Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2014 MLB Season Preview: Chicago White Sox

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Chicago White Sox

Manager: Robin Ventura (3rd season)

2013 In Review (63-99, 5th place, 30GB)

What could have gone wrong, did go wrong for the Chicago White Sox in 2013.  The White Sox narrowly avoided their first 100-loss season since 1970.  This was the same cast that battled down-to-the-wire for the division title the previous season.  These things tend to happen when runs are hard to come by, the opposition receives gift-wrapped runs, and the baseball is kicked around like an empty beer can down a back alley.

The numbers tell the story.  It’s ugly, very ugly.  The South Siders scored only 598 runs – fewest in the American League.  They committed an unsightly 125 errors, which in turn, led to 11.1% of their runs allowed last season to be unearned.  73% of their baserunners ended up stranded.  They were continuously plagued by shoddy baserunning (running into outs and getting picked off).

Their best pitcher might have won the Cy Young Award had the bullpen tried bailing water with buckets instead of fishnets.  The White Sox lost an incredible 32.2% of their games when leading or tied after seven innings.  Nothing here adds up to anything remotely approaching a winning season.

Interesting what can happen to a franchise when it relies on an aging core of players, a leaky bullpen, and a barren farm system.  Ahem!  Was 2013 an outlier or a sign of things to come?

2014 Preview

Offense

One thing is a near certainty, the offense will almost certainly be better than it was last season.  It has to be; In spite of Adam Dunn.  The additions of Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu will help fuel an offensive resurgence.  To the point where the team might score north of 700 runs.

The linchpin will quite possibly be Cuban import Jose Abreu.  Like most players from the island nation, there is quite a bit of risk involved.  While it is undeniable that the slugging first baseman has massive power, one must wonder how his approach will translate at the major league level.  The White Sox have rolled the dice and are hoping for Puig-like results.

Eaton (not that Adam Eaton) was obtained from the Arizona Diamondbacks in December as part of a three-way trade.  Eaton is a very solid, scrappy player who will quickly endear himself to the fan base.  He has an excellent approach at the plate and displays gap power.  He could very easily approach .285/.390/.500 with over 500 plate appearances.  Plus, he can play all three outfield positions.

Davidson (who was acquired with Eaton) is a sturdy third baseman who should be a mainstay at a position that has been a ‘black hole’ for the franchise for years.  With consistent playing time he should hit 20-25 home runs and drive in 75-85 runs when he reaches full potential.

Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo will fill out the outfield.  Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez will play the infield up-the-middle.  Beckham, who never lived up to the star-potential, has been a serviceable second baseman over the years.  Then there is the once great, Paul Konerko.  Injuries and ‘father time’ have finally caught up to the erstwhile star, but the former World Series hero can still do some damage with the bat if his plate appearances are kept at manageable levels.

Then there is Adam Dunn.  Where to begin.  Dunn has been in a precipitous decline since 2011.  That season, in just a shade under 500 plate appearances, he struck out a whopping 177 times and hit a paltry .159.  Yes, .159.  He will still hit around 25 home runs just by accident.  The other at-bats he’ll walk, but mostly he’ll strike out and take that long stroll back to the dugout.  Plus, the White Sox are saddled with his $15 million/year contract.  Dunn makes Ryan Howard look like Babe Ruth.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

1. Adam Eaton, CF

2. Gordon Beckham, 2B

3. Alexei Ramirez, SS

4. Paul Konerko, DH

5. Jose Abreu, 1B

6. Alejandro De Aza, RF

7.  Matt Davidson, 3B

8. Dayan Viciedo, LF

9. Josh Phegley, C

Defense

This is an area that needs monumental improvement if the club expects any traction in the standings.  The old axiom is that the opposition cannot be given extra outs.  Apparently, the White Sox were in a gift-giving mood last year – trailing only the 111-loss Houston Astros in errors committed.  But, the only position that will see defensive improvement will be wherever manager Robin Ventura decides to play Adam Eaton on a given night.

