Category: MLB Thoughts

Rob Manfred Says MLB Could Explore Moving Trade Deadline

While the Chicago Cubs deal with decisions over whether or not they should mortgage part of their future for a better chance at success in the present, another debate topic has been percolating around the sport of baseball, as discussions abound as to whether or not MLB should move back the non-waiver trade deadline.

That deadline, which currently sits on July 31, was established in 1986, when baseball only had four playoff teams each season. That meant that by the middle of July, teams knew whether or not they were in viable contention for a playoff spot, and that meant that more teams were able to make decisions as to how they should proceed in terms of roster construction.

Nowadays, that number has increased to 10 teams, and you now have teams like the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers that still have an outside chance of making the postseason instead of knowing that they should be selling off assets and going in a completely new direction.

With that in mind, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says that the league would be interested in changing the deadline:

“I think that the July 31st deadline is something that we may want to revisit in the context of the revised playoff format,” he said. “Obviously when you have two additional opportunities to be in the playoffs, you have more teams in the hunt and they may want to wait a little longer before they make decisions.”

Manfred’s statements bring up two interesting questions: should MLB change the deadline date, and if so, when should they move it to?

The answer to the first question is an emphatic yes. Having a dearth of trading partners makes the trade deadline pretty much meaningless as it stands right now, but moving the date would give teams an opportunity to either hold out longer before making a decision or take advantage of their status as sellers in order to get better deals on starting pitchers, giving teams more bang for their buck in a trade and likely increasing the return in those swaps.

As for when the deadline should be set, an August 31 deadline would be feasible, but likely shouldn’t be adopted. If a team were to trade for a starting pitcher, it seems unlikely they would be willing to give up much of anything for a guy who will only get a handful of starts before the postseason begins. Can you imagine the return the Detroit Tigers would get on David Price if they waited until there was only one month remaining in the season to ship him out?

Instead, the league should push the deadline back by two weeks, putting it at August 15. There is still plenty of meaningful baseball that could be played at that point, and it doesn’t really impact the return on players as much as a month-long extension would.

Opinion: Optimism After Solid First Half a Good Sign for Cubs

The Chicago Cubs started out their season with a shutout loss to the St. Louis Cardinals with Jon Lester on the hill, and they finished off the first half of the campaign in identical fashion as they dropped a 6-0 decision on Monday night at rain-soaked Wrigley Field.

 

Aside from the crazy similarities between games 1 and 81, the fact remains that the Cubs are in a pretty good spot. They are nine and a half games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, but they do hold a two and a half game lead over the New York Mets for the second wild card spot in the National League, they have gotten some tremendous pitching as of late, and young stars like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have been playing very well for a team that is looking to be a serious contender for the first time in nearly a decade.

Jake Arrieta warms up prior to the Cubs' September 3rd game against Milwaukee

Jake Arrieta warms up prior to the Cubs’ September 3rd game against Milwaukee

 

Even with those positives, there are still plenty of reasons for concern. The team has one of the worst offenses in the National League, ranking near the bottom of the heap in the senior circuit in terms of runs scored (11th), batting average (13th), and strikeouts (most in the NL). They haven’t gotten the type of production they’ve needed from guys like Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler, and players like Starlin Castro still aren’t quite living up to expectations.

 

Add to that the fact that Jon Lester has had difficulty performing consistently (although measures like Fielding Independent Pitching and others indicate that he is better than he’s been given credit for) and the fact that the Cubs are just 2-8 against the Cardinals this season, and there are some reasons for concern and pessimism after the halfway mark of the season.

 

Despite those negatives, the positives far outpace them. Joe Maddon’s team has developed a never say die attitude, going 19-15 in one-run games so far this season. They may be striking out a lot, but they’re walking a lot too, with the fifth-most free passes of any team in baseball. They are stealing bases at an excellent rate, converting on over 73% of their attempted steals. They have found ways to win even as their offense has sputtered, winning thanks to creative tactics and tremendous pitching over the last month or so of play.

