegley is healthy. And hitting. And he is performing like the best baseball prospect the Hoosiers have produced in years.
Another Hoosier, Jake Dunning, pitches out of the bullpen for the Giants. Hoosier Micah Johnson, another White Sox prospect, was just promoted to High Class A ball and leads all of minor-league baseball with 61 stolen bases. But this is Phegley's moment.
"You can see that Josh has a live barrel," Skinner said. "He's what we're looking for in a catcher. His athleticism, his ability to come out and field bunts, his arm strength, his quickness behind the plate, he controls the ball in the dirt. Those are all things we're looking for in a catcher."
This is the player Phegley always thought he could be. He was voted Indiana's Mr. Baseball at Terre Haute North High School in 2006. He was the centerpiece of coach Tracy Smith's first prime recruiting class at IU. He was the guy who hit .438 as a sophomore before the White Sox drafted him in the supplemental picks after Round One.
"I've had some ups and down," Phegley said. I've tried to go out and prove too much.
"I've always had it in the tank. I know I'm capable of it. Just relaxing and letting my talents and skills take over. I've felt really comfortable in the box this year and I'm just rolling with it."
Now Josh Phegley has rolled all the way to the major leagues.