White Sox season preview: Infielders

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White Sox season preview: Infielders

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Today, we kick off the home stretch of the preseason with a look at what to expect from the White Sox infield in 2012, specifically looking at the defense. Check back later Monday for a look at what the infield could provide offensively.

While Detroit may gaffe their way to a few losses thanks to extremely suspect infield defense, the White Sox may have a few victories saved by the stellar gloves of Alexei Ramirez, Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham. Those three, plus the sure hands of Paul Konerko, the run-saving abilities of A.J. Pierzynski and the slick fielding of backup Eduardo Escobar could combine to give the Sox their best defensive infield since Joe Crede and Juan Uribe manned the left side.

Ramirez should've won at least one Gold Glove by now; that he hasn't tells you all you need to know about the legitimacy of that award. Over the last three seasons, Ramirez has been a top-three shorstop in baseball, in the same zip code as Brendan Ryan and J.J. Hardy, per UZR. Ramirez is the defensive stalwart of the infield, and he and Beckham combine to give the White Sox outstanding infield defense up the middle.

Beckham started to come into his own defensively at second base last year. His low error total was great, but more importantly, he began to show better range and instincts as he settled in as a second baseman. Expect to see Beckham make more difficult plays as he enters his third year at second base -- his familiarity with the position and Ramirez should pay off in a big way.

The same can be said for Morel, who enters his second year as the team's starting third baseman with a greater knowledge base of opponents -- something that should come in handy in terms of his instincts and positioning. And it can't hurt that he has arguably the best defensive third baseman in franchise history saying he's a great defender.

Sliding across the diamond to first base, Konerko has as sure a pair of hands of any first baseman in the game. He's never had good range, but if you hit a ball in his vicinity, he'll make the play. That's more of a problem for secondthirdshort -- positions where you want to have guys who can go out of their zones to make a play -- but for first base, it's not the biggest problem ever. A good pair of hands is extremely important at first, and Konerko has just that.

Behind the plate will be a little tricky in all this defensive optimism. Pierzynski, defensively, hasn't rated as being a good catcher in quite some time now. His caught stealing percentages -- which have been at or below the league average for the last decade -- are actually not accurate as to how many runners Pierzynski has thrown out (pitcher pickoffs count toward the total). By Baseball-Reference's count, Pierzynski threw out 13 runners last year, the lowest total of any starting catcher in the majors.

But Pierzysnki earns another paragraph because of his aforementioned ability to prevent runs by doing other things right -- namely, his ability to work with the Sox pitching staff. Pierzynski's knowledge of opponents and ability to pick up on tendencies during pitch sequences has been pretty valuable to the White Sox since he joined the team in 2005. And for that, he deserves some praise.

The backups -- Escobar, Flowers and Lillibridge -- range from good to average-at-best on the defensive spectrum. Escobar is a plus defender who can play third base, shortstop and second base, but he's not much of a hitter. Conversely, Lillibridge's infield defense isn't as good, but he has a much better bat and can play first base. Expect Lillibridge to see most of the backup infield playing time, although if Dayan Viciedo needs a day off in left on the same day, say, Beckham needs a day off at second, both he and Escobar will find their way into the lineup.

How Robin Ventura uses Tyler Flowers will be one of the more interesting managerial trends to follow in 2012 -- no full-time catcher has played in more games since 2005 than Pierzynski, who has appeared in 40 more games than Yadier Molina, the next closest backstop on the list.

That meant White Sox backups didn't play a whole lot: Ramon Castro (91 games, 2009-2011), Toby Hall (79, 2007-2008) and Chris Widger (72, 2005-2006) saw the most action. But the Sox haven't ever had a young catcher come through to back up Pierzynski, and given this is the last year of Pierzynski's contract, it'll be interesting to see if Ventura wants to get Flowers in more to determine if the 26-year-old is a viable long-term replacement.

To sum it up

Ground balls should be fun this year, whether they're hit to short, second or third.

