Bloomington – Josh Phegley knew what they were saying about him after his freshman year on IU's baseball team.
"People were saying this kid is a good catcher – if he'd learn to hit, he'd be a pretty good player," Phegley said.
No one is doubting Phegley's abilities at the plate nowadays. The Terre Haute native followed his a solid freshman season in 2007 with a sophomore campaign that will go down in IU baseball lore as one of the best ever. Phegley led the Big Ten in RBIs (80) and hits (98) while ranking second in runs (69) and third in home runs (15). His .438 batting average, meanwhile, not only led the Big Ten but ranked second nationally.
His successes didn't go unnoticed. An All-America choice last summer and preseason pick this year, Phegley was also recently tabbed as one of the 50 preseason candidates for the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's best player. He's also considered a likely high draft choice in next summer's Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
"Now, I think they're saying if he'd learn to catch he'd be a good player," Phegley joked.
Actually, Phegley wasn't too bad behind the plate either last season. For second straight year Phegley threw out more than 30 percent of opposing base stealers, and his 23 runners caught stealing ranked second in the Big Ten. He also helped nurture a young-but-talented IU pitching staff as the season went along, and as a result Indiana eventually went on a late-season run that didn't end until the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
It was a turning point type of season for the IU baseball program led by some jaw-dropping production from Phegley, but the junior catcher still didn't satisfied his harshest critic – himself.
"Maybe it's a negative or maybe it's a positive, but I put a lot of pressure on myself," Phegley said. "I like to feel like I push myself harder than anyone else to perform."
That's why Phegley is expecting even more out of himself as well as the IU baseball program this summer. Whether it's at the plate or behind it, Phegley is counting on a little bit extra from himself in every facet of the game.
If he can do that, he thinks the IU baseball program has a chance to take another big step forward. After going 19-35 in 2006 and finishing last in the Big Ten, Coach Tracy Smith's team improved to 31-30 and 15-17 in the conference last summer. The Hoosiers won nine of their final 11 Big Ten games to qualify for the postseason tournament, and then proceeded to win three games before losing to Purdue in the semifinals.
That late-season success has everyone expecting big things during the 2009 season, which gets underway Friday when IU faces West Virginia in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge in Bradenton, Fla.
"I don't think there's any limit to what we can do with the talent we have on this team," Phegley said. "We were talking the other day, going through that freshman year together, it was like the lows of lows for IU baseball. That's brought us together really tight – we've experienced that all together.
"Now, we know we're good, we know we're talented, and we're a really tight group. We all feel the sky is the limit."
While the immediate future looks promising for the baseball program, Phegley's long-term prospects are equally exciting. He's a virtual shoe-in to be a very high draft pick in the Amateur Draft as arguably the premiere catcher in the college game today.
"Probably my last year in high school was when I thought I might have a chance to one day play professionally," Phegley said. "I was always a pretty good player, but my last year I had great numbers and was named Mr. Baseball in Indiana. I think we had nine guys drafted out of high school in Indiana that year, and to be named the top player in the state…I realized I had a chance."
That chance has turned into near certainty thanks to his successes in Bloomington, but Phegley isn't ready to look too far ahead too soon.
"That's definitely been my goal since I was young to play pro baseball," Phegley said. "It's my goal at the end of the year to be drafted. But with this group of guys and how close we are, it's important to be with these guys now and to try to do something with this team and not look past anything. I want my emphasis to be on the 2009 season."
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