 

Most importantly of all, the Cubs have persevered through injuries and the second-toughest schedule in baseball this season and still are in prime position to secure a playoff spot. Maddon has this group believing in themselves, and with all of his techniques and little tweaks to the lineup and the strategy of the team, he really has effected a serious culture and attitude change within the 25 men on the roster.

 

That, perhaps more than any other factor, represents why Cubs fans should be optimistic after the first half of the season. This team has fully bought into what Maddon has been preaching, and although their offense has struggled and the final order of the bullpen hasn’t been established (although adding Rafael Soriano to the mix will make an already strong bullpen even better), this team has found ways to win, and that’s the key ingredient if a team wants to make an October run.

Opinion: Cubs Fans Should Savor Anger After Monday Loss

"<strong

On Friday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs were sitting at 13-8 on the season, Addison Russell had just hit his first career home run, and Jon Lester had pitched a gem of a game and gotten his first win in a Cubs’ uniform.

Everything, as they say, was coming up Milhouse.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything seemed to unravel. The Cubs’ bullpen began to falter. Their starting pitching vanished. Their offense even vanished over the weekend as they were badly outscored and dropped two straight games to the Milwaukee Brewers. On Monday night, it appeared that they were back on track as they took a 5-0 lead in the first inning, but it all came undone as Travis Wood surrendered four runs and the Cubs ultimately lost the game thanks to some poor work done by their bullpen.

A quick perusal of social media after the game revealed plenty of anger within the Cubs’ fan base, and rightfully so. This was a game that the Cubs by all accounts should have won, and a combination of bad pitching and bad luck conspired against them as they dropped their third straight game and fourth in the last five games overall.

Amid all of that anger though, an interesting fact becomes abundantly clear: it feels good to get this worked up about baseball again.

For years now, a Cubs loss would be met by some eye-rolling and maybe an occasional hand-wringing gesture, but fans got over it. To paraphrase Heath Ledger’s Joker, it was “all part of the plan.” The Cubs needed to lose these games to give their young talent time to develop in the minor leagues, and they got some really high draft picks and made some serious trades as a result as they reshaped the entire roster from top to bottom.

Now, with a group of veterans brought in and the youngsters really starting to come into the big leagues, expectations are on the rise on the north side of Chicago. Every Kris Bryant at-bat is met with breathless anticipation as fans await his first home run. Every diving stop by Starlin Castro is fawned over at length. Every Anthony Rizzo stolen base elicits reminders that he has more steals than the entire Chicago White Sox roster.

These things are part of the allure of baseball, and it’s so nice to have them back.

So before you get too worked up about losing a game to the St. Louis Cardinals in early May, or before you rue the fact that the Cubs could easily be 17-7 or 16-8 at this point of the season, just remember this: how much more fun is it to care about baseball than it was to ignore it and wait for Bears season to start?

From one observer’s perspective, this is a heck of a lot better.

Johnson, Relievers Give Royals First Loss in Spring

In the first division game of 2015, the Sox took on the undefeated American League Champion Kansas City Royals on Tuesday.
Jose Abreu, J.B Shuck, and Gordon Beckham helped give starting pitcher Tyler Danish some cushion in the first inning as all three knocked in a run each.
Danish would give up a solo home run to right in the bottom of the inning to Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson. Danish, the seventh overall top prospect in the organization according to MLB.com, would go on to give up 2 more hits and another earned run in 2 1/3 innings in his first start of the spring.
Top hitter of the day goes to White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson who went four for four, scoring twice and had a RBI. In a battle for second base, Johnson’s doing his best to make a statement having hit six straight times in six at bats.
WhiteSox.com quoted manager Robin Ventura on Johnson’s spring, “You notice his speed and his range, even his at-bats, you start seeing what people are talking about and he’s getting in the middle of everything. He had some nice turns defensively, I thought he showed some of the range. He had the one ball that came out of his glove, but he still was able to get to it. He just continues to play hard and play with purpose.”
Relievers Zach Phillips, Raul Fernandez, Scott Carroll, Eric Surkamp combined for 6 2/3 scoreless innings and seven strikeouts.
The White Sox will take on the Texas Rangers next at Camelback Ranch at 3:05 PM Central Time today. Top prospect Carlos Rodon will return to the mound for the second time this spring. The last time he was on the mound he only gave up one hit in two innings with four strikeouts.

