With the recent Alexei Ramirez extension in the books, I started thinking about how strong the Sox are going to be up the middle for a long time. With Alex Rios in center, Ramirez at short, Gordon Beckham at second and A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate, I don't think there has been a time in my lifetime that the Sox have been this strong in all facets of the game up the middle.
We'll start behind the plate with the veteran of the group, Pierzynski. A.J. is a machine behind the plate. He wants to, and just about does, play every game. He is credited with having a great knack for calling a game by most of the White Sox pitchers and coaching staff. A.J. also does a more than adequate job of blocking balls in the dirt and has developed into a team leader in the clubhouse. He doesn't throw out enough runners for my liking and his offensive game struggled for most of last season, but truth be told, A.J. is one of the most solid catchers the White Sox have had in the last 50 years. He still shows some power and hit .300 as recently as 2009. A.J. is signed through the 2012 season and I expect him to continue playing the way he has the last 6 years on the Sox.
Next lets move on to Shortstop, where you will find Alexei Ramirez. In my opinion, there isn't a better defensive shortstop in the game. Alexei is not afraid to make a spectacular play, as he did many times throughout last season. Ramirez ranked at or near the top in every fielding metric out there for shortstops in 2010. When he moved there from second base, Ozzie Guillen said he would make people forget about how Ozzie himself played the position. Ozzie was a mighty fine shortstop before his knee injury in 1992- but he was never the complete package that Alexei is. Aside from being hosed out of the gold glove, he also won the silver slugger for the American League at the position. Ramirez is a pretty sure bet for 15-20 homers, .275-.290 average, 70-80 RBI's, 10-15 SBs and a knack for the big hit. True, he doesn't walk as much as some would like and he starts out slow with the lumber but Ramirez has to be considered one of the top shortstops in all of the American League. Alexei's extension takes him through 2015 with an option in 2016.
On to Second Base, where we find Gordon Beckham. Beckham had a very good rookie season in 2009, but struggled the entire first half of 2010. Then Beckham started playing like we thought he was going to the entire season until his unfortunate hand injury courtesy of a hit by pitch. He salvaged his season nicely, ending up at .252 after ending the first half at .216. The way he performed in the second half of 2010 (with an OPS of .877), leads me to believe that Beckham is ready for a breakout season. I absolutely love when he smokes a double into the right center field gap. He also was learning a new position in 2010, and as we saw the year previous with Ramirez, it takes time to make the switch. Beckham is one of the most exciting young stars we've had in awhile, and is under team control through 2015.
Possibly my favorite of the four is Center Fielder Alex Rios. It was so nice having a center fielder who could go out and make a great catch and then go out and hit a mammoth home run. Even factoring in his very slow second half, Rios was able to hit .284/.334/.457 with 21 homers, 29 doubles and 33 stolen bases- all while playing real good defense in center. Aaron Rowand had a very nice 2004, Lance Johnson had a great 1995 and Tommie Agee had a great rookie year in 1966, but only Chet Lemon will even come close to as consistent as I feel Rios will be by the time 2015 rolls around.
Other notable White Sox up the middle tandems :
1993: Ron Karkovice, Joey Cora, Ozzie Guillen, Johnson
1977: Jim Essian, Jorge Orta, Alan Bannister, Chet Lemon
1959: Sherm Lollar, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Jim Landis
These are the only notable tandems I found while looking back throughout the last 50+ years of White Sox baseball. The 1977 tandem is a stretch but Orta and Lemon were good enough to put them on and Essian and Bannister weren't bad enough to leave them off. Another good thing about this list? You are looking at 4 of the most successful teams the White Sox have had in the last 50 years. Maybe what my dad always said was right. You need to be strong up the middle to win. If that is true, these next couple of years will be real good to the White Sox and their fans.