Sep 17, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Geovany Soto (17) is congratulated by Athletics team after Soto scored on a single by Athletics right fielder Sam Fuld (23), not in picture, during the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago White Sox have continued to add to their catching depth this offseason, as Thursday saw them sign Geovany Soto to a minor league contract.
Bruce Levine first tweeted the deal:
Soto played for the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics last season for a total of 24 games. Also in ’14, Soto played in Double-A and Triple-A baseball with the Rangers organization for 16 games.
Now that the Sox signed Soto to a minor league deal, let’s discuss what he means to the team.
Soto is being brought in for competition at catcher, mainly the backup spot. His best year was ’08 with the Chicago Cubs, where he hit .285 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs.
Jul 21, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Geovany Soto (8) grimaces as he scores against the New York Yankees during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
He is not over the hill yet age-wise, considering he will be 32 for the ’15 season. While he has not had a good year since ’10 with the Cubs as he had an average of .280, with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs.
Is Soto still a capable big league catcher? If he stays healthy, as of right now, he is their best option to back up Flowers.
He has thrown out 37 percent of career base stealers, which is very good. Not to mention he has only allowed 18 passed balls in a total of 5,470 MLB innings.
If Soto can find the fountain of youth again, the White Sox may have found a capable backup to Flowers. Here is the question on Soto, though: Does he still have it? Can he regain what he’s lost in his game?
Health has been an issue lately, but if the Sox can keep him healthy, he might have value. Soto may be the reclamation project of ’15, and if the Sox can bring him back to old form, they may have found themselves a steal.
This MiLB deal gives the White Sox some depth at the catcher’s position behind current White Sox starting catcher Tyler Flowers.
While Flowers proved himself in ’14 as a legitimate backstop in the majors, and with the signing of Soto, there still remain questions about the backup spot on the South Side.
Do you think they have enough depth, even with the addition of Soto?
Here are the catchers vying for the backup spot already in the organization, along with three other external options if the White Sox decide to add even more catchers to their payroll.
Adrian Nieto, switch hitter, showed to be a solid backup last season, considering he hit .236 with two home runs and batted in seven RBIs in just 48 games.
The main reason the 24-year-old was up for the whole season was due to the fact that he was a Rule V Draft Pick, which meant he couldn’t be sent to the minors for all of ’14 without being returned to the Washington Nationals.
In ’15, Nieto will be allowed to play in the minors for the White Sox (without them losing his rights).
Defensively, Nieto needs to improve at cutting down runners (13.8 percent caught stealing), and he allowed six passed balls over the 46 total games played.
Rob Brantly, a left-handed hitter, didn’t play in the majors in ’14; however, his last season in the majors in ’13, he only hit .211 for the Miami Marlins.
Jul 9, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly (19) rounds the bases after hitting a three-run homer during the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Brantly has yet to get more than 223 at-bats in any single MLB season (’13) and has fewer than 100 career games under his belt.
Defensively, Brantly isn’t the best, considering he has thrown out under 30 percent of base stealers and has a total of 15 passed balls in 89 career starts.
George Kottaras, another left-handed hitter, just like Brantly also hasn’t had much of an MLB career. In comparison to Brantly, he also last played in the majors in ’13 with the Kansas City Royals.
Kottaras has just 313 games of MLB experience, with a career batting average of .215 over parts of five major league seasons.
Kottaras’ highest career average was .252 in ’11 with the Milwaukee Brewers over a span of 49 games.
He isn’t much more than a backup or just minor league depth at best. Defensively, Kottaras has thrown out 32 percent of career base runners and has allowed 49 passed balls over 407 career starts, according to his player profile page on ESPN.com.
There are also other catchers from outside the organization, including Dioner Navarro of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Since the Blue Jays added Russell Martin in the offseason, it is possible for them to deal Navarro, especially with so many teams needing catching depth.
Navarro has proven to be a competent MLB backstop and would make for a good backup (or starter for the White Sox).
Navarro has a career batting average of .255, along with 66 home runs and 312 RBIs. He only allowed seven passed balls in 112 games last year, which is very respectable.
Hank Conger of the Houston Astros is a solid switch hitting option who has always been considered to have the ability to hit.
While Conger’s career average is only at .224, he is hard to gauge for the fact that he has never gotten consistent playing time behind the plate.
Defensively, he doesn’t allow many passed balls (three in 223 career games) and has a fielding percentage of .985.
There is also Wilin Rosario from the Colorado Rockies. Rosario is known more for his offense than his defense, considering the year he hit 28 home runs (’12), he made 13 errors behind the plate.
Rosario has some power for a catcher, which is good. His weakness is that while he has power, he rarely takes a walk.
He has over 1,200 career at-bats (in stats from mlb.com); however, he has taken only 65 walks. Rosario has talent, although I am not sure what he could do in crunch time of a pennant race due to his lack of plate discipline.
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With that said, Nieto has the highest potential long term. Therefore, it might be the best idea to get him at-bat every day in the minors.
The problem is, neither Kottaras, Brantly or possibly Soto are going to be great options either for ’15.
However, to give the White Sox the best chance of winning long-term (and this year) it may be best to roll the dice with Kottaras, Brantly or Soto and hope the team contends.
If that happens, the White Sox can trade for a backup catcher of greater value to the team’s short-term needs, or maybe one of those three catchers can make an impact in some way in ’15.
Any of the other three catchers are just speculation by yours truly and may never happen. Backup catcher is the team’s biggest hole right now, and going into a season, that isn’t the worst thing.