White Sox season preview: Outfielders

White Sox season preview: Outfielders
April 3, 2012, 9:57 pm
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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 look at the extremely volatile outfield on the South Side. Be sure to check out yesterday's preview of the infield, too.

There's no unit on the White Sox that could be more boom-or-bust than the team's trio of starting outfielders. All three have the potential to put together solid offensive seasons that would be invaluable to supporting the Sox pitching staff. And while the Sox do have good outfield depth, one or two things going the wrong way would be a detriment to the team's playoff hopes.

Let's start in left field with Dayan Viciedo, who wallowed through the first four weeks of spring training before coming on strong as of late. On March 25, Viciedo's OPS fell to .288 -- but since then, the 23-year-old has been on a tear, collecting six hits (two of which were home runs) with two walks and four strikeouts.

Buddy Bell mentioned that Viciedo may have been taking his defensive struggles to the plate, contributing to his paltry spring numbers. He's going to be a work in progress as a left fielder this year, so his ability to separate his defense from his offense will be key in getting him back on track.

A 20-homer season out of Viciedo would be a nice boost to the Sox lineup -- ideally, he'll be hitting fifth behind Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko at some point this season. But if his offensive issues persist into the season, the absence of his power from the batting order could be a major problem.

Alejandro De Aza won't be as dynamic as he was during his 54-game stint with the Sox last year: a .329.400.529 slash line would give the Sox the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr. in center. De Aza is good, but he's not that good.

The key for De Aza will be to stay off the disabled list. Four years ago, it looked like he was going to assume the starting center field role for the Marlins before he suffered a devastating injury late in spring training. The soon-to-be 28-year-old has quite a bit of talent, both offensive and defensively, and if he's healthy expect for that talent to translate into quality production from the leadoff spot.

Alex Rios, though, is the real wild card here. He's had a handful of good months since joining the White Sox in 2009 surrounded by a sea of bad stretches, and last year posted the worst offensive season of his career. While Rios, overall, was fine in 2010, he's struggled in two of the last three seasons.

At 31, time is running out for Rios to prove his recent struggles aren't a trend. He didn't have a good spring training, hitting .224.266.293 with three walks, eight strikeouts and two extra-base hits. But that was just spring training, and if he's as comfortable in his stance as he and the White Sox have intimated, hopefully good results are ahead.

If they're not, though, Rios could begin to see his playing time dwindle in favor of Kosuke Fukudome or Brent Lillibridge. Fukudome would probably be the first option, although Lillibridge certainly could play his way into an increased role for the second straight year.

Expect Lillibridge to take most, if not all, of the innings in left field if Viciedo needs a breather -- Fukudome hasn't played an inning of left field since coming to the United States.

And therein lies the good news: If something does go wrong, the Sox have options. Lillibridge proved to be a more-than capable backup last year and could replace Viciedo if the Sox aren't sold on his value. Fukudome has experience in both center and right and could fill in for De Aza or Rios if need be.

Of course, the best scenario involves Viciedo, De Aza and Rios all being effective. But if one of them isn't, it may not completely doom the Sox chances.