Earlier this off-season, I posed the question Which Newcomer's Performance Will Be The Most Key To The Sox '09 Campaign? At the time, I expected the winner of the accompany poll would be Jerry Owens.
After all, the key to the Sox season has to be the lack of a leadoff hitter, right?
But you guys surprised me and selected Josh Fields, who clearly has the most upside of the non-established major leaguers. And to tell the truth, I can't argue with that assertion.
A year ago, I wrote the following on the eve of the first spring game.
It just feels like [Owens has] already been given the starting job, while Carlos Quentin remains the red-headed stepchild of Sox camp.
If the White Sox are going to be the championship team that the White Sox brain trust thinks they can be, one of the main reasons will be that Carlos Quentin and Josh Fields successfully made the leap to become very good offensive players. Jerry Owens at his very best might be an average center fielder, and as such, his presence as de facto leadoff hitter would seem to limit the teams playoff hopes versus a team with a fully-realized Carlos Quentin in the lineup.
Without patting myself on the back too much -- because how hard is it to point out that Quentin is a better player than Owens? -- you couldn't find that opinion written in any of your local dailies at this time last year. Which is all a way of saying I'm completely ignoring the Jerry Owens hype machine this year.
I Don't Care
Jerry Owens Sucks. No amount of column inches devoted to his renewed commitment to bunting will convince me otherwise. Still, Owens is the favorite to be the teams' leadoff hitter yet again, and seems at least assured of splitting time with Brian Anderson in a platoon situation. And if not Anderson, than Dewayne Wise, who could remove Owens from the equation altogether. (Both Wise and Owens are out of options, while Anderson has been deemed a "lock" for the opening day roster.)
Strangely, it's the presence of those two options that has allowed me to take the I Dont Care attitude. I say strangely because it's not like I'm confident that either of them can step into the starting role in the same way I was about Quentin last year. But what they do provide is a safety net of replacement-level respectability.
Let's say Owens has a breakout campaign. What's he going to hit? .280/.330/.330? What if he hits his 75th percentile PECOTA? That's a lowly .240/.303/.311. Not even worth keeping on the roster.
Anderson or Wise can put up a .300 OBP with a much better slugging percentage. So unless Owens is dynamite (their definition, not mine), he should end up as a relative non-factor in the grand scheme of things. (Though I reserve the right to complain about his presense once again should he find a way to stick around into May.)
The only reason Owens is even in the picture is because he's seen as a prototypical leadoff hitter. He can fill two positions. Leadoff hitter and center field. And for some reason his only competition for that leadoff spot seems to be Wise and Brent Lillibridge, who managed just a .294 OBP in AAA last season.
What do those three players have in common, you ask? The answer is simple. They're fast. They're seen as prototypical leadoff hitters not because they can get on base -- they couldn't last year -- but because they can make things happen.
Wise was a perfect 9-for-9 in stolen bases last season. Lillibridge stole 95 bases in '06 and '07 combined, albeit in the minor leagues. And Owens, well, we know what Owens can do. He stole 55 bases between Charlotte and Chicago in '07. Owens must be seen as the leader in this race because he was the only one of the trio to post an OBP over .300 last year.
Why Not Getz?
I'm not going to sit here and campaign for Getz to be given the leadoff spot in the lineup. I wouldn't throw any rookie into that situation. But I have to ask, Why isn't he even in the conversation?
Getz is exactly the type of player who should be considered in a leadoff battle. He has negligible power, and his greatest offensive assets are his control of the strike zone and ability to get on base. That control of the strike zone is the reason I'm quite confident Getz will eventually make the transition to productive major leaguer. And I'm not the only one to notice Getz' advanced approach at the plate.
While the second-base derby is being advertised as a three-man race among Chris Getz, Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Nix, one Sox veteran insisted the job is Getz's to lose.
"His swing is too fundamentally sound," the player said. "It's a swing that can hold up an entire major-league season."
Honestly, I haven't seen enough of Getz' swing to agree, but I can say, based on his minor league stats, that Getz has an approach at the plate which should translate into major league success. He has amassed a 130/129 K/BB ratio above A-ball, which suggests he'll be able to adjust to major league pitching.
Getz Will Hit, Eventually
Getz is not a unique hitter, but that's not a bad thing. You don't even have to venture out of the division, or even outside of the last few seasons, to find some good comps for Getz. Alexei Casilla in Minnesota and Alberto Callaspo in KC share Getz primary offensive skill set.
Casilla owns a 97/75 K/BB ratio above A-ball, while Callaspo's was 103/170. Callaspo's puts him almost in the Dustin Pedroia range (70/106), although Pedroia posted those numbers in a tougher hitting environment and at a younger age. (For comparison's sake, Owens has a 226/164 mark above A-ball, while significantly older than the others.)
I bring up those three players not just because they share a similar skill set with Getz, but to warn of the slow start that each got off to in their major league careers.
Pedroia hit .191/.258/.303 over 89 at-bats late in '06, and .180/.306/.230 over his first 22 games of '07. Casilla hit .222/.256/.259 over 189 at-bats in '07. And Callaspo hit .220/.272/.280 over his first 186 major league at-bats. For some reason, players of this particular skill set appear lost in their initial taste of the big leagues.
After those shaky first 175 at-bats, however, they've all hit for a high average. I don't need any stats to tell you how Pedroia has done ('08 AL MVP), but Casilla and Callaspo managed to put up '08 lines of .281/.333/.374 and .305/.361/.371, respectively.
It's largely because of those numbers that I believe Getz will be positive contributor to the Sox in the near future, why I believe he should at least be in the leadoff discussion with the other dreck. The question remains, Do the Sox have the patience to see him develop into a possible leadoff man or #2 hitter?