MESA, Ariz. — Coming off an impressive first season with the A’s, Josh Phegley stands to earn a bigger slice of the playing time at catcher in 2016.
Part of that is the team’s desire to spare primary starter Stephen Vogt some wear and tear, and keep him fresher in the second half. But the plan wouldn’t be feasible if not for the team’s faith in Phegley, who hit nine homers in 73 games last season and threw out nearly 38 percent of would-be base stealers.
“I know we’re not super-deep in the catching position on this team,” the 28-year-old Phegley said. “They could have very well gotten some other guys (in the offseason) and didn’t. So to feel that confidence they have in us, we’re ready to take on whatever role we have. It feels pretty good.”
Looking down through the minor league ranks, the catching position is not particularly strong. And the depth took a hit with the recent trade of highly touted prospect Jacob Nottingham, who went to Milwaukee in the deal that brought left fielder Khris Davis to Oakland.
But at the major league level, the A’s boast a strong platoon in Vogt and the right-handed hitting Phegley. That is, if both remain healthy.
Vogt is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his throwing elbow. To this point he seems on target to be ready for the start of the regular season. But A’s manager Bob Melvin said earlier in camp that the A’s would like to ease his workload a bit, and that Phegley could draw more starts against right-handed starters.
One of four players acquired from the White Sox in last winter’s Jeff Samardzija trade, Phegley hit .249 with nine homers and 34 RBI in his 73 games. He started 40 of the A’s 41 games in which they faced a left-hander before a concussion in mid-September ended his season, and he hit .276 (32-for-116) against southpaws.
But it was behind the plate that Phegley made his biggest impact, throwing out 17 of 45 base stealers. That 37.8 percent success rate was third-best in the American League among catchers with at least 60 games caught.
“When you’re trying to nail down a game and you’ve got a guy on first base, maybe you can focus more on the hitter because you know with his arm he’s gonna control the running game,” A’s closer Sean Doolittle said.
At 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Phegley has the look of a catcher. But Marcus Jensen, the A’s catching coach, says Phegley not only fits the bill “in terms of height and size, but agility. He’s got quick feet and a strong arm. There’s a number of guys that may have his body type, but they don’t have the quick feet and arm strength.”
HEALTH UPDATES: Right-hander Henderson Alvarez, not expected to be available until May at the earliest as he recovers from shoulder surgery, is about to begin throwing off the mound. That will be with the catcher standing in front of home plate, so he’s not yet throwing full-fledged bullpen sessions. Jarrod Parker, another pitcher on the mend, threw off the mound Sunday with no complications.
A flu-like bug is making its way through the A’s clubhouse. Phegley, reliever J.B. Wendelken, non-roster pitcher Patrick Schuster and pitching coach Curt Young were among those dealing with it.
ODDS AND ENDS: The A’s will play intrasquad games Monday and Tuesday at their minor league facility, with Monday’s starting at approximately 11:30 a.m. The public is welcome … Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman will pitch in a simulated game Wednesday, with the Cactus League opener set for Thursday against the Angels in Tempe.
QUOTABLE: “There will be no winners or losers, but all get a ribbon for participation.” — Melvin, explaining the upcoming intrasquad games.