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

The White Sox offense showed a bunch of late life on Thursday night.

Todd Frazier had two hits with runners in scoring position, including the game-winner, as the White Sox topped the Seattle Mariners 7-6 at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier’s one-out single in the ninth inning off Nick Vincent scored Adam Eaton as the White Sox won for the fourth time in five games. Frazier’s game-winning hit was his first since June 2015 and the fifth of his career. It and a game-tying, two-out, two-run single in the seventh helped Frazier shake off a game in which he struck out three times in his first three at-bats.

“You learn something,” Frazier said. “You take the last at-bat and throw it away and just keep on going. Unfortunately, it took me three times to do that. To come up clutch today felt pretty good.”

Frazier leads the club in home runs and RBIs.

Similar to his teammates, however, Frazier has lefty plenty of chances for more damage on the table. He entered Thursday hitting .159 with runners in scoring position for a team that ranks 18th with runners in scoring position (.255).

While Frazier struck out with runners on the corners in the first inning, he succeeded in his next two tries. He picked up Jose Abreu in the seventh after the slugger struck out against Steve Cishek. Frazier sat on a slider and ripped a 2-0 pitch into left field to drive in Eaton and Tim Anderson, whose one-out RBI double made it a 6-4 game.

Then in the ninth, Frazier came through again. Eaton’s bloop single to center got things going before Anderson bunted him over. Vincent walked Abreu to get to Frazier, who singled to left again.

Frazier was previously 17-for-17 with five doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

“These are the best ones,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can't rely just on the homer. There's more to his game than that. You have to be able to knock in runs when you're not hitting them over the fence. He can use the other side of the field. I think he can level it out somewhat and get some hits. Just put it in play more because you don't know know what's going to happen.”

[MORE: Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017]

David Robertson found that out in the top of the ninth inning when his outing was delayed for several minutes by a trio of fans who ran onto the field. Robertson worked around the delay and a one-out walk to keep the score tied at 6.

Down 2-0, the White Sox scored three times in the first inning to briefly take the lead.

Abreu and Avisail Garcia both singled in runs and Dioner Navarro had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo pitched well after a slow start and then ran into bad luck in the sixth inning. What looked to be a surefire double play ball kicked off Ranaudo’s glove and combined with an Anderson throwing error led to a three-run inning that put Seattle ahead 6-3.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Ranaudo allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings.

The White Sox were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“That’s just part of it,” Robertson said. “I guess that happens some times.

“Everybody played hard. They didn’t give up at all tonight. We pitched well enough to win and had timely hitting. A few things went our way, a couple errors that really ended up giving us a few runs. A few things went our way and it was great to pick up a win.”

Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017

Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017

Rick Hahn said Thursday he won’t divulge which direction the White Sox would head this offseason out of respect to his current players and staff.

But once the offseason begins, Hahn said it would quickly become evident what the White Sox front office has in mind. Roughly a month after his comments about being “mired in mediocrity,” the White Sox general manager said that he, executive vice president Kenny Williams and club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf are still mulling their options and open to all. Hahn also strongly denied recent reports that a divided front office prevented the start of a rebuild at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, describing them as “tired.”

“The frustrating thing is it seems every few months we need to have this same conversation,” Hahn said. “The fact of the matter is I have no idea where an unnamed random report of any discord at the deadline came from. It’s simply untrue. There was no trade or direction of whatever it was described as vetoed, so to speak, at the deadline.

“We are of a similar mindset as to how best to proceed. We’ve had a number of conversations, both Kenny and I, as well as Kenny, Jerry and I, about the best way to approach the offseason and what we want to accomplish. And once the offseason rolls around we will start executing that plan.”

“It’s just, frankly, tired news and repetitive and there’s nothing there. None of us would be here doing what we do if we didn’t feel we were set up to have the potential for success.”

As for the most successful route to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Hahn wouldn’t yet commit to a plan. Hahn said the club would also address all questions about its roster and coaching staff after the season, which ends on Oct. 2.

