Unlike 2015, the Chicago White Sox should have a competent backstop in 2016. They actually may have two of them. When Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro were added via free agency this winter, the position improved dramatically. Both have the ability to start, and bring positive traits to the table. Here is a breakdown.
Since he broke into the major leagues in 2009, Avila has played every game for the White Sox division rival, that being the Detroit Tigers. Avila brings some power to the table (as many as 19 home runs in a season-2012), and hit 11 as recently as 2014. He is also a solid catcher, and caught one of the games best rotations over the past few years (until 2015).
Speaking of his catching abilities, Avila has a .995 fielding % as a catcher at the big league level, he won’t make some of the boneheaded plays that Sox fans are used to seeing behind the dish. Not to mention he only reached double digits once in passed balls (10 in 2012), therefore he knows how to keep balls in front of him.
Avila’s biggest issue is injuries, mainly concussions. With the amount of foul tips a catcher can take, one direct shot to the head and he could be out for an extended period of time. Outside of the injury issue, strikeouts are a problem. While Avila has never had more than 464 plate appearances in a season, he regularly strikes out over 100 times. At this point in his career, his is more of a platoon option, with the vast majority of his power coming against right-handed pitchers (Avila is a left-handed batter). On a side note, Avila has the ability to draw a decent amount of walks. Even though he only hit .191 last season, he still managed a .339 OBP Mostly due to a solid batters eye (40 walks in 67 games played).
Navarro and Avila are completely different types of hitters (outside of the fact that Navarro switch hits). Navarro, for instance, almost never strikes out. However, unlike Avila, he almost never walks. I almost wonder if he is an option for the #2 hole in an unlikely scenario, because he would make contact. In 2,903 at-bats, Navarro has only struck out 446 times. That means Navarro strikes out about one in every six at bats.
However, there are some major concerns with Navarro. He almost never walks, as a matter of fact he earned a free trip to first base 242 times since he broke into the majors (2004). Another area Navarro struggles is defensively. He has issues throwing out runners, and makes too many errors for a catcher (14 is his career high).
Navarro has mostly been a backup or platoon catcher at the big league level. Outside of 2014 with the Toronto Blue Jays, he never played more than 120 games (played 139 for the Jays in ’14). While making contact is a constant for Navarro, a high average is not. Some years he hits for a high average, and others he hits near the Mendoza Line.
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Looking at both of them, I think it will be tough to determine a definite starter in Spring Training. Unlike 2013-15 where the Sox didn’t really have an MLB quality catcher from an offensive standpoint, this year they have a competent pair. The problem is neither is really a legit #1 catcher though. I think that while they will compete for the starting job in the spring, both will need to share the duties as starter during the regular season. I think a platoon is most likely, and still a vast upgrade over recent years. At least all White Sox fans are hoping it will.