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Deep Dive: White Sox Rookie League Catchers

Jefferson Mendoza and Manuel Guariman lead a solid cast of young backstops.

Jefferson Mendoza is one of the top catchers in the White Sox farm system.
Sean Williams/South Side Sox

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Welcome to another year of Deep Dive, where we analyze the past, present and future for each position in the White Sox organization.

Each position is broken into five parts:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican and Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players
  5. Free agent options

With Yermín Mercedes and Seby Zavala both surpassing rookie qualifications this year, no catcher ranks in the Top 30 among White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline. This doesn’t mean, however, that the organization is devoid of backstop talent.

Below are the catchers who finished the year in the ACL (Arizona Complex League) and DSL (Dominican Summer League).

Ages are as of April 1, 2022

ACL White Sox

Jefferson Mendoza
220 pounds
Age: 20
Bats/Throws: R/R
2020 South Side Sox Prospect Rank: 95
2021 South Side Sox Prospect Rank: 87

As a catcher from Venezuela, Mendoza signed with the White Sox on International Signing Day on July 2, 2017. International scouting director Marco Paddy said of Mendoza at the time, “Jefferson is a plus defensive catcher with an excellent frame for the position. His abilities to handle a pitching staff and call a game should help him develop quickly.”

Mendoza struggled through his first season with the DSL White Sox in 2018, as he slashed just .207/.289/.289 in 121 at-bats by hitting seven doubles, one homer, 15 RBIs, one stolen base, 12 walks (8.9%) and 26 strikeouts (19.3%).

With a year under his belt, Mendoza picked up his offensive game in 2019 in his return to the DSL. In 33 games encompassing 95 at-bats, he slashed .305/.391/.484 with eight doubles, three homers, 21 RBIs, one stolen base, 10 walks (9.1%) and 28 strikeouts (25.5%). But unlike 2018 where he curtailed the running game by thwarting 46.2% of stolen base attempts, Mendoza was only successful doing so 16.3% of the time in 2019. On the plus side, after 12 passed balls in 2018, he allowed nary a one in 2019.

After an idle 2020, Mendoza struggled a bit this year in his first taste of ball Stateside, with a .216/.319/.392 slash line with five homers spanning 119 plate appearances. When looking more closely at his results this year, he got off to a respectable start in June and July with a .278/.400/.500 line; however, during the dog days of August and September, the line fell to .188/.267/.344. With a WRC of 89, he’ll need to hone his offensive skills in order to succeed at the next level.

It’s possible that, as a backstop, Mendoza may have played through some nagging injuries that curtailed his offensive contributions. For the year, he had a respectable 9.2% walk rate while fanning 27.7% of the time. He stymied potential base stealers at a 21.4% clip, which isn’t bad considering that pitchers at this level are generally more focused on throwing strikes than keeping runners at bay.

As one of the top catching prospects in the system, Mendoza likely will begin next season at Kannapolis.

Jhoneiker Betancourt
174 pounds
Age: 21
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: First Base

Betancourt’s another native of Venezuela, and signed his international contract with the White Sox in 2016, but didn’t get into any game action until the following season.

After doing reasonably well in his first DSL season in 2017 with a .268/.328/.321 slash line in just 56 at-bats, Betancourt struggled in his return season by slashing just .213/.271/.277 in 205 at-bats.

Betancourt picked up his game in 2019, however, in his third DSL season. He slashed .314/.442/.429 in 105 at-bats by hitting seven doubles, one triple, one homer, 16 RBIs and 14 walks (10.9%) while striking out 19 times (14.7%). He was successful at gunning down potential base stealers, catching 10-of-28 (35.7%). 67% of his defensive time was spent behind the plate, while also proving his versatility by playing third (32.3%) and second (0.7%).

