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.
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.
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.
In a Sunday matinee, Jose Quintana and the White Sox looked to get back on the winning track. After back to back terrible outings, Quintana was trying to settle down and pitch the best he could in his next to last start of the spring.
Sunday’s game was definitely Quintana at his best. In a five inning shutout, he gave up only one hit to Wilin Rosario to center field. After a fly out, Quintana would pick Rosario off first base and then would get Josh Rutledge to ground out to get out of the second inning. Quintana would also finish with a pair of strike outs as well.
Connor Gillaspie continued his solid spring with two doubles in the game. Outfielders Alejandro DeAza and Blake Tekotte would also get two hits in the game. One of Tekotte’s hits was a double to right field that scored DeAza in the second. The Sox as a team would get 11 hits as a team.
Tyler Flowers would tally the second run for the Sox as he scored on a single by Leury Garcia. Adam Eaton would follow Garcia with a single to left scoring Blake Tekotte. These runs would give the Sox a three to nothing lead.
They would also add two more runs in the fifth on a Konerko single and a Tyler Flowers fielder’s choice. These were the last runs that the Sox would put across the plate on Sunday for the pitchers. Quintana left the game after the fifth with the lead.
Colorado would crawl their way back into the game with a ground out by Jackson Williams in the bottom of the sixth to score DJ LeMahieu. They would add another in the bottom of the seventh on a single by Jordan Pacheco to left that scored Drew Stubbs making it 5-2.
The Rockies would add three more in the eighth inning to tie the game up on one hit. Josh Rutledge would lead off the inning against reliever Scott Downs with a single to left field. A wild pitch by Downs would lead to Josh Rutledge scoring after he stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Kevan Smith. An error by shortstop Marcus Semien would then allow both Charlie Culberson and Ryan Wheeler to score who got on base by walks.
Neither team would add runs in the ninth leading to the game being called a tie. It’s the White Sox’s fifth tie of the spring. The next game is Monday afternoon affair against the Seattle Mariners with rookie Eric Johnson getting the nod for the Sox.
On a day where the White Sox had their game against the Cleveland Indians was washed out, they got back to the negotiating table with 24 of their players. With these signings the Sox now have all their players on the 40-man roster locked in for the 2014 season.
The players were given one year deals with the largest deal going to Jose Quintana which brings him up to $550,000 and possible closer Nate Jones at $545,000.
Others amongst the 25-man active roster that were able to reach a deal include Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, Josh Phegley and top prospect Erick Johnson.
Notable minor leaguers who received a deal today also include Leury Garica, Carlos Sanchez, Marcus Semien, Jared Mitchell and Trayce Thompson.
All these players are in their pre-arbitration part of their careers. Next season Nate Jones, Donnie Veal, and Jose Quintana reach their first year of arbitration. The best news for the Sox is most of the young talent they have on the current roster still has at least one year of arbitration left such as Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, and Erik Johnson.