Showing posts with label Adrian Nieto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adrian Nieto. Show all posts

Friday, March 27, 2015

An inconvenient truth for Tyler Flowers critics

I am not a fan of Tyler Flowers. I wish the White Sox had a better catcher.

The slider-speed bat, the inability to lay off the high fastball, the strikeouts, the passed balls, the mediocre throwing arm, the lifetime .218 batting average, these are all things I dislike about Flowers.

Moreover, his .152 batting average this spring (through Thursday) doesn't give me hope that he can duplicate his modest (and career-best) .241/.297/.396 slash line from a year ago.

I'm not excited about having him as the Sox's No. 1 catcher for another year, especially since I saw him as being one of the culprits as the team struggled to a 73-89 record in 2014.

However, I read something today that gave me pause about Flowers. I don't know how much to read into it, but I think it's worth a mention.

Flowers started 120 games behind the plate for the Sox in 2014. Would you believe the Sox had a winning record in those 120 games? That's right, a team that finished 16 games below .500 overall won more than it lost with Flowers in the starting lineup.

Here's the breakdown:
2014 Sox with Flowers behind the plate: 61-59 (.508)
2014 Sox with Adrian Nieto behind the plate: 6-26 (.188)
2014 Sox with Josh Phegley behind the plate: 6-4 (.600)
Total: 73-89 (.451)

The main takeaway from this is the Sox really stunk when they played their backup catcher last year. In fairness to Nieto, he wasn't ready for the big leagues and was only kept on the 25-man roster because of Rule 5 Draft requirements. He'll be back in the minors this year to work on his skills, as he should be.

We can dismiss Phegley's 10 starts as a small sample size.

But isn't it interesting that for all the holes in Flowers' game, he didn't seem to be the guy who was holding the Sox back. Not that 61-59 is a great record; it is not. It's a mediocre record, and it certainly didn't hurt Flowers that he caught all of Chris Sale's starts last year. But in the context of what the Sox did as a team overall, 61-59 as a starting catcher is not bad.

I'm not going to draw any grand conclusions from any of this, but it's food for thought for the weekend.

Friday, January 23, 2015

White Sox reunite with Jesse Crain; add Geovany Soto to backup catcher derby

We've been talking a lot this week about former White Sox players returning to the team for a second tour of duty. It's perhaps fitting the Sox agreed Thursday to a minor-league contract with former relief pitcher Jesse Crain, who was on the South Side from 2011-13. More on that in a moment.

The other interesting name on the list of Sox minor-league non-roster invitees is former Cubs catcher Geovany Soto. The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year has never duplicated the success he had his first season in the big leagues with the Cubs, but if healthy, he has a legitimate shot of making the Sox roster as the second catcher.

Soto, 32, was limited to just 24 games last season due to knee and foot injuries. He also was arrested on a marijuana possession charge. Obviously, these are not good things, but it's also true Soto is the most accomplished player among those competing for the right to back up starting catcher Tyler Flowers.

Here are the numbers on the four guys in that mix. We'll include Soto's 2013 season numbers, since last year was pretty much a lost cause for him.

2013 with Texas:.245/.328/.466, 9 HRs, 22 RBIs in 54 games
2014 with Texas/Oakland: .250/.302/.363, 1 HR, 11 RBIs in 24 games
Career: .248/.334/..436, 92 HRs

Rob Brantly
2014 with Miami: .211/.263/.265, 1 HR, 18 RBIs in 67 games
Career: .235/.298/.325

George Kottaras
2014 with 3 teams: .240/.355/.600, 3 HRs, 4 RBIs in 14 games
Career: .215/.326/.411

Adrian Nieto
2014 rookie season with Sox: .236/.296/.340, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs in 48 games

If all are healthy, who would you pick of this group? I think I'd take Soto. Nieto was in the backup role for all of 2014 because of his Rule 5 status. Most observers would agree a year at Triple-A would be good for his development.

Brantly bats left-handed, which is nice, but he's never shown he can hit major league pitching at all. Kottaras is the most experienced catcher other than Soto in the group, but he's been bouncing around from organization to organization. He was only in the bigs for 14 games last season. Naturally, he had a two-homer game against the White Sox as a member of the Cleveland Indians, but his career numbers are weaker than Soto's, as well.

If Soto can stay healthy and stop smoking marijuana, he has a chance to come north with the White Sox this year.

That brings us back to the 33-year-old Crain, who was excellent in his previous stint on the South Side. From 2011-13, he appeared in 156 games and compiled a 2.10 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched.

