The Chicago White Sox thought they’d solved their catching conundrum earlier this week after naming Tyler Flowers the starting catcher. However, the South Siders were hit with a double whammy today, losing to the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs 7-0 and losing Flowers in the bottom of the sixth inning, when he left the game with leg cramps.
After swinging and missing at a 1-1 pitch against Cubs reliever Alberto Cabrera, Flowers took a few ginger steps, stretched and tried to walk off whatever he was feeling before signaling to the dugout that something didn’t feel right.
An injury to Flowers could complicate things for the White Sox. Opening Day is one week from this Sunday, and after optioning Josh Phegley to triple-A Charlotte earlier this week, the White Sox have just two catchers in remaining in camp: non-roster invitee Hector Gimenez and Rule 5 draftee Nieto. Gimenez has a mere 37 games of major league experience since debuting for the Houston Astros back in 2006, and Nieto has never played above class-A Advanced in his career.
The White Sox value Flowers not for his bat (his line this spring is .250/.300/.500) but rather for how well he handles the pitching staff. Pitchers feel comfortable throwing to him, and his mound presence over the past few seasons has helped churn out consistent performances from young White Sox pitchers like John Danks and Chris Sale.
Leg cramps could just be leg cramps, and for however much time he misses, Flowers’ glove will be missed. But in the meantime, his absence opens the door for other young catching prospects, especially Nieto, who needs to spend all year on the White Sox’ major league roster or risk being sent back to the Washington Nationals.
Since Spring Training began, switch-hitting Nieto has impressed the White Sox with his energy and desire to constantly improve his game. About a week ago, Nieto’s batting average sat just below .100, but he’s since raised it to .250. An injury to Flowers could be the perfect chance for Nieto to prove he truly deserves that major league shot.