The talk of the spring for the Chicago White Sox has been the second base job and what to do with Carlos Rodon. One thing that may be worth paying attention to is the tarting catcher position.
As we speak there is supposed to be a battle for the backup spot behind Tyler Flowers. The candidates are Geovany Soto, George Kottaras, Rob Brantly and Adrian Nieto. If healthy, all signs point to Soto being the winner which means the White Sox will have two right-handed hitting catchers on the everyday club.
However when comparing both catchers, what is stopping Soto from being more than just a backup to Flowers?
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For the last two seasons, Flowers has had to prove himself over guys like Nieto, Josh Phegley and Hector Gimenez to be an everyday catcher. Despite him coming off of a strong year by his standards, that shouldn’t be expected to change this season.
Flowers appeared on 670 The Score’s White Sox Weekly last weekend and when asked how it feels to be “the guy” heading into the season, he provided a different take on his job status.
"“Maybe it appears that way from the outside but in this business there is always someone else coming, someone else shooting for your job. So there is really no opportunity to be complacent.”"
You can listen to the entire show (Flowers interview begins at 49:45) in the video below.
Doesn’t sound like a guy with much job security does it?
In 2014, Flowers hit .241 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs, all of which were career highs. He was also sixth among qualifying catchers in caught stealing percentage (caught 30 percent of runners). Before last season, he had never hit higher than .213 in a season, so it’s understandable for people (and Flowers himself) to have doubts in him maintaining that offensive production.
Mar 10, 2015; Surprise, AZ, USA; Chicago White Sox designated hitter Tyler Flowers (21) at bat in the second inning during a spring training baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
However, Flowers also led all catchers in strikeouts with 159 and tied for third in wild pitches with nine. Judging from his career numbers, he is likely to struggle in both those categories again.
Soto was the National League Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in 2008. He also has three seasons of 17 home runs or more. Injuries have had a lot to do with the fact that he hasn’t been able to hold down a starting job since 2012.
That was the case last season as he played just 24 games. In that time between the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics he posted a slash line of .250/.302/.363. He also threw out 43-percent of runners in that stretch.
When healthy, Soto is a guy that provides power and draws walks. Those caught stealing numbers from last season may be unsustainable but for his career, he throws out 27-percent which was the league average in 2014. He has also never allowed more than five passed balls in a season.
In 2014, Flowers walked just 25 times (also a career-high by the way). His best offensive season doesn’t match up to Soto’s (.286 avg, 23 HR and 86 RBIs in ’08), but he is much less of a health risk. Only five catchers caught more innings than Flowers last season. Soto has only stayed healthy enough to catch 1,000 innings twice.
If Flowers can at least replicate his 2014 numbers, his starting job should be safe. If he goes back to hovering around the Mendoza line like we saw every year before, White Sox manager Robin Ventura may feel forced to turn to Soto for full-time duty behind the plate. The question is whether he can physically handle the load.
No matter what happens this spring, Flowers will be the starting catcher come Opening Day on April 6. But it needs to be acknowledged that with expectations high for the team this season, another terrible year from Flowers should not be accepted.
Soto has had success in the past but at 32 years old, he won’t return to All-Star form. If he can tap into some of those past abilities and avoid the disabled list, he may force his way to a full-time role at some point this season … and Flowers knows it.