We finally made it! It seems like its been forever since Juan Uribe powered the Giants to the World Championship. We went from having .50 cents to being All In. We have a new leader here at South Side Sox. We endured the Blizzard of 2011. This offseason felt longer than any other. Thankfully, the pitchers and catchers have indeed reported to camp. Everyone else is due in on Tuesday. April 1st is in our sights. First, however, here are the 10 things I will be watching in Spring Training.
1. Health- Always the most important aspect of Spring Training is coming back home a healthy bunch. It was a dark day in 1997 when Robin Ventura snapped his ankle sliding home in a spring game. I feel really good about this team, but that opinion could change with a John Danks sore elbow, an Alexei Ramirez broken hand or an Alex Rios pulled hamstring. Herm Schneider and his staff always do a great job at keeping the Sox healthy, but one pitch could change all of that.
2. Jake Peavy's progress- Peavy is coming back from a torn lat muscle. He is hoping to be ready by opening day (he wouldn't need to start a game until April 10th), but only time will tell if that date is realistic. If he isn't ready, how much longer will it take? If he is, how effective will he be?
3. Gordon Beckham - Beckham was the savior in 2009 and then drastically disappointed in the first half of 2010. He seemed to be coming around nicely in the 2nd half, until he hurt his hand in Cleveland. Everyone says he is ready to go, but we have seen first hand here in Chicago that hand/wrist injuries could linger. Between Paul Konerko's thumb and Carlos Quentin's and Derrek Lee's wrists we witnessed low production even after being proclaimed healthy. Here is to hoping Beckham isn't the next person on that list.
4. Brent Morel vs. Mark Teahen- I, along with most people, believe that Brent Morel will end up being the starting 3rd baseman for the 2011 White Sox. However, Ozzie Guillen has went out of his way to include Mark Teahen in any 3rd base discussion. It is possible that if Morel struggles and Teahen plays lights out that Teahen will end up starting at third in Cleveland on April 1st. Lets hope that Morel plays well in the spring.
5. Jared Mitchell- I am looking forward to seeing how Mitchell progresses throughout the entire year, starting in the spring. From what I have seen of him in the College World Series and in Spring Training last season, this guy had all of the tools to become a future star in Chicago. Hopefully we see him get back on track after his disappointing stint in the Arizona Fall League.
6. Dayan Viciedo - Word spread at Soxfest that they are going to try him out this year in the outfield. I am not hoping that he turns into a gold glover or anything- I just don't want him to be absolutely awful. I think he is eventually going to put up big numbers in the Major Leagues and am hoping it is going to be with the Sox. However, first base and DH are covered for the next 3 years by Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn and he proved he can't handle third base last year. If he can play the outfield as well as Carlos Lee did, he could find himself in left field to start the 2012 season.
7. No Oney- Here is to hoping we don't have to hear any Oney Guillen updates throughout spring training. Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen are at least playing nice for now. Lets not poison this potentially great season with more Kenny, Ozzie, Oney or Twitter controversies.
8. If not Peavy, then who- If Peavy is out for any substantial time, who is going to be the 5th starter? The Sox took Chris Sale out of the conversation and have made him a fixture in the bullpen for 2011. Philip Humber, Lucas Harrell, Jeff Gray and Charlie Leesman are considered the early candidates to fill the job if Peavy isn't ready. Will any of these guys step up? Will there be a Boone Logan type story? Here is a quick profile of the four guys who were mentioned as possible replacements:
Humber, a right hander, was a first round pick in 2004 by the Mets and was a big part of the Johan Santana trade. He failed with the Twins, appeared in 8 games with Kansas City in 2010 before being selected off of waivers by Oakland in December. The White Sox then selected him off of waivers from Oakland a month later.
Harrell appeared in 8 games for the Sox last year and posted a 1-0 record with a 4.88 ERA. He threw 6 innings of one run ball in his Major League debut, June 30th as he picked up the win vs. Oakland. In his next start, however, Kansas City lit him up.
Gray, another righty, has appeared in 36 games over 3 season for Oakland and the Cubs. He has never started a Major League game and has compiled a 4.91 ERA over 40.1 innings.
Leesman, the only lefty of the group, was drafted by the Sox in the 11th round of 2008. He started 17 games for Winston-Salem last year and went 9-4 with a 5.10 ERA. He was given the call up to Birmingham for 11 starts and improved his numbers across the board going 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA while cutting his walks and improving his strikeouts. He is a Rick Hahn favorite.
9. Alejandro De Aza vs. Brent Lillibridge vs. Lastings Milledge in a triple threat match for the final bench spot- This was covered pretty extensively by Jim, but it will be interesting to see who comes north with the big club in April.
10. Bullpen- How will it shape up? Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Jesse Crain, Sergio Santos, Will Ohman and Tony Pena are all but guaranteed a spot in the pen, but what will their defined roles (if any) be? Who will take over the closer spot? How will they use three lefties? Will there be a 7th member?
Remember not to get too down on a pitcher who struggles during the spring, too high on a hitter that absolutely rakes or take any stock in the Sox spring record. Brian Anderson is a spring training Hall of Famer and they don't hand out a trophy for having the best Cactus League record, which means none of that matters very much. Finally actual baseball to talk about! Sit back with a shamrock shake and enjoy!