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:
Ramon Castro: .235/.307/.456
Toby Hall: .260/.304/.333
Sandy Alomar: .217/.255/.348
Chris Widger: .181/.265/.263
Jamie Burke: .333/.386/.402
Josh Paul: .240/.302/.279
Mark Johnson: .249/.338/.382
Brook Fordyce: .272/.313/.464
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
* -- 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.