The prevailing thought among the local sports media and most Sox fans is, next to LF, shortstop is the position most in need of an upgrade. I remain unconvinced that upgrading the shortstop position will be an easy proposition.
Juan Uribe, even in a down year, is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. With the Sox starting staff aside from Vazquez all featuring average-to-below-average strikeout rates, I want the Sox up the middle defense to remain as solid as possible. The only way I'd budge on that issue is if Uribe's replacement is a significant offensive upgrade. Not surprisingly, those type of players don't come cheaply. Teams aren't often looking to trade plus offensive shortstops.
The first time I ever saw Juan Uribe at the plate was during the 2004 pre-season. It was one of the rare spring training games that FOX Sports Net decided to air, and Hawk and DJ happened to be interviewing Kenny Williams about the '04 team as Uribe took his cuts. Williams raved about his talent, but cautioned that he had to be reigned in. He commented that Uribe often spun too much, got out in front of the ball in effort to hit every pitch out of the park. He said the Sox challenge -- and he used that word, challenge -- was to get Uribe to stay back on the ball, to drive the ball into center and left center instead of down the left field line. And just as Williams was wrapping up his comments, Uribe lifted a ball deep down the left field line for a HR. "We know he can do that," Williams reiterated, "our staff just has to keep him focused."
I think I can safely say that we saw an unfocused Uribe this season. This is a player who, before he even played a regular season game in a White Sox uniform, was desribed by his own GM as a project for his coaching staff.
The failure of Juan Uribe in '06 does not solely fall on the shoulders of Señor Profundo!. Uribe is a project, but a project that has responded to coaching in the past, specifically to the coaching of Walt Hriniak and Frank Thomas. I'm sure that Greg Walker and staff have worked with Uribe all season, but it's clear that whatever guidance they've given the free-swinging shortstop hasn't stuck.
One of the few great observations that Hawk Harrelson brings to the TV booth is his assertion that clubs should have more than one pitching coach and hitting coach on staff. His theory is that not everyone's approach works for all players. Having coaches with two different styles to work with players who have different hitting/pitching approaches just makes sense. I'm not advocating the Sox having two full-time hitting coaches, but if the Sox want an upgrade at the plate over Uribe in '07, their best bet may be to stick with Uribe with the added coaching of Mr. Hriniak.
No recap, just a quick observation from the game. I just thought I noticed a small change in Sean Tracey tonight. I think he changed where he plants his foot when pitching, and isn't throwing across his body as much as I've seen in the past. It's obviously too early to tell, but this might be the mechanical change that magically transforms him into a major league pitcher.