Yesterday the White Sox sent Brent Morel to minor league camp. I am surprised by this move, despite Morel having a terrible spring Rick Hahn seemed to indicate earlier in Spring Training that Morel was their starting third baseman. Unfortunately for Morel he has been dogged by a terrible spring audition which has seen he him hit for a .216 batting average with a .256 on-base percentage. In addition, he has only drawn one walk in thirty-seven plate appearances, while striking out in eight of them.
This is the right move by Hahn and the White Sox staff because Morel has shown that he is not ready to shoulder the load at third base from an offensive standpoint. Hahn also has players who seem like they can produce in Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie. Gillaspie, a left handed bat, has done very well this spring, hitting to a .278 average with a .357 on-base percentage. Gillaspie has been one of the best hitters on the Sox this spring and may very well be able to steal the starting third base job away from the veteran utility man Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger, like Gillaspie, also signed on to the Sox this offseason for three years, $12 million, and was supposed to take over the vacancy Kevin Youkilis left at third. Thus far Keppinger has shown the Sox no reason not to start him there opening day as he has hit an outstanding .500 in spring training and has reached base at a .576 clip. The Sox will have to choose who starts between the two when the season begins, but I believe Hahn likes his options.
Back to Morel, personally I am hoping this season will be a make or break year for Morel at Triple A. He will either accept that he is not cut out with the bat to compete for a major league level job, or he will find his confidence again and play like the reincarnation of Joe Crede, like he was supposed to. Meanwhile, the Sox will be comfortable enough at the Major League level to let Morel figure himself out.
1. Detroit Tigers
Notable Additions: OF Torii Hunter
Notables Losses: RP Jose Valverde, OF Delmon Young
This is very much the same team that came back and bit the White Sox in the butt at the end of last season. They lost one below-average outfielder and picked up a still above average one who should continue to succeed late in his career. The Tigers also let go of their erratic closer and will most likely have a closer by committee with candidates Bruce Rondon and Phil Coke among others vying for the job. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera along with his partner in crime Prince Fielder will once again be counted on to lead the team’s run production, but they will also have Victor Martinez return to the lineup in 2013 and he will make this team that much more dangerous. Not to mention that if Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks build off their success in 2012 as well… Jesus the Tigers are scary. And Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez, too. I’ll just stop. They are going to win the division, they are too good.
Notable Additions: OF Michael Bourn, OF Drew Stubbs, OF Nick Swisher, SP Brett Myers, MGR Terry Francona, SS Mike Aviles, C/1B Yan Gomes, SP Trevor Bauer, 1B Mark Reynolds, SP Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1B/DH Jason Giambi
Notable Losses: OF Shin Soo-Choo, RP Tony Sipp, SS Jason Donald, RP Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona), 1B/DH Travis Hafner, OF Grady Sizemore, 3B Jack Hanahan, UTIL Brent Lillibridge
The Indians are a highly improved team in 2013. They have men who can hit at every position, power, speed, and on-base percentage. In fact, I think their lineup rivals Detroit’s in terms of scariness; and it’s not because their players can take you deep at will, but instead because they can win in so many different ways. Mark Reynolds, Jason Kipnis, and Nick Swisher can take you deep. Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, and Drew Stubbs can run wild on the base paths, and Asdrubal Cabrera can continue to dazzle with his glove. The main sticking point to this team is their starting rotation. Justin Masterson is their ace, which really says something about A.) how bad this staff is, and B) how badly Ubaldo Jimenez had regressed from his days with the Rockies. If Masterson can pitch like the ace he is supposed to be, allegedly and Jimenez can return to his glory days with Colorado the Indians should be in good shape. Brett Myers will eat innings, Trevor Bauer should be up in the majors by mid-season, and Scott Kazmir has really impressed in Spring Training. Not to mention the Tribe really doesn’t need that great of a starting staff because their bullpen is one of the best in the American League with Vinny Pestano being one of the best guys for holds in the league and Chris Perez being the best closer in the division.
