Team Preview: Chicago White Sox
By: Josh Wasserman – Chief MLB Writer.
In the coming weeks leading up to Opening Day, FSLR will be previewing the 30 MLB teams and their respective chances for the 2014 season. Continuing with the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox are up next…
Day 6: Kansas City Royals
Day 7: Minnesota Twins
Day 8: Detroit Tigers
Day 9: Chicago White Sox
Day 10: Cleveland Indians
Chicago White Sox
2013 Record: 63-99 (5th)
2014 Projected Record: 73-89 (4th)
The White Sox, once analogous with the San Antonio Spurs as the team that depended upon its stars who never seemed to age (this one goes out to you Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko), have finally undergone a youth movement, what I like to call “the rejuvenation”.
A few trades and signings over the past year have secured them a fresh crop of prospects, most of whom are highly lauded around the league, such as Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu. The lineup is centered upon these young players, whereas the rotation is built from the maturation of a slightly older generation, Chris Sale and Gavin Floyd for example.
It looks like the White Sox are in a great stance for the future, and in a few more years, they could be the challenger the Tigers have lacked these past few years in the division.
1) Adam Eaton, CF
2) Avisail Garcia, RF
3) Alexei Ramirez, SS
4) Jose Abreu, 1B
5) Adam Dunn, DH
6) Dayan Viciedo, LF
7) Gordon Beckham, 2B
8) Tyler Flowers, C
9) Conor Gillaspie, 3B
Since almost the entirety of the lineup is young and versatile, the White Sox lineup is subject to whole lot of shape-shifting. The man who should lead off, at least the man who will be for the next few years most likely, is Adam Eaton, fresh off the plane from Arizona.
Eaton really never hit his stride with the Diamondbacks, often losing his spot in the lineup and never playing at his best consistently. Occasionally, glimpses would shine through of why Eaton is as sought after he is, such as his cheetah-like speed, his falcon-like track of flyballs, and the gap power a leadoff man is praised for having. Once he settles down and acquaints himself with a comfortable set of surroundings, Eaton will tear apart this league as much as any other center fielder.
Right fielder Avisail Garcia will take the 2nd spot most likely, following his incredible 2013 campaign he spent between Detroit and Chicago. Exhibiting a power he wasn’t known for having, Garcia ended the year with 12 home runs in 114 games, in addition to a .319 OBP and a .405 SLG.
Alexei Ramirez has been the linchpin of the White Sox lineup these past few years and will remain towards the top of the order to set a tone for a young group. Once Ramirez moves on though, perhaps even just next year, the fulcrum of the lineup will be blue-chip rookie first baseman Jose Abreu.
Taking over for the dignified Paul Konerko in his rookie season, Abreu has already impressed the White Sox’ brass, filling a hole that requires a terrific player to fill. This spring sees him atop the team leaders in RBI’s with six, and the Sox are expecting much more of him because of his performance.
In the eyes of Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta, Adam Dunn may very well be one of the least valuable players in baseball: he can’t get on base, and he strikes out more than any other player in the league. That being said, the White Sox have been able to look past that and wait tightlipped for his customary 40 home runs.
The White Sox are also counting on a return to form from 25-year old Dayan Viciedo, who had a disappointing season from a statistical standpoint. A player of his production level cleaning up after Dunn will be a huge benefit for a team that isn’t going to score hoards of runs every game.
The last few spots are allotted to a handful of players who have just waved goodbye to their rookie bubble. At this point, the blinds have been raised, the innocence disillusioned: it’s time for these players to perform or perish.
After a promising first season of work, Gordon Beckham has steadily seen his numbers plummet, especially in the production columns. Conor Gilaspie as well has had a difficult time at the major league level in San Francisco and in Detroit (though his job is safer than Beckham’s with 24-year old Carlos Sanchez as scorching as the Arizona desert in which he’s playing).
The lineup rounds out with Tyler Flowers, really the only potential option at the backstop, and even his numbers concern the White Sox. The bottom three most likely won’t perform, so it’ll be up to the top of the pack and the zealous, new prospects to shoulder the offense.
1) Chris Sale, LHP
2) John Danks, LHP
3) Jose Quintana, RHP
4) Dylan Axelrod, RHP
5) Erik Johnson, RHP/Eric Surkamp, LHP
Back in August, in a radio show I had with Editor-in-Chief Dylan Elder, I claimed Chris Sale is one of the top five best pitchers in the AL to build a rotation around. And I support that stance fervently.
Just a few years ago he was a closer, and his transition to the rotation has been seamless, devoid of any hiccup. His numbers have been incredible, pitching 214 innings with a 3.07 ERA last year. Merely 25-years old, Sale has exhibited the poise and control of a veteran, while firing absolute gas behind his 6’6” frame. Barring a move away from South Chicago in the next few free agencies, Sale should be the household name for the team well into the next decade.
Lefty John Danks has been jumping around the White Sox organization disjointedly due to a Tommy John surgery and a lack of control following his injuries. From 2008-2010, Danks was a respected foe and constant source of trouble for opposing lineups, but his surgery threw his career in a way he hasn’t adjusted to very well.
Assuming he can up his inning tally and maintain his control (as he has shown through 8 innings of shutout ball this spring), Danks can return to his former self.
Two of the prized pitchers of the future take the 3 and 4 spots in Jose Quintana and Dylan Axelrod. Behind Chris Sale, these two are the abutment for the shaky rotation. Quintana has been on point his first two seasons in the majors and Axelrod, though he has had trouble in his initial appearances, has had moments of success that has kept the White Sox’ experiment with him alive.
The final spot is up in the air between a pair of prospects. Many fans assume Erik Johnson has the job, but being from the Bay Area, I have to toss lefty Eric Surkamp into the mix, if not out of statistical belief than just out of regional principle. In the minors, Surkamp was as a gem of the Giants’ organization, and maybe he can find himself a spot at the end of the rotation. It is more likely, however, that he will land in the pen as a long reliever.
The White Sox have a couple of great starters at their disposal, but the number is too few and the rest of the possibilities are too uncertain to depend on.
MR: Ronald Belisario, RHP
SU: Donnie Veal, LHP
CL: Matt Lindstrom, RHP
With closer of the future Addison Reed now in Arizona in the wake of the Adam Eaton trade, the
White Sox bullpen is quite thin.
Journeyman Matt Lindstrom will be the Opening Day closer, and though he’s enjoyed some mild success over his career, the White Sox won’t be able to hold on to him for too long as he’s pushing 40. And with no young prospect charging through the ranks, that could be a major point of trouble for the Sox.
Donnie Veal has been thrown around various organizations his entire career, his one decent year in the majors coming in 2012. His play has been as sporadic as his organizational movement, concerning White Sox management about whether he’ll perform this year.
Ronald Belisario also seems to pitch well on an alternate-year schedule. Some years he’ll feel comfortable on the mound, other years he won’t be able to find the strike zone with a magnifying glass.
The bullpen, the most questionable area of the White Sox roster, is too much of a crapshoot for the White Sox to be a veritable competitor.