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2012 White Sox Preview: White Sox 2012: Strange Times on the South Side

Ryan Eisner

Ryan Eisner

Ryan has been writing for Rotowire since 2007. He currently writes about baseball and covers the White Sox.

"Thanks to the fans and my palyers for good ride" - @OzzieGuillen, September 27, 2011

Adam Dunn's arrival last offseason was supposed to bring about a serious run at an AL pennant. Instead, he brought a .569 OPS, and he was one of four Sox regulars (along with Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham and Brent Morel) to finish the year with a sub-.250 batting average. Those woes on offense, paired with ongoing Ozzie Guillen-Kenny Williams drama, made 2011 a season to forget on the South Side. When the dust settled, the White Sox had a 79-83 record and a third place finish while Ozzie took his talents to South Beach with lifetime ace Mark Buehrle in tow.

Needless to say, this is now an organization in transition. Williams jettisoned Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor and Carlos Quentin to re-stock the farm system with B- and C-level prospects. Other cornerstones of the past few years could also be gone before the end of 2011 (ie: Gavin Floyd, Matt Thornton). The only major addition was rookie manager Robin Ventura, who brings no managerial experience to the job. It will be difficult for Williams to add much payroll to this team with $55 million owed to Dunn, Rios, Jake Peavy and Paul Konerko, so the team will not be able to improve personnel-wise, and much of the roster may have already hit their plateaus in terms of ability. Look for a finish somewhere near the middle of the AL standings without a shot at the playoffs.

Offseason Moves

Allowed Mark Buehrle, Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel and Ramon Castro to depart via free agency. Released Tony Pena.

Buehrle will probably be the most-missed individual on this list, as he anchored the team's rotation for the better part of the last decade. Alejandro De Aza will take Pierre's role and Tyler Flowers will take over for Castro as the backup catcher.

Traded Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for Nestor Molina.

Just weeks after signing his newfound closer to an affordable contract, Williams slung Santos to Toronto for Molina, who should be the organization's first or second-best prospect to start the year. Matt Thornton will take over in the ninth inning with Addison Reed looming.

Traded Carlos Quentin to the Padres for Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez.

This would have been an impressive trade for the White Sox a few seasons ago, but Castro has yet to find success above Double-A. Hernandez looks like a potential staff filler at his point. Still, the trade opens up an outfield spot for Dayan Viciedo.

Traded Justin Frasor to the Blue Jays for Daniel Webb and Myles Jaye.

The White Sox only had Frasor for a few months, as they acquired him at the July trade deadline in the Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen deal. Both Webb and Jaye have yet to advance through the low minors, so their future is still unclear.

Signed Donnie Veal and Jose Quintana to major league contracts.

Veal appeared in a few games for the Pirates in 2009, and he did not post great minor league numbers in 2011 as he battled back from Tommy John Surgery, so it is a bit surprising he received a major league contract. Meanwhile, Quintana had yet to pitch above High-A for the Yankees. Both pitchers know how to miss bats, so either (or both) could be in the bullpen picture at some point.

Signed Brian Bruney, Dallas McPherson, Eric Stults, Hector Gimenez, Delwyn Young and Dan Johnson to minor league contracts.

Bruney and Stults could be in the bullpen mix in spring training, but the rest of these guys are probably an injury away from the active roster. Young could serve as a utility guy at some point, and McPherson or Johnson could help at the infield corners.

Projected Lineup

1. Alejandro De Aza, CF
2. Alexei Ramirez, SS
3. Paul Konerko, 1B
4. Adam Dunn, DH
5. Alex Rios, LF
6. A.J. Pierzynski, C
7. Dayan Viciedo, RF
8. Brent Morel, 3B
9. Gordon Beckham, 2B

Most of the White Sox's starting nine have their positions in place for 2012, but the batting order could very much be in flux during spring training and the first few months. The only locks should be Alejandro De Aza at leadoff and Paul Konerko at No. 3. New manager Robin Ventura said he would like to see Alexei Ramriez hit lower in the order, but he hit second the most of any batter last season, and he still makes the most sense. Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham and/or Alex Rios could also hit there, but they enter the season with too many question marks. Brent Lillibridge would be another option for one of the top two spots when he enters the lineup. Adam Dunn remains the most logical fit for cleanup, but he could slide if his bat remains sluggish. Dayan Viciedo could fit at the four if he proves his mettle against MLB pitching, so look for him to get in at least a few weeks in the bottom-third.

Projected Rotation

1. John Danks
2. Gavin Floyd
3. Jake Peavy
4. Phil Humber/Dylan Axelrod/Zach Stewart
5. Chris Sale

The White Sox spent much of 2011 with a six-man unit, but they should use the conventional five in 2012. John Danks takes over as the team ace after Mark Buehrle took his talents to South Beach, and Chris Sale will finally join the rotation after a year and a half in the bullpen. Phil Humber is the clear favorite for the final rotation choice, but Dylan Axelrod and Zach Stewart should receive token chances in spring training. Those latter two should spend the majority of the season in the bullpen or Triple-A, but they could receive a promotion when Sale hits his innings cap.

Closer: Matt Thornton

Matt Thornton will get another shot at the closer role after the White Sox sent Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays and Chris Sale to the rotation. Thornton struggled with the gig early in 2011. Jesse Crain could also be a factor in the ninth inning, and top prospect Addison Reed could stake his claim before the end of the year.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise

Can Adam Dunn make history be two seasons in a row?

