Monday, March 7, 2011
By Brett Ballantini
GLENDALE, Ariz. With uniform numbers in the 80s still dotting the landscape, the first week of spring training games mean very little, as anyone would attest.
Or, looking at it another way, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has merely threatened to throw players under the bus in this Cactus League season so far, rather than actually backing up over them.
But still, its not too early to share some early impressions from White Sox camp, as the battles for the 12th bullpen arm and fourth hitter on the bench are waging. Especially because just yesterday, as the White Sox wrapped up their first week of spring training at 1-6 (second-worst in baseball to the Tampa Rays at 1-7), Guillen made it clear that no one was distinguishing himself in those battles.
I dont see anybody stepping up into last bullpen or bench spots, he said. Thats not too bright. Were going to give guys a chance to make the team. At the end of the day, they will make the team for you or they will cut their own throats.
Heres a snapshot of how the White Sox have looked so far. (Given that Ozzie calls split-squads off days, Mondays results are not included. And on that note, dont expect to see me citing batting averages; the common cited slash line from me will be on-baseslugging percentage, or the shorthand OPS number that adds the two.)
On the bus
Alexei Ramirez (.250.417, two Ks, two doubles) is the face and the future of the franchise. If hes not on the bus, nobody is.
Adam Dunn hasnt just proven himself a perfect fit for the White Sox clubhouse and been the early leader for Mr. Congeniality, hes starting to click on both sides of the ball. Hes gotten more early at-bats than anyone (14) with a .526 OPS, two walks and four Ks. Defensively, while no ones mistaking Dunn for Keith Hernandez, or even Albert Pujols, hes already made two nice picks on dirtnapper throws from the infield.
John Danks and Edwin Jackson had similarly wild (two innings, two walks), no-hit outings to start their Cactus Leagues. Heading into the season, they could well be the No. 1 and 2 starters for the club.
Paul Konerko has already tapped out a stand-up triple. That is all.
Forget all the laurels for his comeback, if thats possible, but Jake Peavy looks all-in for Opening Day. Yes, there could be a setback, and the White Sox still anticipate one, but at the moment, give the keys to Jake, because hes the inspiration of the spring.
Love him or hate him, Juan Pierre is doing what Juan Pierre does, with a .533.364 line through four games.
Matt Thornton has earned at least 11 million future dollars for his two innings and four hits so far this spring. Thats a Win.
Omar Vizquel just keeps on ticking, with his usual great defense (mainly playing short so far this spring) and off to a terrific start at the plate (.929 OPS, stolen base).
We all figured it was Brent Morels third-base job to lose this spring, and he aint losing it. Defensively sound, Morel (.840 OPS so far this spring) is my surprise pick to hit in the No. 2 hole if the production there isnt right early on. Hes got great discipline at the plate, surprising pop (two doubles already), and a little speed (one stolen base). He may indeed be a more promising Gordon Beckham than Becks himself.
Overlooked in all the hype over this seasons hot bullpen rookie is sophomore Sergio Santos (two innings, one hit, one walk, one K), whose humility and hard work have etched him permanently at the back end of the White Sox pen.
Dont know how you dont dig Jim Gallagher, with his bright career marks in the minors and infectious hustle in camp. A prototype No. 80, you could do worse than have Gallagher (1.500 OPS in four at-bats) as your 25th manat least in spring training.
Will Ohman has been perfect in three spring innings so far. Not sure what the purpose of him throwing until April 1 is; he rolls out of bed ready to punch out lefties.
Brent Lillibridge was my pick to be the teams 25th man, and while he is probably only around 5050 to break camp with the club at this point, he does the little things that will earn him a way on, more so than his outfielder-only main competition for the spot. Lillibridge is getting a ton of repseven playing second base in the B-Game vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 3indicating the White Sox are making that final utility spot his to lose. The infielder-outfielder is at .429.333 so far with a steal (and a pickoff), a sac bunt, two ribbies, two walks and two Ks in five early spring games.
Dayan Viciedo has made perhaps the biggest impression in camp so far, with surprisingly intuitive defense in right field and continued stop-what-youre-doing-and-watch pop at the plate (.417.364). And yes, hes already walked once this spring. Ifwhen Carlos Quentin is hurt this season, Viciedo is earning a look as his medium-to-long-term replacement.
He may appear to be blocked from the major-league roster, but its been a different Tyler Flowers so far this spring. Still average defensively, the ball has been jumping off his bat (.571.667 in six ABs).
It took six days for Guillen to mention his name, but Shane Lindsay has wormed his way into the mix for the teams 12th arm. Counting the B-game, the Australian reliever has finished up two games with two perfect innings and four Ks.
Jordan Danks has looked good so far, at the plate and in the field. His revamped swing has so far yielded just one strikeout in 11 plate appearances after sporting a .266 strikeout rate in his pro career to date. His long, flyball double to the opposite field in the Cactus League opener has helped push him to a .364 on-base and .400 slugging percentage.
You wonder how long the White Sox have before needing to make a decision on what to do with Eduardo Escobar, the Arizona sensation. The switch-hitting shortstop tore up the Arizona Fall League in 2010 and has again packed a lively bat so far this spring. Hes at .100.111 in official play with two RBI, a sac fly and three Ks so far, but that ignores a terrific B-game (2-for-4, double, run, steal) vs. Dodgers. Ozzie says hes ticketed for AAAbut for how long?
Donny Lucy has got to be the Barney Fife of the Chisox. All he does is work hard and perform in gamesLucy still swings a surprisingly active batwith little to show for it. How hes not snapped up as a third catcher somewhere, or even a quarter-time backup, is a mystery.