Quintana, White Sox Take on the Dodgers in Spring Training Opener

Under the blue skies at Camelback Ranch in Arizona the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers are getting ready to toss the first pitches in the 2015 spring training season for both teams.

Jose Quintana will take the mound for the north side against the stout Dodgers lineup that features Jimmy Rollins and Carl Crawford at the top of the lineup and a healthy mix of lefties and righties throughout the lineup. The mix in the lineup will give Quintana an excellent chance to work on whatever he needs to for hitters on both sides.

A couple players to keep an eye on during the game would be how Gordon Beckham does at third base and Carlos Sanchez at second base,  Both players are looking to make a statement this spring, going forward it’ll be interesting to see how both positions play out in the next month.

Another thing to watch out for is the lineup in general for the White Sox.  Throughout the offsesason it was expected that the lineup would feature Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Avisail Garcia, and Alexei Ramirez as the order of the top six.  It’ll be interesting to see if this lineup will prosper as is or how Manager Robin Ventura might tweak the lineup throughout the spring to see what different combinations are the most successful since a majority of the positions are already set.

The rest of the week will see the south side ball club take on the Dodgers again tomorrow, then will go to the Padres at , come back to Camelback Ranch to take on the Mariners Saturday and will go to the Athletics on Sunday.  Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s games are at 2:05 Central Time and Sunday’s game will be at 3:05 Central Time.

Pace of Play: What Hitters Can Do to Help

Remember a time when people would have to wait days to see how their favorite player played in the newspaper, or even waiting till the end of the 10 o’clock news to find out if your favorite team had won?

Well luckily for me I’m too young to remember having wait days for the information but I did start my fandom having to wait till the nine or ten o’clock news programs to find out if Jack McDowell had shut out the Kirby Puckett led Minnesota Twins.

These days information is easily available to anyone that has a connection to the internet. This has caused a “want it now and quick” mentality that has minimized people’s attention span to a very short amount of time. What keeps people into games is the constant action so they’re not just sitting around losing their focus to everything going on around them or their phones. So what can be done to make it at least appear to a person watching ball games as though the game is constantly moving at a good pace?

In this four part series I’ll break down several things that hitters, fielders, pitchers, management and even broadcasts can do to combine to boost the pace of the game to draw back in the average fans and the younger views to the stadiums and T.V. broadcasts.

This article as titled is focused on looking at what hitters can do to help quicken the pace of play. The hitters are one of the easiest targets to pick on in regards to this topic. The simplest contribution the hitters can make is cutting out the between pitches routines.

An example of one of the worst offenders of getting out of the batter’s box and going through an elongated routine is David Ortiz. Ortiz normally steps out with both feet, adjusts the straps on his batting gloves and then spitting into his hands and rubbing them together before he looks around and then takes his time getting back into his stance. Over the last eight seasons he has averaged 24.25 seconds between the pitches he sees each at-bat. If Ortiz and hitters in general can knock their paces down to 10 to 15 seconds per at-bat it could save 12 minutes per game if both teams pitched a perfect game in the nine innings.

Since that’s obviously not possible any extra hitters that cut down on their pace could save the even more time throughout the game. So how could MLB go about doing that?

Easiest solution is to have each batter in between pitches step out with one foot, look down to the third base coach to get the sign, and then step back in to get into their stance.

Last Friday MLB announced a rule this morning that, “Umpires will enforce Rule 6.02(d), which requires hitters to keep one foot in the box during an at-bat, subject to certain exceptions.”

