COMMENTARY| A.J. Pierzynski is gone, and he's not coming back. Yeah, you might not agree with the Chicago White Sox's decision allowing Pierzynski to sign with the Texas Rangers, but it's a fact that has to be accepted. I say that because there is no need to reminisce about what he did, or what he would do if he was part of the Sox in 2013.
At least for the foreseeable future, the Chicago White Sox's starting catcher is Tyler Flowers. Flowers taking over shouldn't be a surprise to any diehard Sox fan. That was in the works the last time Pierzynski was a free agent, but Ozzie Guillen and the Sox brass didn't think he was ready. At the time I asked Flowers about that, and he obviously disagreed. But I think the extra couple years with Pierzynski helped him more than he'll admit.
There is no question that Flowers can handle the Sox pitching staff. He worked 13 times with Jake Peavy last year and the results weren't bad at all. Peavy won five of his 11 games with Flowers putting down the signs, with an ERA of 2.77. Two of the losses Peavy suffered with Flowers were complete games where Peavy allowed two runs in 18 innings. He also helped Chris Sale win five games and Gavin Floyd four. Flowers knows how to call a game, and in some circles, having a guy who can do that is money in the bank.
But as we all know there is more to catching than guiding a pitching staff. Flowers hasn't shown a lot offensively, and that has drawn the ire of many a Pale Hose fan. Flowers' career batting average is .205, but that is in just 273 at-bats. Isn't it a bit too soon to be calling Flowers an incompetent hitter? I don't think that is enough of a sample to know if Flowers can or can't hit. Last year, Flowers played back-to-back games seven times (two games, four times; three games, three times). He posted a .256 average with three home runs and five RBIs over that stretch. That's not bad at all. I do wonder if he'll be able to keep it up, especially when other teams identify his weaknesses. But let's see what he does this spring before we deem him a bust. According to the White Sox site, he has been working with hitting coach Jeff Manto of late, so at least we know he's trying.
Remembering past Sox teams over the past 35 years, it isn't like the Sox have employed a who's who of catchers. Take out the recent Pierzynski era and the Carlton Fisk years (1981-1993), and the Sox have used such luminaries as Jim Essian, Mark Johnson, Bill Nahorodny, Jorge Fabregas and Bruce Kimm. Those were the guys that came to mind, but I know there have been others. Who knows who Flowers will be? I don't for a moment think he'll be like Fisk or A.J., but I do think he'll do some special things at The Cell. And, yes, I know he's gonna strikeout a ton, but he's also gonna hit some moonshots. But let it be known, if he is hovering under the Mendoza Line in July, I will be the first in line to toss dirt on his Sox career.
Now if Flowers struggles or needs a day off, the Sox will turn to Hector Gimenez. Mind you, I will be surprised if the Sox don't try and acquire a more veteran presence as a backup. I guess Gimenez could be considered a vet, having played with two teams prior to joining the South Siders. He did endear himself to Chicago fans with a .300 average late last season. But that robust average came in 20 ABs, so let's not get his bust ready in Cooperstown.
I won't lie, but once I knew the Sox were passing on Pierzynski, I hoped they would bring in a guy like Gerald Laird. Laird is a another strong defensive catcher, with a little (and I mean little) pop in his bat.
Oh yeah, the other Sox catcher waiting in the wings is Josh Phegley. Phegley was a star at Indiana University, and has the makeup to be a catcher in the Bigs. Phegley is one of those guys who quietly does his job, but could very well be the best of the bunch. He also battled a blood disorder in the past, which has made him that much more determined to reach the major leagues. It's hard not to pull for that guy.
So how do the Sox's catchers match up with the other teams in their division? I say they are number five. Things may change, but right now I think Detroit, Minnesota, Kansas City and Cleveland all have better backstops than the White Sox.
Up next, I'll take a look at first base and designated hitter.
Bill Mahoney is a freelance sports producer who has worked with the Chicago White Sox for the past 10 years.
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