Doug Padilla recaps the White Sox and looks at what changes might be in store for 2014.
Already expected to get plenty of scrutiny following the departure of A.J. Pierzynski, the White Sox’s catching position was picked apart when the transition year did not go anywhere near as well as the team hoped. Tyler Flowers got the first crack at the job before his struggles led to Josh Phegley taking over the position. Flowers’ season ultimately ended in early September after he needed shoulder surgery. White Sox catchers combined to score 46 runs, worst in the American League. The Red Sox led the league in that department, getting 86 runs from their catchers.
The good: While the offense was nearly non-existent from the team’s young catchers, the ability to handle the pitching staff was solid. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana both progressed this season while throwing to the young backstops and the pitching staff finished the season with a team ERA that was a tick under 4.00. White Sox catchers did combine for 16 home runs, seven behind the league leaders, an impressive number considering how young they were.
The bad: It wasn’t going to be easy for Flowers to replace Pierzynski, but he didn’t help his own cause as he struggled on offense to the tune of a .195 batting average, .247 on-base percentage and a .355 slugging percentage. It was obvious Flowers would strike out a lot and, indeed, he whiffed 94 times in 256 at-bats, which means his strikeout rate was actually higher than Adam Dunn's. Phegley made a splash in his first week in the major leagues, but his offense cooled as well, with White Sox catchers combining for a .196 batting average, 13th in the 15-team American League.
Who’s next: If the White Sox have indeed decided that Phegley is their preferred catcher moving forward, they could package Flowers in a deal this winter, but his value would be minimal, especially since he is coming off of surgery. Catcher is one area where the White Sox could make an upgrade. There isn’t a catching free agent that leaps off the page, but a trade is always possible. The White Sox could also sign a veteran catcher to serve in a backup role behind Phegley or Flowers. It doesn’t seem likely that the White Sox will go with a Flowers-Phegley combination next season.
2014 outlook: This past season the White Sox made defense their priority for their catchers but next season they will require more offense to go with it. Phegley, who was a 38th overall draft pick in 2009, has continued to progress as a hitter in every year he has been in the organization. With his baptism in the major leagues in 2013, he should be primed to make another jump in his development.