It’s not often that excitement surrounds the naming of a backup catcher. Usually the position is designated for an aging backstop who can aid in the development of the pitching staff. When the Chicago White Sox named their No. 2 catcher on Monday, enthusiasm followed. Yesterday, the White Sox named 24-year-old Adrian Nieto as Tyler Flowers‘ backup to begin the year. By having the Rule 5 draftee on the Opening Day roster, the White Sox will not have to send him back to the Washington Nationals at this point in time.
What sparks intrigue about Nieto is his all-around ability. Out of the catchers competing for a job in camp (Flowers, Nieto, Josh Phegley and Hector Gimenez), Nieto possessed the most potential. Scouts rave about his defensive mechanics and his ability to handle a pitching staff. His development of a quicker release has allowed him to improve his caught stealing rate each year. Throughout Spring Training Nieto has familiarized himself with the starters, especially Jose Quintana. Under Robin Ventura, who has a history for using a designated catcher to handle a particular pitcher, Nieto could receive a start every fifth day.
Nieto provides Sox fans hope that the problems at the catcher position after AJ Pierzynski left will come to an end. The jump from high A ball to the majors will be a difficult one for Nieto. In his first taste against major league pitching this Spring Training, Nieto hit a non-impressive .250/.318/.350. However, White Sox fans should not hang their heads in disgust and categorize Nieto with the Flowers and Phegley as one dimensional catchers.
With the return of Paul Konerko in a part-time role on this year’s team, a spot on a roster that could be used on a utility man/pitcher hitter is filled. Penciled in to fill out the bench are Dayan Viciedo, Jeff Keppinger, Konerko and Nieto. One aspect of Ventura’s managing style that has been criticized is the way he handles his bench. Over the the past two years there have been countless situations where putting in a pinch hitter would be the right move, but there was nobody adequate enough to step to the plate. Along with being an impressive backstop, Nieto provides Ventura with a switch hitter who can be inserted into a pinch hitting role during a crucial moment of the game.
According to the rules regarding those selected in the Rule 5 draft, a player must be on the major league roster all season in order to not be sent back to his original team. With some players it might be difficult to find a role for them on a roster all season. For a switch hitting catcher who provides a better option offensively than his competition, keeping Nieto in the majors should not be hard. If he is able to develop into the catcher of the future for the Sox, they will be one step closer to a successful rebuild.