The White Sox sent 13 players packing from major league camp to minor league camp Wednesday, including 3 top prospects, Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers and Brandon Allen.
The Viciedo move is the most noteworthy because his $10MM contract makes him a big name, a news maker, but more importantly, it hands the third base job to Josh Fields. It's not like Fields didn't earn it; first with his commitment to working on his defense in the off-seasn, then with his strong spring performance (both at the plate and in the field.)
Ozzie Guillen seemed disappointedly optimistic when talking about Viciedo's demotion.
"He checked in a bit overweight, but he's a big kid," Guillen said. "That's the type of body he has."
"Maybe he'll play one year in the Minors. But we want to get him ready as soon as we can," Guillen went on. "The talent is there. But its not that easy to make the transition to American baseball."
"The kid's going to be a superstar in this game," Guillen said. "But he's got to play every day. Playing every other day here didn't do him any good."
While Viciedo and Flowers had big league camps that helped illustrate how much development they still need to make before they're able to make some noise at the major league level, Brandon Allen seemed to prove that his breakout '08 was no fluke. Some of you were upset with Allen's assignment to AA, but that's where I wanted him to go regardless of spring performance.
Allen's AA campaign [.275/.358/.614, 14 HR in 153 at-bats (including 2 off of David Price in his AA debut)] could have been classified as an extended hot streak. He's made significant strides in the 18 months, but it's hard to know just how repeatable his '08 campaign was when his time in AA wasn't long enough to escape the extended hot streak label.
Allen has the chance to become an Uber-prospect if he continues his development. He's a big boy who takes big hacks, and started to see some of his doubles turn into HRs last year, though he's never lacked for power. His K/BB ratio has gone from 6/1 in '06, to 3/1 in '07 (at the same level), to 2/1 last year (across two levels). Remember, I love year-to-year improvement. But his strikeout rate remains high, not Josh Fields high, but high enough that you worry about his ability to adjust to major league pitching. If Allen can cut his K-rate and/or continue to raise his walk-rate, he'll prove that his '08 was no fluke, and serve notice as possibly the Sox 1B/DH of the future. And since Konerko and Thome are still around, there's no need to rush him.
I hesitate to bring up the name of another big (black) left-handed first baseman who was similarly blocked by Thome --because such comparisons are never fair -- but Allen is very much in the same position that Ryan Howard was in back in '04. Hopefully Allen can have an '09 season as impressive as Howard's '04 (with fewer strikeouts... and more walks).
Small Sample Size Musical Chairs
Chris Getz has hit an understated .364/.432/.545 this spring while playing solid defense at 2B, and appears to have the second base job within his grasp, thanks in part to Gordon Beckahm's downright human 0-8 stretch. And really that final clause illustrates the ridiculousness of paying too much attention to spring stats.
8 at-bats, the equivalent of two games, have taken Gordon Beckham from having some of the best numbers of any player in baseball this spring -- he was slugging over .900 -- to a below .300 average. It's for this reason that minor and major league track record is far more important than a few spring innings or at-bats when projecting future performance.
Another example: Dewayne Wise, who was hitting over .400 as late as this past weekend, has looked brutal at the plate in recent days and suddenly has an OBP under .300. Wise has yet to take a walk this spring, which is not exactly the type of patience you're looking for in a guy being considered for the leadoff job.
Wise's recent struggles and history of posting a low OBP, along with Jerry Owens willingness to work with Greg Walker (ugh), has Owens name back in the mix at Leadoff/CF. There's a reason I didn't do much grave dancing last week when I wrote that Wise had taken the lead in the leadoff/CF competition; None of the options are desirable.
At least Getz has started to enter the conversation, but as I've said before Getz may be the type of player who takes a month or two to adjust to major league pitching. So even though he has the minor league record of a top-of-the-order hitter, I wouldn't want to see him there until he proves he can get on base.
Speaking of undesirable options, Brent Lillibridge, who might be the Sox only viable backup at short when Beckham finally gets sent to minor league camp, seems pleased with his spring performance.
"A lot can still happen," said Lillibridge, who played center flawlessly Wednesday with three putouts in the first four innings. "As long as I can break camp with the team, that's my goal. I feel I've shown enough at the plate. It's not consistent, but it's spring training, thank God."
Unfortunately, what Lillibridge has shown at the plate, striking out 15 times against 1 walk in 42 at-bats, is entirely consistent with his minor league record. That's exactly the type of production you'd expect from a guy who struck out 60 times in 200 AA at-bats and 149 while posting a combined .311 OBP in 676 AAA at-bats.
Lillibridge simply doesn't have the contact skills or batting eye of a major league hitter. If the Sox bring him North, they'll be playing with 24. 23 if you count their lack of a starting center fielder/leadoff man.