Phegley opts out of AFL over health issues

Phegley opts out of AFL over health issues

CHICAGO -- The Arizona Fall League stood as more than just an October showcase for White Sox prospect Josh Phegley.

It was a five-week time period for Phegley to prove he was healthy moving into the 2011 season and put his talent on display as part of the Peoria Saguaros. Basically, Phegley's illness-shortened 2010 campaign ran from Oct. 12 through Nov. 18 in various Phoenix-area cities.

With those important factors being considered, it clearly was a tough decision for Phegley to remove his name from the AFL roster. But it was the right call to make.

Phegley, who turns 23 in February, played in just 48 Minor League games for Bristol, Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham during this past season. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound catcher lost playing time after being diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, or ITP.

This syndrome is an "autoimmune bleeding disorder characterized by the abnormally low levels of blood cells called platelets," according to WebMD.com. Simply put, a common bruise incurred when Phegley's platelet count was low could cause life-threatening internal bleeding, because of the platelet's function in blood clotting.

So, after his symptoms came back in early October, the offseason focus for Phegley suddenly became treating his illness for four solid months, instead of mixing in treatment while he was playing baseball.

"I don't have to worry about being on the field right now," said Phegley by phone from his home in Terre Haute, Ind. "I can hit the treatments harder and get after it a little more. I'm hoping to knock it out during the offseason and never deal with it again."

Although Phegley has been dealing with this condition since the end of Spring Training, he has been told by doctors it could disappear as quickly as it appeared. The symptoms, which don't cause Phegley pain or fatigue, manifest themselves through little red spots on his body.

Those red spots reappeared on the side of his chest, under his armpit, on the day of the first scheduled AFL contest.

"They actually sent me to [instruction league] to make up for lost time and get ready for the Fall League, and I even went to pre-Fall League workouts," Phegley said. "Up until the first game, that day, I was ready to go.

"Then, I noticed a patch of spots that morning. We kind of discussed it with the White Sox and decided it was not worth milking this thing to stay on the field.

"I've been good with the platelet numbers up to that point," Phegley said. "But I'm sick of dealing with this and decided I needed to get healthy right now."

Catcher Jason Bour replaced Phegley on the Saguaros' roster, joining fellow White Sox representatives Jared Mitchell, Eduardo Escobar, Anthony Carter, Charlie Leesman, Johnnie Lowe and Henry Mabee. Phegley hit .292 in 72 at-bats for Birmingham and .292 over 89 at-bats for Winston-Salem, with a combined five home runs and 26 RBIs.

It was certainly a major step forward for the 38th overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft -- Phegley hit just .224 for Class A Kannapolis over 196 at-bats in 2009. He had even bigger plans for his stint in Arizona.

"[It was a] very tough decision to make, because that was the season for me," Phegley said. "It was hit-or-miss for me during the year, but now I had the chance to play with a great group of guys in a pretty prestigious league.

"Saying no to that was tough. But who knows? If I was in the Fall League and my [platelet] numbers went down. ... It was not worth staying out there and riding the rollercoaster some more.

"This could be a huge step in anyone's career. But I'm not going to have a career unless I get healthy. I'm still young in my career, where I have time to go up from here."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.