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.
Consensus around the league has the White Sox farm system consistently ranking in the bottom three of the league. Despite this reputation of depleting our farm system, drafting badly, and not being patient enough with our prospects, the White Sox have groomed some very decent major league caliber players from their farm system in a relatively short time. Nate Jones a 2007, 5th Round Pick is contributed magnificently to the major league pen last year. Gordon Beckham and Jordan Danks, who were taken in the 2008 draft are on the major league roster with Beckham being our starting second baseman since 2010, and Jordan Danks just locking down the fourth outfielder job last year. Then the infusion of arms from the 2010 draft that included Chris Sale and future closer Addison Reed has rounded out key contributors the White Sox have drafted and bred for the Major Leagues.
Going into the 2013 season whitesox.com has ranked slugging outfielder Trayce Thompson, back flipping outfielder Courtney Hawkins, and pitcher Charlie Leesman as the top three prospects in the White Sox organization for the upcoming season. Hopefully in 2013 we will see one of these young men, and they will contribute to the big-league roster just as Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale, and Addison Reed before them.
Trayce Thompson is currently the White Sox number one prospect, and boy does he look the part as he stands at 6’4 inches tall, and weighs 200 pounds. Thompson is projected to have plus power and speed, and should be an exciting player to watch when does make it to the show. Yet, despite his immense promise Thompson needs more seasoning to perfect his game as he is still needs to learn how to work counts into his favor, and be more selective with pitches he chooses to swing at. But once he gets his eye and patience down pat, he should be major league ready and will hopefully be a fixture in the middle of the White Sox lineup for years to come.
Most White Sox fans remember the next guy from the draft day video of him doing a backflip shortly after being drafted by the Pale Hose. Fact is Courtney Hawkins is a flat out athlete. He checks in at 6’3, 210 pounds, and is considered by many to already have a major league ready body. Though Hawkins is considered to have quick hands and raw power, he hasn’t been able to fix his hitting mechanics to adjust to pitches other than fastballs. Hawkins needs to work on his moving parts of his swing, and also keep his head on the ball in order to progress to the next level. Hawkins is an average runner and should be able to get the extra base when he is all done developing and into the big-leagues. Overall, Hawkins is raw, but with the right coaching and fundamentals he should be an above-average outfielder with plus power, and a decent defender too.
Charlie Leesman is the third prospect of our top three according to whitesox.com, and he is also currently playing at the highest level out of the three. Pitching in Triple-A Charlotte last year, Leesman compiled a 12-10 win/loss record, 2.47 ERA, and a 1.34 WHIP in twenty-six games started for the Knights. Leesman is a southpaw who throws a fastball that hits around ninety miles per hour on the gun, and also throws a slider and a changeup. Leesman’s pitching style can be most compared to that of former White Sox great Mark Buehrle, as he won’t over power a hitter but he can get a lot of ground balls, which a good defense would turn those groundballs into outs. His fifty-two walks in 135 innings pitched last year, isn’t promising, but Leesman is still on the forty-man roster and has an invite to major league spring training. Don’t expect Leesman to be the reincarnation of Buehrle because he lacks the control, but you can expect him to be a potential 5th starter or a long-reliever for the White Sox in the future.
In 2013, don’t expect to see any of these names make an impact on the major league roster as there are still kinks that need to be worked out of every one of these guy’s games, and there are also current major leaguers blocking their path to a starting spot. With another year of seasoning the White Sox and their fans will be glad to know that these young players will only get better, and will have easier transitions once they taste the bigs.