What do the White Sox have at each position after the 2014 offseason? The picture has gotten a bit clearer with the recent cuts and reassignments. Let's take a look at the White Sox's catcher position to see how it stacks up for 2014 and beyond.
Flowers & Nieto
Tyler Flowers has already been announced as the Opening Day starting catcher for the 2014 season. Many fans were upset that Tyler Flowers seemed to have the inside track on the starting catching job from the get-go given that the White Sox catcher position had the third lowest WAR total of any team in the majors last season. When you add in his .195/.247/.355 line from last season you can hardly blame them. His ZIPS projections leave a lot to be desired as well as they predict he will have a line somewhere around .205/.290/.371. There is a slight chance that he could outperform these numbers if his performance last year was indeed negatively affected by a shoulder injury. Other than the injury there is not a lot of reason based on his statistics to think that any positive regression is possible for 2014.
Adrian Nieto is a much more interesting story. While it has not been officially announced, it appears that Nieto, a Rule 5 draft pick from the Washington Nationals, will backup Tyler Flowers to start the season. Nieto is an unlikely choice for the backup spot as the highest level he has reached in the minors was High-A. Nieto has always had a solid approach at the plate as he walks good amount of the time but there isn't much power to speak of or an ability to hit for contact. His defense and game calling skills will likely need to provide a large portion of his value to the team. However, it appears the White Sox brass are high on him.
If Hector Gimenez loses out on the backup catcher competition to Adrian Nieto, that leaves Gimenez, Josh Phegley and Miguel Gonzalez as the catchers for the 2014 Charlotte Knights. Not much needs to be said about Gimenez as we all know what he is about. He is a 31 year-old, journeyman who proved last season over a particularly brutal eighty plate appearance showing that he could not handle big league pitching.
It came as somewhat of a surprise that Phegley was sent down to Charlotte before the backup catcher competition had wrapped up. After tearing up the minors last season, Phegley was called up to the big league club where he started off hot before quickly becoming one of the larger black holes (.206/.223/.299) in an already desolate lineup. Despite his poor offensive showing it sounds like his defense was the major reason he is back in Charlotte.
Phegley said no real specific reason 4 option: "Just mentally the attitude, just kind of being unselfish back there, focusing on the staff."— Dan Hayes (@DanHayesCSN) March 19, 2014
His ZIPS projections show some improvement in power for 2014 but with an on-base percentage of .281 and poor defense he is on the fast track to being a quad-A player.
Miguel Gonzalez is essentially an organizational player at this point, meaning that he will likely never be an MLB regular or even a backup for that matter. He has never hit at any minor league level and would only see the big league roster in September to spell some of the catchers higher on the depth chart.
The Low Minors
Kevan Smith was drafted in the 7th round of the 2011 MLB draft and will most likely start this season with the Birmingham Barons. Even though he hit well for a catcher with Winston-Salem in 2013, he is old for the age and is barely clinging to fringe prospect status. Michael Blanke, the other catcher who will be with Birmingham for the upcoming season, is essentially a non-prospect as he hasn't hit since his Rookie ball season in 2010 and is already 25 years-old.
At A-Ball, the White Sox have Zach Fisher and Trey Wimmer. They will both be on the Great Falls roster this upcoming season. At 22 and 23 years-old respectively without showing much offensively, they do not inspire much confidence in their ability to reach majors.
Not good. I wouldn't call any one of the catchers mentioned above a true prospect. Unless Flowers, who is already 28, shows something we haven't yet seen from him we could be in the same position next offseason with the catcher position. While there may be a few mid-tier free agent catchers available next offseason, none are the long-term fit the White Sox have been searching for since Pierzynski's departure after the 2012 season. You would expect the White Sox front office to add some talent at catcher in the upcoming draft as the system is pretty much barren at this position.