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Prediction and Preview of the NL Wild Card Game

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On a day that’s only occurred six other times in my 31 ½ years on this earth, the Cubs are hours away from getting their 2015 playoff season under way in Pittsburgh.  As you’ve probably heard by now the game is set for first pitch at 19:08 hrs. Military time on 10-7 or 107 years since the last title.  Let’s try to get past superstitions and try to plant a seed of why this year is different than the past.  Here’s five reasons I’m picking the Cubs to move the Pirates to face their arch nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals.

  1. Joe Maddon

Maddon has been the talk of baseball all season.  The best move of the offseason, Maddon has made the right moves all season.  Whether it be drawing the media’s attention away from the club when they’d have issues, playing players in different positions so he has as many options as possible, sitting players in a slump to get a spark out of them, or keeping things light around the club house with late arrival days and costume days.  They say managers are responsible for a few wins or loses a season.  Baseball Reference used their Pythagorean W-L formula to calculate the Cubs at 90 wins, so the argument could be made Maddon is responsible for at least seven of the Cubs wins.  Win or lose, Maddon should be manager of the year with how he’s managed this team.

1A.  Jake Arrieta

To say Arrieta has been dominate in the last half of the season would be a true understatement.  In the first half of the season he went 10-5 in 18 starts, giving up 35 earned runs in the process.  In the second half of the season, Arrieta went 12-1 in 15 starts while only surrendering 9 earned runs in those games.  On normal days rest (4 days),  Arrieta is 11-2 with a 1.02 ERA in 16 starts.  In night games, Arrieta is 14-2 with a 1.51 ERA in 20 starts including two complete game shutouts.  In PNC Park this season, he has a 0.82 ERA in three starts this season with 0 home runs and 17 strikeouts.  Lastly, the Cubs ace is 13-1 on the road this season with a 1.60 ERA this season.

Tired of stats?  How about this last goodie:  Against the Pirates, Arrieta is 3-1 in five starts this season with a 0.75 ERA.  It’s the second best ERA he has against a team that he’s faced two or more times.

Feeling better going into this game?  The man has been dominate this season and is well deserved to be in the Cy Young Award conversation.  After listening and seeing interviews with Arrieta leading up to this game, the guy is definitely confident.  Some have even called it cocky, but,on this team, it’s exactly what they need.  This is the biggest reason I’m picking the Cubs.

  1. Starlin Castro

This season Castro has definitely been a hot topic among Cubs fans, whether it be his hitting slumps or his lack of attention in the field.  However, ever since Maddon benched Castro after a pitiful defensive display against the Cincinnati where he had three errors.  Castro has had 17 at-bats against Cole in the last five seasons and has a .353 average with four RBI’s against him.  This could be Castro’s chance to redeem himself in the eyes of Cubs fans and the best news is he’s been hot.  In the last 27 games Castro has hit .369 with five home runs and 21 runs batted in.  The other bright spot about his performance lately, Castro has had only one error since his 3 error game Aug. 31st.  I believe his bat will be alive tonight versus Pittsburgh and he’ll leave the game with no errors.

  1. Defense

The defense has been solid across the board (especially lately with Castro’s head back in the game).  For the 2015 season the eight position players have combined for 85 errors (including Castro’s 24 errors).  The one question a lot of media has brought up yesterday and today is whether having Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in not at their respective usual positions of third and left field going to cause an issue.  The outfield in Pittsburgh is larger than normal in left and right fields.  The foul line in left is 325 ft. from home plate and left center jumps out to 410 ft. deep which is actually longer than center field (399 ft. deep).  That’ll be the challenge for Bryant and Dexter Fowler to deal with in tonight’s game defensively.

In right, the jump isn’t quite as deep but it goes out to 375 ft. in right center.  Schwarber will have to navigate that on his side of the field along with making sure to not run all the way to the wall if a ball is going to ricochet off the wall.  I believe both guys have the speed and baseball smarts to be able to play well in the outfield.  By the end of the game both may not be in the outfield anyway due to double switches and defensive subs.

The other issue on defense people have been talking about is Tommy La Stella playing third base.  According to Jesse Rogers of ESPN 1000AM, he watched La Stella take several grounders at third base yesterday prepping for tonight’s game.  La Stella only has played 52 innings at third base this season.  Eleven of those games have come since August 26th, and he only had one error in those appearances.

