With pitchers and catchers set to report to White Sox camp tomorrow, it is time to look at some of the storylines heading into the 2014 Spring Training.
1) How will the new position players perform?
If you include the Avisail Garcia acquisition last July, the White Sox have added four young position players to their roster. In addition to Garcia, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, and Matt Davidson are expected to be key contributors for many seasons to come. With all four players having little to no major league experience heading into Spring Training, it will be interesting to see how each player performs. Garcia and Eaton having limited major league experience, but I’m excited to see how they will react to having starting positions locked up heading into a season. Hopefully, both players will show up to camp confident and play with something to prove after both were traded from their parent organizations as top prospects. With Abreu and Davidson, I want to see how they will adjust to their new surroundings and situations. This will be Abreu’s first major league baseball experience, and it should give us a sense of how he can handle major league pitching on an everyday basis. The biggest question with Abreu is whether or not his bat speed is quick enough to handle major league fastballs, particularly on the inner-half of the plate? If Abreu appears to have trouble hitting those pitches consistently, then it could be problem for the young slugger as he enters his first season. For Davidson, this will be his first appearance in a big-league camp with a chance to make the Opening Day roster. With only a Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger platoon blocking his way, it will be intriguing to see if Davidson can force the White Sox’ hand with an impressive spring.
2) What will the back-end of the starting rotation look like?
After Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the White Sox starting rotation is full of question marks. If healthy, John Danks is guaranteed a rotation spot, but how effective will he be in 2014? Danks will now be roughly 18 months removed from the shoulder surgery that he had in August of 2012, and he should be fully recovered. After missing all of April and most of May last season, Danks returned to the mound to make 22 starts in 2013. Unfortunately, the results weren’t ideal as Danks finished with a 4.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 138.1 innings. After a rocky last few years, it remains to be seen if Danks can return to his old self. The last two slots will likely be filled by Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino. Of the pair, Johnson appears to have the most stability as manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper have stated the young righty is a clear favorite to land a spot in the rotation. Johnson is the White Sox best pitching prospect and impressed in five starts last season with a 3.25 ERA. Johnson has the stuff to be an above-average middle-of-the-rotation arm, so 2014 will be a big year for him to prove he belongs in the big leagues. That leaves one final spot. The White Sox signed Felipe Paulino to a one-year, $1.75 million deal as the veteran right-hander attempts to make a comeback after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. Prior to the injury, Paulino was off to a great start in 2012 with a 1.67 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in seven starts, and he also struck out 39 batters in 37.2 innings. Obviously, I don’t expect Paulino to be that type of pitcher in 2014, but the potential is there for him to be a quality fourth or fifth starter. If either Johnson or Paulino can’t earn a spot in the rotation, look for Andre Rienzo to get an extended look as well. Despite the question marks surrounding the back-end, I believe this can be an above-average rotation in the American League.
3) Who will emerge as closer?
The White Sox appeared to have their long-term answer at closer with Addison Reed, but he was shipped to Arizona for Matt Davidson. Now, who will emerge as the closer in 2014? The early favorite appears to be Nate Jones. Jones has electric stuff with his fastball reaching the mid-to-high 90s, and he has shown an ability to overpower hitters by having 154 strikeouts in 149.2 career innings. The question is whether or not he has the control and command to succeed in the ninth inning? Jones has allowed more base runners (career 1.30 WHIP) than you would typically want a closer surrender, especially when trying to hold a one run lead. I believe Jones as a quality reliever, but I’m skeptical of his chances of locking down the closer spot. If Jones can’t get the job done, the White Sox may turn to either Matt Lindstrom (45 career saves) or Scott Downs (26 career saves). Neither pitcher is the answer for the future, but both veterans have experience in the ninth inning. The dark horse for the job in 2014 and beyond is Daniel Webb. Webb saw brief action last season with nine relief appearances. The 24-year-old righty flashed his potential by racking up 10 strikeouts to go along with a 3.18 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 11.1 innings. Webb was able to crack the majors last season after starting the year in Single-A and working his way up through both Double-A and Triple-A. During his ascent through the White Sox system, Webb pitched 62.2 innings in just 42 appearances and the results were promising. Webb struck out 78 batters and owned a 1.87 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP. The White Sox wouldn’t have traded Addison Reed unless they felt they have a suitable replacement in their system. If Nate Jones can’t grab a hold of the job as the season wears on, don’t be surprised if Daniel Webb is closing out games in the second half of the season.
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