by Mike DePilla
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
So far the biggest news out of White Sox camp is that Ozzie Guillen started Tweeting and Bobby Jenks quit drinking. Or is it the other way around?
In any case, there hasn't been a whole lot to report on out of Camelback Ranch in the early going--as Chris from South Side Sox points out, there isn't a whole of drama this year. However, spring isn't spring until we get our annual bunting article, and here it is, courtesy of the Tribune. I'd go off on a tangent about that, but JJ already has it covered.
With virtually the entire team already determined, there will be no artificially-hyped up position battles in March, no one proverbially fighting for their job. It is a boring camp... for now. That is a good thing by the way, as spring performance rarely correlates to anything great in the regular season. But that doesn't mean there aren't some things to keep an eye on before the team comes north in a month. Here are five things worth following this spring.
1. Dayan Viciedo's development. Though the Sox don't have one of the deeper farm systems in the majors, they do have some stud prospects at the top. (Depth, and pitching, are the real problems.) It will be great to catch glimpses of Jared Mitchell, Jordan Danks and Tyler Flowers in Cactus League games, but the most important prospect to watch is 3B/1B Dayan Viciedo. It's not that Viciedo is more important to the big club in 2010, but he's the guy that needs to show us the most in 2010.
He had a rough start to his American career in '09, hitting only .221/.232/.286 with a 24% K-rate in his first month at Double-A Birmingham. The Barons play in a notoriously pitcher-friendly park, but that line is grotesque. Luckily, Viciedo improved as the year went on and ended up with a .278/.315/.389 line. And for JJ's sake, I'll throw in his wOBA, which was .304.
Even though the power never came--he hit only 12 homers all year--the incremental improvement was a relief. However we need to see another big step this spring. He's already written off as a defensive liability, meaning he will be relegated to offensive positions like 1B or DH, and he's clearly not going to be an OBP machine. He's not a speedster. So with $10+ million sunk into the guy, he has to mash, and mash good.
If he shows marked improvement this spring (specifically higher SLG% and lower K%), and continues to produce at Triple-A Charlotte, Viciedo can be penciled in to the team's 2011 plans. And if the big club's offense sputters this summer, Viciedo, along with Flowers, will be the first offensive reinforcements called up.
2. Coop's attempted "fixing" of Daniel Cabrera. The Sox starting pitching staff has been talked up extensively and treated like a certainty. But in case of injury or ineffectiveness, there's little to zero depth behind the big 6 starters. Now, having 6 quality starters to being with is a nice luxury, so the lack of a 7th guy doesn't rank high on the worry chart. But just in case, it will be worth keeping an eye on fireballer Daniel Cabrera, who has bounced around with poor results since his promising 2005 season with the Orioles.
The Sox, impressed with his raw talent, have long sought Cabrera. Could this be the year the guy harnesses his talent/puts it all together/insert other cliche here? Sox fans love the "Coop can fix 'em" adage, and with little maintenance work required for the rest of his starters, maybe Cooper can pull a Matt Thornton here. I wouldn't count on it but hey, it's a slow spring and this makes the list.
3. The smoothness of the new double play combo. For the third straight year, the Sox will have a different keystone connection in their infield. How seamlessly will Gordon Beckham transition to second base, and how well will he work with shortstop Alexei Ramirez? The Sox are without a doubt a pitching-first team, and that staff will need to most efficient defense possible behind them to maximize win opportunities in low-scoring games.
Beckham did a surprisingly good job learning third base on the fly last year, so it's likely he will pick up second base before too long. He's already putting in a ton of extra time down in Glendale, but questions remain how comfortable he'll be turning double plays.
Ramirez's continued progress at short will be interesting to follow. Susceptible to brain farts and bad positioning, Ramirez clocked in a 3.1 UZR last year that can be best described as a hedge. Is he as good as his spectacular plays or as bad as his lazy ones? This year will go a long way toward determining that.
I personally don't think he'll ever be a clutch, high IQ, captain of the infield-type defender, but with a lot of reps hopefully he'll develop a strong rapport with Beckham. Omar Vizquel should provided a steadying presence that the underrated Orlando Cabrera took with him out of town last season.
4. The production of the DH platoon. It's no secret that Ken Williams is a little uncomfortable with the DH platoon idea, and he'll take the first excuse he can to make a trade for a big bat. So will Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay perform well enough to squelch their GM's fears? It's great that Jones is in great shape, but does that mean he can hit? Spring stats are meaningless, of course, but the controversial DH idea will be under heavy scrutiny. Oh, and by the way, please disregard those ridiculous Beckham-for-Adrian Gonzalez rumors. What a waste of time. The Sox surely will pursue Gonzalez, but there's no chance they'll trade Beckham.
5. Health, health, health. With the roster virtually set, the most important thing is getting all the players up to Chicago in tact. First there are the pre-existing conditions: the arms of Mark Buehrle, Bobby Jenks, JJ Putz and Freddy Garcia, the ankle of Jake Peavy, the hip of Gavin Floyd, the back of Mark Kotsay and the whole body of Carlos Quentin. Everybody looks fine now, which is a great start.
Then there are the freak things. Let the hitters get their work in and hit the showers, set low innings limits for pitchers, don't let anybody play out of position and don't be overzealous on defense or on the basepaths. In other words, let's avoid a 2007 Toby Hall or a 197 Robin Ventura situation. This team has a chance to seriously contend in 2010, but it doesn't have the depth to sustain a significant injury.
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