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White Sox's Team Preview: Come Sale Away

Ryan Eisner

Ryan Eisner

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

Expectations were low for the White Sox heading into 2012. The club jettisoned team ace Mark Buehrle, closer Sergio Santos, and manager Ozzie Guillen, while Adam Dunn and Alex Rios were among the worst everyday players in the league in 2011. Instead, the Sox led the AL Central for 117 days, and they did not relinquish the division crown until the final two weeks of September. The surprising effort was largely attributable to rebounds from 2011's largest disappointments. Dunn hit 41 home runs, Rios was a four-win player, and Jake Peavy made 30 starts for the first time since the team acquired him in 2009. Chris Sale successfully underwent the conversion from top-flight reliever to one of the best left-handed starters in the AL, and first-time regulars Dayan Viciedo (25 home runs) and Alejandro De Aza (26 steals) impressed in the outfield. The team added Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers, Kevin Youkilis, and Orlando Hudson over the course of the season, but ultimately the Tigers out-talented the Sox on their way to represent the AL in the World Series.

The team's offseason was marked more by departures than new arrivals. Jeff Keppinger was the team's lone major acquisition, while Youkilis, Pierzynski, and Myers left via free agency. Hence, the club's prospects for 2013 hinge heavily on 2012's roster producing at the same level or higher. Sale, Paul Konerko, and Addison Reed will need to avoid second-half fades, while Dunn and Rios will need to avoid any sort of significant regression. The White Sox probably do not have the personnel to catch an even more-loaded Tigers squad, and they will likely spend much of the season protecting their second-place perch from the rising Royals.

Offseason Transactions

Allowed Brian Bruney, Orlando Hudson, Francisco Liriano, Jose Lopez, A.J. Pierzynski, Brett Myers, Anthony Carter, Dan Johnson, and Kevin Youkilis to depart in free agency. Phil Humber was claimed off waivers by the Astros.

There were no huge surprises among these departures, as the White Sox needed to trim some payroll. Pierzynski was the longest-tenured player on this list, and his exit opens the starting catcher role for Tyler Flowers. Humber has the unfortunate reputation of being waived after throwing a perfect game.

Traded Brandon Kloess to the Padres for Blake Tekotte.

Tekotte was a top-20 prospect in the Padres' system, but his status dimmed a bit after he carried a .284 OBP in the hitter-friendly PCL in 2012.

Re-signed Dewayne Wise to a one-year contract worth $700K.

Wise, famous in Chicago for his 2009 catch preserving Mark Buehrle's perfect game, exceeded expectations after re-joining the White Sox in the second half of 2012, and the team brought him back to fill in a reserve outfield spot.

Claimed Angel Sanchez from Los Angeles (AL) in the Rule 5 draft.

Sanchez was the White Sox's first selection in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft since 2003, so he may have a better shot of sticking with the organization than other draftees. Assuming he does stay in Chicago, he will probably play a utility role akin to Eduardo Escobar's or Orlando Hudson's in 2012, playing a handful of games per month across the infield.

Signed Jeff Keppinger to a three-year, $12 million contract.

The Giants non-tendered Keppinger last offseason, but he turned in a .806 OPS season with the Rays into a three-year contract. The White Sox signed him to be their starting third baseman in 2013, but he may become a utility player by the end of this deal.

Signed Matt Lindstrom to a one-year contract.

The signing of Lindstrom provides the White Sox with another veteran reliever for a bullpen largely populated by younger pitchers. He should be high up on the list of save succession should sophomore closer Addison Reed struggle.

Claimed Lars Anderson off waivers from the Diamondbacks.

Anderson was once a highly-prized prospect in the Red Sox's system, but now he is on his fourth organization in 12 months. The White Sox had a need for a left-handed bat off the bench, and Anderson could fill that role.

Signed Steve Tolleson, Ramon Troncoso, Andy Gonzalez, Damaso Espino, Matt Zaleski, Ruben Sierra, Jr., Jeff Gray, David Purcey, Bryan Anderson, John Shelby, and Clyde Hankerd to minor league contracts.

All of the above are likely no more than organizational depth and few (if any) have a realistic chance of making the Opening Day roster. Tolleson may have the best shot of cracking the MLB roster as a utility man. Troncoso and Gray could wind up at the back of the big league bullpen at some point, and Anderson could play a role in the big league battery behind the plate if Tyler Flowers flops.

