The A’s watched a productive catching platoon sprout last season between Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley.
Barring any unforeseen moves, that combo will return behind the plate for Oakland in 2016.
Vogt, the late bloomer who didn’t get his first taste of the majors until his late 20’s, became an All-Star last season and further entrenched himself as a core leader in the clubhouse. But Phegley’s emergence as a dependable No. 2 backstop who can start against lefties was also an important development. After coming over from the White Sox as part of the Jeff Samardzija trade last winter, Phegley displayed a strong throwing arm that was a weapon against opposing base runners, and he provided solid production from the right side of the plate.
With the A’s pitching staff adding several newcomers who will fill important roles, Vogt and Phegley have their work cut out in familiarizing themselves with everybody.
STARRING CAST: Vogt’s underdog story was impressive enough before the 2015 season, as he went from minor league journeyman with Tampa Bay to eventually becoming the A’s No. 1 catcher. But who expected him to emerge as an All-Star-caliber hitter who would be Oakland’s leading run producer through the first half of the season?
He tailed off drastically in the second half, collecting just 15 RBI after the All-Star break. But Vogt shouldn’t carry the pressure of being The Man in this batting order for 162 games. His contributions are just as important, probably more so, in his game-calling and handling of pitchers. If he can repeat last year’s overall offensive production –- .261, 18 homers, 71 RBI -– and his teammates carry their share of the load elsewhere in the lineup, the A’s will take it.
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Opponents exploited the A’s on the basepaths in 2014, but Oakland tightened up in this area last season, and Phegley was a big part of that. He threw out 17 of 45 attempted base stealers, a 37.8 percent mark that was third best among AL catchers with at least 60 games caught. Vogt was at 25.9 percent. All told, A’s catchers ranked seventh in the majors with an opponents’ stolen base success rate of .661. That was improved over a .781 mark in 2014, which ranked 27th.
Phegley hit .249 and chipped in nine homers and 34 RBI in 73 games before suffering a season-ending concussion in mid-September.
CAMP COMPETITION: The catcher position is hardly the deepest in the A’s farm system, particularly in the upper ranks. It’s tough to envision Oakland keeping more than two catchers, and those will be Vogt and Phegley barring a trade. Carson Blair got his first taste of big league action in September, hitting just .129 with a homer in 11 games. He threw out two of seven base stealers. He re-signed with the A’s after being granted free agency and will likely start at Triple-A, but he’s at least a somewhat known quantity now as an insurance policy. Bruce Maxwell, a second-round pick in 2012, remains an intriguing prospect because of his power potential. He spent last season with Double-A Midland, but the 25-year-old has yet to produce the numbers that suggest he’s primed for a push to the majors.
PAY ATTENTION TO: How quickly Jacob Nottingham progresses through the farm system. One of two players acquired from Houston for Scott Kazmir in July (right-hander Daniel Mengden was the other), Nottingham is ranked as Oakland’s No. 8 prospect by mlb.com. He’s an offense-first catcher who had a football scholarship offer to Arizona as a tight end coming out of high school. Nottingham, 20, is a player to watch in his first full season in the A’s system. He hit .299 with three homers in 43 games with Single-A Stockton following the trade.