Unfortunately this rule has a major flaw in it. Rule 6.02(d) states that, “The exceptions that allow a hitter to leave the box include swinging at a pitch, being forced out of the box by a pitch, a time out or if the team in the field attempts a play on a runner at any base.”

So with how often players are swinging at pitches these days, this rule will have little effect on keeping hitters in the box and at a good pace. Hopefully they’ll change this rule to take out the exception of a hitter swinging at a pitch. If they do that and keep hitters in the box throughout the at-bat it will cause players to cut down on their routines, like Ortiz’s so that this rule will actually have an effect on the pace of play instead of just changing where players do their routines when they don’t swing at a pitch.

Chicago White Sox Positional Preview: Middle Infield

While shortstop and second base are next to each other on the diamond, the statuses of both positions for the Chicago White Sox couldn’t be further apart. One is emphatically decided for at least one more season, and the other has several options for manager Robin Ventura to pick from.

The locked in position is shortstop. 33-year old Alexei Ramirez came out of spring training last season on fire. March and April are traditionally Ramirez’s weakest months, but last season he figured out something early and hit a combined .329 in those months. In fact, he was so hot at times, longtime Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson said that Ramirez was the same level shortstop and even better than Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

Not long after those proclamations were made Ramirez dropped off. He would go onto hit below .235 three out of the last four-plus months. A couple of categories that he was successful and an asset in to the club were with men on base and with runners in scoring position. He hit .295 and .305 respectively in those categories and was one of the reasons the Sox offense showed life at different times throughout the seasons.

While Ramirez is the guy now, one prospect to keep an eye on for the future at the position is Tim Anderson. The 21-year old hit a .301 batting average in rookie ball, high-A and double-A last season. WhiteSox.com rates Anderson as the number two prospect in the organization and number 81 overall amongst all prospects in the league. According to the site he grades at an above average level in his bat, arm and fielding while being well above average running.

Second base is a much different matter for the club. Carlos Sanchez at the position once they traded Gordon Beckham towards the end of August. Despite that chance last year, he currently resides in second place on the depth chart.  The 23-year old got the chance to play in 28 games last season and hit for a .250 average. He also struck out 25 times in his 100 at-bats while supplying very little power.

Unless he blows the minds of the management with his play the likelihood of him making the roster as the starter is small, and since they are already deep with utility players he’ll probably be sent to the minors.

The top spot on the depth chart is currently held by the White Sox top prospect at the position and fourth overall in the organization, Micah Johnson. It appears that Johnson has the inside track for the starting role as long as he puts in the work and has a solid spring.

Johnson put together a solid campaign in 2014. He managed a .294 batting average while only striking out 69 times in 419 at-bats in both double-A and triple-A. His batting average was actually right on par with his career average of a .297.

He also provides a speed threat on the bases. In 2013 Johnson stole 87 bases in 114 attempts between low-A, high-A, double-A, and Arizona fall ball. His speed is something the Sox have been missing on the base paths for a while now.

For the last several years the Sox seemed content with a base to base approach to running or making mistakes on the base paths that runs the team out of the inning. So if he is able to break camp with the big club, he could provide a spark at the bottom of the order ahead of leadoff hitter Adam Eaton.

Another person in the competition for the position is the formerly departed, but now returning, Beckham. He was signed as a utility player who could play all over the infield and that’s how the Sox plan to use him. He currently sits third on the depth chart at third base and second behind Alexei Ramirez at shortstop. So unless Johnson and Sanchez blow their chance at the position this spring, Beckham should remain as the reserve across the majority of the infield positions.

A couple other players fighting for playing time this season are Emilio Bonifacio and Leury Garcia. Bonifacio is set to split time at third base with Conor Gillaspie so the amount of time he’d see at the other positions should be limited. He also could potentially be used as a back-up outfielder in center as well.