Despite sporadic playing time in 2021 after missing an idle 2020, Betancourt continued to acquit himself quite nicely in Arizona until he was placed on the injured list on July 29 (where he remained until year’s end). It’s difficult to read too much into stats that encompassed only eight games, but he showed enough to be worthy of a 2022 promotion to Kannapolis: In just 25 official at-bats, he slashed .368/.520/.526 (183 WRC+) with a homer, five walks (20%) and just two strikeouts (8%). He has gunned down 33.% of attempted stolen bases during his minor league career, so it appears he’s no slouch behind the plate.

Ruben Benavides
178 pounds
Age: 20
Bats/Throws: R/R
2021 South Side Sox Prospect Rank: 92

About a month after the 2018 DSL season was over, Venezuela native (yes, another Venezuelan catcher!) Benavides signed an international contract with the White Sox. Because the DSL White Sox actually had five catchers on its roster that year, that meant they had relatively little playing time behind the plate. However, Benavides’ bat, got him into another 10 games as DH.

Overall, in 22 games that year totaling 66 at-bats, Benavides slashed an impressive .348/.425/.606 with eight doubles, three triples, 12 RBIs, two stolen bases, nine walks (11.3%) and 14 strikeouts (17.5%). In his 12 games behind the dish, he threw out 4-of-14 attempted base stealers (28.6%) but had four passed balls.

The 2021 season was a different story, however, as Benavides struggled with even more sporadic playing time after missing 2020 due to the pandemic. In just 12 games totaling 31 at-bats, Benavides slashed just .194/.342/.290 with three doubles, six walks (15.8%) and 15 strikeouts (39.5%). Despite some rustiness, he did display his defensive chops by gunning down 5-of-9 potential base stealers.

Depending upon how the organization sees him, Benavides is a borderline candidate to begin next year at Kannapolis; it seems likelier, given his limited opportunities in 2021, that he instead plays a larger role in Arizona in 2022.

Nick Thornquist
175 pounds
Age: 24
Bats/Throws: R/R

A Montana native, Thornquist began his collegiate career with junior college powerhouse McClennan, where he slashed an incredible .367/.467/.700 in his freshman year in 2017 before slipping a bit to .291/.414/.427 as a sophomore. After a solid junior year with the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners, he was off to a hot start when Covid ended the 2020 season prematurely. Given a reprieve, he bounced back in 2021 with an incredible .331/.431/.624 line with 13 homers, 47 RBIs and 30 walks spanning 178 at-bats.

After going undrafted this year, the White Sox signed him to a contract shortly afterward. Thanks in large part due to drastically limited playing time, Thornquist slashed just .100/.182/.400 in just six games totaling 10 at-bats. His one hit, easy to tell with his slugging percentage, was a homer. He threw out 35% of attempted base stealers for the Roadrunners in 2021, though he was unsuccessful in seven tries with the ACL Sox.

Provided he returns to the Sox organization in 2022, it’s possible Thornquist skips Kannapolis altogether and begins the season with Winston-Salem instead.

Victor Torres
180 pounds
Age: 21
Bats/Throws: R/R
2020 South Side Sox Prospect Rank: 72
2021 South Side Sox Prospect Rank: 77

Torres, a native of Puerto Rico, was selected in the 11th round in 2019, primarily because of his athleticism and defense. According to Perfect Game in their 2018 National Showcase, he ran the 60-yard-dash in 6.56 seconds and possessed an amazing pop time of 1.81 seconds. Also, according to Perfect Game, Torres “has good arm strength and repeats his mechanics well.”

Torres struggled on both sides of the ball for the AZL White Sox in 2019. Offensively, he slashed just .219/.240/.240 in 96 at-bats as he hit just two doubles and walked thrice (3.0%) while striking out 28 times (28.0%). Defensively, he had 14 passed balls (and eight errors) in just 26 games, although he did cut down 10-of-33 stolen base attempts for a respectable 30.3% rate.

Due to offensive struggles to begin this 2021, Torres was demoted from Kannapolis to the ACL squad. With Kannapolis, he slashed a mere .195/.255/.284; however, he fared much better once demoted, as he slashed .387/.387/.419 during his short time in Arizona. Combined with both teams, he slashed .225/.274/.305 in 60 games spanning 200 at-bats with three homers, eight walks (3.7%) and 48 strikeouts (22%).

