Feb 21st, 2010

2010 Preview: Catchers

By Dan Santaromita

White Sox pitchers and catchers reported today! This means it’s officially time to start thinking about baseball season. FutureSox is going to breakdown each position in the minor league system to gear up for the regular season, starting with the catchers. The Sox have a deep crew of backstop prospects going into 2010, so what can we expect from them?

Best prospect
Tyler Flowers
2009 in review: Flowers came over in the Javier Vazquez trade and quickly showed why. He tore it up right out of the gate for AA Birmingham. He hit for average (.302), power (.548 slugging) and got on base (.445 OBP). Tyler was promoted to AAA Charlotte and performed well enough there to earn a September call-up to the big league club.

What he needs to improve: His defense. There are concerns that Flowers can’t stick at catcher, but the White Sox don’t seem to believe that. Neither do Southern League managers, who voted him best defensive catcher in the league. Still, most scouting reports say he is adequate at best behind the dish. Flowers should have the bat to stick in the Majors, but obviously his value is much larger if he can play catcher competently.

What to expect in 2010: Flowers will be on the roster bubble in spring training. When Ramon Castro re-signed it became clear that Flowers was not going to backup A.J. Pierzynski. Flowers could still take part in this rotating DH thing the Sox seem bent on trying. Odds are the logjam of veteran bench acquisitions means Flowers starts the year in AAA and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. He can play everyday, get more time at catcher and come up if/when there is an injury or another Wilson Betemit type failure from one of the bench players.

What makes a successful season: Flowers earns his way onto the big league club and digs himself a permanent place on the team. We’ll see him in Chicago, and probably before September this time, but the role is unknown. Flowers may have to force the Sox to make room for him.

Breakout candidates
Miguel Gonzalez
2009 in review: Gonzalez burst onto the scene last year with a strong showing in his American debut. The Venezuelan did well in the Dominican Summer League in 2008 and it translated to the Appalachian League in ‘09. Gonzalez showed defensive ability, a cannon for an arm, good contact skills, a good walk rate and some power.

What he needs to improve: As good as he already is defensively, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. He had 10 errors and eight passed balls in 40 games at catcher last year. Compared to the other two on this list, though, he is easily the best behind the plate.

What to expect in 2010: Gonzalez will start the season in Kannapolis. How he handles that will be very telling. At just 19 years old, if he handles himself out of the gate the Sox have someone special. A failure initially wouldn’t be the end of the world as long as he bounces back in the second half either back down in rookie ball or still in Kannapolis.

What makes a successful season: Gonzalez duplicates his Bristol numbers in Kannapolis. This may be unrealistic, but is certainly not out of the question. A season like that would make him of the best prospects in the system and one of the best catching prospects in the game.

Josh Phegley
2009 in review: Phegley was drafted 38th overall in the ‘09 draft out of Indiana. After signing for $858,600 he reported to low-A Kannapolis in late June. In just over 200 plate appearances he hit only .224, but hit nine home runs and struck out less than 20% of the time. The power came as a bit of a surprise. In only a couple months of action it’s hard to take too much from these numbers.

What he needs to improve: Similar to Flowers, defense is the main concern. Director of Amateur Scouting Doug Laumann is extremely confident that Phegley will stick at the position. If not defense, Phegley will have to bring that average up and draw more walks, both of which he should be able to do.

What to expect in 2010: Phegley will probably start in Winston-Salem. The Sox tend to be aggressive with high college draft picks. His average should bounce back (he had a .234 BABIP last season) and decent power numbers should remain.

What makes a successful season: If all goes well Phegley has a good chance to earn a promotion to Birmingham in the middle of the year. This coupled with good or at least improved defensive reports from people not in the White Sox front office would be ideal.

Other notables
A year ago Cole Armstrong and Donny Lucy looked like they would be viable options for 2010 backup catcher, but both had poor 2009 seasons. Armstrong was removed from the 40-man roster and Lucy got demoted to AA. Logan Johnson seems like the only other catcher that looks remotely like a prospect and that’s pushing it. C.J. Retherford is going to catch in spring training in a move that could greatly add to his flexibility and value. We’ll have more on him in our middle infield preview.

Overall, the White Sox have three good catching prospects making it one of the deeper positions in the system at one of the hardest to find talent. Flowers is ready to contribute soon while Phegley and Gonzalez have the talent to be solid Major Leaguers.

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