The feeling is that Maddon is trying to load his lineup with lefties to face the right-handed Garrit Cole tonight.  This season La Stella has hit .286 with one home run and 11 RBI against right-handed pitchers.  There probably come a time in the game where for defensive reasons or even just straight up pitching hitting substituting, La Stella will probably exit the game in the 7th inning or later.

  1. Anthony Rizzo

If you’re looking for a side bet heading into these playoffs, bet on who will be hit more in the playoffs:  Anthony Rizzo or every other team’s players?  Rizzo has been hit by a pitch a whopping 30 times this season.  Since he covers the plate so much, I wouldn’t be shock if while trying to jam Rizzo, Cole hits him at least one time.

Rizzo stands the best chance at seeing a pitch over the plate.  He’ll have to do as much damage as he can with those pitches.  He carries a .353 batting average against Cole with one RBI.  If the Pirates decide to shift on Rizzo, don’t be shocked if the bases are empty, and Rizzo actually attempts to lay down a bunt or a chop swing to the left side to try to beat the shift.

This game will come down to cleverness.  Something like Rizzo bunting to the left side could lead to a big inning or even the one run Arrieta needs to carry the Cubs.  The Cubs have a clever manager and young, fun, clever players who would do anything Maddon asks them to do.

Prediction for the game

5-1 Cubs win.  Arrieta goes eight innings with one earned run on 4 hits, 7 strikeouts, and one walk.  Rodon comes into the game in the 9th and will give up one hit, a double-play and a strike out to close out the game.

BASEBALL AND GAMBLING: MLB Has No Excuse To Not Reinstate Rose, Jackson

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson with the White Sox

This season marks a new era in Major League Baseball. MLB has announced an “official” partnership with DraftKings. Draftkings is an app for playing fantasy sports. Basically, once you download the app you can “buy in” and begin playing on a day-by-day basis, and you can win money based upon the performances of the players you select.

Why do I say this is a new era? Because for the first time, Major League Baseball is in the business of gambling on baseball. Let me repeat that…Major League Baseball is in the business of gambling on baseball.

In the past, MLB has always had a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gambling. Great players like Joe Jackson have been banned for life for merely taking money from gamblers, despite not doing anything to throw games. Pete Rose, the all-time leader in hits, has been banned for betting on his own team. As many times as Rose has asked for reinstatement, or as many times as people have petitioned on behalf of Jackson (or his teammate Buck Weaver), baseball has always refused on the basis of zero-tolerance.

Pete Rose hits the dirt in Wrigley Field

Pete Rose hits the dirt in Wrigley Field

Now that MLB has entered into a partnership with DraftKings, any attempt to justify keeping Rose or Jackson from being reinstated, and ultimately considered for the Baseball Hall Of Fame, is a false equivalency on MLB’s part.

In the past, MLB has always been able to claim a moral high ground when it comes to gambling. Now they are active participants. As such, there is now implicit approval toward gambling on baseball. In fact, as much as they may want to believe this will never find its way down to players, they have accepted the very real risk that it will.

In fact, at this point, how would they punish any players who use a product endorsed by MLB? What if some relief pitcher is in a game, 4 or 5 runs ahead or behind, facing a hitter that he picked on DraftKings? What if a manager picked one of his guys on DraftKings and leaves him in or takes him out based upon his value in fantasy points? Isn’t that exactly why Rose was suspended?

Yet here we are. MLB has decided to take the revenue from gambling, and therefore must take all the circumstances ot that revenue. And a huge circumstance is that they no longer have any justification to preserve the banishments of players who have been involved with gambling on baseball.

They’ve sold their guardianship of the integrity of the game.

White Sox Look to Reset in Home Opener

After a dreadful start to the 2015 season in which the team scored only two runs in two of the three games against the division rival Kansas City Royals, the White Sox will face the dismal Minnesota Twins in front of a packed house, on beautiful day on the south side.

The Sox will send right-hander Hector Noesi out to the mound against a Twins team that has combined to score one run in three games in their opening series against the Tigers. In his career Noesi has a 2-1 win-loss record against the Twins with a 4.19 ERA.

