As fall heads turns winter and the playoffs roll on, we start our positional check-ups for the White Sox. Free agency will be here soon enough and the White Sox could be at the epicenter of the trade market but, like the team itself, knowing what’s on hand is the first step to improvement.
Coming into the 2016 season, the White Sox signaled a shift in their expectations for the position. Tyler Flowers, an elite pitch framer and top-notch defensive catcher with little prowess at the plate, was released. In came Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro.
Avila and Navarro were expected to be offense-first backstops. Both had different types of offensive expectation (Avlia a walk-first, low average hitter and Navarro a more hack-friendly guy with a bit of pop) but neither reached their highest level of play.
Though Avila started clicking in the month prior to his second groin injury (.279/.405/.475 from June 1 to July 5th) the results from the rest of the season were underwhelming. Navarro was, unfortunately, dismal.
Defensively, both were regarded as less then optimal framers but their ability to handle a pitching staff was well regarded by past teams. Sox pitchers they worked with over the course of the season praised them for the same.
While the pitches called for the Sox over the season may have been more right than wrong, their ability, or lack thereof, to frame pitches was costly. Both Avila and Navarro were toward the bottom of the pitch-framing barrel this season and it essentially melted away the bottom of the strike zone for White Sox pitchers. In a year where Chris Sale altered his pitching philosophy (and still came out as one of the best 10 in MLB) and Jose Quintana had his best season yet, it makes you wonder how good they might have been with even an average framer.
With Navarro sent to the Blue Jays late in the season and Alex Avila set to be a free agent, it’s possible for the White Sox to completely revamp the position in the off-season. One of the options may be on the roster already.
The bright spot in the Bigs was Omar Narvaez. Called up before his time, Narvaez put together quality at-bats and handled himself well-enough behind the plate to warrant a boost in his overall stock and the potential to be a back-up catcher for the Sox in 2017. Narvaez can improve defensively, however, and doesn’t offer much pop (he slugged .337 over 117 plate appearances with just one home run in 117). The Sox would have plenty of reason to keep Narvaez at AAA to start the season depending on their route in free agency.
While the Winter of 2016 lacks the star power of of 2015, there may be a few quality options sprinkled throughout. Jason Castro makes sense as a defensive whiz. He won’t offer much at the plate (88 OPS+ in 2016) but the Sox have been there before. Matt Weiters took the qualifying offer from the Orioles last season but had a disappointing year. His future with the O’s is a murky one and could be worth a buy if the price is right.
Wilson Ramos had an incredible season for the Nationals and Washington’s season might still be going if not for his tearing an ACL late in September. He was set for a big deal this off-season but with the injury taking him out of at least half the 2017 season, his contribution to a new team will be cut down.
UP AND COMING
Sox fans should be familiar with Zach Collins. The 10th overall pick from the University of Miami has a great deal of expectation on his shoulders. Collins is getting work in the Arizona Fall League and will need to prove his ability to stay behind the plate but the bat seems advanced in its discipline and provides plenty of pop. Collins’ impact at the Big League level likely won’t be felt until 2018 at the earliest.