Projected Lineup

1. Alejandro De Aza, CF
2. Jeff Keppinger, 3B
3. Adam Dunn, DH
4. Paul Konerko, 1B
5. Alex Rios, RF
6. Dayan Viciedo, LF
7. Alexei Ramirez, SS
8. Gordon Beckham, 2B
9. Tyler Flowers, C

Overall, the lineup should take on the same flavor as last year, with Jeff Keppinger replacing Kevin Youkilis, and Dayan Viciedo moving up in the order in A.J. Pierzynski's wake. There has been some talk that Alex Rios could slide into the third spot in the order to put some distance between the only two left-handed regulars in the lineup (Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza), but Dunn's on-base ability is likely too valuable for him to vacate that slot.

Projected Rotation

1. Chris Sale
2. Jake Peavy
3. John Danks
4. Gavin Floyd
5. Jose Quintana/Hector Santiago

As heavy as the White Sox's lineup is on right-handed batters, their rotation is heavy on left-handed pitchers. The left-handed Chris Sale should open the season as the team's ace after finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young race, and the left-handed John Danks should be given the chance to earn a spot in the top half of the rotation if he can recover successfully from his August shoulder surgery. If Danks is not ready to start the year, then the left-handed Hector Santiago will receive a few early-season spins. Gavin Floyd could be on the block in the final year of his contract, which could open up a permanent spot for Santiago. Dylan Axelrod should start the season at Triple-A Charlotte or in the major league bullpen, and he should be the team's top choice as a spot starter.

Closer: Addison Reed - Reed did not start the 2012 season as the White Sox's closer, but he quickly took over the role when Hector Santiago flopped. Reed's ERA remained on the wrong side of 4.00 after May 13 for all but a couple of days, and he will need to improve upon his secondary pitches to become more effective against MLB hitters. Reed's fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he has excelled throughout his professional career at throwing strikes and limiting walks. The seemingly-eternal Matt Thornton could also close games, and Matt Lindstrom should provide some insurance.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

A.J. Pierzynski is gone, now what?

Pierzynski's career year was a crucial element of the White Sox's season-long contention in 2012. He had never hit more than 18 home runs in a season before, but he hit 27 in his final turn in a White Sox uniform. More than just a bat, Pierzynski was often unheralded for his performance behind the plate. He caught more than 8,700 innings over his eight-year run with the White Sox. John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Chris Sale enjoyed Pierzynski as a primary battery-mate for nearly the entirety of their professional careers. Tyler Flowers will be given the first shot behind the plate. The Sox acquired him as a heralded prospect before the 2009 season, but he has since slashed .205/.307/.388 in 273 major league at-bats. He had a career .484 slugging percentage in the minors, so there is some hope that his power will emerge as his at-bats become more frequent. However, the team does not have much of an insurance policy in case Flowers flops. Hector Gimenez, the projected backup, is a 30-year-old with 20 career MLB at-bats, and Josh Phegley has yet to show much capacity with a bat at the advanced minor league levels.

Will new general manager Rick Hahn replicate Kenny Williams?

Kenny Williams spent 12 years running the White Sox's front office, and he was regarded as one of the league's more fearless general managers during his tenure. Williams consistently dealt the future for the present, and the organization's top prospects usually became regulars on other squads. The organization elevated Williams to the executive vice president level at the conclusion of the regular season, and Rick Hahn, who has spent the past decade as the club's chief contract negotiator, took his place in the general manager's office. It is hard to glean too much of Hahn's philosophy from a mostly-quiet offseason other than he was able to get three years of Jeff Keppinger for roughly the same price as one year of Kevin Youkilis, and he did not prevent A.J. Pierzynski from signing an affordable one-year deal with the Rangers. Chances are Hahn will not vary too much from his predecessor and mentor, but we should find out more depending on how he deals with the impending free agency of key cogs like Gavin Floyd, Paul Konerko, and Jesse Crain.

Should we expect the 2011 or 2012 version of Adam Dunn?

Adam Dunn enjoyed one of the worst seasons in history in 2011, hitting a quarter of his usual home run total and OPS'ing an embarrassing .569. Several reasons were provided for his dismal performance - he struggled to acclimate to the full-time DH role, he was out of shape, and he came back too early from an early-season appendectomy. He still led both leagues with 222 strikeouts in 2012, but he also led the league in walks and topped the 40-home run mark for the first time since 2008. Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe he isn't), then we should expect Dunn to produce another low-average effort with at least 30 home runs.

Strengths

The White Sox's bullpen enters the season stocked with live arms, both young and old. Former top-prospect Addison Reed headlines the bullpen, but fellow 2012 rookies Nate Jones, Donnie Veal and Brian Omogrosso excelled at missing bats. There is also a solid veteran contingent in Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Matt Lindstrom. Also, the team's training staff has a strong history of keeping players off the disabled list.

Weaknesses

Once again, the organization's minor league affiliates are relatively bare of top prospect talent. The system has produced many of the projected regulars on the 25-man roster, but it has not produced a top-tier position player in years. It would not be a surprise if pre-season top-100 prospect lists only advertise one White Sox farmhand (Courtney Hawkins). This could affect their ability to make in-season acquisitions, or replace a player should injury befall an everyday position player.