Dunn's .159/.292/.277 line in 2011 would have set new low-water marks in MLB history had he logged six more at-bats. Wiser individuals than I have attempted to dissect why he struggled so much, but there are a few stats that stick out as so aberrational that a rebound of some sort appears inevitable. He struck out in 35.7 percent of his at-bats, which was an uptick of five percentage points from 2010 and nearly nine points higher than his career rate (26.9 percent) entering 2011. His recorded a .118 ISO after not posting a figure lower than .249 over the last eight seasons. All signs point to 2012 being more of an anomaly than the start of a trend, but even an improved offseason regimen will not be enough to propel him back to his 40-home run, 100-RBI heyday.

What fantasy impact will Robin Ventura have?

Ventura enters the season with exactly zero games of managing experience, so it is tough to determine what his style will be. Chances are he will not stir things up too much, as he will have to play with most of the same personnel from the latter Guillen years. The former third baseman could have a positive impact on Brent Morel, and a change in leadership could benefit the perpetually-struggling Gordon Beckham. Ventura has not talked about reverting to the six-man rotation, so chances are the Sox's starting pitchers will receive a few more starts over the course of the season. New bench coach Mark Parent said they will be aggressive on the basepaths, but chances are Alejandro De Aza does not approach Juan Pierre's 86 steal attempts from 2010.

Strengths

The rotation could be solid as long as Jake Peavy stays healthy. Paul Konerko has continued to produce even in his mid-30s, and he continues to be a bank in the heart of the order. Alexei Ramirez and Brent Morel will provide solid defense on the left side of the infield.

Weaknesses

There aren't many major prospects in the cupboard, so the organization would have a tough time swinging a trade should they get off to a surprising start. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham and Morel could be major holes in the lineup.

Rising: Chris Sale proved his mettle in his first full season as a pro, and his fantasy relevance should improve as he moves from sometime-closer to full-time starter. He held both right-handed and left-handed batters to a near-.200 BAA His second half splits were very good (10.6 K/9IP, 0.837 WHIP, .154 BAA in 34.2 innings), which indicates opposing hitters did not catch on even after the amount of scouting tape accumulated. His move to the rotation should result in 150+ innings of solid ratios and strikeout numbers.

Falling: The White Sox dug deep to keep A.J. Pierzynski around last offseason, but they may try just as hard to trade him at some point during this season. His .287 batting average and eight home runs from the fantasy position may have served fantasy owners well in 2010, but he enters 2011 on the wrong side of age 35. Assuming Jason Varitek and Ivan Rodriguez remain unemployed, Pierzynski will take the title of active catcher with most games behind the plate at 1,433 (Ramon Hernandez is next at 1,390). In addition, a budding Tyler Flowers will likely break camp with the club, and he should be a more threatening backup than Ramon Castro has been the past few seasons.

Sleeper: After 1,299 at-bats in the minors, it looks like Dayan Viciedo will finally get a shot at an everyday job in Chicago. He hit 40 home runs in 205 games at Triple-A as a 21 and 22-year-old, and that power should play well as he matures at US Cellular field.

Super-Sleeper: Brent Lillibridge has played every defensive position other than catcher in his brief major league career, and he should see playing time all over the diamond this year as the Sox's primary utility man. He could also provide a cheap combination of power and speed in deeper formats. He may also be a Gordon Beckham slump, Alexei Ramirez injury or Alejandro De Aza regression away from some serious playing time.

Top Prospects

Addison Reed - Reed vaulted from the Sally League to the Major Leagues in his first full season as a pro, experiencing very little resistance along the way. He struck out 111 to only 14 walks in the minors and then went on to strike out 12 in six major league appearances. He should score one of the White Sox's top setup roles out of spring training, and he could be their closer before season's end.

Nestor Molina - Molina served as the White Sox's bounty in the Sergio Santos trade. Molina's numbers between High-A Dunedin and Double-A Hampshire were outstanding, as he posted a 33:2 K:BB in 22 innings at his final stop in 2011. In addition to missing bats and limiting the free passes, Molina gets a significant number of his outs on the ground as well. Considering that 2011 was just Molina's third season as a pitcher, there may be more growth potential here as he continues to hone his craft.

Eduardo Escobar - Escobar barely eked out a .300 OBP in 2011, which was his first campaign at Triple-A Charlotte. He has stolen double-digit bags in each of the last three seasons, but his success rate on the basepaths is a modest 63.6 percent for his minor league career. His Triple-A struggles aside, Escobar's glove looked MLB-ready in brief September action, so he could be the first guy the club turns to should something happen to Alexei Ramirez. Still, it will probably be another year or two before the club considers him for an everyday job.

Simon Castro - Castro started off strong in the Padres system, and he will receive a fresh start in the White Sox organization. In 2010, he saw his K/BB ratio drop from 2.97 to 1.00 with the move and then from 4.56 to 1.17 in 2011. Maintaining a consistent delivery and command seem to be an issue for him and while his raw skills are strong, he won't be a factor in the majors unless he can learn to dominate Triple-A hitting.

Trayce Thompson - Thompson exploded for 24 home runs and 36 doubles as a 20-year-old at Low-A Kannapolis in 2011. However, he also displayed some streaky tendencies and struck out 172 times in 519 at-bats. Thompson also had vastly greater success against left-handed pitchers (.951 OPS) than righties (.721), which is something he will have to improve upon as he ascends the minor leagues. He comes from an athletic family and possesses a lot of upside, but he is probably a few seasons away from sniffing the major leagues.