He was enjoying the finest season of his career in 2013 -- an 0.74 ERA and 46 Ks in 37 innings -- when his shoulder started to bother him. Crain went on the disabled list, and with the Sox languishing in the standings, he was traded midseason to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Crain never threw a pitch for Tampa Bay the rest of the year and signed a free-agent deal with the Houston Astros the following offseason. Alas, he never threw a pitcher for the Astros, either, as shoulder issues continued to plague him.

Now, he's back for another kick at the can with the Sox, the last team he pitched for, on a minor-league deal. Certainly, he cannot be counted upon with his injury issues, but he would be a huge veteran help to the Sox bullpen if he could somehow regain his form.

At the very least, we owe Crain a playing of "Welcome Back Kotter":

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

White Sox claim J.B. Shuck, reinstate Nate Jones from 60-day DL

With the World Series over, teams are now free to start making offseason transactions.

The White Sox made a couple of minor moves Monday, claiming outfielder J.B. Shuck off waivers from the Cleveland Indians and reinstating relief pitcher Nate Jones from the 60-day disabled list.

Shuck finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, when he posted a .293/.331/.366 slash line in 478 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Angels. Injuries to other players opened the door for Shuck to play 129 games that season, and he did pretty well with the opportunity.

However, 2014 was a different story for the 27-year-old outfielder. He hit .167/.195/.250 for the Angels in April and was sent back to Triple-A, where he stayed until August. Just before the non-waiver trading deadline, he was sent to Cleveland for cash considerations. Shuck had a miserable time with the Tribe, going 2 for 26 in September. He ended up hitting just .145 in 110 at-bats in the majors for the season.

He did, however, bat .320 in 102 minor league games, so perhaps the Sox saw some signs he could regain his 2013 form. He is a left-handed hitter and can play all three outfield spots competently.

Obviously, this isn't the kind of pickup that will excite fans. If you look around the Internet, you'll find the meathead fans screaming at the sky, wondering what Sox management is thinking, asking why they would make such a low-impact move.

Those folks, as always, need to relax. I'm sure this isn't the biggest move the Sox will make this offseason. It's just the first. I'm sure the club knows it needs more impact talent, and I'm sure they know Shuck doesn't fall into that category.

However, while seeking those impact players, it's also important to try to improve your roster around the margins. You want more depth. You want more competition in camp. If you look at the Sox bench last season,  for most of the year it consisted of players such as Jordan Danks, Moises Sierra, Leury Garcia, Adrian Nieto and an end-of-career version of Paul Konerko. That's not a good bench, friends.

If Shuck in 2015 plays better outfield than Danks or Sierra did in 2014, then this is a good acquisition. Maybe this guy turns out to be the fourth outfielder the Sox need. Or, maybe he stinks, in which case he'll be spending the season in Charlotte. However, there's little for the Sox to lose in picking up guys like Shuck.

As for Jones, he's expected to miss most -- if not all -- of 2015 after Tommy John surgery. I wouldn't expect much production from him until 2016.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Red Sox designate A.J. Pierzynski for assignment

The Boston Red Sox on Wednesday designated former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment.

Pierzynski, 37, has posted a .254/.286/.348 slash line with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 72 games with Boston this season. He's been slumping as of late (.194 since June 1), and with the Red Sox reeling in last place with a 39-51 record, it's not surprising they are looking to change directions. Pierzynski is being moved along so Boston can spend the rest of 2014 taking a look at 23-year-old catching prospect Christian Vazquez.

I know news of this move will immediately cause some White Sox fans to call for the team to bring Pierzynski back for one last hurrah on the South Side. He and Paul Konerko could retire together, they'll say.

I'll say this much: There is no denying the Sox have a hole at catcher. Tyler Flowers has backed up his .129/.187/.214 June with a .000/.050/.000 start to July. Last year, management excused Flowers' poor hitting because he was playing with a right shoulder injury that required surgery. I don't think there is any excuse this time. Flowers is simply a lousy hitter and nothing more than a backup catcher -- at best. It's time to move on from him as a starting player.

However, that does not mean the Sox should turn to Pierzynski. Nostalgia is fine for fans and media, but front office people need to look forward. The Sox need to find a long-term solution at catcher. With each swing and a miss, Flowers is proving once and for all he is not that guy. However, Pierzynski is not that guy at age 37 either. The Sox would be wasting his time and their own time by bringing him back.

I'm on board with the Sox making a change at catcher, but for me, that change is more playing time for 24-year-old Adrian Nieto. Is Nieto the catcher of the future? I don't know. I say, let's see more of him behind the plate and get some answers.