Rising: Chris Sale - This time last year, we were not sure if Sale was going to be a starter or just a very productive reliever. In fact in late-April, we were not sure if Sale was going to stick in the rotation or land back in a late-inning role. Thankfully, Sale refused to budge from the rotation, and he finished the year striking out more batters per nine than any AL starter not named Scherzer, Darvish or Verlander. He faded a bit toward the end of 2012, but Sale made an effort to improve his conditioning in the offseason, and the team will ration his innings in spring training in an effort to preserve his effectiveness into the second half of 2013.

Falling: Matt Thornton - Thornton has continuously been the White Sox's fallback option at closer, serving as the presumptive No. 2 while Bobby Jenks, Sergio Santos, and Addison Reed handled ninth-inning duties. However, that responsibility may be coming to an end as Thornton enters his age-36 season. His strikeout rate has declined the past two seasons, and it was a mortal 7.3 over his 74 appearances in 2012. Someone like Nate Jones could become the team's insurance policy in 2013, and Donnie Veal could ascend to the bullpen's top left-handed slot.

Sleeper: Dayan Viciedo - Viciedo finally obtained an everyday MLB role in 2012, three years after defecting from Cuba and signing a four-year contract with the White Sox. He did not disappoint in the role, hitting 25 home runs and playing a capable left field. His home runs were almost evenly distributed between home and road appearances, so he is not just a product of his home park. It is also worth noting that he will turn 24 during spring training, and he should move into a friendlier lineup spot for run production.

Supersleeper: Hector Santiago - Santiago may have slipped under the radar of some after he squandered the White Sox's closer role in the first month of last season. However, a strong showing in the bullpen and some solid late-season starts should make him worth a flier toward the end of deeper drafts and auctions. He posted a .189 BAA in the bullpen after being demoted to a setup role in late April, and the team rewarded him with four September starts. He struck out 25 batters over those 19.1 innings in the rotation, albeit against the Twins, Royals and Indians. He had a strong showing as a starter in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and he should be in consideration for a rotation spot with the White Sox if John Danks (shoulder) is not ready to start the season or Gavin Floyd departs via trade.

Top Prospects

Trayce Thompson, OF - Thompson may be the best power hitter coming through the White Sox's minor league system. He finished 2012 at Triple-A Charlotte after hitting 22 home runs earlier in the year at High-A Winston-Salem. His long swing continues to result in too many strikeouts (172 in 2012) to predict much contact at the major league level, but the power may be legitimate. He will have a chance to work on those issues over a full season at Charlotte in 2013.

Courtney Hawkins, OF - The White Sox selected Hawkins 13th overall in the 2012 draft. He displayed athleticism right away, pulling off a back flip in MLB Network studios while wearing a full suit. He progressed to the High-A Level in a half-season of professional ball, which is no small feat for a player who turned 19 in the offseason. Hawkins accumulated a .324 OBP across three minor league levels, and he hit eight home runs and stole 11 bases in 229 at-bats. He will likely play out 2013 at Low-A or High-A, possibly splitting time between those levels and it will be interesting to see how his power develops as he progresses through the White Sox organization.

Carlos Sanchez, INF - Sanchez shot up the White Sox's prospect rankings in 2012 after he hit .370 in 119 at-bats at Double-A Birmingham. He struggled in limited action at Triple-A Charlotte, but he rebounded in the Arizona Fall League, with a .735 OPS over 22 games. He has come through the system as a middle infielder, but he could be a factor at third base as well depending on how the White Sox elect to use Jeff Keppinger. His bat will play better at shortstop or second, as there is virtually no power here to speak of. Look for him to start 2013 at Triple-A Charlotte, but he could be in Chicago at some point during the season if Gordon Beckham struggles or if Keppinger disappoints.

Andre Rienzo, SP - Rienzo is the latest fast-rising pitcher through the White Sox's organization, earning a 40-man roster spot in November after starting 2012 as a non-prospect at High-A. In between, he struck out 113 in 103.1 innings between three minor league levels. He also served a 50-game suspension for a positive PED test, but he continued to build on his improved command upon returning. Rienzo plans to pitch for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic, which could affect his workload in 2013.

Keon Barnum, 1B - The White Sox selected Barnum as the 48th overall pick in the first-year player draft in June. He is a large (drafted at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds) teenager with a good amount of power upside. A hint of that power was evident in his first 13 games as a pro, as he hit three home runs in 49 rookie-level at-bats. Some contact issues accompany that power, but the White Sox will be able to bring him up slowly through the organization. Look for him to spend all of 2013 at A-ball.