GLENDALE, Ariz. – Perhaps the race for the Chicago White Sox’s available starting catching spot isn’t so wide open after all, as manager Robin Ventura admitted Saturday that Tyler Flowers is the favorite to emerge with the job.
Cactus League games won’t begin until Friday and those contests could end up painting a different picture, but for now it’s Flowers’ job to lose, "more or less," according to Ventura.
“We know what we get with Tyler, and I like the way he calls games and the way he goes, so he’ll be the starting catcher on the first game, which would be Friday,” Ventura said.
Ventura would not commit to an Opening Day lineup on March 31 that includes Flowers, which means Josh Phegley still has a say in this battle. But if Flowers does win the job, it’s likely the White Sox would end up with Hector Gimenez as the backup while Phegley goes down to Triple-A Charlotte to get more playing time.
Last year the two battled to move atop the organization’s catcher depth chart, and neither took advantage of their opportunity.
Flowers got his first chance to start after A.J. Pierzynski departed and he struggled to a .195 batting average and a .355 slugging percentage in 84 games. Phegley took over as the starter for most of the second half, but in 65 games all he could manage was a .206 batting average and a .209 slugging percentage.
The struggles left the White Sox 29th in on-base percentage from their catchers at .238, while their OPS of .564 was better than only the Miami Marlins. The White Sox were also next to last in runs (47) and hits (108) from their catchers.
While Flowers’ work behind the plate sets him ahead of Phegley, there is also the fact that a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery played a part in his offensive struggles.
Flowers, who has displayed an edgier personality this spring, was a bit brighter when told that Ventura has him ahead of the catching pack.
“Super, I guess that’s good,” he said. “I still have to get ready either way no matter what position I’m in, no matter where I’m at. I try to take advantage of every at-bat and every situation and improve and help the team in whatever fashion they want me to help.”
While it’s his work as a hitter that will get him the most recognition, Flowers takes pride in his work behind the plate.
“I think that’s a big part,” Flowers said. “I don’t think people want a guy who hits .330 and doesn’t catch worth a crap and doesn’t care. I think that’s important for this position specifically. All positions, that’s important too, but this one probably a little bit more than the others.”