Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

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Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

Friday, March 25, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through spring training, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check. Even with the Chicago White Soxs final batch of big cuts this week, competition for the final two roster spots remains heavy. Are you a Brent Lillibridge fan, or Lastings Milledge? Want to see Jeffrey Marquez man the last bullpen spot, or Phil Humber? Lets take a look at the ins and outs of roster spots 24 and 25 for the White Sox:

Will only two of these four players break camp with the White Sox?

Theres a chance that only one player is turned away, but that all depends on whether projected fifth starter Jake Peavy is healthy enough to avoid a stint on the disabled list to open the season. With the brakes applied fully to his rehab as the righthander struggles through the setback everyone anticipated would happen, the odds are that Peavy will indeed open on the DL.

So, Marquez vs. Humberwho wins?

In both a stats test and an eye test, Marquez has earned a spot on the White Sox, ahead of Humber. Whats frightening about Humber is that whenever the light has started to intensify on him, poor outings have been the result. And those numbersa 5.87 ERA in six games, two losses, two home runs allowed and five walks against 10 strikeouts. He also seems best suited to be a starter, underscoring the need for him to begin the season at AAA Charlotte as longer-term insurance for Peavy.

Marquez, on the other hand, is a wild card who brings greater flexibility to the roster, available to start or pitch in long relief. Hes rocking a new cutter, cultivated since his acquisition in the Nick Swisher deal, and is having a terrific spring: 2.70 ERA in six games, a win and just two walks against 13 strikeouts. Marquez has an electric armnot always a good thing, given three wild pitches and two hit batsmenwith greater upside than Humber.

With off-days and likely postponements in the first two weeks of the season, why is there any hubbub at all about a fifth starter?

Its very strange that given the off-day between the first and second series of the season that the White Sox would still be tabbing the first start for a No. 5 reliever as April 6, when there is no need for a fifth turn until April 10and thats with no postponements at all in the first eight games of the season. The rotation has had six weeks and five or six starts to tune up for the regular season. Making Gavin Floyd pitch a simulated game in order to stay in a groove, as he did on an off-day on March 15 (just a month into training), makes senseand by extension, giving Opening Day starter Mark Buehrle five days between starts in the first week of the season and assuming that wont throw some rhythm off seems silly.

The White Sox are loaded with startersfour electric ones, and five when Peavy is healthy. They extend six strong in the bullpen, led by power arms Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain and supplemented by lefty specialist Will Ohman and long reliever Tony Pena. Let the top guys pitch, rather than giving five or six innings to the 12th or 13th-best pitcher on the club, as will happen with Humber (or even Marquez) taking the bump on April 6.

Does Marquez being out of options play a role in the decision?

As much as it shouldnt, were not talking about a pitcher whos spit the bit this spring. Marquez has been electric. Saturdays start could actually cement his position as the No. 12 arm on the White Sox, ahead of Humberbut even if Marquez struggles, hes got more weapons in his arsenal. Need proof? Hes tied with wunderkind Chris Sale, behind Thornton, for the second-best KBB this spring at 6.5.

Theres speculation that as the only viable piece left from the disastrous Swisher trade, GM Ken Williams wants to see Marquez succeed. But thats short-sighted and silly, and not how Williams operates. If Humber is the clear choice, transaction history will play no role in who gets cuts. Likely losing Marquez, who is out of options, if hes demoted? That will most definitely be a factor, especially in a pitching-thin system as the White Soxs.
As for the final bench spot, Lillibridge is out of luck, right?
It appears so. Lillibridge has a lot of factors in his favor while fighting for the final bench spot, including his history with the team, flexibility in the field (the Washington native basically excels everywhere but pitcher and catcher), even leadership. But his spring numbers havent been too goodjust a .591 OPS, two walks against nine Ks and one stolen base.

Milledge has the job?

Yeah, and deservedly so. The 25-year-old came to camp not even on the team roster and basically tore up the Cactus League, hitting at a 1.015 OPS clip, four homers, 10 RBI (fourth on the team) and three steals against one CS. Most significant for Milledge, at a time when the White Sox are whiffing with impunity and in direct contrast to his free-swinging past ways, hes had a team-best 10 walks against 10 strikeouts.

Isnt Milledge a head case, an eruption with Ozzie waiting to happen?

Youve seen flashes of impudence from Milledge, some slow jumps on fly balls, his odd habit of chucking equipment and snatching off his helmet in good times and bad. But with a clubhouse as tight as Chicagos, surely Guillen and Williams are confident that Milledge will adapt. Hes proven a ready pupil, learning early from Paul Konerko, Juan Pierre and others.

And hes a Kenny guy, right?

Well, Williams traded for Lillibridge just a few years ago, too. But do the White Sox see greater upside from Milledgeperhaps even to the extent where he could be a long-term possibility on the team ifwhen Juan Pierre or Carlos Quentin leave? Absolutely. Milledge has flashed five tools in the desert this spring.