With 36 games remaining after Thursday, the White Sox appear on pace for a fourth straight losing season.

[MORE: White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season]

While the team has many of the top-tier pieces necessary to compete, its lack of depth continues to be a critical issue holding back the franchise. Injuries in the bullpen and outfield and the unexpected retirement of Adam LaRoche forced many part-time players or inexperienced pitchers into key roles. With a farm system still short on talent, the White Sox would likely need a serious cash infusion to fill in some of those holes in order to compete in 2017. Or, they could begin a rebuilding process and replenish their farm system by unloading some of their talented, affordable players.

Either way, Hahn isn’t ready to talk shop.

“We have a sense of what we want to do,” Hahn said. “Frankly, regardless of which direction it is — full rebuild or add on — we’re still in the middle of the season.

“If I were to say we’re going to do a full rebuild that’s disrespectful to what they’re trying to accomplish. To the other extreme, if I were to say we’re going to fight and go for it and plug the holes it begs the question, ‘Where are the holes?’ and that’s disrespectful to the guys in the clubhouse. It’s just not the time to be laying out offseason plans. We’re working on it, exploring a lot of angles internally trying to come up with priorities so we can hit the ground running when the time is appropriate.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

When he spoke about the team’s trade deadline plans July 21, Hahn said the White Sox had only ruled out short-term acquisitions, but remained open to all options. He said the idea of trading away Chris Sale or Jose Quintana seemed “extreme,” in part because competing teams wouldn’t deal players helping them in their playoff chases; that they’d have a better market in the offseason.

Hahn said Thursday the White Sox remain open-minded. When reminded that the White Sox have operated in an aggressive manner under Reinsdorf, Hahn agreed. But he also noted that the White Sox haven’t been happy with their recent performances and left the door open for a rebuild.

“OK, but there also comes a point where there is a level of frustration with the way things have played out over the last couple of years,” Hahn said. “There are different approaches and again, I’m not saying (a rebuild) is the route we’re going to go. But I assure you there is absolute openness from Jerry, Kenny, myself. Everyone in that front office is looking for the best path to get us on an extended period of success, even if that involves a short-term step-back.”

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

Austin Jackson and Matt Davidson are officially done for the season.

Meanwhile, the White Sox still remain hopeful that Brett Lawrie is on the mend after a second MRI.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday that Jackson, who had surgery June 10 to repair a medial meniscus tear in left knee, and Davidson, who had surgery after he fractured his right foot, won’t return this season.

“Austin is progressing, but it unfortunately it’s been a slow pace,” Hahn said. “He has not taken baseball activities. I wouldn’t expect him back this season.”

Jackson hit .254/.318/.343 with 18 RBIs in 203 plate appearances before he suffered the injury.

At the time of Jackson’s injury, Hahn didn’t think it would end his season. But, Hahn did say it would take at least six weeks before they could re-evaluate Jackson’s knee post-surgery and get a better determination of when he might return. Jackson’s re-evaluation was pushed back a few days from the six-week mark and the White Sox made it clear they weren’t optimistic about him returning.

Davidson went 1-for-2 with an RBI before he broke his foot running the bases in his first game of the season.

“(I) would not expect (Davidson) either. It was a pretty bad fracture. It’s progressing and he’s hitting the early milestones. There just isn’t enough time for either of those two.”

Lawrie, who has been on the disabled list since July 22, had a second MRI earlier this week and is being treated, Hahn said.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Manager Robin Ventura has been adamant all along that Lawrie’s injury was tricky to diagnose. What began as a strained hamstring and later was thought to be a quad injury has been reclassified as a knee and calf issue. Hahn said the MRI showed the area is structurally sound.

“He received some medicine in the joint there,” Hahn said. “We’re let that work for a couple of days and we’ll ramp up the activity and see how it goes. No specific time frame.”

Miguel Gonzalez will participate in one more bullpen — possibly a simulated game — before he starts a rehab assignment, Ventura said. Gonzalez is on the DL with a strained right groin.