Konerko: Not always the King

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Konerko: Not always the King

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Posted: 2:20 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO A spring training clubhouse is an odd thing.

When camp opens, one side of the room is filled with veterans who are unlikely to ever have to pack their belongings and take that walk down a long, dark hallway to minor league camp after being cut. The other side is steerage class on the Titanic, the non-roster invitees and bonus babies of a club, one or two of whom hope to make enough of an impression to warrant wearing the big-league duds until late Marchif not into Opening Day.

No matter how removed those veterans are from the steerage class of hopefuls, theyre always around. The two groups dress, play, and shower together. Once they leave the clubhouse, theyre all doffing the official White Sox cap.

So even the King, team captain Paul Konerko, tucked off in a corner of the clubhouse, is not immune to the sights and sounds of steerage class struggles. And those struggles evoke a time when he too was strapped to make a big-league ballclub, a player with no position and thus, perhaps, no future.

Sure, I remember what it was like to be scraping for a job, Konerko said in Glendale. Sometimes, it actually doesnt feel like it was that long ago.

Going by the authority of the Skybox Dugout Access card pictured, its been 13 years since Konerko was floating about the majors, a man with 1997 Minor League Player of the Year tools but nowhere to ply them. For this, he was honored not only with a No. 66 Los Angeles Dodgers uniform, but membership among the Little Dawgs.

READ: Predictions for the 2011 MLB season

Konerko started his pro career as a catcher, before moving to first and dabbling at third (in his minor-league career, Konerko would play every position on the diamond save for shortstop and pitcher). He mashed at every level, with a career OPS of .920 and never batting less than .277, which he did at age 19 at Single A San Bernardino.

Hitting was never a problem. Fielding, that was another issue.

In one of their first drills together this spring, Konerko recounted his fielding struggles to new acquisition Adam Dunn, who was taking grounders along with the captain on one of Camelback Ranchs pristine infields.

I was OK at third, Konerko said by way of navigating his history around the diamond for Dunn, if it was hit right at me.

Konerkos Little Dawgs card notes that he was blocked at the infield corners by Eric Karros and Todd Zeile and may be converted to the outfield, a position to that point hed never played. Zeile would spend just a month and a half longer with the Dodgers before being doorstopped into the Mike Piazza-Gary Sheffield trade, with the Florida Marlins shipping him to Texas two weeks later for a couple of Rangers farmhands. (Konerko was given less than a two-month audition in place of Zeile before being shipped to the Cincinnati Reds for closer Jeff Shaw.)

READ: Who could the White Sox least afford to lose?

Karros, blocking PK at first base, at least stuck around southern California for five more seasons, producing a modest 11.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a standard measure of overall player value) before a December trade delivered him to Chicagothe North Side, that is.

After being traded to Cincinnati, Konerko played a total of 21 games in the outfield (amassing a .912 fielding percentage) at AAA Albuquerque.

L.A. would suffer for having bailed on Konerko. Zeile obviously did little for the Dodgers before being dealt, compiling a 0.4 WAR in his six weeks remaining with the team. Shaw was the Dodgers closer until 2001, saving 129 games and producing 4.3 WARbut at a cost of 15.2 million over that time. Combining Zeiles and Shaws production with Karros, the Dodgers squeezed 16.0 WAR from the players blocking Konerko from the majors back in 1998.

Konerko? Well, after being swapped to Cincy for Mike Cameron in a much more even-handed trade, he settled in for 12 years on the South Side, producing 29.2 WAR for the White Sox in that span. Converting Konerkos WAR record to dollar value, PK has provided about 86 million in value back to Chicago on the field, at a cost of about 89.5 million in salary. For a longtime high-salaried player, thats an impressive ratio.

You can see in Konerkos eyes he hasnt quite forgotten those times long before the millions, or any of his 358 career homers for the White Sox. There were plenty of other Little Dawgs in that 1998 set, including future White Sox teammates Cliff Politte, Mike Caruso and Greg Nortonbut none who grew up into, ahem, big dawgs on the playing field like Konerko.

