A week after the Padres lured Derek Norris' revered bat out of Oakland, this isn't the best time to feel rosy about the White Sox seasonal arrangement of below-average and whiff-prone catchers, but they are here. There are many of them, which is the best feature of this group.
One of them is bound to be capable of stuttering through 450 plate appearances without tragedy. The key is actually giving that guy 450 plate appearances.
The favorite in the clubhouse since he's actually managed to slap together a productive 2014 season as a starter, combining bad pitch blocking numbers, rejuvenated and competent theft prevention (30% thrown out), and of course, anecdotal rave reviews from teammates and positive framing data. The throwing improvement probably should have been anticipated with Flowers healthy again after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2013, but he probably most dramatically altered perceptions of him with one of the wonkiest paths to a respectable .241/.297/.396, 93 wRC+ batting line ever.
Perhaps it doesn't really matter how you nearly scratch out league-average hitting over 442 plate appearances, but out of three trimesters of Flowers' play, the middle one of total suckitude most resembled his previous work. Sandwiching that was a solid month and a half of magically doinking singles with obscene batted ball luck, and a closing flurry where he bashed everything to hell. He only played 50 games in the second half, but hit 10 home runs and slugged .544.
Flowers did one thing familiar and consistently all year long. He struck out a metric ton--159 times. That extreme figure leaves no clear markers of what of this was actual, sustainable adjustments through the year and what was just nuttiness. Because of the whiffs, a lower average and OBP would be expected in 2015, but the power surge gave hope that he's getting closer to what his approach should be, given his skill set. He can't make contact, but is strong as an ox, so waiting around for stuff to clobber should be his MO. Since he never has done this consistently, truly terrible offense is always on the table for him.
He's a good quote, so obviously we all hope he plays forever.
Is Kottaras Theoretical Tyler Flowers? There seems to be a pretty wide gulf from the saber fascination with Kottaras, someone who was still projecting as above-average as recently as last year, the same season he bounced between four different organizations, and the real version that no one even seems willing to roster. He's not even on the White Sox 40-man right now.
Chances are Kottaras' penchant for strikeouts and a .215 batting average don't help him, but his inability to aid the pitching the staff is likely more than can even be immediately recognized. Having him hit 20 dingers in Triple-A and not get called up seems like a likely result.
My earliest memory of their 25-year-old former Tigers farmhand who was shipped to Miami in the Anibal Sanchez trade, was that he was being allowed to man the backstop out of the gate for the treacherously terrible 2013 Marlins. Like many on that team, his presence on an MLB roster felt a year or two premature--Brantly had less than 200 plate appearances each at his stops in Double and Triple-A--but new manager Mike Redmond, a former catcher, was determined to take him under his wing.
Instead, Brantly couldn't slash anything above .300 and played less than 70 games, and the organization brought in Jarrod Saltalamacchia over him the next season.
Without anything resembling a consistent track record, it's hard to get much of a read on Brantly. He was dreadful in Triple-A last season, prompting his release, but hit in small stretches throughout his travels in the minors. His fatal flaw would seem to be that his 195-pound frame can't hurt a fly even if he squares it up.
As a prospect, John Sickels remarked that Brantly should be able to secure a long career thanks to a good contact rate from the left side and sound defense and still had confidence in him after 2013, but any shred of offensive success is so far away at this point that it's hard to be sure he'll even hit enough to win a backup job.
Setting an extremely bizarre new standard in backup catcher performance, Nieto managed to still put up better hitting numbers in the majors in 2014 than Brantley did in Triple-A despite being noticeably unrefined. It probably took a bit of luck to scratch out .236/.296/.340, with a nearly 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nieto looked his best driving the ball to the left field.
It was less easy to hide Nieto's defense, which was just game-changingly bad, and likely was the greatest reason for his slight playing time. Passed balls is the most superficial quality to key in on a catcher, so naturally I am all over it, but Nieto was an undeniable sieve behind the plate and hopeless against the running game. 14% of basestealers thrown out is about half of league average, 21 wild pitches and six passed balls in 300 innings is insane. Phegley getting most of Nieto's playing time in September now looks like it could have been a showcase in retrospect, but the point of tolerating Nieto's lack of preparation had also dissipated.
For whatever reason, projections are strong on Flowers, but catcher seems like one of the position where we could be mistaken, and comfortably writing in somewhat surprising 2014 production as a given. Not foraging for a replacement in free agent is a decision I agree with, since getting catchers on the market is either prohibitively expensive, or an exercise in futility, or in the case of Brian McCann, both.
Yet, and this might be 2014 bullpen trauma speaking, there are no candidates without full-blown bust potential in this group. Flowers is the surest thing of the four, and he was one of the worst regulars in the league in 2013, and the other three probably need a big crest in performance to be worthy backups here. There are no commitments here, so this is an easy position to upgrade in a deadline, but that's the emergency remedy after half the season has been punted. We loved Kevin Youkilis, we don't care much for discussing what he came to rescue.
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