Most prognosticators are hammering the White Sox this spring. The common theme centers on offseason moves that jettisoned outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Sergio Santos. The Quentin move didn’t surprise. Trading Santos was more of a shock. Especially since there was no apparent closer in waiting. Consider that we are now midway through spring training and new manager Robin Ventura has yet to name his ninth-inning man. Left-handed Matt Thornton may have the upper hand. He has experience with the club and the repertoire to do the job. He started last season as the closer, but then manager Ozzie Guillen made a quick switch to Santos. Other contenders include right-handers Jesse Crain and relative newcomer Addison Reed. Reed is the man to watch. He has good stuff and he's very composed on the mound.
I'm not as down on the White Sox as some others. I think they have an offense that can be might scary if their sleeping giants ever awaken. Consider that at one point we could count on Adam Dunn to bolster our fantasy teams with 30-plus homers year in and year out. It was his awful batting average that concerned fantasy owners. This spring I have seen a rejuvenated, much more physically fit Dunn at the plate. He is more patient waiting for his pitch than I saw during the 2011 season. He also has a shorter, quicker swing to the ball. If he keeps up his current mechanics and plays in the field at times to keep him in shape, I believe he can again hit 20 home runs. While he isn't a high-round draft pick anymore, Dunn may be a sleeper to target at the end of your draft or auction. I wouldn't let the other guy grab him as everyone heads for the door at the end of the draft.
I have been disappointed so far in what I've seen from Dayan Viciedo. To me he looks very undisciplined at the plate. He is hacking away at pitches and his contact rate has not been good. He's a liability in left field and I really question how long that experiment will last. I've seen him take some very poor routes to balls. If Viciedo doesn't hit the way he is expected, his playing time will be impacted because the club is paying him for his bat. I'm not willing to write him off yet, but my caution light is up. I've always been high on Viciedo, but I'm bothered by what I've seen so far this spring.
One player I've been impressed with has been center fielder Alejandro De Aza. He's an energetic, speedy player with a solid enough bat to cause some trouble. I see him as a contact hitter with the ability to get on base and steal. He also has a bit of pop in his bat and he may be an under the radar guy when bigger fish have been reeled in during your draft.
The White Sox are fortunate to have a high-quality utility player like Brent Lillibridge available to spell De Aza in center and Viciedo in right. In most leagues he will have multiple eligibility on draft day, with additional positions possibly being added during the season.
Lillibridge is a versatile guy with the ability to play most every infield and outfield position with high quality. He has quick, sure hands and a good glove. He has the speed to cover his position well, regardless of where he plays. Lillibridge also brings surprising power and contact hitting. He can be counted upon to put the bat on the ball and is extremely strong in run producing situations. I like him better than some of the White Sox players like…
Alex Rios. He still looks lost at the plate to me. For some reason, it appears that breaking pitches fool Rios very easily. He reaches for too many pitches and gets himself out. While there might be a comeback somewhere within him, I won't be calling his name on draft day. There are just too many outfielders available that are superior to taking a chance on a comeback candidate with an empty bat. Not even in the endgame of drafts.
A guy I really like is Tyler Flowers. I think he's going to take playing time from starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski with a quality bat and adequate defense. If Flowers proves he can handle the White Sox pitching staff, I look for Pierzynski to be on the trading block and attractive to a club like Tampa Bay that is looking for additional catching. Pierzynski has more value to another club than to the White Sox. He hits enough to be a viable fantasy option from mid-catcher down. Especially in two-catcher leagues, but keep your eye on his playing time.
You want to beat the competition to a hot rookie in keeper league play? Try Eduardo Escobar. I'm not sure he isn't the second baseman of the future in Chicago. The guy can play defense and he can hit. He's a solid contact hitter with some power. He can also steal some bases. He may be a year away, but he will give notice to one Gordon Beckham that he's hanging around waiting for his chance. I've written about Escobar before in my Arizona Fall League coverage. I hold to my original opinion.
I'm still high on Alexei Ramirez to provide a good return for a non-elite shortstop. He has power and he has speed. There are times his bat disappears, but when he's hot, he's hot.
What I Like About The White Sox
- Chris Sale has a full repertoire of pitches. If he finds consistent command, he can help your fantasy team.
- Alejandro De Aza has speed and can hit the ball. He also has occasional pop.
- Alexei Ramirez plays solid shortstop. He will help the defense up the middle.
- Paul Konerko offers a big bat, good defense and some leadership to a team that could be aimless during the season.
- Robin Ventura could become a very good manager. He is bright and articulate. He knows what he wants.
What I Don't Like About The White Sox
- Their success depends upon comebacks from too many players including Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham to name a few.
- They have no true "ace" on their starting rotation and no proven closer.
- I don't see any one player that provides impact to the starting lineup that can really change games. Not one game, several games.
These Are Guys I Would Draft or Win At Auction
Alejandro De Aza
The Are Guys I Want The Other Guy To Draft
* This was supposed to be the year the Royals turned it around. Losing their battery of Salvador Perez and Joakim Soria certainly won't help. The Royals have found some catching help in Humberto Quintero. Circle Jonathan Broxton on your draft sheet.
* Yu Darvish has to refine his repertoire to be effective in the big leagues. He has all the stuff in the world, but he has to throw strikes. The dry Phoenix air doesn't help his breaking balls, but it hasn't hurt Clayton Kershaw one bit.
* Dee Gordon can get from home to first in 3.9 seconds. That's Ichiro in his prime. Do you know how fast that is when you consider you have to drop a bat and then start running?
* Who will be pitching for the Rockies? I think it's a problem when Jamie Moyer is a mid-rotation starter.
* We'll probably see Trevor Bauer in Phoenix at some point this season. He's clearly a starting pitcher in waiting. But from what I've seen, he's a thrower and not a pitcher. So far. I like lefty Patrick Corbin better.
* Jarrod Parker has really struggled with his command since his first outing this spring. After that “light's out” appearance, he has scuffled. He was optioned to Triple-A, but he could return when the A's need a fifth starter in mid-April.
* Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine really likes Alfredo Aceves. I wouldn't sleep on him in your draft. He could be a Red Sox starter.
* Kendrys Morales is close to returning to the lineup as a DH. Imagine what the Angels lineup will be if it includes Morales.
* Gregor Blanco is a name to remember if you're looking for sleeper steals. I think he makes the Giants.
* We've been doing a RotoWire Roundtable of the Top 350 Players. Based upon what I have seen this spring, things have changed. Here is my new Top 10:
*depending upon his ability to recover from eye injury
That's it for this week. Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. I tweet from every spring training game I attend. Follow me on MLB.com in the Voices section. As always, your comments and questions are always welcome.