Marcus Semien looks to be the big prize from the offseason Jeff Samardzija trade, but he wasn’t the only guy the Oakland Athletics picked up in that deal. Catcher Josh Phegley looks set to be in a platoon with the left-handed hitting Stephen Vogt, but with a little lineup shuffling, his role could be, and should be, bigger.
Phegley has had some big league experience with the White Sox over the last two years, but he has spent played the vast majority of his time in AAA. Although he’s always been a good defender, before 2013 he had trouble putting together a solid season at the plate. In 168 AAA games in 2013 and 2014, he hit a combined .289 with 38 home runs.
Although the Oakland Athletics’ tentative plan is to use him as a platoon catcher, his minor league split stats don’t reveal much of a difference between facing a left-handed hitter or right handed hitter. Last year he hit .273 against righties and .262 against lefties.
If Phegley were to get more at bats against righties, Vogt would shift to the outfield, forcing either Sam Fuld or Eric Sogard out of the lineup. They both seem like good team players, and their contributions are clear in the field and on the basepaths, but I doubt either one will hit over .250 this year. Phegley however has clearly shown his offensive potential in the minors, and it’s worth seeing if he’s an upgrade over those guys at the plate.
But Phegley’s offensive potential isn’t the only reason he should get more playing time. Phegley provides a significant upgrade over Stephen Vogt defensively behind the plate. Vogt was an average defensive catcher at best before last offseason when he had a metal plate inserted into his foot. I’m not a doctor, but I can’t really imagine how that would help his agility behind the plate. Phegley, meanwhile, has thrown out 46 percent of potential base stealers in his minor league career, and has accumulated 1.0 dWAR in 72 big league games.
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The problem with this lineup shuffle is that the Athletics would be replacing an excellent defender (either Sogard or Fuld) with Vogt’s mediocre outfield/first base defense (-2 defensive runs saved last year). However, I’d rather have the defensive upgrade behind the plate than in the outfield. Simply put, having a better defensive catcher is more important than having a better defensive outfielder. Also, Craig Gentry’s great defense in center field could bail out Vogt on several occasions if necessary.
Vogt would obviously still need to spend some days behind the plate, but if Phegley caught over 100 games this year, that wouldn’t be a terrible idea. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or @mattmcsports27 on twitter!