White Sox look to surprise critics in 2014
Falling above and below expectations in recent years, Chicago pursues consistency
CHICAGO -- It has been referred to as reshaping, refocusing or even retooling.
During SoxFest back in January, the seminars featuring general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura on stage answering fans' questions were titled, "Recharged and Remade: Your 2014 White Sox."
These depictions all serve as accurate representations of the work put in by Hahn and his staff dating back to before the 2013 All-Star break to turn around a floundering 99-loss squad. But with pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch on Saturday, proof of that work will soon be on the field.
"With our talks that we've had over the course of the second half of last season through the offseason until now, there was a plan, and [Rick] was able to do a lot of things that he set out to do that we were for, and that's not always easy to do," Ventura said. "It also takes some guts to be able to do that."
The White Sox do not enter the '14 campaign projected as an American League Central favorite among pundits. In fact, even the White Sox as an organization look at this younger, more energetic and more athletic group as more of a prime contender for 2015. It does not mean they are throwing away the current campaign via the dreaded "rebuilding" word: not by a long shot.
They have a strong pitching staff in place, with Cy Young candidate Chris Sale and Jose Quintana at the top. They believe more options exist offensively, not that there is anything wrong with the home run in a hitter-friendly ballpark like U.S. Cellular Field. But being able to manufacture a few runs along the way should help the White Sox rise after a season in which they totaled the fewest runs in the AL.
The White Sox are aiming for a similar reversal from their defense, perhaps something more resembling their performance from 2012. Many people did not think much of the White Sox chances in '12, yet the club was in first place for 117 days before a late-season fade. Of course, after visions of playoff contention the following year, the team did not come close.
So excuse the White Sox if they list improvement and development as their main preseason targets.
"I'm hoping this can be the first step toward getting this ballclub in the position to be a contender for '15, '16, '17 and '18," said White Sox television play-by-play announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, who told fans at SoxFest he was staying away from predictions after telling last year's group that the White Sox were "going to have some fun" in '13.
"Our goal is to get this thing right for a long period of time," Hahn said. "It's not just slap Band-Aids on this thing for 2014 and say, 'Look, we are better.'"
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away at Dodgers, Feb. 28 at 2:05 p.m. CT
Home vs. Twins, March 31 at 3:10 p.m. CT
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who will catch the White Sox attention?
One of the biggest areas of fan concern at SoxFest was catcher, and understandably so. The team ranked last in OPS among AL catchers (.564), last in runs scored (47) and third from the bottom in combined average (.196). They still intend to give a healthy Tyler Flowers and a more experienced Josh Phegley the chance to win and own the job, with Rule 5 addition Adrian Nieto in the mix. Hahn will also keep his eyes open to trade targets who would fit the reshaping blueprint.
2. Is this a make-or-break campaign for Gordon Beckham?
Hahn would never use such terminology for a talent who is just 27 and in his sixth big league season. But Beckham also sits two seasons away from free agency, with such top prospects at second base as Micah Johnson, Marcus Semien and Carlos Sanchez on their way up. Beckham has become one of the top defensive second basemen in the AL and is in his best place offensively since '09. He needs to stay healthy to see if the results will match that good feeling.
3. When does the Matt Davidson era officially begin?
The White Sox gave up Addison Reed, a young closer who posted 69 saves over the past two years, in order to acquire Davidson. Yet there is still a strong chance Davidson begins the season with Triple-A Charlotte. The White Sox will probably view Davidson's big league climb in the same way they viewed Avisail Garcia last year: When there are consistent at-bats available, he will join the White Sox.