So far this year, Flowers has appeared in 75 of the Sox' first 91 games, while Nieto has appeared in just 30. It's time to even that playing time out a little bit. If the Sox were to bring Pierzynski aboard, he would just be in the way of what I hope is more playing time for Nieto the second half of the season.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Adrian Nieto not much of a risk for White Sox

Catcher Adrian Nieto's agent broke the news on Twitter the other day that his client would leave spring training as the backup catcher for the White Sox to start the season.

Nieto's victory in the backup catcher derby might not be so surprising considering the other options the Sox had behind anointed starter Tyler Flowers. It's also not surprising considering the roster constraints on each option, namely that as a Rule V pick, Nieto would have to be offered back to the team he was drafted from last winter, while Josh Phegley has options and Hector Gimenez is terrible.

Now all that remains to be seen is if the 24-year-old who has never played above Class A can make the leap to the big leagues.

Nieto's hit .254/.346/.385 in the minors over just more than 1,400 plate appearances, including his .282/.371/.446 line last year that tantalized the Sox enough to grab him from the Nationals' system.

If Nieto just started to put things together as a hitter last year, the Sox are risking his progress by giving him a job where he won't get many reps, and will be getting tossed in the deep end of the talent pool and asked to swim when he does.

You could say that's not the Sox's problem. They only need a capable backstop for the days Flowers isn't in the lineup. And Nieto doesn't seemed all that concerned about this roadblocking his career, either.

Can he handle the job? Maybe we'd have to ask how bad he'd really have to be to not be able to handle it.

Here's a look at what the White Sox have gotten out of their backup catchers over the last two decades, at least the guys who have gotten at least 50 plate appearances:

Phegley: .206/.223/.299
Gimenez: .191/.275/.338

Flowers: .213/.296/.412

Flowers: .209/.310/.409
Ramon Castro: .235/.307/.456

Castro: .278/.328/.506

Castro: .184/.262/.382

Toby Hall: .260/.304/.333

Hall: .207/.225/.241

Sandy Alomar: .217/.255/.348
Chris Widger: .181/.265/.263

Widger: .241/.296/.383

Alomar: .240/.298/.305
Jamie Burke: .333/.386/.402

Alomar: .268/.281/.407

Alomar: .287/.309/.485*
Josh Paul: .240/.302/.279

Mark Johnson: .249/.338/.382
Paul: .266/.327/.410

Brook Fordyce: .272/.313/.464
Paul: .282/.338/.423

Johnson: .227/.344/.338

Charlie O'Brien: .262/.303/.390
Robert Machado: .207/.254/.342

Ron Karkovice: 181/.248/.333*
Tony Pena: .164/.250/.179

Chad Kreuter: .219/.308/.368
Pat Borders: .277/313/.383

Mike LaValliere: .245/.303/.337

LaValliere: .281/.368/.331

* -- Alomar started more games than Johnson through mid-May, but was slowly phased to the bench before being traded to Colorado. Johnson had a solid April, but hit .204/.284/.280 the rest of the year.
** -- Karkovice started 1997 as the starter but was benched after the Sox traded for Jorge Fabregas
who hit .280/.302/.382 in the finest season of his career.

If you think that's a generally depressing list, I'd implore you to get over the idea that your life is miserable if every second isn't packed with happiness. COME ON! THESE ARE BACKUP CATCHERS!

There doesn't even seem to be much correlation between having a good backup catcher and competitive seasons.

Castro is the gold standard for backup catchers of the post-strike Sox, and his talents were wasted on teams from 2009-11 that had stabbed themselves in the heart with daggers like "Josh Fields and Chris Getz, Starting Infielders," not to mention unpredictable events like "Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, Historically Bad Seasons."

Alomar kept turning up, probably because of familiarity with the front office. The Sox tried to work in some prospects, like Flowers, Machado, Paul and Johnson, with none of them panning out unless Flowers gets it together. Then it's whatever journeyman or veteran they could dig up.

The Sox won a World Series with Widger as their backup catcher. They won divisions or were at least competitive competitive with guys on their last legs like Alomar, LaValliere and Hall back there. Not a single season was tanked because a youngster couldn't get his big league legs beneath him.

Of a more pressing concern is what the Sox get from the starting catcher this year. If Flowers falters again, we'll likely see Phegley again before Nieto is pressed into expanded duty. Or if someone like Kevan Smith tears up the minors for a few months, maybe he'll get a turn to be cannon fodder. The pipeline of catching talent is pretty dry, though, thus necessitating the drafting of Nieto and hoping he could stick.

If everyone fails, the future of the position doesn't look all that different than it did before last offseason began. That would be a bummer because that's another year of flailing at catcher, presumably while the Sox are another year closer to (hopefully) being a contender again. Though to be fair to Sox GM Rick Hahn, if there were a better option out there, I don't know what it is, so I can't really fault him for not finding it. They'll just have to try again next offseason.

