It’s been a while since we started this thing up, so take a minute to check out a link or two to see what the heck we’re doing here – Part I and Part II. Who is the best draft-eligible college catcher in all the land? We’re going to find out tournament-style! Next up, the four participants facing off in our very special Joe Mauer Regional…
Joe Mauer Regional
1. Josh Phegley
4. Travis Tartamella
2. Tommy Medica
3. Justin Dalles
No suspense here, I’m sorry to report. After upsets in the first two regionals (Stock and Fleury), Josh Phegley blows away all comers here in the Joe Mauer Regional. It’s no surprise, really, as many publications have Phegley safely ensconced as one of the top two college catchers in all the land and a great bet to be off the board by the end of round two. We’ll talk about the other three names at a later date (I like Dalles over Medica, injury or not, by the way), but for now we’ll shine the prospect spotlight on the champ.
I’m excited for June 9 for all sorts of reasons. There are plenty of draft storylines that deserve more press coverage than they’ll inevitably get, but I hope the eventual destination of Josh Phegley gets a little bit of love come draft day. By the numbers, Phegley is truly a standout amongst a group of less than stellar college bats. There is no denying this man’s college production. So where will he land and when? Teams that place a greater importance on statistical performance will be hard pressed to find a better college prospect than Indiana’s star backstop. His numbers both in and out of context are staggering —> .438/.507/.746 with a 34/22 walk to strikeout ratio his sophomore year and .383/.485/.688 with 29 walks to 23 strikeouts so far this year, all while playing home games in a neutral park in the chilly north. To find fault in Phegley’s collegiate numbers is to complain about a stray splatter on a Jackson Pollock.
Phegley’s production has been top notch, but what about his projection? This is where things get more complicated. There are doubts surrounding his defense, his pro power potential, and his bat speed. To be fair, no college hitting prospect this side of Rich Poythress (though even he gets dinged for being limited to first defensively) comes without warts, but the fact that Phegley’s detractors knock his bat so severely is telling. My quick and dirty notes from watching his swing over a few games earlier this season:
- Pronounced crouch (a little like Aaron Rowand’s), good leverage and balance
- Circles bat pre-swing as timing mechanism; keeping hands high is key – when they drop, so does his power
- Uneven feet with his back leg staggered back in box, impressive in the way his lower half moves in sync with the rest of his body during setup and follow through
- Lets ball get unusually deep, but his wrists (more strong than quick) help his plate coverage – Phegley can afford to wait and wait and wait because, at worst, he has a knack for fouling balls off until he gets one he can drive
- Swing gets knocked for being long, but I saw it level and surprisingly compact and efficient; the helicopter finish may slow down the swing enough to give certain teams pause
I’d agree with a scout that questions Phegley’s future power potential as his swing is closer to that of a player with consistent line drive, gap power. I’m not sure I’d worry as much about a slow bat, but I do think some tweaks (namely toning down the finish a smidge) could help him shave some time off his swing and perhaps unleash a little bit of the power he loses with his level, one-plane swing.
Phegley’s defense is a topic that has generated plenty of discussion in scouting circles because, well, scouts love talking about an otherwise solid player’s glaring deficiency. Phegley’s defensive tools are solid as he possesses an average to above-average throwing arm with a quick release, but his shoddy footwork and consistent struggles blocking balls in the dirt keep his present defensive grade below-average.
Despite the fact that many of the specific concerns about his defense are valid, he’ll stick behind the plate as a professional. The aforementioned tools are there for Phegley to be an average defensive player and with a bat like his that should be enough. Picture an offense-first, slightly below-average to barely average defender behind the dish. A peak that looks a little something like Michael Barrett’s (2004-2006) with much better plate discipline (one of Phegley’s biggest and most unique strengths) sounds like a reasonable enough upside for Phegley going forward. For those looking for a decent prospect comp, I’ve got two names to consider – Phillies catcher Lou Marson (with a little more juice in his bat, but less glove) and Rangers catcher Max Ramirez (with less power, but better defense).
In the end, I think a Marson comp (right down to their similar level swings) makes the most sense with a more patient Barrett-like peak well within reason. One of the perks of an established college player with a strong statistical history like Phegley is the near elimination of the total bust factor; it’s hard to see Phegley completely flaming out as a pro, he’s had too much success against high level competition to bet against him at least reaching the bigs as a backup. With a ceiling of Mike Barrett and a floor of Josh Bard (high level backup deemed not quite good enough to catch full-time, but productive when given opportunities). There’s some very real value there, especially considering the typical dearth of catching prospects throughout baseball. It remains to be seen how far down the top prep college catchers will push the college guys on draft day, but Phegley’s statistical profile and good enough tools could get him picked anywhere from late in the first (to a competitive team in need of a quick moving catcher…Tampa? Boston?) to the middle of the third round. I’d take him over any other college catcher, but probably not until midway through the second round.