After a hiatus, the FanGraphs Prospect Stock Watch is back and I want to thank everyone who asked about its whereabouts and expressed an interest in seeing it return. Your wish is my command…
Josh Phegley, C, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox dumped light-hitting backup catcher Hector Gimenez on Thursday. In his place, the organization promoted rookie backstop Josh Phegley — the 38th overall selection from the 2009 amateur draft. The Indiana University alum reached Double-A in his first full pro season but his meteoric rise was interrupted by a serious medical condition, which threaten to end his playing career and affect his way of life. For more on that, check out this piece by MLB.com’s Scott Merkin from 2010. Luckily for Phegley, he’s back and — although it took some time for him to get back into playing shape — finally realizing the potential that caused me to rank him as the organization’s eighth-best prospect as recently as pre-2011.
Phegley, 25, opened 2013 in Triple-A after spending the entire 2012 season at the same level. He posted a .680 OPS last season but was up to .966 at the time of his ’13 promotion. The young catcher’s 15 home runs is a career best (prior was nine) and it’s tied for ninth in the International League and six more than the next closest catcher (Tony Sanchez, who had nine before he was promoted to Pittsburgh on June 21 — and interestingly enough was selected in the same draft).
I recently saw Phegley play a Triple-A game against Indianapolis on June 24. He was facing rehabbing big league pitcher Wandy Rodriguez of the Pirates. In his first at-bat, the prospect swung at the first two pitches and rolled over on an off-speed pitch, grounding out to the shortstop. He then struck out in his second at-bat on a big league curveball from Rodriguez. His third at-bat resulted in a first-pitch single up the middle on a poorly-placed fastball. You may have noticed a trend: Phegley is a very aggressive hitter, as witnessed by his modest career walk rates (5.8% in ’13). On the plus side, he has good contact rates (14% K-rate in ’13) for someone with the type of raw power that he possesses. The Indiana native has modest bat speed but he utilizes a short stroke at times, but he gets in trouble when his swing gets long.
I was pleasantly surprised with the improvements Phegley has made behind the plate. Early in his career, he was an offense-first player with a lot of work to do on defense. When I saw him, he showed soft hands and offered a quiet setup and target. I did think that he offered his target a little late at times and there were certain situations where he tipped location/pitches with the placement of his glove. Phegley moved well behind the plate and was quick to get down to block pitches. He nailed two base runners with accurate throws to second base.
Phegley definitely struggled against off-speed stuff in the game I watched but is a strong fastball hitter. Big league pitchers — like Rodriguez, who isn’t exactly a top-tier talent — will certainly pepper the rookie with a plethora of off-speed stuff once they recognize his weakness. Although he was hitting more than .300 at Triple-A, I fully expected him to produce a modest batting average, perhaps in the .240-.260 range, with a healthy amount of doubles and home runs mixed in. That may not sound overly enticing, but he should provide solid offence for a catcher — and certainly better than what incumbent big league catcher Tyler Flowers has produced in his big league career (.669 OPS).
Juan Paniagua, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Paniagua’s North American baseball career has been haunted by controversy and he’s been suspended for falsifying his identity, was released from the Arizona Diamondbacks Dominican Summer League (DSL) club, lost a $1.1 million bonus offered by the New York Yankees, and finally made it to North America in 2012 after agreeing to a $1.5 million bonus with the Cubs.
That money bought the organization just two regular season appearances last year and he’s been stuck in the Dominican Republic this year due to — wait for it — issues with his legal documents. Paniagua is currently pitching in the DSL where he’s made four starts and has yet to allow a run while striking out 13 in 12.1 innings. I saw Paniagua pitch late last year for the Boise Hawks during the minor league playoffs and came away impressed but left him off the organization’s Top 15 prospects list due to limited views and lack of available information.
Dickie Thon Jr., SS, Toronto Blue Jays
Selected in the fifth round of the 2010 amateur draft, Toronto handed Thon a $1.5 million bonus to forego a commitment to Rice University. The Puerto Rico native is a the son of 15-year big leaguer Dickie Thon Sr., who spent a good bulk of his career with the Houston Astros. Shortly after signing his contract, the younger Thon was discovered to be suffering from what was referred to as a “blood disorder,” although neither Thon nor the Blue Jays have ever expanded on that vague diagnosis.
The shortstop prospect’s development can be best described as slow-and-steady. Now in his third pro season, he’s moved up one level each year but his bat has yet to show much life, thanks in part to high strikeout rates. In his third year of short-season ball, the 21-year-old is playing for Vancouver of the Northwest League and hit just .228 in June. His bat has been perking up as of late and he’s had hits in six straight games — including a run of five games where he had at least two hits. Thon was always considered a high-risk, high-reward player who would require a lot of at-bats to hone his skill so Toronto will no doubt continue to be patient with their investment.
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