3. Chicago White Sox
Notable Additions: RP Matt Lindstrom, UTIL Jeff Keppinger, 3B Conor Gillaspie
Notable Losses: 3B Kevin Youkilis, C AJ Pierzynski, UTIL Orlando Hudson, SP Francisco Liriano, RP Brett Myers, SP Philip Humber
The White Sox lost a lot of key players from the 2012 almost champion team. AJ Pierzynski clubbed a career high twenty-two home runs in 2012 and that will be sorely missed in the 2013 version of the White Sox. Tyler Flowers has been the named the anointed one to replace all-time favorite Pierzynski. He probably won’t come close to AJ’s numbers in his first year, but he can be expected to produce at least fifteen home runs and drive in at least seventy runs on a year to year basis. Kevin Youkilis also left the team for the “Evil Empire” New York Yankees, and the Sox will most likely fill that hole with a platoon of Brent Morel and Jeff Keppinger. Hopefully Morel can turn into the hitter he was projected to become in the minors so that the Sox can have a consistency at the position, which has been unstable since the great Joe Crede left. Overall, the Sox lineup is starting to age as slugger Paul Konerko begins to head down the road to retirement. Adam Dunn is still a good power hitter and should be able to contribute to the offense and Alex Rios is still a wild card as far as consistent production goes. The 2013 lineup wont be the most offensively potent, however if there is one thing the Sox have always been able to do, its pitch. Ace, Chris Sale, was extended to five year deal, and will hopefully continue his prior dominance. Jake Peavy extended his contract with the team for two more seasons and should continue his mad-dog attitude on the mound. John Danks is returning from injury and is expected to be a big contributor as well. Not to mention Gavin Floyd will be back on the mound, barring he doesn’t get flipped at the deadline; and in addition Jose Quintana is looking to rebound from a poor second half performance and pitch the Sox to playoff contention in 2013. The baby bullpen will begin their sophomore season this year as well. Veterans like Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Matt Lindstrom will be expected to lead the group of talented relievers including Nate Jones, Addison Reed, and Dylan Axelrod. The young bullpen did well in 2012, and will hopefully continue to be consistent in 2013. The Sox don’t look that good on paper, but they didn’t look good last year either; and the best thing is that the front office has shown willingness to make moves if the Sox are in contention, as evidenced by the Youkilis and Myers moves. They will give the Tigers & Indians problems and may compete for a wild card spot.
4. Kansas City Royals
Notable Additions: SP James Shields, SP Ervin Santana, SP Wade Davis, INF Elliot Johnson
Notable Losses: RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Vin Mazzaro, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, C Brayan Pena, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Blake Wood
If you haven’t had the chance to as of lately please say good-bye to the days of the Royals being absolute pushovers in the AL Central. Though I have them finishing in fourth place, the Royals will be highly competitive in 2013. Their lineup will feature young fixtures Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Bill Butler, and Salvador Perez. Those four players are part of the Royals core of players who will begin to reek havoc upon the Central for years to come. The Royals did well down the stretch last year, despite not having the best pitching out there. Well GM Dayton Moore did something about that this winter, trading for starters James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays, and signing Ervin Santana in free agency. Not to mention they have mainstays Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie returning to the rotation as well. The Royals will also have a very good bullpen which will feature Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Luke Hochevar, and Kelvin Herrera. The Royals look good this year, but I can see them putting everything together yet. They will battle with the White Sox for third place but ultimately lose out.
5. Minnesota Twins
Notable Additions: SP Rich Harden, SP Mike Pelfrey, SP Kevin Correia, SP Vance Worley
Notable Losses: OF Denard Span, OF Ben Revere, SP Scott Baker, INF Alexi Casilla, RP Matt Capps
The Twins will be your resident celler dweller this year. They traded away their best two outfielders this offseason, and have no offensive weapons aside from Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham (barring Justin Morneau has a great rebound season). The pitching staff is improved from last years as Scott Diamond will get some veteran help from the likes of Correia, Worley, and Pelfrey. There really isn’t much to say about this team as they seem to be drained of talent at the major league level. However Aaron Hicks is currently an exciting player to watch as he may win their center field job out of Spring Training without playing a game above AA. Also keep your eye on Miguel Sano, an exciting young shortstop with power, and Bryan Buxton who is a powerful outfielder. This team will finish last, but Terry Ryan is working to change that.
