Catchers Blair, Maxwell step up for Vogt, Phegley

Canha sidelined during intersquad game with minor back issue

March 1st, 2016

MESA, Ariz. -- Several non-roster catchers are getting a long look in the early going of A's camp, with regulars Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley slowed by injuries.

While Vogt continues to rehab his surgically-repaired right elbow and Phegley recovers from a double dose of flu-like symptoms and shoulder soreness, youngsters Carson Blair and Bruce Maxwell have been carrying a heavy workload.

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Not that they mind.

"It's great to be a part of everything," Maxwell said. "It's unfortunate that Vogt has his arm issue and Phegley is dealing with some shoulder stuff, but it's giving a few of us some more looks and a little more time behind the plate."

The A's re-signed catcher Bryan Anderson this offseason and also snatched up utility man Matt McBride on a Minor League deal, on the premise he enter camp as a catcher, and they both homered in Tuesday's intrasquad game. Maxwell also impressed with a swing he considers a work-in-progress.

The 25-year-old Maxwell entered college as a corner infielder, but he made the move to catcher during his sophomore season at Birmingham-Southern College, and he is finally starting to feel like a natural behind the plate. Now his bat's trying to catch up.

"I basically had to put my power on hold," Maxwell said. "I was struggling with the speed of the game. It was very difficult, but now I'm starting to get the grasp of it."

A second-round Draft pick by the A's in 2012, the left-handed-hitting Maxwell hit .243 with two home runs and 48 RBIs with Double-A Midland last season, numbers he plans to trump this go-around.

"Now that I can focus a little more on my hitting, I'm just trying to be more consistent," he said. "My catching is more comfortable and more natural, so I'm excited to get my bat back."

Maxwell will soon leave the team to represent Team Germany in Mexicali, Mexico, to compete in the Qualifiers for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, but he hopes to rejoin the big league squad upon his return, "and hopefully continue to play with these guys for a while."

Blair got his first taste of the big leagues in September following seven Minor League seasons. He was thrust into a prominent role on an injury-ridden A's club before he, too, was forced out of action because of knee surgery.

"I was kind of thrown in there headfirst, but it was a good thing," Blair said. "You're learning pitchers really quickly, guys I had maybe caught one bullpen in Spring Training. But the big leagues almost seemed like a myth, then you get there and realize, 'I can do that, it's still baseball.'"

Blair will be under consideration, along with Anderson and McBride, should the A's need to call up another catcher at some point this season. Vogt and Phegley, the lone catchers on the A's 40-man roster, are at least expected to be Opening Day-ready.

Vogt remains on schedule to make his Cactus League debut during the second week of games, and Phegley, who experienced shoulder soreness during recent throwing drills, could be back in action by week's end. He pinch-hit in Tuesday's split-squad game but didn't catch.

"We'll see where he his once we start our games," manager Bob Melvin said, "but this is a good opportunity for some other guys right now."

"It's a good spot to be in," Blair said. "I kind of always view my job the same, no matter what's going on with other people, so whether we have six guys on the 40-man or two, I have to take care of myself. I feel like I control my destiny no matter what that situation is."

Worth noting

• Back stiffness sidelined Mark Canha on Tuesday, but the issue is considered minor.

• Shortstop Richie Martin, the A's top Draft pick last year, was hit by a pitch on his left hand Tuesday but promptly stole second base and scored on Ryon Healy's RBI hit.

• Another top prospect, third baseman Matt Chapman, hit a monster homer to right-center field in the game. "We're seeing the type of power from him that they've been talking about," Melvin said. "I mean, that looked like a left-handed hitter, and that got out in a hurry. We're excited about him."

• The A's plan to honor the late Dave Henderson and Tony Phillips before Saturday's 12:05 p.m. PT game against the Brewers at Hohokam Stadium.