In baseball, catchers usually fall into two categories — those who can hit and play mediocre defense, and those whose batting averages barely cross the Mendoza line, but who can capably handle a pitching staff.
The Chicago White Sox have three of the latter category in spring camp fighting for the starting job this season. All are relatively comparable, but I think there is still a tossup between two of them in regards to who will be catching Chris Sale‘s pitches come Opening Day.
Last year’s depth chart topper, Tyler Flowers, enters 2014 ranked second on the White Sox depth chart, despite his .273 batting average so far in spring and his strong defensive track record. However, while handling the White Sox pitching staff last season, he hit an embarrassing .195 with 94 strikeouts in 84 games. Though anemic at the plate, Flowers shines on defense, committing just four errors in 77 starts last season. But despite his good glove, if he wants his starting job back, Flowers will need to get his season batting average above .200, plain and simple.
Called up at the end of last season, Josh Phegley quickly proved to be of the same mold as Flowers, with a slightly less adept glove. The former Indiana University Hoosier and Terre Haute, IN native hit .206 with seven doubles and four home runs, but committed five errors and allowed eight passed balls. While his defense behind the dish leaves much to be desired, Phegley’s bat continues to heat up in the Arizona sun, and he’s hitting an acceptable .278 in Spring Training so far. If he keeps up his production at the plate, Phegley could earn the majority of starts behind the plate for the White Sox in 2014, despite his still inconsistent glove.
The third catcher on the chart is Adrian Nieto, a Rule 5 draft choice from the Washington Nationals who has never played above Class A-Advanced. Nieto played for the Mesa Solar Sox in the 2013 Arizona Fall League, hitting .271 with six RBI, and is fresh off of appearing in the AFL Fall Stars Game. But in 11 spring at bats, he is batting just .091 with one walk and two runs scored. Despite his low stats and the fact that his chances of making the team are nearly nonexistent, Nieto’s presence is important for the White Sox this spring. Born in Havana and raised in Florida, Nieto, alongside Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, can and has assisted new teammate Jose Abreu with adjusting to the U.S. and MLB baseball.