63-99, fifth place in the American League Central
Projected batting order
1. CF Adam Eaton:
.252 BA, .314 OBP, .360 SLG, 3 HR, 22 RBIs in 2013
2. SS Alexei Ramirez:
.284 BA, .313 OBP, .380 SLG, 6 HR, 48 RBIs in 2013
3. RF Avisail Garcia:
.283 BA, .309 OBP, .422 SLG, 7 HR, 31 RBIs in 2013
4. 1B Jose Abreu:
.344 BA, .479 OBP, .604 SLG, 19 HR, 60 RBIs in 2013 in Cuba
5. DH Adam Dunn:
.219 BA, .320 OBP, .442 SLG, 34 HR, 86 RBIs in 2013
6. LF Dayan Viciedo:
.265 BA, .304 OBP, .426 SLG, 14 HR, 56 RBIs in 2013
7. 3B Conor Gillaspie:
.245 BA, .305 OBP, .390 SLG, 13 HR, 40 RBIs in 2013
8. C Tyler Flowers:
.195 BA, .247 OBP, .355 SLG, 10 HR, 24 RBIs in 2013
9. 2B Gordon Beckham:
.267 BA, .322 OBP, .372 SLG, 5 HR, 24 RBIs in 2013
1. Chris Sale, 11-14, 3.07 ERA in 2013
2. Jose Quintana, 9-7, 3.51 ERA in 2013
3. John Danks, 4-14, 4.75 ERA in 2013
4. Erik Johnson, 3-2, 3.25 ERA in 2013
5. Felipe Paulino, 0-3, 6.51 ERA in 2013 in Minors
Closer: Nate Jones, 0/4 saves, 4.15 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Matt Lindstrom, 3.12 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Scott Downs, 2.49 ERA in 2013
The new guys
1B Abreu: At the core of the White Sox reshaping sits the 6-foot-3, 255-pound free agent from Cuba, who comes to Chicago via a six-year, $68 million deal. The White Sox do not want to put any extra burden on a 26-year-old who has never faced Major League pitching, and he will have Paul Konerko and Dunn to help his development. But Abreu is projected not only as a middle-of-the-order power hitter, but also a quality hitter overall who has a consistent plan at the plate.
CF Eaton: Eaton has been described as a "dirtbag," and not only does not object but fully embraces the terminology. He has been compared to Aaron Rowand, with his grinder style of play, and has been compared to A.J. Pierzynski with the competitive edge he brings. The White Sox simply hope Eaton can consistently get on base at the top of the order and anchor the outfield defense in center.
3B Davidson: The top White Sox prospect per MLB.com might not break camp with the team, but he is being considered the White Sox future at this position. Davidson possesses corner infield power, and he impressed hitting coach Todd Steverson with his ability to use the whole field during early workouts.
RHP Ronald Belisario: Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton served valuable roles in the back end of the White Sox bullpen not only as setup men but also via their strong veteran presence. Belisario, 31, and owner of a 3.97 ERA over 77 games for the Dodgers last season, will help fill that void along with fellow free-agent addition Downs.
LHP Downs: The 37-year-old southpaw began his Major League career as part of the Cubs' starting rotation, and he now opens his 13th season as a vital part of the White Sox bullpen. Downs has limited left-handed hitters to a .219 average over his career but will be considered more than a left-handed specialist.
C Nieto: It will be a busy Spring Training for the switch-hitting catcher, who has never played above the Carolina League. The Rule 5 selection from Washington will be learning as he tries to earn a roster spot, avoiding the possibility of being sent back to the Nationals if he does not stick on the active roster.
RHP Paulino: Put Paulino in the under-the-radar acquisition category that has the White Sox excited about his possibilities at the back end of the rotation. Paulino had ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow on July 3, 2012, and he had a cyst removed from his right shoulder in mid-September, but the White Sox expect him to be pitching without limitations in Arizona.
LHP Eric Surkamp: The White Sox claimed Surkamp off waivers, and the southpaw gives them further rotation depth so they do not have to push Paulino if he is not quite ready during Spring Training.
Prospects to watch
RHP Johnson: The fourth starter in the White Sox rotation has graduated from pure prospect status. But at 24 years old, he stands as the system's top young hurler.
White sox top prospects
OF Trayce Thompson: There were still a few too many strikeouts for Thompson in his first full season at Double-A Birmingham. But the White Sox like his development at the plate and in the outfield defensively, and he could close in on the big leagues in 2015.