The key player to watch in the Twins lineup today is an obvious one in Joe Mauer. The first baseman is the only player on the twins with more than two hits and is the Twins only run on the season. Mauer has been Mr. Consistent in his career, although he is coming off a career low .277 average last season. With the White Sox having issues getting their offense going, it’ll be important to keep Mauer from causing too much damage by keeping second baseman Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar off the bases.

On the White Sox side of the field, the team needs to focus on trying to find a spark against a bad team to get the offense going. Against the Twins left-hander Tommy Milone, Adam Eaton needs to get the lineup going at the top of the order. Eaton’s had only one hit in twelve at-bats and is a key to making the pitchers uncomfortable on the mound by being on base when Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche come up to the plate.

While starting 0-3 isn’t ideal and not what every White Sox fan expected it’s also not the end of the world. However 26 out of the first 29 games are against the central division so it’s important the White Sox find their stride quicker than usual.

Lineup for the Sox according to WhiteSox.com:
1. Eaton – CF
2. Cabrera – LF
3. Abreu – 1B
4. Garcia – RF
5. LaRoche – DH
6. Ramirez – SS
7. Beckham – 3B
8. Flowers – C
9. Johnson – 2B

Noesi – SP

OPENING DAY: Remembering Minnie

Minnie in 1956 Spring Training, thanks to Sports Illustrated.

Minnie in 1956 Spring Training, thanks to Sports Illustrated.

When the White Sox take the field in US Cellular Field for their home opener, there will be less sunshine than there has been in years past. Part of their ceremonies will have to include saying goodbye to Minnie Minoso.

Orestes “Minnie” Minoso was born in Cuba in 1922, and began playing baseball in Cuba before coming to the United States in 1946 to play for the New York Cubans in the Negro National League. He played third base for the Cubans for three years, playing in the East-West All Star Game in his future home, Comiskey Park.

After the 1948 season, Bill Veeck signed him for the Cleveland Indians. Veeck had already signed Negro Leaguers such as Larry Doby and Satchel Paige, and the Indians won the World Series in 1948, the first integrated team to do so.

When Minoso played his first game for the Indians, he became the first black Cuban to play in the major leagues, getting the chance that greats like Martin Dihigo never got. He played a handful of games for Cleveland in 1949, and a few mre in 1951 before being traded to the Sox.

He then had an outstanding rookie season, hitting .324 with 10 home runs and 14 triples playing in cavernous Comiskey. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race to Gil McDougald, despite having a statistically superior year. He also outshone another Yankee rookie, Mickey Mantle.

Minoso became one of baseball’s most exciting players, combining speed and power to become the Sox version of Mantle or Willie Mays. He never put up the huge numbers those players did, particularly home runs, but he still managed 4 years where he finished top 5 in MVP voting, and he (along with the oother members of the Go-Go Sox) were responsible for bringing the stolen base back as an offensive weapon.

He played with the Sox until December 1957, when he was traded along with Fred Hatfield back to Cleveland for Al Smith and Early Wynn. While that trade took away Minoso’s opportunity to play on the 1959 pennant winners, the team may not have made it to the World Series withut Smith or Wynn.

He was traded back to the Sox in December 1959, and his once-again owner Veeck gave him an honorary American League Champion ring. He had his last great season in 1960, hitting .311 and winning his third Gold Glove.

After the 1961 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent a year there, then was sold to Washington. In the 1964 season, the Sox brought him back for his third tour. He played 30 games, mainly as a pinch hitter, before being released during the season.

You’d think that would be it, right? Minnie went to Mexico and played and coached there until 1973, when he came back to the Sox as a coach. When Veeck re-bought the Sox before the 1976 season, he signed the 50 year old Minoso to a player contract. Minnie played 3 games, going 1-for-8 as a DH.

Minnie also was activated in 1980 at age 54, and was hitless in 2 at bats. This meant he played in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. He also played in the 90s for an independent minor league team owned by Veeck’s son.

After his playing days were done, he was an ambassador for the Sox, always livening up the ballpark. He was also an elder statesman among Cuban baseball players, bridging the eras between the Negro Leagues and players who came later, like Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant, then Freddy Garcia and Jose Canseco, then Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.

He’s got a statue outside US Cellular Park, and he’ll always be beloved among Sox fans.

Thanks Minnie.

OPENING NIGHT: Remembering Mr. Cub

I kept this card in my pocket until is was just a blank wad of cardboard.

I kept this card in my pocket until is was just a blank wad of cardboard.

