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White Sox survive spring training, and actually thrive

Team departs Arizona in good health and with lively offense

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It's unwise to make sweeping judgments from spring training performances, but it's refreshing to have different ones to consider.

If nothing else, for once, we can't look back at spring training and wonder if the season would have fared better if the Sox took the results a little more seriously.

The White Sox finished their preseason schedule with a winning record for the first time since 2004, finishing at 14-13-1. Beyond the superficiality of wins and losses, though, the White Sox checked off most of the important boxes.

Everybody's healthy enough

The White Sox avoided critical injuries during spring training. They had their share of minor aches and pains: Jake Petricka got hit by a comebacker, Zach Putnam tweaked a hamstring. Courtney Hawkins had a sore shoulder. Alex Avila missed a little time with a stiff back.

Only two stood out. Adam Eaton's return from offseason shoulder surgery took a little longer than initially anticipated, but he was able to play all over the outfield during the last 10 days or so. Adam LaRoche might've suffered the worst of the bunch when his back locked up, but we'll never know the true severity of it since he retired due to ... other matters.

Otherwise, everybody was able to show up and work. It was particularly great to see Nate Jones fully functional at the start of the season again, especially with the line he posted (7⅔ IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K).

Competition brought out the best, mostly

The White Sox didn't have much competition for playing time, especially after LaRoche retired to free up plate appearances for the fourth outfielder. But at the two spot

Shortstop: While Jimmy Rollins will get the Opening Day nod and figures to receive a majority of the playing time afterward, Tyler Saladino kept him honest.

  • Rollins: .354/.373/.604 over 51 PA; one error
  • Saladino: .318/.354/.773 over 49 PA; one error

Saladino also earned Rollins' respect in the process:

"We call him Emanski out there," Rollins said, comparing Saladino to baseball video instructor Tom Emanski. "He does everything so fundamentally sound. … And at the plate he's doing very well. He's a strong hitter. When I punch him in the stomach, it's like hitting bricks, and I'm like man, it must be nice to be young."


The last man: I'm assuming it's going to be Travis Ishikawa, if only because Jerry Sands is the only other option still in camp, and Ishikawa provided more production and offers more utility going forward. Carlos Sanchez and a resurgent Matt Davidson both made runs at the job, though, putting them in position for early-season call-ups if injuries open spots. If Davidson doesn't carry the momentum to Triple-A this time, it might break the poor guy.

Avisail Garcia: He had a lot more to prove during the brief amount of time Austin Jackson and LaRoche were on the same roster, but he maintained his newfound success -- and his mechanical changes -- even after he regained regular status by default. He hit .333/.390/.667 with a triple and four homers, pulling the ball in the air more often. Now we'll watch how he fares against better breaking balls and colder weather, but he did all that could be asked of him through this point.

Competent defensive play

Errors are an inelegant way of assessing defense, especially in Arizona, what with its high skies and hardpan infields. Yet after a season in which the White Sox committed 101 errors (third-worst in the AL), they committed the fewest errors in the Cactus League (17 over 28 games), five fewer than the next team.

They endured moments of sloppiness, so much so with rundowns that Robin Ventura commissioned Rick Renteria to run a separate practice. Maybe that should be expected for a team with so many new players in the infield. If that's the case, ironing out communication issues is a perfectly cromulent use of spring training.

The prospects represented

The hard-to-touchables -- Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer -- made strong impressions during the preseason. Anderson hit .294/.278/.529, flashing athleticism and improved playmaking ability in the field. Fulmer earned as many raves as the White Sox will issue for a guy with work to do, showing promise with a cutter and changeup grip that could flesh out his arsenal for multiple trips through a lineup.

Jacob May didn't make the team, but he made it through the entire spring without being reassigned to minor-league camp. He hit .297/.333/.517 with four steals in four attempts during his first spring, regaining the mojo he lost after the collision and concussion last summer.

Of the big names, only Hawkins' time registered as a disappointment, not so much because he went 1-for-19 with five strikeouts, but because he missed time with the shoulder injury and was relegated to DH work for part of the spring. He needs to stay healthy in order to overcome the flaws in his game, and so this is an ominous start. At least the hit was a homer. Speaking of which...

So many dingers

The White Sox wrapped up the spring with a league-leading 49 home runs in 29 games, after hitting just 22 over 31 Cactus League games in 2015.

The team's leaderboard features a healthy mix of guys you wouldn't expect to see there, and ones you'd prefer to be this close to the top at the end of the year:

  • Matt Davidson, 5
  • Tyler Saladino, 5
  • Jose Abreu, 4
  • Avisail Garcia, 4
  • Jimmy Rollins, 4

The back end of the rotation ... OK, not this one

Hence the "mostly" in the part about the competition.

It was largely assumed that John Danks and Mat Latos would fill out the spots in the rotation behind Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon. That said, Latos earned the job after making only two Cactus League starts that left a lot to be desired. Don Cooper was the latest to make his expectations known:

"His pitch total is certainly up, but he needs to be able to give us more innings," said Cooper of Latos, who allowed 12 earned runs on 18 hits over 8 2/3 innings. "He's had difficulty with efficiency and difficulty going past four. That's not the job description. So he needs to climb."

But who were the other choices? Erik Johnson never impressed before his early exit, and Jacob Turner only had one good outing in him before struggling so much that he cleared waivers and was outrighted to Charlotte. I wonder if the Fulmer raves partially served as a shot across the bow to the Triple-A guys.

Under this carnage, Danks distinguished himself enough to start the final year of his contract in a comfortable position. He led the Sox with six starts and 26⅔ innings, which were mostly effective once he stopped tipping his pitches. Nobody will be particularly excited to see him take the mound every five days, but he isn't the undeserving choice at the moment.

The rotation's wobbliness could be a point of concern, but if you want to push your spring optimism into April, take a look at what the hitters did. If trends from spring training hold, the hitter-friendly environment can explain some of the pitching struggles, and the improved offense could overshadow most of the rest. It's not necessarily smart to count on such a carryover, but it's refreshing to want their spring play to hang around for a while.