In the meantime, there's not really much harm in the Sox seeing what they have now in Nieto, even if the only way to do it is to give him a job he might not be ready for.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

White Sox option Josh Phegley, Andre Rienzo to Triple-A

Up until now, all the roster moves the White Sox had made this spring were obvious ones. Every few days, you'd see news of guys you knew weren't going to make the club being reassigned to minor league camp.

But with just 12 days remaining until the home opener, the first significant decisions of the spring were made on Wednesday as catcher Josh Phegley and pitcher Andre Rienzo were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte.

For better or for worse, the Sox have decided to give it another go with Tyler Flowers as their starting catcher. Manager Robin Ventura named Flowers the starter on Sunday, and that gave Phegley a pretty good idea his season would be starting in Charlotte. He seems to be taking it pretty well, though.

“I believe I'm a starter and I can be a front-line starter in the big leagues, but there just needs to be some improvement,” Phegley told the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane. “And I think sitting, catching every four, five days, I don't think that’s going to do me any justice. I want to play every day, and I'd like to help this club. It's everyone's goal to be a big leaguer. I want to be a starter, and going to Charlotte and playing every day is going to help my game out, so I'm all for it.”

That's the approach Phegley needs. This is a big year for him. Unlike Flowers -- who is who he is at this point -- I think Phegley still has some upside in his game both offensively and defensively. But at age 26, he's moving into an area where he's not going to be considered a prospect anymore. He needs to make that step forward and prove he can be a starting catcher in the big leagues, and he needs to do it soon.

With Phegley headed to the minors, that leaves Rule 5 draft pick Adrian Nieto and Hector Gimenez in camp competing for the backup catching role. I'll bet Nieto sticks, because the Sox would have to offer him back to the Washington Nationals if he doesn't. At age 24, Nieto could develop into a useful player, whereas the 31-year-old Gimenez is nothing more than a career minor leaguer.

Rienzo made 10 starts for the Sox at the end of 2013, but as expected, top prospect Erik Johnson and free-agent acquisition Felipe Paulino have pushed Rienzo out of the starting rotation. I thought Rienzo had a shot at sticking in the big leagues as a long reliever, but perhaps Sox brass sees him as a pitcher who needs to stay stretched out as a starter, so that he can be called up and step into the rotation in the event the team has an injury to one of its starting pitchers.

In other moves, pitcher Eric Surkamp was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Pitchers Chris Beck and Cody Winiarski and infielder Andy Wilkins were reassigned to minor league camp. All of those moves were expected.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sox Take, Cubs Give In Rule 5 Draft

Thursday's Rule 5 Draft had a little bit for fans of both Chicago teams with the White Sox selecting catcher Adrian Nieto from the Nationals, while the Cubs lost Marcos Mateo to the Diamondbacks.

Nieto is a switch-hitting 24-year-old who in six seasons hasn't yet played above A ball. A 50-game suspension for a positive PED test no doubt hindered some of his development. In the minors he's batted .254/.346/.386, including .285/.375/.449 last year in the Class A Carolina League.

Like most Rule 5 picks, Nieto is maybe a longshot to hang around. He must stay with the White Sox on the 25-man roster all year or be offered back to the Nationals. Factors working in his favor are that he's coming off his strongest season, one in which Sox scouts think him improved throughout. And besides relievers, catchers have perhaps the best chance of sticking in a backup role. So long as Nieto is solid enough defensively, the offensive bar for a backup catcher is easily cleared.

It might work against Nieto that the Sox haven't settled on a starting catcher. With the uncertainty that Tyler Flowers' struggles last year were really injury-related, or that Josh Phegley can make adjustments to bring his offense up to snuff, the Sox might have to play a mix-and-match game behind the plate that would make it hard to carry a backup who can only be counted on to have a solid glove. They certainly don't have room on the roster to carry three catchers.

The Cubs, meanwhile, said goodbye to Mateo, who threw just over 44 innings as a reliever for the team from 2010-2011, but was eligible for the draft since being left off the team's 40-man roster. Since then the now 29-year-old suffered an elbow injury, surgery, and spent last year working his way back.

Mateo turned in a fine 1.74 ERA across three levels of the team's minor league system, but in only 31 innings and with diminished strikeout numbers, the Cubs felt comfortable letting another team try to work out his walk and home run problems from the back end of their bullpen.

My bet would be that even if the Cubs don't see Mateo offered back to them this season, they won't terribly miss the right-hander.