Phegley out to prove worth as healthy catcher

February 19th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- After spending much of the last two years languishing on the sidelines, Josh Phegley is itching for action.

The A's catcher wants back behind the plate on a regular basis, his time in Oakland too often spent behind the scenes, where he would occasionally pass team executives Billy Beane and David Forst between trips to the trainer's room last year.

"They'd be like, 'You gotta get healthy, we need you out there,'" Phegley said. "It was almost just like disappointment. And I was feeling that myself.

"I know I can kind of sense the A's losing a little faith in me just because I've been hurt so much. I don't like that feeling."

Phegley was one of four players the A's netted in a 2014 winter trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, and the catcher thrived in a platoon role upon arrival, swatting nine home runs and driving in 34 runs in 73 games and tossing out roughly 38 percent of attempted base stealers. But he's played in just 82 games since, and his production has waned, too.

Right knee issues plagued him in 2016, an oblique strain and a concussion felled him in '17. Phegley returned home for the offseason with one thing in mind.

"I feel like I can play really well," he said. "I just need to stay healthy, and that's my main goal this season."

He's already drawn positive marks for his showing on the scale following a disciplined offseason.

"A lot of people have commented that I look leaner and smaller," he said, smiling, "but I've only lost 12 pounds."

Phegley was not worried about his scale reading so much as the fat on his body, and he's lost seven percent of it in the span of just months -- down to 16 percent. Phegley, who celebrated his 30th birthday this month, has maintained his strength and conditioning, but carrying around extra unhealthy weight had perhaps taken a toll on his body, which already takes a beating behind the plate.

"I feel pretty confident that I lost a lot of fat and not a lot of strength," he said. "A lot of times you just get wrapped up in weight. Am I gaining weight? Am I losing weight? I don't care how much I weigh. I'm always going to be a thicker guy. I graduated high school at 215 and I tell everybody I was 185 pounds as an eighth grader. I've always been bigger, so I don't really care what I weigh as long as it's the right composition, being lean enough and healthy."

To that end, Phegley focused on developing a healthier relationship with food. Encouraged by wife Jessica, they consumed measured amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats based on their daily calorie burn.

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"You're logging everything you eat so you can hit those numbers accurately," he said. "It's not like I was just eating vegetables. It's about getting the right amount of nutrients and trying not to go over. It worked."

All the while, Phegley clocked hours correcting his swing plane, an adjustment he believes will help him regain consistency at the plate.

"I've always prided myself on having that hand-eye coordination and being able to get the barrel to the ball in different spots," he said, "and I really lost that last year. I was on time and in good position, getting good pitches to hit, but when I did make a pass at a pitch I should drive, I was just missing them.

"Defensively I've been there, but I don't get in the game as often because I don't swing the bat, and I know I can hit. I've always been a hitter first and then a catcher, and I think my defense has kept me here."

, so long as he's able to resolve his legal issues, is penciled in as the club's primary catcher, leaving Phegley to handle the lefties and showcase his worth as a solid complementary player.

"We view him as a major piece for us, a nice platoon piece," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It's getting a full season under his belt where he's healthy that allows him to put up the numbers that his potential suggests that he can. He's got a terrific throwing arm, he's got some power. It's just about consistently getting out on the field so we can see the fruits of that."