Following today’s 2-2 tie with the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox are now 5-7 with three ties after 15 spring training games. With Opening Day just over two weeks away, here’s what has caught my attention so far this spring.
Left field Platoon: For now, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza are expected to share duties in left field. Apparently the competition is working thus far as both hitters are excelling this spring with batting averages well over .300. When the White Sox acquired Adam Eaton, I expected them to trade either Viciedo or De Aza and it appears that may still happen. The Seattle Mariners reportedly have inquired about Viciedo, whereas the Minnesota Twins have been linked to having interest in De Aza. I would be a little surprised if the Sox traded De Aza to the Twins, but I still expect a trade in the coming months.
Starting Rotation: The five-man rotation is just about set in stone, and the most impressive hurlers have been John Danks and Erik Johnson. Danks has yet to allow a run in eight innings of work, while Johnson owns a 2.57 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and seven strikeouts in seven innings. Jose Quintana left his second start after getting hit by a line drive in the shin, but he made his next start after suffering only a bruise. Quintana hasn’t been sharp this spring (16.50 ERA), but I wouldn’t worry about him right now. Opening Day starter Chris Sale bounced back after a rough second start with a solid outing on Monday where the lefty pitched 4.1 innings of scoreless ball. Leading 5th starter candidate Felipe Paulino hasn’t had good results this spring (9.72 ERA and 17 hits allowed in 8.1 innings), but he has flashed potential with 11 strikeouts to only two walks. Paulino, who underwent Tommy John in 2012, says that he feels great and it appears that the righty is getting more comfortable on the mound with every start. After surrendering four earned runs in his first start, Paulino has lowered that total by a run in two consecutive starts.
Position Battles: The two biggest position battles seem to be getting closer to being settled as Opening Day approaches. Word is that third baseman Conor Gillaspie (.269 avg, 2 HRs, 4 RBI) and catcher Tyler Flowers (.273 avg, 1 HR, 3 RBI) are leading their respective battles. Gillaspie’s experience, improved defense, and left-handed bat have given him the edge over Jeff Keppinger and Matt Davidson. Davidson will likely begin the season in Triple-A to get settled into the organization after joining the club via the Addison Reed trade. As long as Davidson stays healthy, I’d expect him to be starting at the hot corner before July. Due to his defense and game-calling skills, Tyler Flowers currently has a slight edge over Josh Phegley as the primary catcher, but both players will likely get equal time behind the dish.
Newcomers: Leadoff man Adam Eaton and first baseman Jose Abreu have been the most impressive of the offseason additions. Eaton continues to swing a hot bat with a .391 average and two stolen bases, while Abreu is hitting .286 with one home run and a team-leading six RBI. Both players look to be determined to prove their doubters wrong.
New Closer: Reliever Nate Jones is off to a great start with five strikeouts and one walk in four scoreless innings. Jones is the leading candidate to open the season as the closer, and he certainly has the stuff to get the job done. Jones increased his strikeout rate from 8.2 K/9 in 2012 to 10.3 K/9 in 2013 and lowered his walk rate from 4.0 BB/9 to 3.0 BB /9. If Jones can improve upon those numbers again in 2014, then he should hold the job. At this point, I am a little more optimistic in Jones as the closer than I was to start the spring, but I’m still not sure that his career 1.30 WHIP is “closer” material.
Top Prospects: Second baseman prospects Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez have both enjoyed outstanding springs, combining for 14 hits and 4 stolen bases in 27 at-bats. Neither player will break camp with the team (Sanchez was optioned to Triple-A today), but both are in the long-term plans for the organization. In other words, Gordon Beckham better have a career-year if he wants to remain on this team going forward.