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.
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.
If someone wanted to see the power of a fan base not showing up to games at a record pace to make management notice it, one would have to look no further than the south side of Chicago. The White Sox organization have taken the message to heart and have done a massive amount of wheeling and dealing to fix chinks in the lineup, rotation and bullpen.
The Sox didn’t take long to get to work as they turned their attention to the black hole they had in 2014, the bullpen. The bullpen was responsible for 32 losses in relief, most in Major League Baseball. It shouldn’t be too shocking to most considering their ERA in the eighth and ninth innings were 5.42 and 4.74 respectively. So how do you fix a bullpen that was amazingly horrendous?
The Sox started with signing Zach Duke to a 3-year, $15 million contract in the middle of November. Duke’s coming off one of his better seasons of his career playing for Milwaukee as a non-roster invitee in 2014. The Sox were desperate to get Duke off the free agent market with how dreadful their left-handed relievers were last season. If Duke were to carry an ERA near his career average of 4.46 out of the pen, he still would be almost a whole run better than the combined ERA of 5.21 from Eric Surkamp and Donnie Veal of 2014. The former Brewer however has had an under 2.50 ERA in two and a half of the last three seasons. So the hope is he’d continue the trend and help solidify a rough spot for the Sox last season.
After they filled the first glaring hole in the bullpen the Sox looked to replace the retiring Paul Konerko and the traded Adam Dunn at designated hitter and backup first baseman. Former Washington National Adam LaRoche put his name to a two-years, $25 million contract to help fill the void in the lineup. LaRoche holds a .264 batting average and has hit 20 or more home runs in four of the last five seasons. If the Sox were to hit him third, in front of Jose Abreu, LaRoche’s numbers could be even better with the more hitter friendly pitches he’d see with protection like that. It could be similar to the benefit Alexei Ramirez had in 2014. He may not hit as many home runs as Dunn and Konerko have had in the past but especially compared to 2014, he’d provide more offense in the way of his batting average being near .040 higher than Dunn and .060 higher than Konerko.
Once the MLB winter meetings came about last week, the Sox offseason was thought of as being just ok since they filled a couple holes. General Manager Rick Hahn saw an opportunity very few people saw coming from them, the chance to get an ace-like pitcher to slide behind Chris Sale in the rotation and they pulled it off. The Sox sent infielder Marcus Semien, catcher Josh Phegley, right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, and first baseman Rangel Ravelo to the Oakland Athletics for former Cub Jeff Samardzija and fellow right-hander Michael Ynoa.
The Northern Indiana native, who grew up a Sox fan, gets the opportunity to give the Sox one of the best top of the rotation duos in baseball. His 2.99 combined ERA with his time on the north side and on the west coast in 2014 is what Rick Hahn and the Sox are hoping to be a fix to the carousel of starters in the bottom of the rotation. Pending any surprises coming out of next spring, the Sox should be able to trot out a lefty, righty combination throughout their rotation.
Lefties Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks should anchor the first, third and fifth starts while Samardzija and Hector Noesi take on the second and fourth day starts. The wild card in that plan could be the Sox’s first round pick from 2014, lefty Carlos Rodon.
The Sox started Rodon in Winston-Salem at A level baseball and quickly elevated him to triple-A Charlotte after he posted a 1.86 ERA in 4 games. Rodon’s 2014 season went 24.2 innings with 38 strikes outs and a 2.92 total ERA. If he lives up to the hype and shows the same level of skill in the majors as he did this past season in the minors, the Sox could be looking at having one of the best rotations in baseball. Several White Sox management members have said that Rodon will start the season in the minors and then possibly come up later in the year if he continues his success. We’ll have to wait till spring training to see if Rodon forces their hand with an outstanding spring and makes the team out of Arizona.
Even if Rodon doesn’t make it to Chicago in the spring, the rotation will be solid as is. The front spots are covered by a Cy Young runner up and former Cubs’ ace. Quintana will get his usual amount of quality starts and hopefully some offense to go with it for wins. Danks and Noesi will have their rough games but should be serviceable in a majority of their starts. It’ll be exciting for fans to come out and see this staff do its thing on a daily basis especially compared to what they witnessed last season.