So, assuming Peavy is sidelined, only Lillibridge gets his bus ticket punched out of town?

Not in my book, actually. I fail to see the need for 12 pitchers breaking camp, especially given the delicate situation with Lillibridge, who most certainly will be claimed on waivers and lost to the White Sox (as Marquez would be) if hes cut. Without a pressing need for a fifth starter, Id send Humber down to begin as the No. 1 starter at Charlotte and employ Marquez as the wild-card arm out of the bullpen. That would allow the White Sox to break camp with both Lillibridge and Milledge, safeguarding the team against an early injury at almost any position, as well as buying time for Williams to broker a minor deal for Lillibridge if it remains clear hell be the odd man out when Peavy returns.

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

White Sox pitchers headed for World Baseball Classic look sharp in win over Rockies

White Sox pitchers headed for World Baseball Classic look sharp in win over Rockies

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Quintana and Miguel Gonzalez looked like a pair of pitchers who began their offseasons earlier to prep for the World Baseball Classic.

Both White Sox starting pitchers looked sharp as they made their spring debuts in a 7-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Camelback Ranch on Sunday afternoon. Team USA relievers David Robertson and Nate Jones also pitched a scoreless inning each in the win. Prospect Zack Burdi also pitched a scoreless ninth inning.

Gonzalez, who is on the Team Mexico roster, only allowed a single on a dropped pop up on the infield in two scoreless innings.

“I’m a little ahead of the game right now,” Gonzalez said. “I started a little earlier this year in the offseason to work out, thinking I wanted to go to the WBC and get ready for that. But I think the most important thing right now is getting ready for April 1 with the White Sox. That’s my goal, and you don’t get these opportunities every year. To represent Mexico, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be great.”

Quintana, who will start for Colombia in their March 10 opener against the United States, allowed a run and a hit in two innings. He struck out one and hit a batter.

“I feel good,” Quintana said. “I think for the first day I feel comfortable. I hit the glove. I feel good. A couple of pitches spinning were good and I feel really good.”

[RELATED: Jim Thome on being a finalist for National Baseball Hall of Fame]

Robertson is throwing much earlier than normal in anticipation of his March 6 departure for Miami, where Team USA begins its tournament. The club’s closer normally wouldn’t appear in a game until the calendar turns to March. Robertson said he usually only needs 5-6 spring outings to get in shape for the regular season. Though he felt a little rusty, the right-hander was pleased with several changeups and fastballs he threw.

“I wouldn’t say it was smooth but I got through it,” Robertson said. “I had a few bad pitches that were just not competitive. … All in all I got through what seemed like a tough inning for a first outing.

“I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m going to go down there and put the ‘USA’ across my chest and have a chance to win something for our country. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m excited to play with a group of guys I’ve been playing against my whole life.”

Eddie Alvarez had a three-run double for the White Sox while Tyler Saladino collected two hits in three trips. Catcher Roberto Pena went 2-for-2 with an RBI. 

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Normally upbeat and positive, Jim Thome can’t help but beam with pride when asked about his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Thome, who blasted 612 career home runs, including 134 with the White Sox, is eligible for induction for the first time in 2018. Even though he’s expected by many to one day be voted into Cooperstown, perhaps even in his first year, Thome said he’s merely honored to be on the ballot. Thome is joined on the ballot by Chipper Jones and former teammate Omar Vizquel, among others. Voting begins in December and the results will be announced next January.

“To even be on the ballot and thought of, it would be the greatest honor I think you could get,” Thome said. “Or if you get an opportunity to go into the greatest fraternity baseball has or created, it would be indescribable. How do you ever think as a kid or a high school player or even going through the minor leagues, that you’d play at the big leagues that long? And then to get an opportunity at the end of your career to be put on the ballot is so great.

“That would be the coolest moment ever.”

Thome – who is in White Sox camp as a special assistant to the general manager – provided plenty of big moments in a career that spanned 22 seasons. He hit 30 home runs in 12 of 13 seasons between 1996-2008, leading the league with 47 in 2003. The slugger was a five-time All-Star and produced 72.9 b-Wins Above Replacement.

[RELATED: Brett Lawrie trying to clear final hurdles]

Thome isn’t as superstitious about his candidacy as others previously have been. He won’t be the guy to bring up the topic, but the Peoria, Ill.-native doesn’t shy away from discussing it, either.

“It’s not something you talk a lot about,” Thome said. “We’re not going to bring it up. But when people do bring it up, there’s a sense of pride, a sense of ‘Wow, baseball has thought that highly to put you on the ballot.’ And the fact that there’s just this wonderful fraternity of incredible players that you could be a part of, if you’re chosen.”