Real Need is a Major League Center Fielder
There's no denying that Jerry Owens is well on his way to playing himself off the White Sox opening day roster with his predictably lackluster spring performance. Earlier in the week Ozzie said Owens was "fighting for his job," and Wednesday Kenny Williams noted that speed (read: stolen bases) was not the single most important factor in the Sox search for a table-setter. Then Dewayne Wise got the start in CF and a couple of hits in Thursday's Cactus League tilt with the Royals.
Unfortunately for Owens, and fortunately for us, Wise continues to perform well, going 2-4 Thursday with a SB. The stolen base is the first successful attempt for a Sox leadoff cadidate this spring. Owens and Brent Lillibridge were a combined 0-4 on the spring. Wise performance Thursday, along with his replacement-level respectability late last season, now have him as the leadoff favorite. One problem.
Leadoff is not a position
At this point, it almost goes without saying. If I'm going to write about the Sox leadoff candidates, you're going to see a Leadoff is not a postition tag. Obviously, somebody has to lead off. I'm just saying the point is to put the best 9 hitters/fielder on the field as often as possible. And honestly, the shift to Wise is a step in the right direction. But it highlights the Sox biggest weakness.
The Sox Lack a Major League Center Fielder
Wise and Brian Anderson, who has been playing just as poorly as Owens in AZ, might be able to piece together a low-OBP, plus-SLG average-defensive centerfielder, if their utilized optimally. But it seems to me that the optimal usage for both players is as a backup.
It's when the Sox try to piece together a lineup with a Wise/Anderson platoon, that the lack of leadoff options becomes apparent. If either was a competent major league starter (read: able to post a league-averagish .330 OBP), we wouldn't be having the Who Is Our Leadoff Hitter? conversation.
Wise had his most prolific stretch of production at the major league level with the Sox last year, and that spanned just 129 at-bats, during which he posted only a .293 OBP. Presumably, if Wise was to be used as a leadoff-man he would primarily be used against RHP, but Wise posted just a .310 OBP againt righties last year.
Wise's possible platoon partner, Anderson, may have smoked lefties to the tune of a 8 HR in 80 at-bats, but he posted just a .262 OBP against southpaws.
It's not just that the two aren't good leadoff candidates. They're not good candidates for 300+ at-bats.
White Sox Possible Lineups
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
Officially, the Sox haven't floated any Alexei As A Part-Time Leadoff Man balloons. But the leadoff candidates against left-handed pitching appear to be Anderson (No, as covered above), Josh Fields, and Ramirez.
Fields would be an unconventional choice. And Guillen is not immune to unconventional decisions (see: last season). Fields crushes lefties, absolutely destroys them. But he hits them so well, you'd prefer to have him in a position to capitalize on his awesome power against them. So until we start seeing him taking some hack at the top of the lineup, I think, by process of elimination, Alexei might be part of a leadoff-platoon.