OF Courtney Hawkins: Some believe Class A Winston-Salem and the Carolina League were too tough of a challenge for the power-packed outfielder, who just turned 20 in November. Hawkins' confidence was anything but shaken even after hitting .178 and striking out 160 times over 383 at-bats in high Class A. Hawkins did knock out 19 homers and 16 doubles, with 10 stolen bases.
SS Tim Anderson: The team's top pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft showed off great athleticism over 267 at-bats for Class A Kannapolis. Despite 19 errors in 63 games, the White Sox and Anderson believe shortstop remains his position of the present and the future.
2B Johnson: Johnson topped all Minor Leaguers in 2013 with 84 stolen bases across three stops, and he rose as quickly as anyone in the White Sox system. Johnson understands and embraces his role of getting on base and creating havoc, though he is not secretly harboring desires of becoming a power hitter.
INF Semien: There is little doubt Semien is Major League ready. But he will probably start at Charlotte given the current roster configuration. Semien has the ability to play across the infield, and he scored 110 runs with a .401 on-base percentage last season.
2B Sanchez: Memories of a tough 2013 season, in which he hit .241 with a .293 on-base percentage, were erased by a .341 average over 221 at-bats this winter in Venezuela. Although Sanchez possesses defensive versatility, his best position is at second. And remember, he just turned 21 on June 29.
RHP Daniel Webb: Webb posted a 1.87 ERA over three Minor League stops last year. He produced a 3.18 ERA over nine games with the White Sox and is being considered for the big league closer's role in 2014.
On the rebound
DH Dunn: From June to August, Dunn was the most productive hitter in the White Sox order. The White Sox know batting average does not tell the story for a power-packed hitter like Dunn with great on-base potential. But they would like a bit more consistency from the veteran, who finds himself in a first base/designated hitter platoon with Konerko and Abreu.
C Flowers: In his first game taking over for A.J. Pierzynski, Flowers homered for the only run in a 1-0 victory over the Royals, and he was behind the plate for a shutout started by Sale. It all sort of went downhill from there. Flowers did play the season with a sore shoulder that was surgically repaired, and he has renewed confidence offensively as he gets this second chance. Handling the pitchers has always been a strong suit for Flowers.
C Phegley: Phegley set the bar high with three homers and eight RBIs over his first five big league games in July, but he did not finish nearly as strong. The White Sox have afforded Phegley the same second chance as Flowers, and they hope greater experience leads to greater consistency.
INF Jeff Keppinger: It was a rough White Sox debut in 2013 for the veteran, who still managed to hit .316 in August and .306 in September to finish at .253. Keppinger opened the year as the team's third baseman but will be used more across the infield in a super utility role this season.
LHP Danks: The results might not exactly show it, but the 22 starts and 138 1/3 innings hurled by Danks in 2013 were a major step forward following season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery the previous August. The White Sox expect Danks to be near 100 percent after his 4-14 showing and 4.75 ERA last year.
RHP Reed: As Hahn said at SoxFest, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Trading an established young closer with 69 saves over the past two seasons for a third baseman of the future was one of those eggs cracked. The White Sox have had great success over the years developing closers, allowing them to take this chance by moving Reed.
LHP Hector Santiago: Santiago did everything that was asked of him: from closing to middle relief to full-time work as a starter for most of the 2013 season. He also was a great contributor in the clubhouse and off the field in the community. But as the fourth lefty in the rotation and not a certainty to remain a starter, Santiago was deemed moveable as part of a three-team deal that brought back Eaton.
INF Brent Morel: This one-time third baseman of the future was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays, who will move him to second base. Morel deserves credit for battling his way to return from back injuries that cost him most of the 2012 season.
RHP Gavin Floyd: Floyd's final season with the White Sox ended via surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament and a torn flexor muscle in his elbow in May. Floyd moved on to the Braves via free agency.