Last season, the expanded rosters were more of a curse than a blessing for Robin Ventura.
This time around, the deployment of unproven players should be embraced instead of questioned. There are a few roster spots up for grabs next season, and September is as good a time as any to start the evaluation process.
That said, the Sox probably won't be going nuts with new faces when roster-expansion season opens on Sunday, because there's already quite a bit of potential 2014 talent on hand.
Take the pitching staff, which this post concerns (we'll take a look at position players in a subsequent post). Andre Rienzo and Jake Petricka are practically September call-ups who arrived early due to extenuating circumstances, so how many more pitchers can the Sox clubhouse accommodate before the returns fail to make the cost or crowded clubhouse worth it?
I can see a few, at least barring unforeseen complications. Maybe health or workload issues could hold a pitcher back, but 40-man roster status shouldn't be a hang-up this time around. The Sox only have three open spots right now, but they can trim a considerable amount of fat if they need to make room.
Erik Johnson: Johnson wrapped up his sterling minor-league campaign with seven shutout innings for Charlotte on Thursday. The Knights' season will end before his next turn, so you can lock in these numbers:
It's hard to ask anything more. While he exceeded his previous pro-ball workload by 50 innings, he already took an unintended breather, as a groin strain forced him to miss most of July. Three or four more starts shouldn't pose a problem on the surface.
The popular sentiment around the media is that Ventura will use Johnson in a six-man rotation to break him in, while also taking a little of the burden off the other young starters with career-high workloads. That makes sense, at least as far as Johnson is concerned. He's ready for the majors until he proves he isn't.
He will have to be added to the 40-man roster. Twist Rick Hahn's arm.
Daniel Webb: He's another guy who isn't on the 40-man roster, and the Sox are well-equipped on right-handed relievers who deserve work, but Webb has forced the issue. He's pitched at three levels this season and has yet to hit a wall (Charlotte gave him some early problems, but eight of his last 10 appearances have been scoreless). He has the highest upside of any reliever in the farm system, with a fastball that approaches 100 and a slider that works well for him against righties, so he's worth a few spins to see how major-league hitters react to him.
Charlie Leesman: He already made his big-league debut as a starter during the doubleheader on Aug. 9, but he profiles better for the bullpen due to his inefficiency problems and susceptibility to right-handed hitters. Fortunately for Leesman, the Sox aren't married to the duo of Donnie Veal and David Purcey (although Veal found some of his 2012 form in August), so there should be opportunity for Leesman to put some heat on the incumbents.
Outside looking in
Simon Castro: Back in early July, Castro pitched in four games out of the White Sox bullpen and represented himself well. He attacked the strike zone with a lot of movement on his fastball, which made up for a slider that tended to roll on him. On merit, he deserved to stick around. However, he was a recent convert to relief pitching, so when the All-Star break rolled around, the Sox sent him back to Charlotte to get reps.
Back then, it seemed like we'd surely see him in September. The numbers say otherwise. He hasn't resurfaced, because he hasn't earned it
He's had big-time problems keeping the ball in the park among other hittability issues (25 hits, seven homers over 17⅔ innings), which undermine any of his more redeeeming qualities (like five walks to 19 strikeouts). Petricka and Webb passed the struggling Castro by, and at a certain point, Ventura's not going to have enough innings to go around. If everybody else is healthy, Castro doesn't seem to fit.
Santos Rodriguez: He's left-handed, on the 40-man roster, and has Chris Sale's build and velocity. Unfortunately, he didn't pack his control from Birmingham to Charlotte. He's walked 26 in 24 innings at Triple-A,
The usual suspects: Brian Omogrosso is done for the year, and I can't imagine Deunte Heath's Triple-A peripherals are enticing to anybody anymore.