Recently, CSNChicago.com sat down with White Sox analyst Steve Stone to get his take on the upcoming season. Below are his keys for the White Sox in 2013:
1. The starting rotation
Stone: We're at the point now where John Danks has to regain arm strength, or Jake Peavy, after throwing the most innings that he threw since 2007, has to show that he can bounce back and throw even close to the way he threw last year, because the record was terribly deceiving. He picked up 219 innings, that's a lot of innings.
As far as the start of the season, Gavin Floyd is going to be called on to be the No. 3 starter, and we would love to see him be able to revert to that guy a few years ago who can win anywhere from 15 to 18 games. He has the stuff to do it.
We want to see the Jose Quintana of the first part of the year, before he really got a little tired -- and that was to be expected, because he had never been there innings-wise before. And the same thing with Dylan Axelrod, as he fills in for John Danks, his key obviously is get the ball over the plate, move it in and out, change speeds -- I think he knows how to pitch. It's just a question of, there's very little margin for error with the kind of stuff he has. He's gotta execute his pitches and he can't miss the glove.
[Related: Axelrod's focus helped earn rotation spot]
2. Tyler Flowers
Stone: You've got a new catcher. Any time you make a change, and A.J. (Pierzynski) was here for a long time, the pitchers are used to throwing to him. So you make a change, and Tyler's going to have some pretty big power, and what will be interesting about Flowers is he's never had an opportunity to be the main guy and catch 135 games. You can't really tell how good a guy's going to be if he plays once every six or seven days.
[Related: Sox want Flowers to mind the small stuff]
And that's what Tyler has been doing because A.J. never wanted to come out. A.J. wanted to catch every day. He was durable enough to do that. He wasn't an injury-prone guy, so that made it difficult on his backup. We're going to see what ever Tyler has this year. And he's made some good strides in the spring. So we'll see if that can translate when the season starts.
3. Gordon Beckham
Stone: That's not a guy that's going to hit 30 home runs, but we need a more consistent run producer from Gordon. He's going to play defense, that's a given, he's going to know the game as well as anybody on the field, that's a given. But he's changed his batting style, he's changed his hand position, and hopefully all that will allow him to go back to the guy who we saw when he first came to the major leagues a few years back. That was a doubles machine largely to right-center field. So he becomes a big key to this lineup.
4. A fast start
Stone: I think a fast start by Alexei Ramirez is essential. He doesn't normally get off to fast starts, but if you take a look at after our first homestand, things get very tough as far as that road trip is concerned. We cannot depend on Detroit getting off to the kind of start they got last year, because they got Victor Martinez back, they (signed) Torii Hunter, and they've got Anibal Sanchez from the beginning of the year. That team was strong enough anyway, now they're going to be even stronger.
[Related: AL Central preview: Detroit Tigers]
And our first road trip to Washington, Cleveland and four in Toronto is very tough. And so we've gotta get off to a fast start, hoping to take the confidence that a lot of our guys are bringing forward from last year to this, and take it into this season.
5. Jeff Keppinger
Stone: Let's anticipate that (Alex) Rios will have some of the same year, (Adam) Dunn will have some of the same year and (Paul) Konerko will have somewhat of the same year. So in the two spot, with the biggest free agent acquisition we have in Jeff Keppinger, if he consistently hits in the two spot, is one of the keys.
[Related: Now healed, Keppinger is ready for Chicago]
The reason is, a quality two hitter behind a guy who can steal bases is essential. You have to have a guy who doesn't strike out much, Keppinger fills that role, you have to have a guy who has the confidence to hit down in the count so your base stealer can steal bases, and you have to have a guy who makes contact so Robin (Ventura) won't have his hands tied, he can actually play a little bit of small ball ahead of the middle of his lineup. And that's why Keppinger becomes of critical importance as a two hitter, and what he can lend to this lineup that they didn't have last year in consistent two-hitters.