The rest of the team might-as-well take the field with oven mitts on their hands.  It is what it is.  A manager can only make his team take infield practice and hit fungoes for so long.  Progress would be making 25-30 fewer errors.

Starting Rotation

Chris Sale. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Barring injury or attrition, the starting rotation should be a position of strength for the White Sox.  Led by one of the very best left-handers in the game along with a solid supporting cast, the club should see plenty of close games heading into the seventh inning or later.

Chris Sale, who looks like he could be blown away by a gust of wind off of Lake Michigan, has developed into a top five left-handed starter in both leagues.  The 6-foot-6 string bean can put away hitters with a mid-90’s fastball to go along with a devastating slider that left-handed hitters have no chance against.  Sale will turn 25 just before Opening Day, so Sox fans can only hope that they will be able to witness him reach his full potential.

Veteran left-hander John Danks is finally healthy after missing nearly a full season while recovering shoulder surgery.  He will have one of the lowest walk rates in baseball.  He doesn’t have the put-away stuff that Sale has, but he knows how to pitch and will more than likely be the number two starter.

Youngsters Erik Johnson and Jose Quintana will be heavily counted upon by Ventura and long time pitching coach Don Cooper.  Johnson, a righty, dominated during two minor league stops in 2013.  He was promoted in September and did not disappoint.  He features a low-to-mid-90’s fastball along with a tight-breaking slider.  Quintana, a lefty, was one of the their best starters last season.  His fastball is nothing to write home about, but he has a plus curveball and changeup.  He surprisingly logged 200 innings last season.

Journeyman Felipe Paulino and youngster Andre Rienzo (the first Brazilian to pitch in the major leagues) will more than likely battle it out for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Projected Starting Rotation

Chris Sale, LHP

Erik Johnson, RHP

John Danks, LHP

Jose Quintana, LHP

Felipe Paulino, RHP

Bullpen

The White Sox traded away closer Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks during the offseason as part of the Eaton/Davidson deal.  Reed saved 69 games the last two seasons combined, but was made expendable by the emergence of hard throwing right-hander Nate Jones.  Jones possesses an upper-90’s fastball, that can reach triple digits, as well as a wipeout slider.

Right-hander Mitchell Boggs and hard-throwing journeyman Matt Lindstrom may also get a chance to close out games should Jones stumble.  Crafty veteran Scott Downs and flame-throwing Donnie Veal will take care of business from the left side.

Closer

Nate Jones, RHP

Best Case Scenario

Hope springs eternal for baseball fans this time of year.  No matter what transpired the previous campaign, every fan feels like their team has a chance to celebrate in October.  White Sox fans will be no different when pitchers and catchers report for duty in Arizona next week.

A lot has to happen for the White Sox to even get a whiff of the .500 mark.  First-and-foremost, Abreu has to play like a $68 million man.  Eaton and Davidson have to play like future All-Stars.  Ramirez and Beckham need to have pretty close to career years.  Chris Sale needs to be Chris Sale.  Danks needs to stay off of the disabled list.  Johnson and Quintana need to have breakout seasons.  Konerko needs to squeeze out one more productive year and Dunn needs to…ahh, never mind!

They need to make fewer base running blunders (much fewer) and need to make fewer errors (much, much fewer).  Like I said, a lot of things need to happen for the White Sox to make a dramatic improvement and begin their march up the American League Central standings.  A lot.

Worst Case Scenario

If this happens, the South Siders will make a run at that 1970 team’s 106 losses.

If the wheels completely come off of Konerko and Dunn is, well, Dunn.  If Abreu looks lost or overmatched at the plate.  One thing is a certainty, Abreu never faced the likes of Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer in Cuba.  If Eaton and Davidson play like they belong in Triple-A.  If Danks reinjures that shoulder and Quintana regresses.

If the defense, base running, anemic offense, and leaky bullpen are not improved – and not improved significantly, fans on the South Side of Chicago are in for a very long, hot summer.

Prediction:

68-94, 5th place

 

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