He has no spot on the 2011 White Sox, but Dallas McPherson has impressed with his spring work, earning acknowledgement even from Guillen.
Waiting for the bus
Beckham has been earning plaudits from Guillen for his at-bats (.462.300) this spring, but there have been gaffesmainly being picked off of first, and a dropped-out on a force play at second that led to five unearned runs vs. the Cincinnati Reds on March 2.
Alejandro De Aza could well have the inside track to roster spot No. 25, given the teams need for a defensive outfielder and De Azas ability to do everything on the field relatively well. But hes at .100.100 with a steal and a K in three spring games.
Lastings Milledge has the name and the look of somebody who shouldnt be on the bubble. But as a non-roster invitee who hasnt yet set fire to camp, he remains on the bubble (.400.250, two walkstwo strikeouts, two RBI, all almost exclusively at the leadoff spot).
Gavin Floyd: One sweet outing, one not so hot, punctuated by a charley horse on his shin. Floyds work so far, using his own incomparable words: Its whatever.
Take any of Chris Sales spring numbers (9.00 ERA in two games) with a grain of salt. This is all new to him, and he doesnt have the option to fail and start the season in the minors. Hes a sharp study and will work his way through any struggles.
Is Jeff Marquez effectively wild, or just nuts on the mound? In two innings so far, hes given up four hits, hit a batter, and struck out three.
On the plus side, Miguel Socolovich was the early surprise arm in camp. On the minus, he got rocked for three hits, three walks and four earned runs in his sole outing of the spring so far.
Veteran Brian Bruney and youngster Anthony Carter havent excelled, but theyre both unscored on in two outings so far. Given that the battle for 12th arm could be one of attrition and not merit, one of the two have an outside chance to stick. Brandon Hynick, Gregory Infante and Nathan Jones, with just one scoreless outing apiece so far, also fall in this category.
Charlie Leesman hasnt done much so far, with just one scoreless inning to his name. But the White Sox continue to talk him up as having a bright future, and he has definitely passed Lucas Harrell on the depth chart of emergency fifth starters. On a similar note, Jhonny Nunez has just 1.3 inning to his name so far, but the organization remains high on him as well.
Under the bus
In a way, its not fair to throw Mark Teahen here, because offensively, hes been solid (.786 OPS, three walksone K), but until hes scratched off the depth chart at third (two throwing errors already), theres no seat for him inside.
Mark Buerhle, especially now that hes on an offseason pitching program, probably ought to find a way to delay arriving at spring training until mid-March in 2012. His line so far is an eminently hittable 9.00 ERA in two starts.
Jesse Crain has not hit the White Sox pen with the same efficiency as Ohman, with a 6.00 ERA and a home run allowed in his three outings. The Minnesota Twins transplant ought to get a couple days of a breather and come back fresh.
Like Ohman, an ex-Cubbie, Jeff Gray got off to a splash start with 1 13 innings of scoreless baseball in the White Sox opener but has struggled with control since (four walks in 3 13 innings total.
A.J. Pierzynski vows it will be a calmer spring and summer for him, given his new, two-year deal with the White Sox. But hes off to just a .154.063 start. Ramon Castro is unlikely to be anything but the backup catcher behind A.J., but hes been worse, at .125.000 so far in three spring games. And neither catcher has been done any favors in catching baserunners; at Cleveland on Saturday, you would have thought it a gentlemans agreement not to steal based on how Floyd was holding runners on.
Alex Rios has that tendency to give away at-bats with ugly effortsthen grab some right back with a flurry of hits. So far, hes given away more than hes taken, although his one hit on the spring was a deciding-tally home run in the White Soxs lone victory.
Admittedly, Beckham nudged Kyle Cofield under the bus vs. the Cincinnati Reds by dropping an inning-ending out and opening the door for a five-run outburst. But relievers are paid to overcome such adversities, and the bonus prize in the Scott Linebrink sell-off is zero-of-one on that docket.
From possible fifth starter and falling fast, Harrell started the spring with a strong effort, including a linebacker-tackle of a groundout but has struggled since. Peavys recovery has had the unexpected benefit of giving Harrell the chance to recharge himself outside of scrutiny. And unfortunately for Harrell, these are the types of springs where GM Ken Williams decides to give up on a hurler for good.
Phil Humber has disappointed in his two games so far, having basically been pounded for five hits and two earned runs over two rough outings.
Tony Pena is lucky the rookie relief corps hasnt yet started nipping at his heels, because several pitchers of distinction could find calls starting for a AAA stint for him to get right. With a 7.20 ERA and 11 hits in five innings, Pena is another veteran who could use a couple of days away to reset the meter.
Quentin hasnt been anything special so far this spring (.167.167 with two Ks). His spot is secure, howeveronly injury will take him off the field for the White Sox.
Stefan Gartrell is a perfect example of a player needing to force his way into the discussion, and simply hasnt had the opportunity (four games, five at-bats).
Kyle Bellamy (two innings, 9.00 ERA), Josh Kinney (two innings, 4.50 ERA) and Freddy Dolsi (2 23rds innings, 10.13 ERA) have gotten off to poor starts in Glendale. Just 23, Bellamy has a decent future with the White Sox, while Dolsi and Kinney could be pitching themselves out of the organization.
Still waiting to buy a ticket: Josh Phegley, Jared Price, C.J. Retherford, Tyler Saladino, Brandon Short, Luis Sierra
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.