A day after Samardzija was acquired; the Sox stole another hot target off the free agent market with former Yankee, David Robertson. The right-handed closer signed with the club for 4 years, $46 million.
A quote from Robertson in the Chicago Sun-Times gives a glimpse into what he was thinking leading up to his signing and it also says exactly what Sox fans and baseball analysts are thinking as well of the busy offseason.
“First of all, I think the White Sox have a great club,” he said. “I love the city of Chicago, and I love what [general manager] Rick Hahn has been doing this offseason. I like the moves he’s making with getting LaRoche and Duke and the trade for Samardzija, I feel like he’s building a competitor next year, and I’m hoping we end up back in the playoffs.”
As a life-long Sox fan, I completely agree with every word!
All that being said Rick Hahn still wasn’t done tweaking the roster. He sent pitcher Andre Rienzo to the Miami Marlins in return for relief pitcher Dan Jennings. The third year south paw has a 2.43 ERA in his career with 100.0 innings pitched. The only concern to be had in this trade seems to be Jennings WHIP. His walks and hits per innings pitched has been over 1.500 for two of his three seasons in South Beach. In both of those seasons however he carried an under 2.00 ERA as well. So while he may let them on, he seems to keep them from scoring.
That brings up to the latest signing in Melky Cabrera. The right-handed hitting outfielder inked his name to a three-year deal with the White Sox for $45 million. With this deal it shows that the talk for the last couple weeks has been Seattle’s interest in Dayan Viciedo for their outfield was getting serious. Viciedo has three years left of team control before he hits free agency which makes him a favorable piece to move. Unfortunately with the deal the Mariners pulled off yesterday with the Cubs for a 32-year old Justin Ruggiano may have put any Viciedo deal to the northwest on hold. The move for Melky though was simply to improve upon the lack of production from the third spot in the outfield and to have back to back hitters at the top of the lineup that get on base and make contact on a consistent basis.
The traded Alejandro DeAza and Viciedo combined to hit for a .236 batting average last season. Cabrera comes to the team off a season he hit .301 and only 67 strike outs in 568 at-bats. Rick Hahn said yesterday on the Waddle and Silvy show on ESPN 1000AM that he liked what Cabrera brought to the team and he would be a nice piece in the second spot of the lineup.
There’s a breeze of fresh air coming through the Sox’s fan base. With 2014 so awful the Sox attendance last season was the in the bottom third of the league. There were games where there were maybe 1,000 people in the stands for the first few innings. It had to have embarrassed the front office daily. Now that they’ve shown they will spend money on quality players to turn things around, Rick Hahn’s said in interviews that the fan base has responded at the box office. 2015 will be different in Chicago for sure. As a fan I’m excited to see what’s to come!
On a perfect night for baseball, the White Sox invite the wild card leading Oakland Athletics into U.S. Cellular Field for a four game series starting tonight.
Oakland will be sending Sonny Gray to the mound to try to keep the Sox offense under wraps and maintain the two-game cushion in the standings.
Gray’s had a rough go of it as of late. The 24-year old right-hander is 1-4 in his last six games with a high 5.84 ERA as he’s keeps adding onto his career high in innings pitched. In what could be simply tiring, Gray hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was before August started.
His appearance could be coming at the right time for a White Sox offense that struggled the last three games to score runs for their pitchers who put up solid outings. In the last three the Sox have combined to score two runs while Sale, Quintana, and Carroll held the opposition to seven runs in those games.
Sitting with 63-79 at this point, starters Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and Alejandro DeAza traded away, Paul Konerko dealing with a fractured bone in his left hand, players like Carlos Sanchez, Leury Garcia, Marcus Semien, and Andy Wilkins need to show what they could do on the major league level. Especially second basemen and shortstops Sanchez, Garcia, and Seimen, as the Sox may look into finding a suitor in the off-season to trade Alexei Ramirez.
With White Sox coaches eyeing on who they’ll think about keeping for 2015, Hector Noesi is doing what he can to make up their mind for them. The Sox have seen a different Noesi in the second half of the season. In his last nine starts, Noesi has compiled seven quality starts leading to a 3.90 ERA compared to a 5.36 ERA in the starts previous to that.
The Sox could easily consider Noesi as a fourth or fifth starter of the future if he can show that his recent success isn’t just a fluke and he puts together a few more quality starts to end the season.