Konerko may not be dressing in steerage class any longer, but part of what makes him the King of the Chicago clubhouse is the fact that he hasnt completely forgotten being there.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Tyler Saladino, Jose Abreu homer as White Sox tie Padres in Arizona finale

Tyler Saladino, Jose Abreu homer as White Sox tie Padres in Arizona finale

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tyler Saladino hit leadoff on Wednesday, finishing with a home run and a single.

Saladino's first-inning drive was one of eight combined homers hit between the White Sox and San Diego Padres, who finished in a 9-all tie at Camelback Ranch. Before the game, White Sox manager Rick Renteria said that Saladino, who finished 2-for-2, would see most of his playing time at second base.

"He's been developing and continuing to grow every single season," Renteria said. "The flexibility that he brings allows him to be in the lineup over an extended period of time. But we want to make sure we take care of him as we want to do with everybody else, kind of keep them all fresh as much as we can.

"He's developed into a pretty good major league baseball player."

Jose Abreu, Nick Delmonico and Jake Peter all homered for the White Sox. Delmonico led the White Sox with five homers this spring. Abreu went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs.

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Rule 5 pitcher Dylan Covey, who appears primed to make the Opening Day roster, allowed two earned runs in his lone inning pitched. Covey then headed to the bullpen and threw additional pitches there as the White Sox continue to build up his arm strength.

Veteran Anthony Swarzak allowed a run and struck out two in two innings. Reliever Dan Jennings allowed five runs (four earned) and four hits in 1/3 innings.

First-rounder Zack Collins drew a pair of walks in his only plate appearances and scored a run.

The White Sox ended the spring with a 16-15-2 record.

White Sox pitching staff nearly complete with prospect Zack Burdi headed to Triple-A

White Sox pitching staff nearly complete with prospect Zack Burdi headed to Triple-A

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With Zack Burdi headed for the minors, the White Sox 12-man pitching staff is all but set.

The Opening Day roster won't be finalized until Sunday and the White Sox hypothetically could find an attractive candidate to claim off the waiver wire over the weekend. But barring that, it looks as if veteran Anthony Swarzak and second-year reliever Michael Ynoa have made the team after Burdi said Wednesday morning that he'd start the season at Triple-A Charlotte. 

The No. 7 prospect in the organization, according to MLBPipeline.com, Burdi finished the spring with a 6.75 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 12 innings. Burdi finished his Cactus League on a high note with three strikeouts over an inning on Tuesday, including one of Kansas City four-time All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. 

"Man, it's been crazy," Burdi said. "Coming in and being the young guy in the locker room and then just progressing and showing a little bit more (comfort) around the guys and the veterans and then just being able to pick their brains and go out every day and try to progress. You get to the innings and you are facing guys you've watched your last 10 years of your life. It has been crazy and definitely something I won't forget."

Burdi lasted the longest this spring out of the cache of highly-touted prospects the White Sox brought to big league camp. Prior to escaping a first-and-third, one-out jam Tuesday, Burdi looked like he would allow a run in a third straight game after a hot start to camp (he only allowed a run in one of his first 10 appearances). But Burdi battled back and struck out Perez on three pitches, one of two straight strikeouts to strand both runners.

Pitching coach Don Cooper has been impressed by Burdi throughout the spring. But he also wants to see the Louisville product continue to work on command in the minors.

"You can't not see his stuff," Cooper said. "Everybody gets excited when you see 99, 100, 101. But whether you throw it 101 or 83 like [Mark] Buehrle you have to throw it to the glove with command, change speeds and all that stuff. But he's a big part of our future going forward. He's one of the names."

Burdi said he plans to operate like he has already spring and not pay attention to any of the hype. Though he'd like to play in the majors, Burdi is excited to play alongside the likes of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer in Charlotte.

"Once you get a feel for all this stuff and you feel how cool it is to be in the locker room with all these guys and play with them, of course you want to get back up here," Burdi said. "But at the same time, a lot of my really good friends are on Charlotte and I couldn't be more excited to go down there and play with them and make the most of the season down there."