The smell of freshly mowed grass is beginning to accumulate in Glendale, Arizona. White Sox pitchers and catchers will report in two days and begin the grind to another AL Central title. However, the fate of the White Sox will be decided in Spring Training as the White Sox invite their 40-man roster along with non-roster invitees to see who will best fit the mold for Robin Ventura and his coaching staff. Spring camp is also a good way to evaluate the Sox at each position and how they did in the offseason trying to upgrade that position. This will only address the hitters as I will do the pitchers at a later date.
At catcher, barring a move before camp breaks, Sox fans will see Tyler Flowers handling the pitching staff. Flowers does not currently command the confidence of many White Sox fans but Rick Hahn has defended the catcher and says he has faith in his abilities. Flowers, in past seasons has shown flashes of Adam Dunn-like country power. Sox fans have seen him absolutely obliterate foul balls and if he can translate that power to hitting balls on the fair side of the foul poll then the Sox might be on to something. Backing up Flowers will be minor league journeyman Hector Gimenez. Gimenez has had 20 at-bats in his major league career, so I won’t even bother trying to project or predict what kind of major league player he will be. With the unknown of Gimenez however I would expect Flowers to get a lot of playing time similar to the way A.J. Pierzynski hogged the playing time at catcher when he was in his prime years. The Sox really didn’t make much of an effort to upgrade at catcher despite options being available and options that continue to be available.
The Sox infield continues to stay static with team Captain and face of the franchise Paul Konerko manning first base, youngster Gordan Beckham taking second, and the Cuban Missile, Alexei Ramirez, at shortstop. This infield has been the same since Beckham became a regular in 2010. So this is no surprise. However, third base is in flux. Rick Hahn intends to give Brent Morel every chance to win back the third base job after he lost it last season due to poor production at the plate, though Hahn will claim it was due to his back injury. Three different men occupied third base last year: Morel, Orlando Hudson, and Kevin Youkilis. In order to try to stabilize the position should Morel bust again, Hahn added utility-man Jeff Keppinger who can spell any infield position to backup both Morel and Beckham. Though I do not see Beckham having a breakout year, ever, I can see Morel significantly improving this year. Or at least one can hope. Fans should be glad that Hahn did address the third base issue in some way by adding Keppinger, so that is a plus as well. Let’s also not forget the Big Donkey, Adam Dunn, who should continue to build on his success from last year. I expect his numbers to stay relatively the same considering he is the epitome of an all-or-nothing hitter.
The White Sox outfield is full of familiar faces in 2013 as well, with all three starters returning to the lineup in 2013. Dayan Viciedo will man left, speedster Alejandro De Aza will be in centerfield, and Alex Rios will patrol right. Though this outfield isn’t exactly suited for its defensive abilities it will be a force to be reckoned with on offense. If Alex Rios can repeat last year’s success and Viciedo can learn some plate discipline, the White Sox lineup will continue to be one of the AL Central’s best. However, there is still a battle to be won in the Sox outfield. Who will be the fourth outfielder? Currently the battle looks to be between the veteran, DeWayne Wise, and the youngster, Jordan Danks. Wise seems to be the favorite as he has continued to fight for a major league job throughout his career, but the Sox should really look at giving Danks an opportunity this season because he has more of a future with the team than Wise when you consider age instead of production. The Sox really didn’t need to address this position in the offseason as it is fine where it is as of now.
As spring training comes nearer and nearer, we as baseball fans get more excited to see the position battles, the drama, and heroics of our favorite teams. The way the White Sox lineup looks now, I am not to worried about the team producing runs, I am more worried about the consistency of the run production as the players we have now are know to be streaky, however a new season brings new trends, and maybe that is a trend that won’t continue into this year. For now though, let’s all just look forward to that beautiful fresh-cut grass.
There are thirty-nine more days until pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch. Baseball will be back, and we can all emerge from the disappointment of last season in hopes of succeeding again. However, before the Sox can get their feet off the ground, there are still some question marks across the diamond and the starting rotation. It is imperative that the Sox coaching and player development staff use Spring Training to identify impact players who can help the big league roster and to sort out the best lineup from what they have been given.