Three Strikes to Success
Strike One – Slowing down Josh Donaldson who has been their best overall offensive player in the last 30 games. Donaldson’s put together a .290 average, 12 base-on-balls with 11 RBI in 26 games played. While he’s racked up those numbers of in the last 26, this season Donaldson has their second highest strike out total this season. So make good pitches and give Donaldson much to work with.
Strike Two – Get to Sonny Gray early! With how bad the offense looked against the Indians, the Sox have had the fourth best average since the All-Star break, but are only 21st in runs batted in. The biggest problem the Sox have is getting the runners in when they get on. The Sox have a combined to score just 14% of the runners that have gotten on base. Between not putting the ball into play, grounding into double players, and players making simple running mistakes, the White Sox have issues doing basics to get players around the bases. Against a solid starter who’s having a rough time of it lately, the Sox need to jump on him in the first inning and keep the momentum going throughout the game.
Strike Three – Hold a lead! The Sox bullpen has had a rough year when it comes to keeping the opponent off the scoreboard. The bullpen has the second most lost games (28) in relief in the majors, standing only behind the Colorado Rockies. It’s a major area that’ll need to be addressed in the off-season, but while manager Robin Ventura has some extra pitchers to bring in from the pen, he needs to consider using pitchers like Ronald Belisario a little as possible. Belisario leads the team with eight games lost in relief.
This is a key game in the series for the Sox with Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija lined up to start the next two games against them.
Quick hit news
This game marks Adam Dunn’s first game back at U.S Cellular since the trade from the south side. In his six games with the A’s, Dunn has hit .313 with two home runs and five RBI. If the A’s make the playoffs it’ll mark Dunn’s first experience in the playoffs as the Reds, Diamondbacks, Nationals and White Sox didn’t make it with him on the roster.
According to MLB.com, Paul Konerko might be able to return sometime this week from the fractured bone in his left hand.
The White Sox took a trip to bright, sunny Peoria Stadium Monday afternoon to take on Blake Beavan and the Seattle Mariners. The White Sox, who haven’t seen the winning side of games in a week, turned to rookie pitcher Erik Johnson to lead the way for the Sox.
Paul Konerko got the offense started in the second with a single. Dayan Viciedo followed it up with a sharp single to right field which was misplayed by Michael Saunders which allowed Viciedo to advance to third and Konerko to score from first. Alexei Ramirez would follow with a single to left field to score Viciedo. After a Tyler Flowers single, Marcus Semien would crush an inside fastball out to left field for a three run home run. The Sox would take the 5-0 lead.
Johnson would give a couple back in the bottom of the second after he hit Mariners’ designated hitter Stephen Romero with a pitch, and gave up a single to first baseman Logan Morrison. He would give up a single by Dustin Ackley that scored Romero, and then would get Michael Saunders to ground out to Jose Abreu at first which would score Morrison from third making it a 5-2 Sox lead.
Johnson would give up another run in the fifth inning on a Robinson Cano single to right field that scored catcher Mike Zunino cutting the Sox lead down to two.
The Sox’s rookie fourth starter looked solid in his last start of the spring. His fastball looked crisp and located it well. This spring Johnson has given up 12 earned runs in 17 innings. The number skew by the seven runs he gave up to the LA Angels last Wednesday. He should make a good back end starter for the Sox and has the abilities to end up with seven to ten wins and a mid to high three ERA.
The White Sox would add two more runs in the top of the sixth inning off the bat of Paul Konerko when he hit a home run to left center that scored Connor Gillaspie making it 7-3. That would cap the White Sox offense as the Sox would generate only two more hits in the last three innings including a Viciedo one out double in the ninth inning off of Seattle’s closer Danny Farquhar.
Donnie Veal came into the game in the bottom of the seventh. After the first pitch single to Mike Zunino, Veal couldn’t keep the ball in the strike zone. He would fly open with his shoulder in his delivery causing the ball to sail into the left handed batter’s box. After almost hitting the next two hitters and consequently walked them, he would give up bases clearing double to Cano in the seventh inning in relief of Johnson. After the double, Veal would get three straight outs to get out of the seventh.
