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White Sox ‘still like’ catcher Josh Phegley, but option him to AAA

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox optioned catcher Josh Phegley to Class AAA Charlotte on Wednesday, one of six roster moves made by the club and easily the most significant of the bunch.

Right-hander Andre Rienzo and lefty Eric Surkamp also were optioned to Charlotte, and right-handers Chris Beck and Cody Winiarski and first baseman Andy Wilkins were assigned to minor-league camp.

It was a tough pill to swallow for Phegley, who was the team’s starter for much of the second half last season.

“No, not expecting this,’’ Phegley said. “But the decision was made. There is still some work to be done. I’m going to get my opportunities down the road. I know that. I believe in that.’’

His departure leaves
Rule 5 draft pick Adrian ­Nieto and Hector Gimenez in a tussle for the backup job behind Tyler Flowers. Nieto hasn’t played above Class A, so the jump to the majors would be significant.

“It would be tough,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but we still have a ways to go here.’’

The Sox like what they’ve seen of Nieto and would have to offer him back to the Washington Nationals if he doesn’t make the team, unless a deal is worked out with the Nats. Nieto and Gimenez are switch-hitters. Gimenez’s experience with the Sox last year, coupled with Nieto’s inexperience, might leave Gimenez with the edge.

After batting .316 with 15 homers and 41 RBI at Charlotte, Phegley was called up July 5. He got the bulk of the work but batted .206 with a .233 on-base percentage. His defense, handling of the pitchers and leadership also needs some brushing up, he was told.

“All-around, I’ve got to improve defensively,’’ he said. “I think offense is coming around. It’s an important position to be a catcher, handling a big-league staff. That’s got to be the focus, and I think that’s my focus moving on from here.

“Not really anything specific, just mentally the attitude, just kind of being unselfish back there, focusing on the staff and getting them through the game. Whatever I have to do to do that, be a leader on the field, things like that.’’

A sandwich pick out of Indiana between the first and second rounds of the 2009 draft, Phegley said the Sox’ decision wasn’t a complete shock. At 26, he believes he has a career ahead of him as a starting catcher.

“I’m pretty disappointed. Everyone wants to wear that White Sox uniform, but I’m hopeful still. I’m a good player. I believe in that. I’m going to get a chance with this club.’’

“We still like Josh,’’ Ventura said. “We’d rather have him go down, work on his defense, get his at-bats and play instead of being a backup.’’

White Sox reliever Mitchell Boggs, who threw to the best in Yadier Molina during his four seasons with the Cardinals, likes Nieto’s attention to detail.

“I like him back there,’’ Boggs said. “When it was over we sat down and talked about what I thought and wanted to do. He has a really good idea back there, he works hard, and he takes pride in what the pitcher does.

“It’s big to have a guy back there who wants you to do well and does everything in his power to help you succeed.’’

Nieto (.267) singled in two at-bats Wednesday. Gimenez (.143) was 0-for-3 with a throwing error.

The Sox have 38 players remaining in camp, including 17 pitchers.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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