Garcia will be fighting to break camp with the Sox. The 23-year old spent time at a wide variety of positions last season, including an inning on the mound in extra innings. His dismal year last season could play a role into the Sox managements decision if he has a mediocre spring training.

The Sox are deep with players at both positions. As Cactus League games begin, keep an eye on the race for second base because it could be a tight one down the stretch between the young guys and the veteran players.

Part 1: Q&A With New Cubs Pregame Host Mark Grote

When the new season begins for the Chicago Cubs, there will be some big changes both on the field and in the broadcast booth, as the team moves from WGN Radio to WBBM for the new campaign.

As part of that transition, the team will have a new voice handling pregame and postgame duties on the radio, and that man will be Mark Grote. Before he slides into the chair for the first time, he sat down with us instead and talked about his new job, what he expects from the Cubs this season, and whether or not he thinks the team can win the World Series.

Part two of the conversation can be accessed here. 

Windy City Hardball: I have to go with the most obvious question first: what is the interview process like for a job like this? Did you have to pass a Cubs trivia test or anything crazy like that?

Mark Grote: My third gathering with Ron Gleason and Mitch Rosen stands out to me. I was asked to report to Ron’s office for a meeting with about ten minutes advanced notice, and no knowledge of the specific content. I was then sent into a production studio and told to do a few minutes of a Cubs pregame. Improvised. The way I would do it. Anything I wanted.

Beyond that, there was no ‘Cubs trivia test,’ per say. I was asked for my thoughts on the team and its players, and there was a natural flow of Cubs chatter throughout the sessions. The entire interview process was thorough and sincere. It was never interrogation style. Instead, (there was) a genuine curiosity of exactly how I would handle specific scenarios, and my philosophies of what a professional pre and post game should sound like.

WCH: Now that we’ve covered the “who,” let’s move to the “why.” What drew you to this job?

Grote: It sounds a bit flowery, but the Cubs truly drew me to sports and broadcasting in the first place. I was obsessed with the game, the players, and the announcers growing up. Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd, Lou Boudreau, Harry Caray, Steve Stone, Dewayne Statts, and on and on. The broadcasters were just as important to me as what Jerry Martin would do on a typical day.

Beyond that, just from a pure broadcasting standpoint, it was a prime opportunity. The type of position that does not emerge frequently. My current full-time position as an anchor on the “Mully and Hanley” show on 670 the Score is an absolute blast because of the freedom those two allow me on their popular show, but I couldn’t resist making a play for the Cubs job.

WCH: Pat Hughes is making the trip over from WGN to WBBM, and that news has Cubs fans excited. Have you gotten to talk to Pat yet, and how excited are you to work with him?

Grote: Pat Hughes was the first person to call me when it was revealed that I had landed the job. What a thrill. It was funny, I told him, ‘Pat, I am just going to follow your lead, and play whatever role you and Ron Coomer need me to play during the broadcast.’ Pat’s response (in that great, syncopated Pat Hughes voice) was, ‘Oh no Mark. I want you to be YOU. Perhaps if the Cubs are leading the Mets 11-1 in the 7th, you can come on and do an impersonation or two.’

The key thing he told me is that we are going to have fun, and I do fun well. Hughes is an unbelievable play by play man. If you listen to him, you know he doesn’t miss things and that his recall is scary good.

Center and Right Field Preview – Have the White Sox Focused on Defense Too Much?

The 2014 season wasn’t exactly kind to Adam Eaton as he spent 32 days total on the disabled list.  The same can be said about Avisail Garcia and his 2014 season. Although Eaton was only on the disabled list for two stints totaling 32 days, Garcia was stuck on the list for a majority of four months with a torn labrum in his left shoulder that happened 8 games into the season.

Eaton was exactly what the White Sox needed a lead-off man to be.  While he didn’t steal a lot of bases, 15 in 24 attempts, but he had a .362 on base percentage hitting the entire time out of the top spot.  He gave the White Sox something they’d been lacking using Alejandro DeAza, a lead-off hitter who’d set the stage for the middle of the batting order.  Instead, when DeAza was in the top spot in previous seasons, he would try to strike out attempting to hit home runs and as a result would leave no one on base for Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, or anyone else who’d hit in the heart of the lineup.

