The catching spot is arguably the weakest position in the entire system at present. Tyler Flowers is the favorite to claim the starting C role with the big league side out of Spring Training, and although still somewhat young, he was far from convincing both offensively and defensively in 2013. Unless you are a believer in Josh Phegley’s bat (and can overlook his inability to receive the ball), then there likely isn’t much help coming from the farm in 2014.
Will Adrian Nieto stick with the White Sox?
As a Rule-Five draftee, Nieto must remain on the Sox’ active 25-man roster for the entire 2014 season if they wish to keep him. Nieto is a capable defender, which should give him a chance to back-up Flowers, but he’ll be making the jump from A+ ball to the Big Leagues, and offensively he’ll almost certainly struggle. If the Sox truly see Nieto as a future option behind the plate then working out a trade with the Nationals may be the smarter option, as he cannot really afford to lose a year of development time sitting on the bench in Chicago.
Was Josh Phegley’s 2013 breakout for real?
While no longer technically a prospect, Josh Phegley is still a potential long-term solution to the White Sox’ catcher conundrum. After years of mediocre performance and health concerns, Phegley finally put it all together in 2013 hitting for a .316/.368/.597 triple slash line in 61 games with Charlotte. An atrocious Big League debut in which he hit .206/.223/.299 in 65 games has rightfully tempered expectations heading into 2014, but if he starts the season raking in Charlotte then he should find his way back to Chicago quite quickly.
Adrian Nieto– Nieto had a successful 2013 campaign as he reached the 100 games played mark for the first time in his career. While a little old for the High-A level at 23, Nieto showed good power (.164 ISO) and walks (11.7 BB%) with a much-improved contact rate (18.1 K%). He profiles as a solid back-up catcher.
Best of the Rest:
Miguel Gonzalez– Gonzalez was seen as one of the top prospects in the system a few years back, but his bat hasn’t developed as hoped. He is the best defensive catcher in the system and is very good at gunning down potential base-stealers, giving Gonzalez some upside as a defensive minded backup.
Mike Blanke– Unfortunately Blanke was not able to maintain the excellent offensive numbers that he teased us with in 2010 at the rookie ball level, and now profiles as a defense first backup (similar to Gonzalez, though with a bit more bat and a bit less glove).
Kevan Smith– Unlike Gonzalez and Blanke, if Kevan Smith is going to reach the Major Leagues it’s going to be on the strength of his bat. Smith has plus power for a catcher and he combined it with a very reasonable contact rate (14.9 K%) in 2013. Age is the main drawback for Smith as he will turn 26 in June and spent the entire 2013 season in A+. If he hits well at AA this season then he could start to rise up the rankings.
Keep an Eye on:
Sammy Ayala– An over-slot signee from the 2012 draft class ($260K in 17th Rd.), Ayala hasn’t shown much to date but has the tools to make a big splash in 2014.
Interesting Side Note:
The last catcher to go from A+ to MLB via the Rule Five Draft and stick there was Jesus Flores. Interestingly, in Flores’ last season with the Mets he hit for a 130 wRC+ in A+, an identical mark to that posted by Adrian Nieto in 2013 while at the same level. Flores went on to hit .244/.310/.365 in 197 PA’s with the Nationals in the following season while providing +0.4 WAR (which, scarily, would have ranked 1st amongst White Sox catchers in 2013).