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White Sox Thu Mar 13 2014
Spring Training is great. All the games are in sunny Florida or Arizona, the atmosphere is laid back, the same story lines emerge every year. The games don't matter: Ties occur and the split-squad concept is baseball at its finest - too many players even for a nine inning, substitution-heavy game.
I also love how local evening news telecasts cover the Cubs and Sox. WGN's Dan Roan will be in Arizona with a small hint of a sunburn, and the hosts in the Chicago studio will go, "It looks so warm down there, bring back this weather for us, Dan!" It's all awesome.
Though Spring Training is as far from the Junction Boys as you can possibly conceive, it's not all fun in the sun. The month of March is a time for stiff intra-squad competition. Minor leaguers are battling for the chance to stay on the roster; free agents are hoping to stick with a team; guys are preparing their bodies for a grueling 162 game schedule; and, most importantly for fans, players are jockeying for lineup spots.
The White Sox have as many question marks as anyone in terms of that last tidbit. Several positions are up for grabs right now.
The Sox traded Addison Reed for Matt Davidson, and although the guy isn't a 100 percent ready MLB player yet, the early indications was that he was the favorite for the Opening Day start at third. Au contraire! Conor Gillaspie, who had a fine start last year before tailing off, is the most likely starter at the position. Also a possibility? Jeff Keppinger! It's easy to forget about that guy, but he's still around (though he probably will begin the year on the DL). It would be nice if 2012 Keppinger returned, but 2013 Keppinger would be beyond dreadful.
Anyway, if Gillaspie gets the start at third, it will probably be a matter of time before Davidson gets put into the lineup. Gillaspie is right at the replacement player level.
The Sox have been talking about platooning Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko at DH this year, with Dunn getting at-bats against righties and Konerko facing lefties. (Konerko will also spell Jose Abreu at first base every so often). The platooning strategy is a good one: Konerko was bad news last year but still hit lefties well, with a line of 313/.398/.525 in 113 plate appearances. Dunn's splits aren't as dramatic but he's best against righties -- .226/.327/.459 with 28 homers in 2013. It's likely both guys will be gone next year, but an arrangement like this year should work.
The Sox have four guys for three spots. Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia are definite regulars, so now the question is what will happen with Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo. Both are in trade rumors - De Aza with the Twins and Viciedo with the Mariners.
While Viciedo just turned 25 and De Aza is nearing 30, the difference between the two in value is marginal at best. For all that's been said about Viciedo's raw power, he hasn't shown too much of it. He had 25 homers in an almost full 2012 season and 14 home runs last year in 124 games. With that, he strikes out a lot and rarely walks. He's not a great defender and his total WAR for the last two years is 1.0. De Aza walks a little more but strikes out three times as often as he walks. He does have good power for what he's perceived as, though, and he'll be better out of the leadoff spot if he gets the starting spot in left field.
Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks will be the top three starters on this team. Erik Johnson was one of the team's best prospects and he's had a great spring. He'll be in the rotation. As for the last spot, it's between Andre Rienzo (who I will mistakenly call "Anthony" Rienzo, ala Anthony Rizzo, 20 times this year) and Feliple Paulino.
Rienzo was just OK in his 10 starts last year. He had a 4.82 ERA and no outing that really stood out. Paulino has a lot of upside, even at age 30. His strikeout rate is really good and he was regarded as a good signing this winter (one year for $1.75 million with a team option). However, Paulino has struggled in spring training and is still recovering from elbow surgery in 2012 and a shoulder operation last year.
This looked to be Nate Jones' spot (he has a 98-mph fastball with a good and frequently thrown slider), but it's not that simple. Jones has had a glute strain, and closer competitor Matt Lindstrom has an oblique strain. Rookie Daniel Webb, former Cardinal Mitchell Boggs and former Dodger Ronald Belisario are also options.
This should be Jones's role to lose. Even though his 2013 stats aren't impressive at face value, he still had an excellent strikeout rate and a solid WHIP. He was also quietly awesome in 2012. Jones can basically have the same value Addison Reed did for this club.