Starting out the competition will be utility infielder Jeff Keppinger versus incumbent third baseman Brent Morel. Keppinger was signed this past offseason to a 3 year, $12 million deal in order to be the team’s starting third baseman, and he is presumed to be the favorite as of right now. Despite, the signing of Keppinger, Morel is still young and has time on his side. In 2009, Future Sox’s scouting report on Morel projected him to be an average third baseman, and if he can do that he will win the job handedly. Morel’s defensive abilities combined with his decent power could easily net him twenty home run/eighty RBI seasons, but he needs to put it all together first. Last year was not pretty, but we start over again every year, fresh starts, so that players can try again. Here’s to Morel finding his way back to where he is expected to perform, but until then, based on last year’s performance, Keppinger has the third base job locked up.
Another war to be waged in the Arizona desert will be for the backup starting catcher job. With the departure of AJ Pierzynski, it is now safe to safe to say that Tyler Flowers will be the starting catcher, but who the backup will be is a whole different beast. Currently the White Sox 40-man roster lists three catchers, Flowers, Hector Gimenez, and Josh Phegley. Phegley is ranked as the 11th prospect in the White Sox farm system, and is my personal favorite to win the job. Phegley is twenty-four years old and has only had four years of minor league experience as opposed to Gimenez who has had a ten-year minor league career with four different organizations, including the White Sox. If he was anything special, I feel like he would have shown it somewhere before his age thirty season.
Despite my feelings toward Gimenez I can also see why the White Sox would like Phegley to remain in AAA for one more season. Phegley regressed a little last year, though his average spiked about fifteen points, his on-base percentage dropped, which indicates impatience at the plate. The Sox are already stacked with impatient free swingers (see Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, and Gordon Beckham), what the Sox need is someone who can control the strike zone, and take walks. Another year in the minors would allow Phegley to identify bad pitches and try to take more walks instead of taking himself out of at-bats. In addition, Phegley has blood disorder, ITP, which lowers the body’s platelet count. Side effects are increased risk of bleeding and Purpura, which are disgusting red or purple skin discolorations caused by bleeding under the skin. Another year in the minors would be beneficial to see how well Phegley can continue his playing career in spite of having the blood disorder.
The final battle that will be interesting to watch unfold is that of the fifth starter. The White Sox rotation this upcoming season will consist of John Danks, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Gavin Floyd, and Jose Quintana or Hector Santiago. Though trade rumors continue to surround Gavin Floyd we will assume the Sox break camp with him. Hector Santiago was an unknown last year when spring training came around, but he broke camp with the Sox and ended up winning the closer job for the first week of the season (before eventually losing it to Addison Reed). Santiago wasn’t exactly a stellar reliever, but he was good enough for about half of the season. The Sox then decided that Santiago would be best fit as a starter and sent him down to Charlotte to stretch out. He came back and made a start against Cleveland on October 1st, and pitched a gem; only allowing one hit over seven frames. The case for Santiago is a little shaky though based on his losing of the closer job, and him also only making one start against one of the worst teams in the AL Central.
Jose Quintana’s story is quite similar, an unknown, he didn’t even break camp with the Sox. Quintana was toiling away in AA when the Sox came calling. John Danks had just been placed on the disabled list and the White Sox needed a spot start. On May 25, against the who-would-have-guessed-it Cleveland Indians Quintana took the bump for six innings, allowing two runs, walking three, and striking out four. This would cement Quintana’s place in the White Sox rotation, and he would go on to make twenty-three more starts for the Pale Hose, winning six and losing six.
In my opinion, this competition will be close, both pitchers are very similar in stuff, but when in doubt, experience is always the tie-breaker. All in all, this Spring Training should be no different than others. Battles will be fought, positions will be won, and the Sox will be absolutely terrible compared to the Cubs in Spring Training play, prompting Cubs fans to tease us until the regular season begins and everything goes back to normal. Will the battles won in Spring Training help us overcome the Everest that has become the Tigers? I hope so. But the only way to find out is in seventy-five days when Chris Sale takes the bump at US Cellular Field against the James Shields and the new look Royals.