White Sox catching situation about to change with arrival of Josh Phegley

USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Flowers likely to see a noteworthy reduction in playing time, but tandem situation may be way to go

For all of Tyler Flowers' struggles at the plate, and all the apparent displeasure Don Cooper and Robin Ventura directed his way the last couple of days, he still started every game of the Baltimore series. It didn't matter that it was a day game after a night game, or that the Orioles started a lefty in said afternoon affair -- Flowers still caught every game.

That gives you some idea of what the Sox thought of Hector Gimenez.

Gimenez had only started one of the last nine games, and it was a mandatory start (second game of a doubleheader). Even though Flowers had struck out twice in five straight games, Ventura still didn't start Gimenez.

Give it a second of thought, and one may start to wonder why Gimenez was even on the roster. Well, no need no more:

After Thursday’s 3-2 win, the White Sox announced outfielder Jordan Danks has been optioned back to Charlotte.

Manager Robin Ventura said the team would announce a corresponding move before the White Sox open a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Friday.

But the team also designated catcher Hector Gimenez for assignment on Thursday, according to two sources, and will replace him with Phegley.

Sorry, Hector. At least we'll always have this:

Even if you're still a supporter of Flowers -- and there's still reason to be -- the arrival of Phegley is welcome news for two big reasons:

  1. The Sox are in no position to throw away roster spots.
  2. Phegley oughta be interesting, and the Sox need interesting.

For the first time in his pro ball career, Phegley has looked like the offense-first catcher the Sox had in mind when they drafted him in the supplemental round of the 2009 draft. He's hitting .316/.368/.597 at Triple-A, with 18 doubles and 15 home runs over 231 at-bats, and if you were extrapolate his numbers over a full season, he'd blow every other one of his years out of the water.

Here's another way of putting it -- even though his June was notably cooler than his first two months (.286/.329/.492), that's still way better than any other season he's had.

It's hard to know what to make of such sudden success, because there are a few factors that muddy up the picture.

This is his second year at Charlotte, repeating the level after hitting .266/.306/.373 in 2013. Some guys get good at hitting Triple-A pitching if they see it often enough, but it doesn't portend major-league success (see: Danks, Jordan).

At the same time, Phegley's had a complex medical history thanks to the blood disorder ... yet it didn't really slow down the Sox's plans. They rushed him up the ladder as they normally do, and Phegley told us that he was behind the curve for a couple years. Perhaps Phegley would've looked this good sooner had he been able to stay longer in Winston-Salem or Birmingham.

There's also the matter of his Pierzynski-ish strike-zone profile. He's good for about 20something walks and 60something strikeouts a year, and that hasn't changed, even while the rest of his game has undergone a dramatic transformation. It's hard to have a firm idea on how that might translate -- his K rate might jump, he could make lots of weak outs, or he could be the productive, happy hacker.

His defense is a little easier to figure out. His receiving skills are below-average, although they might not be as noticeable thanks to Flowers' struggles with the passed pitch (even though Flowers has improved in this area recently). But he has a strong arm, and a quicker release than Flowers, and this picture tells you why that is:

Game-calling is the great unknown, but Phegley does have some experience on his side. Beyond his appearances in spring training, he's caught Simon Castro, David Purcey and Ramon Troncoso this year, and Dylan Axelrod, Nate Jones and Addison Reed in the farm system.

Still, it's hard to imagine pitchers working more smoothly with him than they do with Flowers. Flowers caught three strong starts over the Baltimore series, including the White Sox's speediest start this year (John Danks' 16.8-second pace, which is Buehrlesque), and Jose Quintana's most dominant outing ever. Pitchers like throwing to him, and their support can go a long way.

There's room for both of them, though. Because Flowers hits righties better than lefties and Phegley has shown no appreciable split this year, it's easy to divide the playing time 50-50, or whatever makes sense. It's just going to come at a reduction in Flowers' playing time, which is fair after three frustrating months with no measurable offensive momentum. Now we'll see if he can be part of an effective tandem. The Sox had two-headed backstops for many years leading up to 2005, so it's really the more historically appropriate post-Pierzynski choice.

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