There were concerns about the catching position for the Chicago White Sox before spring training started, and now that a starter was finally named heading into the last week of spring camp, those concerns did not exactly fall to the curb.
Josh Phegley was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after he spent most of the second half of the season as the starter, giving Tyler Flowers a second chance -- and maybe last chance -- to show that he can be an everyday catcher at the big-league level.
With Phegley out of the picture, the back-up catcher spot will fall to either Rule 5 draft pick Adrian Nieto or Hector Gimenez.
"No, not expecting this," Phegley said. "But the decision was made. There is still some work to be done. I'm going to get my opportunities down the road. I know that. I believe in that."
Phegley should believe that. Flowers was named the starting catcher out of camp last season, and struggled to say the least, hitting just .195. A shoulder injury was revealed late in the season for Flowers, and the hope is that it was the injury that hurt him both offensively and defensively rather than just a lack of big-league skill. After a 7-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on March 21, Flowers was hitting .233 in Cactus League play.
According to manager Robin Ventura, it was defense that separated the two, and it was defense that Phegley needed to work on.
"We still like Josh," Ventura said. "We'd rather have him go down, work on his defense, get his at-bats and play instead of being a backup."
Phegley's hope is that with little left to do in Charlotte, it will be a short stay. He hit .316 with 15 homers and 41 RBIs for the Triple-A Knights last season, but it is now about throwing out runners and his handling of pitchers.
"All-around, I've got to improve defensively," Phegley said. "I think offense is coming around. It's an important position to be a catcher, handling a big-league staff. That's got to be the focus, and I think that's my focus moving on from here.
"Not really anything specific, just mentally the attitude, just kind of being unselfish back there, focusing on the staff and getting them through the game. Whatever I have to do to do that, be a leader on the field, things like that."
As for Nieto beating out Gimenez for the backup role, it would be asking a lot considering Nieto never played above Class A.
"It would be tough," Ventura said. "I'm not saying it's impossible, but we still have a ways to go here."
--2B Gordon Beckham still feels like he'll be ready for Opening Day, but that means getting back to baseball activities heading into the last week of camp. Beckham was diagnosed with a strained left oblique March 14, and was completely shut down from all baseball activity, as well as weightlifting. The injury occurred while taking flips in the batting cage. "It's a little better but it's still sore," Beckham said on March 20. "There's not a lot of progress in terms of anything new. I still have a couple of more days of doing nothing in terms of baseball and then get back into it. It's very tricky, so I'm trying to take it easy as I can so I can make it to Opening Day. That's the goal until they tell me no.
--RHP Matt Lindstrom (strained left oblique) made his Cactus League debut on Friday, pitching a scoreless inning in the 7-0 loss, and as long as the reliever has no setbacks with the injury over the next few days, he could avoid the disabled list to start the season. While RHP Nate Jones still looks like the leading closer candidate, Lindstrom is considered the safety net, and could even get ninth-inning opportunities when Jones needs a rest. That's why his return is very important for the Sox. "I don't want to be thinking about (the oblique) out there," Lindstrom said "You have to make pitches in the big leagues, and if you don't make pitches, it's because you are thinking about something else. It's hard enough to play this game. The biggest thing is not having those thoughts in your head and being able to execute your pitches, and I need to do that in order to have success."
--INF Jeff Keppinger is still sidelined with a right shoulder problem that required surgery at the end of last season, and will start the season on the 15-day disabled list, according to Ventura. "I just know it hurts really bad," Keppinger said. "It's not pain from the surgery, it's an impingement. I'm tight in a certain area, and everything is not functioning right, so it's causing pinching in there. Until I get that right, it's going to keep hurting." Not exactly what the White Sox were hoping for after they signed the then free agent to a three-year, $12 million contract heading into the 2013 season. He struggled last season, hitting .253 with 40 RBIs, and his immediate future this season remains a question mark. The White Sox could look to even try and move him when he does return from the latest setback.
--LHP Chris Sale is obviously the Opening Day starter for the White Sox rotation, but according to Ventura, everything else is still up in the air after that. Ventura all but named the five starters -- Sale, LHPs John Danks and Jose Quintana, and RHPs Felipe Paulino and Erik Johnson -- but he and the staff haven't figured out when and how the other four will be used. It looked as if it would be Sale and then Quintana, but Quintana has been very shaky this spring. Danks looked as good as anyone in camp, so there is a chance he could move into that No. 2 spot, and then Ventura uses the righties to break up the southpaws. "With Chris going the first day, everything beyond that can change," Ventura said. "Looking at weather, and where we're traveling to. I'm not real concerned about it right now with how that's going to go."
--3B Conor Gillaspie has shown enough this spring -- both offensively and with his glove -- that the White Sox are expected to name him the Opening Day starter at third. The left-handed hitter was challenged by top prospect Matt Davidson, but Ventura hinted that Davidson might be better served to start the year in Charlotte, so he can get at-bats and keep working on his defense. The other thing that hurt Davidson is his lack of versatility. With Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko in the DH spot, Ventura wanted versatile reserves.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Getting to know the big kid, Garcia, he looks more like an NFL defensive end than a right fielder. He's just a baby, and talent just oozes from his pores. He's a good, strong kid, and you can tell he's going to be a tremendous asset." -- White Sox ambassador Bo Jackson on meeting second-year OF Avisail Garcia in spring camp.