GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Josh Phegley is confident he’s a major league starting catcher but for now it appears he’s set to start at Triple-A.
The White Sox catcher is one of six players who was sent to minor-league camp on Wednesday morning as he was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte.
Earlier this week White Sox manager Robin Ventura named Tyler Flowers the starting catcher unless something drastic happened between now and the start of the season.
Phegley admits he’s “pretty disappointed” and was caught off-guard by a decision that comes eight days before the team breaks camp.
Pitchers Andre Rienzo and Eric Surkamp were also optioned to Triple-A Charlotte while first baseman Andy Wilkins and pitchers Chris Beck and Cody Winiarski were reassigned to minor-league camp.
“No, not expecting this,” Phegley said. “But the decision was made. There is still some work to be done. I’m going to get my opportunities down the road. I know that. I believe in that. Today wasn’t a complete shock, when I heard Flowers was named the starter. In my heart, I believe I’m a starting catcher. I need to get my at-bats and keep getting better. I’m 26, so I think I have a long career ahead of me.”
Phegley had a breakout season at Triple-A Charlotte in 2013 and took over in July as the team’s starter after Flowers had a rough start to the season. An All-Star at Charlotte, the rookie hit three home runs in his first five games, sparking Phegley Fever, one of the team’s few highlights of in an awful season.
But Phegley couldn’t maintain the torrid start and wound up with a .206/.223/.299 slash line and four homers and 22 RBIs in 213 plate appearances. White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Phegley is still in the team’s plans despite Wednesday’s move.
“We still like Josh,” Ventura said. “It’s just with him backing up, we’d rather have him go down, work on some defense, get better, get his at-bats and play instead of just being a backup.”
At the end of the season, the White Sox made it clear they needed to see improvement at catcher and were interested in an upgrade if they could find one. White Sox catchers combined for a .560 OPS, which ranked 29th in the majors.
But aside from the addition of Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto, who is competing with Hector Gimenez for the backup role, the White Sox weren’t able to make a move.
Asked what he needs to focus on, Phelgey didn’t say he was told anything specific but has defined what he believes needs improvement.
“Handling a big league staff,” Phegley said. “That’s got to be the focus, and I think that’s my focus moving on from here. … Not really anything specific, just mentally the attitude, just kind of being unselfish back there, focusing on the staff and getting them through the game. Whatever I have to do to do that --- be a leader on the field, things like that.”
Though he’s headed for Charlotte, Phegley still believes he’s more like the player who had a .316/.368/.597 line with 15 homers and 41 RBIs at Triple-A.