GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Aside from his family, it seems there’s no one White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper cares more deeply about than his pitchers. So it stands to reason he wants them in the best of hands.
For what Tyler Flowers lacked as a hitter, thrower and pitch blocker, he called a good game, studied hard and paid great attention to detail to pitch sequences.
Flowers also worked hard at pitch framing and became one of the better receivers at turning borderline pitches into strikes. But the Sox, in almost desperate need to be better offensively, added it all up and decided not to tender Flowers a contract, signing the left-handed hitting Alex Avila ($2.5 million) and switch-hitting Dioner Navarro ($4 million) to one-year free agent deals over the offseason.
Neither frame as well as Flowers (who was backed up by Geovany Soto), although Avila has shown flashes of it during his career, and both know how to call a game.
“Avila caught Justin Verlander, David Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez [with the Detroit Tigers],’’ Cooper said. “If he can catch them I’m pretty sure he can catch anyone we’ve got.
“Both those guys are experienced. They played at major league level for a long time and caught top guys. Navarro caught [Mark] Buehrle [with the Tampa Bay Rays].’’
And one more thing.
“I’m really excited about the possibilities of them helping us offensively and helping us score runs.’’
Translation: If I see Jose Quintana get another no-decision on a seven inning, two run performance I might rip the phone off the dugout wall.
Cooper said he had eight to 10 phone conversations with Avila during the offseason. He made sure Avila had video on every Sox pitcher. The two discussed two or three pitchers in each talk.
“They were tremendous conversations,” Cooper said. “He wanted all the information – what’s the key to each guy? He’s into it.’’
Alex Avila (left) and the Sox catching crew get to work Saturday in Glendale, Ariz.
Because Navarro lived out of the country, those talks had to wait. But as pitchers and catchers were reporting to spring training this weekend, catchers were told what Cooper wants. Set up low and give a low target. Framing? It wasn’t the first thing on the list, but it’s like Cooper said, whatever you can do to make the count 0-1 or 1-2 instead of 1-0 and 2-1, he’s in favor of it.
Avila also throws better than Flowers, and with a .242/.345/.397 career slash line, will be a tougher out. He has been hampered by concussion issues and knee problems during his career but said he had no issues with the knee during the offseason.
“I was really encouraged by it,’’ he said.
Navarro rates at league average in the defensive runs saved formula. He has shown better in his career than his.246/.307/.374 slash line last season, and the Avila (better vs. righties) and Navarro (better vs. lefties) shapes up well.
“I just see myself as another catcher,’’ Navarro said. “I’m going to do my best and try to play as many games as I can. If I play more and I’m helping the team obviously, it’s great. I don’t care if I’m number one, number two, number three. I just want to play.’’
Both will be welcomed in the clubhouse, Navarro for his upbeat, frank manner and Avila, son of the Tigers general manager, for mature leadership.
“I’m straight to the point, no BS, what’s [on my mind] I’m going to tell you,” Navarro, 32, said. “I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed around so long.”
“People over the years have seen me, the way I carry myself,’’ Avila said. “It’s not so much something you should earn by how you play. There’s a lot of d—heads that play really well that you wouldn’t consider leaders. It’s a bit of misconception from a lot of people. If I’m doing my job right as far as being a leader, you won’t hear about it, basically is my point.’’