The biggest problem Eaton ran into, other than trying to stay healthy by not letting walls beat him up is having the second hitter in the lineup hit a double play eliminating the chance to get the offense rolling.  The hitters who spent some time in the second spot combined for a total of 57 double plays throughout the season.  That plus the countless number of fielder’s choices supplied throughout the lineup kept the offense sputtering at times when they would finally get runners on base.

However with a 5.2 wins above replacement number and a .338 average with runners on base, Eaton was able to come away with last season knowing he’d done his job.  It also showed he’d taken the step forward the Sox had hoped he would after they had acquired him in the trade with Arizona.  He’ll look to keep his foot forward this season and hopefully he’ll keep his body away from the outfield fences that had him seeing time on the disabled list last season.

Last season was supposed to be the breakout season for Avisail Garcia.  He was supposed to take a leap towards becoming the player everyone has projected the 24-year old to be.  However one play in April changed the route Garcia’s season would take.  He would spend the next four months recovering and rehabbing from a torn labrum in his left shoulder.  He finally returned later in August from the DL quicker than some expected and was able to get work in at the major league level in the outfield and at the plate.  He would go on to hit just .244 last season in a total of 46 games, but that wasn’t as important as him taking advantage of the playing time on a team that wasn’t going anywhere.

The obvious hope for the White Sox is to get to see Garcia the whole season, especially after he’s lost the extra weight he gained at the end of 2014.  Garcia’s been dieting and working out trying to get his speed back to make him once again a projected five-tool player.  If the Sox intend to be successful this season and compete for the division and the World Series, it’ll take Garcia being successful from wherever in the lineup Robin Ventura sees him fitting.  The most likely spot in that lineup will probably be at number five hitting behind either Adam LaRoche or Jose Abreu.

Other than Emilio Bonifacio who is listed as a back up to all the outfielders, Leury Garcia is also among the list to back up Eaton in centerfield.  As a utility fielder in 2014, Garcia only hit .166 in 74 games playing a multitude of positions including one inning in relief during an extra inning game.  The 23-year old Garcia needs to come out firing on all cylinders come the February 24th when the Sox position players report and spring training gets going.  He’s going to have competition for utility player with the acquisitions of Gordon Beckham, J.B. Shuck, and Emilio Bonifacio.  If he does have a mediocre spring, it could be his versatility that keeps him on the 25-man roster coming out of Camelback Ranch.

Non-roster invitee and former Chicago Cub Tony Campana was supposed to be in the mix for a bench role but on February 10th the White Sox twitter account reported that Campana had torn his ACL while training recent to the announcement and would most likely be out for the entire 2015 season.

While the Sox tried to set their roster up with defensive depth in all three positions, it may have come at the cost of offensive depth.  The starters shouldn’t have an issue producing runs, but we’ll have to see what combination of bench players Sox management gives themselves heading into the regular season.   However, for what we as Sox fans have dealt with over the recent seasons, we’ll take the starting three as is and deal with the lack of offensive depth when it becomes an issue.