Torres, true to his defensive profile, gunned down nearly one-third of potential base stealers this year and will likely earn to the opportunity to return to Kannapolis next year.

Colby Smelley
195 pounds
Age: 22

Smelley, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., stayed in his hometown to play college ball for Shelton State Community College. He enjoyed a terrific two years with the Buccaneers, culminating this year by slashing .436/.536/.687 in 54 games with 16 doubles, nine homers, 48 RBIs, 29 walks and 27 strikeouts. As a reward for his efforts, he signed with the Sox after being selected in the 13th round in July.

Like many of the catchers who played in the ACL, Smelley didn’t receive much playing time. In nine games totaling 29 at-bats, he slashed .241/.267/.310 with two doubles, a walk and eight strikeouts. While he threw out 22% of attempted base stealers with Shelton, he did gun down 2-of-4 such attempts for the Arizona squad. He did play some outfield in college as well, so he may have a bit more versatility than most catchers.

Because he’ll be 22 before next season starts, it’s possible Smelley begins next year at either Kannapolis or Winston-Salem.

DSL White Sox

Manuel Guariman
190 pounds
Age: 18
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: First base

When the official signing of Guariman was announced on International Signing Day on January 15, he was under the shadow of bigger names like Yoelqui Céspedes and Norge Vera. While this indeed was the case, Marco Paddy and the Sox organization knew what they had in the young Venezuela native, as they signed him to a $475,000 bonus. Touted as a power-hitting catcher, the Sox were likening him to a young Salvador Perez — high praise indeed.

Guariman quickly established himself as one of the best hitting catchers in the system, and didn’t really relinquish that role for the remainder of 2021. For the year, he slashed .317/.378/.366 in 31 games with three doubles, a triple, 15 RBIs, six walks (5.4%) and 11 strikeouts (9.9%) for a 116 wRC+ True, Guariman was essentially a singles hitter for the DSL squad, but the last offensive tool good hitters eventually develop is usually power.

Guariman was successful in thwarting just 16% of stolen base attempts, but it’s hard to determine if those struggles were because of his arm or instead due to pitchers not holding runners properly. Regardless, he’s a surefire lock to develop his defensive and power skills with a promotion Stateside in 2022.

Luis Pineda
209 pounds
Age: 20
Bats/Throws: R/R

Pineda, yet another Venezuelan catcher, was recognized as a hard-hitting backstop by Jesse Sanchez of MLB when he signed with the White Sox on International Signing Day on July 2, 2018.

Unfortunately, Pineda struggled offensively, as he had difficulty making contact on a regular basis. In 24 games totaling 81 in 2019, Pineda slashed just .185/.275/.333 (72 wRC+) with four doubles, a triple, two homers, 12 RBIs and nine walks (9.9%) while striking out 33 times (36.3%). He did show some defensive chops, however, as he curtailed 19-of-43 stolen base attempts (44.2%).

While not possessing a great year in 2021, it was certainly an improvement offensively as he slashed .248/.306/.330 (82 wRC+) over 109 at-bats with two homers, eight walks (6.6% and 27 strikeouts (22.3%). Not only did he slightly improve his offensive stats, he even exceeded his ability to eliminate potential base stealers by thwarting 25-of-52 attempts (48.1%).

Pineda’s defense should merit him a Stateside promotion for 2022.

Ricardo Aguilar
180 pounds
Age: 19
Bats/Throws: R/R

Surprise, surprise — another Venezuelan catcher! Aguilar struggled with the bat this year in the DSL, as he slashed just .173/.286/.173 and 48 wRC+ in 23 games (52 at-bats) with eight walks (12.7%) and 26 strikeouts. On the plus side, he threw out 31% of attempted base stealers; on the down side, he allowed 16 passed balls during his 139 defensive innings. Since this was his first year of professional ball, expect Aguilar to stay in the organization with a likely return to the DSL.