This winter, as we Cub fans thought about the team that was taking shape for the 2015 season and beyond, we could think about experiencing things that Cub fans haven’t experienced for decades, or even a century. However, there was one thing we hadn’t counted on.

This marks the first baseball season in over six decades without Ernie Banks. Ernie left us the night of January 23, and it makes perfect sense that he went at night. Ernie lived in the sunshine, just as the sunshine lived in him. He brought joy to a game that should always have joy. Every time you saw Ernie Banks, he was always cheerful. In fact, he once said, “I treat everyone as if they have a sign that says, ‘make me happy.'” That sunshine within Banks was why everyone, Cub fan or not, even those who were born after he no longer played, loved him.

Everyone who ever met him was always treated like the most important person in the room by him. I took my wife to the 1994 Emil Verban Memorial Society luncheon (it’s a real thing, I promise), and Banks was holding court. As my wife approached, he turned and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Ernie Banks.” Of course the fact that my wife happens to be a knockout didn’t hurt either But everyone got the thrill of not only meeting this great player, but also a great man.

As a four-year-old going to his first Cub game in 1967, all I knew going in was that the Cubs wore blue hats like mine, and Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub. All I wanted was for Banks to hit a home run that day. And he did. I don’t remember much about it (again, 4 years old), but my dad told me it was pretty much the same as every Banks home run, a rope to left field that you were never quite sure would clear the wall.

My dad was actually there the day Ernie hit #500. When I heard he was blowing off work to go, I wanted to blow off school to go too. He nixed that, but I managed to let the Cubs interfere with my education enough in later years…it was their fault, putting Wrigley Field right between Uptown and Lane Tech. But I digress…#500 was, again, classic Banks. Another rope into left. In fact, one habit I picked up from my dad was this kind of lifting motion with my hands, urging the ball over the wall. Kind of how a bowler waves at his ball trying to get it into the pocket. I know Dad was doing that as soon as Banks hit the ball. In fact, one of the biggest kicks I ever got was finding that ticket stub and showing it to Banks.

The name Mr. Cub fit him perfectly too. Not only because he was the greatest player in the history of the franchise, but he embodied the hope and optimism that we all feel, particularly then. The Cubs were contending for the first time in Banks’ career, and he believed as we all did…the Cubs would be great in ’68, the Cubs would shine in ’69, the Cubs would glow in 7-0. Something about the way he’d say it, we’d all believe. Hell, he had me believing those early 80s teams weren’t all that bad.

He had the same love for the game as I felt…when you’re a kid and school’s out, who didn’t want to play two? Three? Hell, as many as you could squeeze in before either the sun went down or it was time to eat. Ernie was right there with us, he just loved playing ball. Hell, his love of the game is why now that I’m in my 50s I still wear #14 when I play softball. Ernie was also a nightmare for baseball coaches all over Chicago, as every kid mimicked that finger-wiggling thing he did when he held the bat.

It was perfectly fitting that he was a Cub. When he got bought from the Kansas City Monarchs, the Cubs narrowly won a bidding war over the White Sox and Yankees. If Banks had been a Yankee, would his desire to play two every day have had the same ring? It’s easy to want to play more when you’re winning the pennant every year. If he had plied his trade in Comiskey Park, he would have turned the 1950s Sox teams from pretty good ones to great ones.

Instead, he was a Cub. In the late 50s, as he won back-to-back MVP trophies for second-division teams, it was said, “without Banks, the Cubs would finish in Albequerque.” Then once he got some help in the form of Ron Santo and Billy Williams, he had some more of his prime wasted with the “College of Coaches”. He was a diamond on a trash heap for the majority of his career.

Finally in the twilight of his career, he had a shot at contention. But as we all know, it was never to be. Still, his career spanned a watershed period for Major League Baseball. It started with him and Gene Baker integrating the Cubs in 1953, in an era where there were 16 major league teams, and none farther west than St. Louis. By the time he retired in 1971, there were 24 teams, including 5 in California. Of course, every team was integrated. When he came to Chicago, the great Cub power hitter of the era was Hank Sauer, a tobacco-chewing behemoth who swung a 40 ounce bat. Banks swung one in the low 30s, and looked like a buggy-whip when he unleashed into a pitch.

