Nearly every player finds the road to Triple-A baseball can be difficult to travel.
But Charlotte catcher Josh Phegley has found the road to be especially tough. The 2009 first-round Draft pick of the White Sox saw last season end prematurely due to a wrist injury.
That was nothing, however, compared to 2010, when his career nearly was derailed by a condition known as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.
"I'm extremely lucky to be at Triple-A at this point in my career, especially with the setbacks I've had," Phegley admitted.
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a blood-clotting disorder that can lead to easy or excessive bruising and bleeding.
"It was unexplainable," Phegley said. "I felt fine and I wanted to play. But I just wasn't able to. It was tough to cope with being perfectly fine to play -- and not being able to play."
After appearing in only 48 games that season, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound backstop returned to the field in 2011 and earned a late-season promotion to Charlotte. Phegley said the disease has helped him appreciate the game more.
"It was eye-opening because there were points where I didn't think I was going to make it back out here," he said. "I didn't know if it was permanent or temporary. This was something I had done since I was 4 years old. So to feel perfectly fine and be told that I couldn't play was shocking. I didn't know how to handle it at the time.
"But it certainly gave substance to the saying, 'It can be taken away from you at any time.'"
It also has helped him deal with the highs and lows of a baseball season. After a fast start in April that saw him hit .382, Phegley batted .194 in May. But he seems to have gotten his bearings in June, hitting .400 in his first seven games this month.
"He got off to a fast start, but it's an ongoing process with him," Knights manager Joel Skinner said of Phegley, who's batting .291 with a homer and 24 RBIs. "He's maturing as a hitter, and it has been fun to watch."
The up and downs haven't affected Phegley's defense. His .995 fielding percentage is one of the best in the league, and he's thrown out 19 of 39 potential base-stealers for a 48.7 percentage that's tops in the IL.
"Defense is the priority at my position," Phegley said. "Handling a pitching staff is such a big part of the game because that will win games and get you to the playoffs.
"My goal is to get on the same page as the pitchers, make sure we're handling the hitters right. Calling a good game and making sure everything is going as planned is important."
His strong defense draws praise from Skinner, a former catcher.
"He's a strong kid, but he has really good agility, so he has been good at things like fielding bunts," Skinner said. "He has a strong and accurate throwing arm. All the things that come along with that position, he can do."
Mixed numbers: Louisville's Brett Tomko has a misleading 0-6 record this season. He ranks 10th in the IL with a 3.12 ERA and has struck out 44 over 57 2/3 innings. Even though the 39-year-old right-hander has lost three of his last five outings, all five have been "quality" starts that have seen him allow three earned runs or fewer in at least six innings.
Branyan bashing: 1B Russell Branyan joined Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 2 and his addition to the lineup produced immediate dividends. He's hammered four homers in his last four contests, including a pair on June 5 at Durham, and has hit .333 with 11 RBIs and eight runs scored in eight games. Branyan also has drawn nine walks for a .515 on-base percentage.
Forget last year: Toledo RHP Thad Weber has put last season's struggles behind him. After going 5-11 with a 5.65 ERA in 27 starts for the Mud Hens in 2011, he ranks among the IL leaders with a 3.05 ERA. The 27-year-old right-hander also is fourth with a 0.95 WHIP and fifth in opponents' batting average (.211).
He said it: "It doesn't matter how many hits you get. If you get one hit and win the game, that's good." -- Rochester OF Wilkin Ramirez to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on June 6. He broke up a perfect game bid by Norfolk's Chris Tillman with a sixth-inning homer and the Red Wings won, 4-1, despite totaling only four hits. Ramirez said he wasn't aware of the perfect game bid, but Rochester manager Gene Glynn was. "I hadn't even given a sign yet (at third base before the home run)," Glynn told the Rochester newspaper.