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Phegley more than a signal caller

White Sox backstop slugs his 10th homer in Charlotte victory
May 16, 2013

If Josh Phegley had indulged himself with some baseball-related business cards last year, they would almost certainly have said, "Josh Phegley. Catcher. Chicago White Sox."

Today, the first-rounder would probably need a fourth line. "Power hitter."

Phegley went 3-for-4 with his career-best 10th homer, a double, three RBIs and a pair of runs scored in the Triple-A Charlotte Knights' 4-1 win over the visiting Louisville Bats on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old backstop is the 13th player -- and the first catcher -- to reach double-digit homers in 2013.

"I've always been coached and raised to emphasize the defensive part of the game," Phegley said. "The catcher is there to win the game on the defensive side. I've always thought that pitching wins games, and my goal is to get the best out of my pitcher.

"Production is a bonus. I want to be known for my defense, I want pitchers to want to throw to me. I want them to want me back there. That has been the reason I've moved along in the system. Guys believe in me behind the plate, but putting up a good year offensively will push the envelope and let them know I can help the team win."

Selected 38th overall in the 2009 Draft, the No. 15 White Sox prospect has never been considered among the elite power hitters.

While he hit 14 homers in 100 combined games between four levels in his first two years in pro ball, Phegley went yard just nine times in 116 contests in 2011 and six times in 102 appearances in 2012.

"I have always been a good power hitter and you can see that in my doubles numbers. I hit a lot of home runs in Little League and in high school and college. But I've just not been driving the ball like I can.

"I'm just starting to unlock the full potential of my power ability."

With his hot start to 2013, Phegley is on pace to set career highs in almost every offensive category.

A lifetime .253 hitter, he is batting .342. He increased his RBI tally to 26, putting him on pace to plate 86 runs this year. He has never recorded more than 56 RBIs (in 2011) in any of his four previous seasons.

His .395 on-base percentage and .655 slugging percentage are also personal bests.

Phegley singled in the second inning, doubled home two runs in the fourth and cleared the center-field fences in the sixth. It was his sixth longball in 10 games.

"It was the first pitch of the at-bat," said Phegley, who also struck out in the ninth. "I was already 2-for-2, so I was already bearing down and I thought they might pitch around me.

"The first pitch was down the middle, mid-thigh, and I hit it to center. It's hard to hit it out to center field at any park, so I wasn't sure it was going to go."

Part of the reason behind the Indiana native's power surge has been a minor tweak in mechanics that is paying big results.

"The key for me is gathering my weight on my back leg early," Phegley said. "Before I had a quick load as the pitch is coming, but this year I have been more gathered before the pitch so I don't have to do too much to get ready to swing. I'm able to see the ball better.

"That is something we have emphasized. My whole career they have said I have good hands and that my swing is fine, but it is more about being in a better position. It's been an uphill battle to get in this position, but we've found a good spot that has clicked."

Jason Berken (3-3) allowed one run on three hits and two walks while striking out six batters over seven innings in the victory.

"One thing he does well is he can sink the ball to both sides of the plate," Phegley said. "His fastball command is already among the best I have seen. He's pitched in the big leagues and he has that experience.

"They're aggressive hitters and they like the ball over the plate and he consistently pounded the zone in. Any time you can go 3-for-4 and catch a one-run game is pretty outstanding."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB.