What do the White Sox have at each position after the 2014 offseason? The picture has gotten a bit clearer with the recent cuts and reassignments. Let's take a look at the White Sox's first base position to see how it stacks up for 2014 and beyond.
The Three-Headed Monster
The signing of Jose Abreu as well as the somewhat surprising return of Paul Konerko this offseason have left the White Sox roster overloaded with large, unathletic, power hitters who can only field one position, if that. Abreu is the most likely to contribute positively to the White Sox in 2014. His ZIPS projections would certainly be acceptable for his first year in the big leagues. He is projected to have a line near .273/.364/.494, which would be an OPS+ of 135, or 35% above league average offensively. Let's just hope injuries don't hamper him from the beginning of the season.
Abreu is expected to take most of the plate appearances at first base with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko handling the rest, as well as manning the designated hitter position. Konerko is already prepared for a reduced role on the field and Adam Dunn will see a cut in his plate appearances as well. Konerko and Dunn combined are projected to produce less than half a win over next season so most of the value produced from this position at the big league level will come from Jose Abreu.
Knocking on the Door
Andy Wilkins and Dan Black are the closest first basemen in the minors to being major league ready. Both Wilkins and Black will likely start the year in Triple-A with the Charlotte Knights. Wilkins split last season between Birmingham and Charlotte. He hit well in Double-A (.288/.386/.477) but wasn't spectacular given that nearly all of his prospect value must come from his bat as a first baseman.
Dan Black is a year older than Wilkins at 26 years-old but only reached Double-A Birmingham by the end of the 2013 season. He has hit well each of the last three seasons but he was also a little old for each level. Neither of these guys crack the top prospect list for the White Sox and its doubtful that either will be seen on the major league squad this season even if there are numerous designated hitter/first basemen injuries.
Others to Watch
Two more names stick out in the list of potential, future White Sox first basemen. They are Keon Barnum and Rangel Ravelo. Barnum was drafted 48th overall by the White Sox in the 2012 draft out of high school and is still only 21 years-old. Barnum's calling card is immense power and like many young power hitters his Achilles' heal is making consistent contact. A shoulder injury slowed down his development early in his career but if he can keep his contact rate up while maintaining his power he could fly through the White Sox system.
Rangel Ravelo is the most interesting out of the White Sox first basemen not named Jose Abreu. He is only 21 years-old and split time between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem last season. He didn't hit well for Kannapolis in a very small number of plate appearances (.666 OPS). However, he still received a promotion to High-A Winston-Salem where he hit .312/.393/.455 over 364 plate appearances. He also walked 11.5% of the time while only striking out in 13.3% of his plate appearances in 2013. Additionally, Ravelo actually reduced his K% after being promoted from Kannapolis, which is a very encouraging sign. One knock on him has been his lack of power (4 HRs in 364 PAs in High-A) but some think that there might be more power to come as he continues to develop.
There isn't much depth to speak of at first base anywhere in the organization. At the major league level you have Jose Abreu who, while looking fantastic in Spring Training, is still an unknown commodity. Dunn and Konerko cannot be counted on to provide any positive value given their recent performances and ages.
Wilkins and Black are beginning to look a lot like former White Sox journeyman, Dan Johnson. They both hit well in the minors but neither has shown enough to justify an extended look at the big league level. Their ages, 25 and 26 years-old respectively, do not inspire hope that either will amount to even an average regular at the big league level.
Barnum and Ravelo are both still very young and have shown signs of major league potential. Though, Barnum is still essentially a lottery ticket as he could go either way. Ravelo may be a sleeper in the White Sox system and is a player to keep an eye on in 2014.
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