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.
Today the White Sox announced that they have signed seven players to minor league contracts. Catcher Bryan Anderson, third baseman Josh Bell, RHP’s Jeff Gray & Ramon Troncoso, LHP David Purcey, and outfielders Steve Tolleson and Stefan Gatrell are all expected to report to White Sox training camp at Camelback Ranch in one month.
The thinking behind these signings is to buy low on players who still have the potential to do above average, but have performed below average thus far in their career. Troncoso, a former Dodgers reliever had one decent year in his four years with the Dodgers, but never really seemed to settle in at the major league level. Josh Bell, a former Baltimore top prospect, is another player who was expected to be the future of his organization, but instead fizzled out once he reached the major league level.
While most of these players the Sox have signed have never seen big-league action, they were not signed for that purpose. Yes, bring on the rants, and calls for Rick Hahn’s head, but Hahn is building depth throughout the organization to leave margin for injury or underproduction by a current big-league player, and also giving himself the depth to be able to swing a potential trade. One thing that you learn in the big leagues is that you can never have enough arms and the signing of Gray, Purcey, and Troncoso, who despite not having much experience at the major league level, still have it, and can fill gaps in the Sox bullpen if necessary.
My favorite signing of the bunch is that of Josh Bell. The twenty-six year old was last seen with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012. In his time with the Snakes Bell was able to get fifty-two at-bats but only managed to get nine hits and collect four walks. Bell’s years in Baltimore were not much prettier; you can check them out here. Despite this lack of production, Bell still provides competition for the third base job, which it seems, will go back to Brent Morel, a player who was absolutely miserable for the Sox at third base in 2012. A little competition never hurt anyone, and you never know this competition may bring out the best in one or the other.
Hopefully some of these signings can contribute to the big league roster in 2013. If not, they didn’t cost much anyway. At least not as much as some other players who didn’t pan out in their contracts.