Left Field – Once a Weak Spot, Now a Strength for White Sox

For the last two off-seasons, the White Sox have tried to address their left field situation. Unfortunately, the off-season leading into the 2014 season came and went for the club leaving them with both Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro DeAza still on the roster. The goal going in had been to move Viciedo and leave DeAza as the everyday left fielder, but with the start of spring training on them, the time ran out on the move. So they became stuck with both players and decided to use them in a platoon fashion in left field and occasionally at the designated hitter position.
Sox fans are well aware that the plan didn’t work out so well. Viciedo hit a measly .231 for an average and DeAza ended up being traded to Baltimore after hitting a mediocre .243 average.
So that left General Manager Rick Hahn with a decision to make during this off-season. One option was to go with Viciedo again in left field with the hope that he figures out how to hit with better consistency. The other option would be to try to trade him and find someone else on the market. The Sox would end up going with option number two because, with the moves that had been made before and while at the winter meetings, they showed the league that they were going to be serious about building a team to compete this season. The Sox were able to lock in one of the better left fielders off the free agent market.
Switch hitter Melky Cabrera joined the Sox in December on a 3-year, $42 million contract to become the team’s new everyday left fielder. He comes to the south side as a better defender and hitter then the Sox have rolled out there in recent times.
Defensively Cabrera hasn’t had a season where he’s committed more than 4 errors which happens to be half of the total Viciedo had last season by himself. While Viciedo may have a better arm than Cabrera, the Sox and their fans would rather have a player in the outfield that can make smart plays and limit stupid mistakes.
Offensively Cabrera brings much more to the table that fits the White Sox plans better than either DeAza or Viciedo would have. He might not have the power Viciedo had, but he brings versatility with his ability to be a contact hitter. Cabrera struck out only 67 times last season in 621 plate appearances. He only strikes out at an awesome one in ten plate appearances rate compared to Viciedo who struck out every one in five plate appearances.
It seemed like an off-season in which Hahn and Sox management went out looking for free agents that made more contact than the player they were replacing, and that’s just what they got in Melky Cabrera.
The question that’s left for Manager Robin Ventura is where to slot this switch hitting contact hitter in the lineup.
For a player with his hitting ability and with the hitters they’re surrounding him with the best answer would be as the second hitter. The reason being, he makes a lot of contact and hits for a high average with runners on base. Cabrera has a career .311 batting average on balls in play. More importantly with men on base he has a .315 batting average on balls in play. With that production in mind, and if Adam Eaton can reproduce his production from 2014, it would set up the heart of the lineup to improve their RBI chances. The “get them on, get them over, get them in” philosophy will be key at the top of the lineup and will be what makes the Sox successful this season.
Another reason he’d be great behind Eaton is his versatility as a switch hitter. If the Sox run a lineup of Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Avisail Garcia out there and could use Conor Gillaspie and Alexei Ramirez after that, it would give the Sox a lefty-righty combination through the seventh spot in the order. That lineup would also feature three .300-plus hitters at the top of it.
To try to find depth at the left field position, the Sox have also signed former Angel and 2013 American League Rookie of the Year candidate J.B. Shuck, former Chicago Cub Emilio Bonifacio, as well as invited prospects Courtney Hawkins, Jared Mitchell, and Michael Taylor to camp this spring.
First, the left-handed hitting J.B. Shuck currently stands as the backup to Melky Cabrera in left, and he’s coming off a miserable year where he hit .145 for an average in 38 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Cleveland Indians. However, two seasons ago he was in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. That season he hit .293 in 437 at-bats. So, worst case scenario for the team, they could end up stashing Shuck in Triple-A Charolette and let him find his way again since he’s under team control until 2020.
Next on WhiteSox.com’s depth chart for left field is Emilio Bonifacio. The journeyman utility player is all over the depth chart listings. In fact, he’s listed at all the infield positions except first base and every outfield position. Although he is listed at all those positions, Bonifacio has been mentioned to mostly platoon at third and to fill in at shortstop and second when necessary. The Sox are hoping that without injury Bonifacio won’t see much time past the lip of the infield.
The three prospects from the minors, Jared Mitchell, Courtney Hawkins, Michael Taylor are likely non-roster invitees to evaluate how they do against major league pitchers. Taylor did see some time in the pros last September when call-ups were made. He hit .250 for an average in his limited appearance in 2014, but carried a combined average of both pros and the minors of .273.
As long as Melky Cabrera stays healthy throughout the whole 2015 season and doesn’t go down the PED path again, the left field position on defense and in the lineup will be one of the team’s strengths this coming season.