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Banter About Boring Battles

by Mike DePilla
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
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Well, the So have two Cactus League games in the books and, as per their tradition, they lost them both. We're only a few weeks away from Ozzie's annual "this sh** won't fly; play these games like they count; I'm sick of losing" mid-March tirade.

Until then, I'll continue to go with the line of thinking that outcomes of these games, even when the Sox manage only 5 hits, are utterly meaningless, and all that matters with a team as settled as the White Sox are three things:
  • Health
  • The development of prospects
  • Performance of fringe utility bench players and mop up relief pitchers.

What Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Mark Buehrle and Matt Thornton accomplish in Arizona,
stats-wise or anything else-wise, is meaningless. Ozzie Gullen's fight-of-the-week with an ex-Sox is meaningless. Just don't anybody kill each other before the party comes north to Chicago in a month.

With respect to health, all the players have to do is stay the course and avoid any Robin Venturas, Toby Halls or Adam Wainwrights. The only guy with a "pre-existing condition", so to speak, that merits worry is Jake Peavy*- and the fluff talk from Glendale has him ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn lat muscle. His bullpen sessions have all gone well, and his first in-game test will come Friday, when he pitches against live batters from the Angels.

(*Apologies to the constant question mark, Carlos Quentin, but what he does in Glendale will have no effect on whatever freak injury he suffers in the regular season.)

Even in Peavy's unique circumstance, results aren't really important Friday. As long as he can get through the outing without abnormal discomfort and continue to make progress on his fastball velocity, it's a win, even if gets hit hard.

It is true that a healthy Jake Peavy does not equal an effective Jake Peavy, and I'm far from convinced we'll see anything resembling the '07 Cy Young Award winner anytime this summer. But the fact is Peavy is only being counted on as a 5th starter, and I'm confident he can produce that level of quality if healthy. The Sox have four quality, low risk starters ahead of him- Peavy's job is just to stay healthy and avoid giving starts to the Living Hell that is the Sox 6th starter options.

In fact, most people would call the battle for the 6th starter spot, which might take Peavy's first couple of turns in April, an important spring thing to watch. I don't. Whoever you get- Phil Humber, Jeff Gray, Lucas Harrell- is going be similarly terrible. Regardless of whether Humber caught Don Cooper's eye or the myriad injury/experience stories that go with the rest of the motley crew, counting on any one of them to produce even league-average results for more than 3 or 4 starts is not going to bring home any division championships. No spring performance, however good or bad, will change any of that.

Over at White Sox Observer, James makes the point that spring battles are things that bad teams, with no attractive options, have. Thankfully, the Sox aren't in that spot. So the only real battles are for the final bench spot and the last reliever in the 'pen. It's boring, but at this point it's better to be boring than battling.

Minor league prospects whose spring development is worth tracking:
  1. Dayan Viciedo (a question mark in RF, but as James says, question marks are "better than red X's.")
  2. Jordan Danks (can he cut down on the K's?)
  3. Jared Mitchell (will his speed remain blistering?)
  4. Josh Phegley vs. Tyler Flowers (who steps up to be AJ's replacement?)
  5. Any pitchers? Any minor league pitchers at all?

*****

Yesterday I hit on the "Sox Manager Focuses Fundamentals" rite of spring, today I found myself involuntarily leaning toward another one, the all-too-familiar "Sox Blogger Tinkers With Batting Order" refrain.

A week and a half ago, manager Ozzie Guillen said his "ideal" line up would shake down this way:

Pierre LF
Beckham 2B
Rios CF
Dunn DH
Konerko 1B
Quentin RF
Pierzynski C
Ramirez SS
Morel 3B

Then, before the first spring pitch was thrown, Ozzie tinkered with his order, sliding Rios down to the 6 spot and bumping Dunn and Konerko up a spot, which is a good move from the one standpoint that matters most: OBP. Replacing Rios (career .331 OBP) with Dunn (career .381 OBP) adds 50 points of OBP to the three spot, which is just plain good for run creation.

JJ at White Sox Examiner gave the line up a once over and found it to his liking, and I have to agree. I would also quibble with the notion of hitting Pierzynski ahead of Ramirez, as I think Ramirez will ultimately be the more dynamic run producer and thus should hit closer to the middle of the line up. However, it is better than the alternative idea Guillen apparently toyed with: Mark Gonzales says Ozzie "resisted any temptation" to bat AJ Pierzynski second.

I have to ask, what temptation is there? Pierzynski brings no on base skills, no extra base power and no speed to the second spot. He makes good contact, but with his narrow range of offensive skills would be an awful choice to hit at the top of the line up. Seventh is the highest he should hit all season, and once Alexei overcomes his April struggles he should be in line for a promotion.

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