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Saladino favorite for Opening Day SS

GM Hahn: 'Very strong possibility' 26-year-old gets job and bats ninth
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- White Sox general manager Rick Hahn stressed all weekend at SoxFest that the roster as presently constructed likely wouldn't be the one taking the field on Opening Day.

But as of now, the starting shortstop appears to be Tyler Saladino.

CHICAGO -- White Sox general manager Rick Hahn stressed all weekend at SoxFest that the roster as presently constructed likely wouldn't be the one taking the field on Opening Day.

But as of now, the starting shortstop appears to be Tyler Saladino.

"That's a very strong possibility," Hahn said. "We have a lot of confidence, especially from a defensive standpoint, and should he wind up on the club as the everyday shortstop hitting out of the nine-hole, we know he's going to be able to do certain things we're looking for out of that spot."

Make no mistake: the 26-year-old Saladino will not have the job given to him. But his main competitors, as of today, each have issues to overcome.

Carlos Sanchez, who spent the majority of last season as the club's starting second baseman, would be playing out of position. Tim Anderson, the No. 47-ranked overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, is 22 years old, and the Sox would like to continue his development at Triple-A Charlotte.

Ian Desmond is the top free agent option still on the market, but Hahn said the club would be hesitant to surrender the Draft pick connected to free agents who declined qualifying offers. Plus, Desmond's signing would block Anderson.

Trades also are an option, and Arizona, for example, now has a glut of middle infielders after acquiring Jean Segura from Milwaukee to join incumbents Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings.

With those factors, and the departure of Alexei Ramirez a fait accompli, Saladino had all offseason to prepare for his opportunity.

"Obviously, it's good news," Saladino said. "It's like anything else: you know what you need to do to do your job. If [Ramirez] was here or not, I'd still prepare the same way."

Saladino filled in admirably at third base last season, but he's always been a strong defensive shortstop first, and he's thrilled to return to his natural position.

Video: CWS@DET: Saladino leaps to rob Romine of a hit

"I'm looking forward to everything about it," Saladino said. "Obviously, I didn't play as much short during my time here in Chicago last year, so excited to get back over there."

It's Saladino's bat that remains a question mark. Despite getting off to a quick start -- hitting .306 with two home runs in his first 12 games -- he finished the year with a .225/.267/.335 line, including batting .190 in his final 24 games.

Some of those struggles, manger Robin Ventura and Saladino admit, were a young player adjusting to his first taste of big league pitching. Now it's up to Saladino to grow.

"Everything about it was just a whole learning curve. It's a lot different than the Minor Leagues," Saladino said. "Trying to make the adjustments offensively is a little easier said than done up here, but take what I can from it and get ready for next year."

Next year is quickly approaching as Spring Training begins this month. All eyes will be on Saladino as the White Sox try to determine if he's ready for the spotlight.

"At this point, the way the roster's set we're going to find out," Ventura said. "I think he's probably the favorite at this point out of the gate to win that job."

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth.

 

Chicago White Sox, Tyler Saladino