Spring Training is finally here. What this means is we can all get excited about the sight of actual major league baseball players on an actual baseball field, and then cry over the realization that we're still six weeks away from meaningful games being played.
Still, the season of optimism is upon us, so let's take a look at some of the important things to monitor during the White Sox's time in Arizona.
Sorry for yelling, but this is really the No. 1 thing that matters. I don't want to wake up in the morning and read things like "Chris Sale to skip throwing session after feeling tightness" or "Jose Abreu nursing sore calf." I don't care how minimal it is. I DON'T WANT TO SEE ANY OF IT.
Sorry for yelling again.
Who emerges at second base?
Rick Hahn said at SoxFest that Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez and Emilio Bonifacio would compete for the starting second baseman job at Spring Training. That was before he went out and signing Gordon Beckham for "depth."
Johnson winning the job and magically becoming a super-duper-star is the dream scenario, but let's be realistic. Another year for a player who only has one full season above High-A under his belt is probably in the cards.
That means the battle could be between Sanchez and the veterans. At 22, Sanchez is actually two years younger than Johnson, but has quite a bit more minor-league seasoning, having spent a majority of the past three seasons at Triple-A Charlotte.
He hit .250/.269/.300 in the small sample size of 104 plate appearances with the big club last year, but while he's never projected to be an above-average major leaguer, stepping up and winning the job would be a huge boost of confidence and shift Bonifacio and Beckham into the reserve roles they're more attuned to.
Carlos Rodon Mania
Few expect the White Sox's 2014 first-round pick to begin the season with the big club, but his ascension to the major league roster and take over a spot in the rotation is likely inevitable at some point in 2015. Of all the players who will spend time in big league camp, Rodon is the most intriguing to follow.
Besides, maybe Rodon is lights-out and either John Danks or Hector Noesi join Ozzie Smith in the Springfield Mystery Spot.
Hey, anything can happen!
What's the bullpen going to look like?
Here's a list of the players who could stake at least some sort of claim to a bullpen spot entering Spring Training:
- Maikel Cleto
- Zach Duke
- Javy Guerra
- Dan Jennings
- Nate Jones
- Zach Putnam
- Jake Petricka
- David Robertson
- Erik Surkamp
- Daniel Webb
I'm no mathematician, but that seems like more guys than the White Sox have bullpen spots. And I didn't even mention non-roster invitees like Jesse Crain, Brad Penny and Scott Carroll, minor league signing Matt Albers, OR Erik Johnson, who may or may not still be alive.
And don't forgot about Rodon!
All the names I mentioned above add up to 16. Last season, the White Sox broke camp with 12 pitchers, which means, including the five starters, we need to eliminate nine names from this list. Let's do some predicting.
Duke, Jennings and Robertson were all brought in as specific solutions to the White Sox's bullpen problems in 2014. They're in. Putnam, Petricka and Guerra all showed a lot of promise in 2014 and, barring some sort of Spring Training breakdown, have likely earned the right to start the season with the big club. Let's say they're in, too.
That leaves one spot. The most likely candidates for that last spot would seem to be either Cleto or Webb. Jones would seem to most OBVIOUS candidate, were he healthy, but he's not. It would also be awesome if Crain proved he were healthy and took the spot, but I'm not going to count on that either. If I HAD to choose (OK, I'm making myself choose), I'll go with Cleto based on his raw stuff and the solid September he showed in 2014.
What's the bench going to look like?
It's going to look like this. Duh.
Beckham on the bench instead of in the lineup every day (hopefully) will be a welcomed sight, but his signing also offers the opportunity to platoon him with Conor Gillaspie, seeing as how Beckham is not awful against lefties and Gillaspie is. Having him around for that, as well as insurance in case second base turns into a steaming pile of crap (even if Beckham can't hit, he can at least still play defense at 2B) isn't the worst thing in the world.
The scariest thought I have about the bench will occur if Bonifacio wins the starting second base job. Bonifacio is ideally suited for a utility role, seeing as how he can fill in pretty much anywhere on the field except first base, catcher and pitcher. The White Sox had a guy on the roster who (sort of) filled that role in 2014 but the only problem is that guy (Leury Garcia) was maybe the worst player in the entire majors.
If Bonifacio isn't playing that role because he's manning second base on a regular basis, there's a chance the White Sox give a roster spot to Garcia again. And that's a less than ideal solution.
Thanks to the jettisoning of Dayan Viciedo, the outfield situation is a little more clear. With Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia penciled in to start in left, center and right, respectively, the only drama will be who becomes the team's fourth outfielder.
While Trayce Thompson, Jared Mitchell, Michael Taylor and Courtney Hawkins will all be part of the major league camp when Spring Training begins, the job appears to be J.B. Shuck's to lose.
Shuck was mostly terrible in limited playing time with both the Angels and Indians a year ago, but was solid for the Angels in 2013 as a backup and injury replacement and is considered adequate defensively in both left and right fields. After seeing Dayan Viciedo troll us for the past several seasons, we'll take adequate.
If the second base situation solves itself, there isn't likely to be a lot of drama. Let's project the position players to come out of camp based on the (very shaky) assumption that Bonifacio isn't the starting second baseman.
C — Tyler Flowers, Geovany Soto
1B/DH — Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche
INF — Conor Gillaspie, Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Sanchez, Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham
OF — Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, J.B. Shuck
The three names in bold are really the only question marks. It's hard to see someone other than Shuck winning the fourth outfielder job, but the White Sox do have a few other catchers in camp in Rob Brantly, Kevan Smith and, hell, maybe Adrian Nieto got significantly better somehow.
Can we expect surprises along the way?
Always. Let's not forget that just a few days into camp last season, Nate Jones went down with an injury that basically cost him an entire season and is still impacting him to this day.
Which brings us full circle. Spring Training is fun to follow — in a painful sort of way. But the key — beyond positional battles and everything else — is health.
Baseball is back! Well, sort of.
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