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White Sox spring notes: Backup catcher job one of few spring roster battles

Vinnie Duber Avatar
March 19, 2022

PHOENIX – Who’s going to win the gig backing up Yasmani Grandal?

As was the case last spring, that’s one of the few roster battles going on at White Sox camp this year, and the candidates are largely the same. With one more year under the belts of Zack Collins and Seby Zavala, there’s more information to work with, but despite plenty of action during Grandal’s injury absence last summer, neither really leaps off the page, from a production standpoint, as a slam-dunk choice, making their spring battle an important one.

Talking about candidates for the job, Tony La Russa listed several guys he’s looking at in camp, basically going all the way down the depth chart, including the likes of minor leaguer Carlos Pérez and non-roster invitee Nick Ciuffo alongside Collins and Zavala.

“I think there is a real competition, I really do,” the South Side skipper said. “Zack has shown he has talent, he’s serious about it. Seby just put on (a show during drills on) situational hitting there, and he did a good job catching yesterday. And Carlos, he’s just about a finished product.

“The sleeper is signing Nick. I just talked to him today. He’s made a really good impression on the defensive side. He’s a heady catcher, he receives well, has a good arm. Frankie (Menechino) talking to him, there’s things they can see with his swing.

“Looks to me like there’s four guys, three guys. I’m comfortable.”

La Russa might be in the minority when it comes to that comfort with the in-house options. Plenty of fans would like the front office to look outside the organization, and among the directions fans on site shouted at Rick Hahn the other day was for him to bring in a new No. 2 catcher.

Indeed, Collins and Zavala underwhelmed, offensively, last season, with Collins hitting just .210 and Zavala even worse at .183. Undoubtedly, those numbers need to be much better. But La Russa did point to defensive ability as the primary concern when discussing backup catchers.

“It’s always going to be defense first,” La Russa said. “But … that guy has to be as good a hitter as we can be.

“We saw flashes. Seby, he can hit well into the .200s. I know Collins can hit. And I believe Carlos has a base-hit stroke. But the first priority is to think well, receive well, throw well.

“If all you are is a defensive catcher, then somebody who plays good defense that can hit will beat you out. They’re capable of getting hits. We have a good program, and they’re paying attention.”

We’ll see if Hahn has any additional moves up his sleeve before Opening Day. Otherwise, it will likely be Collins or Zavala, given their experience, despite La Russa’s continued praise of Pérez, which was a theme last spring. Notably, look at the fact that Zavala, who started alongside the rest of the team’s everyday position players in Saturday’s spring game, is out of options. Collins is not.

Water under the bridge

After the White Sox inked Kendall Graveman to a free-agent deal in November, you might’ve gone:

“Wait a minute. Isn’t he the guy who hit José Abreu in Game 4 of the ALDS?”

Yes! He is that guy!

You’ll probably also remember that the particular HBP in question greatly angered La Russa, who came out for a lengthy, emotional chat with the umpires before accusing Graveman and the Astros of plunking Abreu on purpose.

Well, now Graveman is a White Sock, and unsurprisingly, that moment had to be discussed upon his arrival.

“I apologized to Abreu when I got here. I didn’t mean to hit him,” Graveman said. “I know Tony gave me a little fit there in the postseason, and I apologized to Tony. I said, ‘I didn’t mean to, Tony,’ and he said, ‘I realize that now. In the moment, I didn’t.’ So that was a pretty good little icebreaker.

“(Abreu) laughed and said, ‘I know you didn’t mean to.’ It was a good introduction.”

So I guess that’s it, then?

La Russa’s mind apparently wasn’t changed just because Graveman signed up with his crew, though. The South Side skipper revealed he and Astros manager Dusty Baker spoke on the phone to iron things out at some point after the series.

Being able to put that episode behind them is one benefit of Graveman switching sides. But the main positive for the reliever? Not having to face Abreu anymore. Or any of these White Sox hitters, for that matter.

“Abreu, obviously, is somebody that is outstanding as a hitter,” Graveman said. “Tim Anderson did a good job of staying inside my sinker in the postseason. He’s a tough out always. (Yoán) Moncada, when he stands at the plate, is just looking like he can do damage all the time. And (Grandal). Their lineup is so good.

“Personally, it was a really tough matchup and gameplanning when I was with Houston. We knew how good the lineup was. I’m glad to be here and that (the White Sox’) offense is playing for me and not against me.”

Moncada on the move?

No, no, I’m not talking about a position switch for the White Sox’ third baseman. So stop dreaming. But we might see more motion from Moncada this season on the base paths.

He’s long expressed a desire to steal more bases, a favorite recurring wish of locker buddy Abreu, too. Moncada managed just three of them last year after none in 2020, something that can probably be chalked up to physical limitations. His energy was notably sapped by the aftereffects of a COVID infection in 2020, and he dealt with a host of nagging maladies in 2021.

His hope for more swipes is back for 2022, and this time, however jokingly, he’s got a number in mind.

“Fifty?” a reporter asked sarcastically.

“Thirty,” Moncada replied with a grin.

Mustache update

Ethan Katz is not a fan of Dylan Cease’s mustache.

“It’s terrible,” the White Sox’ pitching coach said. “That’s his prerogative.”

It’s an even greater condemnation of the right-hander’s new facial hair than Lucas Giolito gave earlier in camp, laughing at the mere mention of Cease’s upper lip.

Cease is getting props for doing his thing, though, even if he’s not winning folks over with the look itself.

According to him, it’s still to be determined whether the ‘stache will be a season-long presence.

“We’ll see,” Cease told CHGO. “We’ll see how it performs early.”

A lot riding on those early season Cease starts.

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