By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — The White Sox collectively haven’t been getting the job done on offense. That fact, after almost one quarter of the season, puts added pressure on the team’s catching tandem of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto.
Neither catcher has distinguished himself at any one area of the position, other than reinforcing the pitchers’ confidence. Both are well-liked and respected for the way they prepare for the other teams’ offense, as well as how they call a game each night. But with slumping hitters throughout the rest of the lineup, the concentration of combined offensive and defensive futility from behind the plate becomes much more pronounced.
“It’s kind of the job if your name is not Mauer or Posey,” Flowers said. “The reality is it’s a tough position. It is tough to hit in this league. Catchers have a lot of things to focus on and worry about. Hitting is important, but you have to have everything in order as to your defense and offense. If you struggle offensively, you better be really strong defensively. We need to improve in both areas, and I believe we are headed that way.”
The combined batting average of the two veteran catchers is under .200 so far this year. They lead the team with 42 strikeouts at their position. Entering Thursday’s home game against Cleveland, Flowers and Soto had combined for three home runs and 12 RBIs — shockingly low power numbers after 37 games.
The defensive metrics for Flowers and Soto are -.001. The offensive Wins Above Replacement is also at zero.
“Catcher is a position where you take a kind of a hit, sometimes, in terms of offense ,” hitting coach Todd Steverson said. “When they have the skills that they have, and it’s not coming out consistently, it can be frustrating. Both guys are good defenders, but at the same time they want to come here every day and have good at-bats. They don t want to be just an out in the lineup. They have a lot of pride in what they do.”
Flowers had a star-crossed season on offense in 2014. He hit .350 the first six weeks of last year and then hit a wall for the next two months, striking out at a 45 percent clip. He also hit close to .300 last September.
“I have had a couple of off days on both offense and defense this year,” Flowers said. “I have learned that as quick as you can forget about that, the better job you are going to do the next game out. That is something I have improved on as I gained experience and gotten more confident. To be able to control those emotions, it gives you a better chance for success the next time out.”
The catching position is still evolving in the minor leagues as well for Chicago. Catcher Adrian Nieto was a Rule 5 draft pick in 2013 and stayed with the team all of last season as Flowers’ backup. The organization has high hopes for the 23-year-old Nieto.
At Double-A Birmingham, he was struggling with the bat, hitting .219 at last look.
“Catching is a very tough position to be offensive at,” manager Robin Ventura said. “There have been very few guys in the game that can (hit consistently). It is a position that really beats you up. You get tired. At the same time, we know those guys can be better. We are waiting for that to turn around, just as we are waiting for the rest of our offense to hit its stride.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.