Jon Heyman checked in on the White Sox during SI.com's spring training previews, and he echoes the sentiments of so many outside observers: They're headed in the right direction, but it's very much a work in progress at the moment.
There may be a few more growing pains coming. While the White Sox appear to be on the right path, having acquired four position players who are under 28 and provide energy, ability and hope to turn around a moribund offense, the move forward isn't likely to be immediate or drastic. The team is unsettled at third base ("unresolved," Ventura put it, kindly), catcher and closer, as well as two rotation spots.
You can throw left field onto the pile of question marks, although for a different reason. The talent on hand is more or less proven, but it's unclear if Alejandro De Aza or Dayan Viciedo will be around for much longer. Both players spent the winter in the rumor mill, albeit the gentle cycle. It's picked up a little bit of speed, with specific teams attached to De Aza (Twins) and Viciedo (Mariners), but the phrasing of the rumors doesn't suggest imminent action.
After a season in which he dealt with a shortage of rosterable players, having two left fielders with reasons to be there doesn't constitute an emergency for Robin Ventura.
"Right now I’m looking at it from here of just what’s here," Ventura said when asked about his roster. "Something could come up and that changes but I’m preparing with this group. If something happens then you can roll it and change and go from there. Right now it is what it is here and you have to get your roster together with these guys."
One of the selling points for De Aza is his track record as an able outfield starter who can handle center and leadoff duties, even if he profiles better elsewhere. That would be nice in case Adam Eaton runs headfirst into a wall or other first-year problems, but Eaton is doing what he can to assuage fears with a strong start to his spring: 6-for-12 with three walks and 2 HBPs. He doesn't mind taking one for the team ... which may be another reason to retain De Aza.
The other trouble spots are closer to the definition of a "problem," and they aren't much closer to being settled.
The more you read about Jeff Keppinger not going on the disabled list, the more it seems like he's totally starting the season on the disabled list. He still hasn't made an in-game appearance defensively, and there's no strong timetable for when his shoulder may allow him to play third.
"(Keppinger’s) arm, it’s been slower than you would think but it continues to get better," Ventura said. "Having some experience with it, sometimes it takes a lot longer than you would like and right now it’s a slow process. But he can hit, making sure he gets his at-bats so when his arm does get healthy."
His platoon counterpart is having a much better spring. Conor Gillaspie is starting to see the hits fall in, but besides the always dubious spring stats, he's showing improvement in other parts of the game. He made a couple of diving stabs on Saturday -- the kind of defense a groundballing bullpen needs -- and Ventura says it's reflective of a greater overall confidence.
One way or another, Grant Brisbee's GIF may cease to be true.
Matt Davidson hasn't enjoyed the same results at the plate as Gillaspie (2-for-18), but a couple of key fans have his back. Ventura says Davidson is preparing the way he should and just needs time to play, and Jim Thome called him "a young, good-looking power bat."
Back end of the rotation
It's difficult to classify the White Sox's fourth and fifth starters as a legitimate concern in the big picture -- and not the we're-all-going-to-die big picture, either. The Sox aren't gunning for a wild card spot at all costs, Erik Johnson needs reps, and the Sox lose nothing by adding a buy-low candidate in Felipe Paulino. One could say "it is what it is," but I'll say it's a problem for a reason.
Johnson's doing what he can to bolster confidence in his first two starts -- Dan Hayes says Johnson didn't have his best stuff against Oakland on Sunday, but he still held the A's to one run over four innings while striking out five.
Paulino experienced more turbulence over his first two starts by comparison -- he got shelled in his debut, and gave up a two-run homer in the first inning his second time out. He did figure out how to improve his location over the next two innings, and Ventura was pleased enough (although he wouldn't call Paulino a rotation lock). Paulino says neither health nor velocity trouble him, so the ball would seem to be in his court.
Andre Rienzo is trying to make a competition out of it. He's allowed just one run on two hits and two walks over five innings while striking out seven, and he responded gamely to a surprise call when Jose Quintana took a comebacker to the shin two batters into his start on Saturday.
If Paulino and Johnson nail down their spots in the rotation, Rienzo could still break camp in the bullpen thanks to said impressive relief outing. Scott Merkin said that Ventura considered it some of his best work, which Rienzo appreciated:
"[I'm] glad to see something good," said Rienzo with a laugh, adding that he has focused on keeping the ball down and trying to throw more strikes. "The only thing I have in my hands is throw the ball and do my job. It's Ventura and his staff, I don't know what they are going to do with me. But I will try doing my best every day, every time."
We've documented the instability among the right-handed ranks in the White Sox bullpen, but Daniel Webb returned to action with a scoreless inning in his 2014 debut. He missed a week of action after his mother passed away, and said that pitching took his mind off it.
Jake Petricka has also picked up some of the slack. He's nine-up-nine-down for March with five strikeouts.
It is what it is.