Manager Robin Ventura would tap Zach Putnam to come in for the save. Putnam is in competition for the last spot in the bullpen with Daniel Webb. He would get the five out save, only giving up one hit in the process. He got the last two of the eighth and the first in the ninth quickly. He’d give up a single to Tyler Smith to center field, but came right back with a fastball that Mariners third baseman D.J. Peterson hit into a double play to end the game.
As a team the Sox look like their ready for the regular season. With only days left there are still a couple cuts that need to be made. The White Sox broke camp today after the Cubs game, more information on the cuts coming as soon as they’re announced.
In order to start anew, we have to take a look back at the past.
The 2013 season didn’t go exactly as the White Sox had planned. Ninety-nine losses and last place in the division was a hard fall from competing for a Central Division title in 2012. To quote Yogi Berra, “We made too many wrong mistakes.” What went wrong?
The biggest issue was with the way the White Sox built their team. They simply couldn’t figure out a way to get on base consistently. Alex Rios held the highest on base percentage at .328 before he was traded. The next highest was Avisail Garcia whom the Sox acquired in a three way trade with Detroit and Boston. His OBP after the trade ended at .327. The team was simply too impatient and lacked contact.
The team was filled with players who swing and miss far too regularly. Adam Dunn’s obviously first on the list. It’s getting to the point that his strikeouts are starting to outweigh his power numbers. While he still put up 34 home runs (tied for 6th in the league), his strikeout numbers on a team with so many free swingers hurts. The fact that five of the nine positions in the lineup had players that struck out over 20 percent of the time is outrageous. So what have Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn done to fix the situation?
The addition of Adam Eaton could be an answer to the solution. In the minors, he’s been solid at getting on base. He’s carried a .367 OBP or higher every year in the minors. The flip side to that coin is last year he only averaged .252 with a .314 on base percentage in the pros. It’s the expectations that the White Sox are relying on. Hoping that what he’s done in the minors will coordinate to the majors giving the Sox a possible lead off or second hitter.
Other than Eaton, who could the Sox use on the roster that could succeed at getting on base? Unfortunately there’s a lot of “if’s” and “hopes” that go into it.
First, the team is also relying on the time Garcia spent with the team. The hope is that his experience in the pro’s since August will make this season a breakout for him. He had a very good end of 2013, batting .304 in 161 at bats. He also solidified the right field position where Rios left off. He’s got great plate coverage, and he was willing to go the opposite direction. Only a few players on the Sox seem to do this.
There’s also a hope Gordon Beckham also could be a spark if he is able to repeat the success he had when he first came back from his injury. For about half of his time he was batting near or above .300. He ended up the season with a .267 average. Call it whatever you might, but I still think Beckham could have a solid career. Not just as the excellent defender he is but with averages around .275-.280. To have a fully healthy complete season, I believe his new stance has helped him at the plate with coverage and being able to recognize pitches.
The Sox are putting all of their eggs in one basket with Jose Abreu. There’s been talk amongst those who project prospects that Abreu could reach a .290 avg. and 30 plus home run level. The team has talked about doing a rotation of Abreu, Konerko and Dunn between first base and designated hitter. It’ll be interesting to see what effect it’ll have on any of the players’ productions. If Konerko can hit .250 with 15-20 homeruns, it will be a positive.
Dunn still needs to put up the near 35 homeruns while trying to avoid the 175 strikeout total. He did have a stretch where he hit the opposite direction a few times a week last Sept but that only lasted about 2 weeks. Somewhere, somehow, he needs to learn to do it on a more consistent basis which of course has been said for almost every season he’s played in since he’s been in Chicago.
Then there’s Alexei Ramirez. He was supposed to grow into an Alfonso Soriano type player that could hit for some power and a decent average. He’s done a decent job of making contact with average consistently hitting about .270-.285 most of his career. He needs to do a little better job taking walks more frequently. He’s had two seasons of 49 and 51 walks but otherwise has been in the teens and twenties. Unfortunately the latter seems to be the norm.
This is just one issue that led to the collapse of the 2013 Chicago White Sox. The Sox haven’t done much to change the biggest issue that plagued them last season. However, there is a reason why they play the games. To quote Bob Feller, “Everyday is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Let’s see if some of the players can start over in this new season!