But his career was also a great one. One of the ten greatest shortstops of all time. 512 career home runs (including one on that day in 1967). An equal to his contemporaries, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

But his joy, his optimism, it embodied what the Cubs are all about. Without that optimism, you could never endure the heartbreaks of 1969, 1970, 1984 or 2003. That optimism is what makes you believe that he’s in whatever astral plane you believe in, lobbying for cosmic intervention.

And if the time ever comes when the Cubs finally become the last team to win a baseball game in a season, you can believe a lot of us will find our thoughts going to Ernie Banks.

Thanks for that, Ernie.

Let’s play two.

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.

Hot Corner Could Have Hot Competition This Spring – Third Base Preview

This offseason General Manager Rick Hahn and the White Sox were trying to sign players who could take on multiple roles throughout the season as needed. From second base to third base the Sox have acquired several players that offer significant depth at each position. Between Hahn’s acquisitions and the minor league talent that could lend a hand, the Sox feel as though they’ve put themselves in the best position to compete this season.
Conor Gillaspie was the starter for the majority of last season at third base. He had a productive season for the south siders in 2014 in which he had a .282 batting average along with 31 doubles and 5 triples. His Achilles heel from last season was versus left-handed pitching. Gillaspie put together a .221 average versus left-handers. It was that stat and his tendency for errors at third that led the Sox to look for a utility infielder that would be able to handle southpaws in the box.
Just after announcing that they were searching for such a player, the Sox reacquired Gordon Beckham off the free agency market.
I know as a Sox fan myself I was baffled at this move by Sox Management. Signing a one-year, $2 million contract Beckham comes as a cheap solution to the need for a utility infielder.
What baffled my mind the most though was the fact that in his career Beckham only carries a .245 batting average overall and .244 against left-handed pitching. However, when I looked deeper into his stats, it appears that he may have figured something out.
Last season the former White Sox first round pick got his average against left-handed pitching up to .293 and was more than likely the reason the Sox resigned him. As good as he was versus lefties, he was just as bad versus righties in 2014 only hitting .203.
Beckham will see time at second, short and third base this season as a reservist unless he destroys spring training. If the Sox can manage using Beckham and Gillaspie against the pitchers they are strongest against, as a team, they could put together a successful season.
Other options being looked at going into spring training include super utility players Emilio Bonifacio and Leury Garcia.
Before Beckham signed, Bonifacio was suggested as being the most likely to split time at third with Gillaspie, but the injury to Tony Campana could cause the Sox to use him in the outfield more often than they had hoped.
Garcia saw time at almost every position last season- even pitching an inning when Manager Robin Ventura needed to save on his arms in the bullpen. The problem with relying on the switch-hitting 23-year old super utility player is he’s only broke a .200 average once, and that was only a .204 batting average.
As much as the Sox are looking to keep as many utility players on the bench as possible, it may do Garcia well to spend some time in triple-A Charlotte where he could play every day.
There are two prospects playing third base in the minors that are expected to make their presence in the near future for the south siders.
According to whitesox.com, Matt Davidson and Trey Michalczewski are rated as the eighth and ninth top prospects in the organizations.
Davidson was a monster in the D-backs’ minor league organization and had his debut in the majors with the club. Unfortunately 2014 wasn’t as kind to the 23-year old as he only managed a .199 batting average at triple-A Charlotte. He did continue to show some power as he hit 20 home runs in 130 games last season. Whitesox.com estimates that Davidson is destined to see the pros in 2014.
The 19-year old Michalczewski spent time in low and high-A ball last season. The switch-hitting third baseman was able to compile a .273 average last season with White Sox’s Kannapolis club but had a little bit of a harder time at the next level in Winston-Salem hitting only .194. His patience seemed to be an issue last year as he struck out 161 times between the two clubs. Luckily the Sox have plenty of time to adjust his pitch selections since he’s so young.
He also had some faults last season in the field. Michalczewski was responsible for 27 errors between both levels. According to whitesox.com, his strongest two skills the scouts graded was his arm and his fielding. So it could just take time for him to hone in his abilities and improve his fielding. The same scouting report has his estimated time of arrival in the show being 2017, so this former two-sport athlete should focus on making successful changes instead of trying to rush up the organization.
The Sox have put themselves in a position where they could have success from the hot corner fielders. It’s up to each player to put on their best performances through spring training to see who will have the advantage of more playing time once the regular season starts.

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.