The White Sox closed out Cactus League play on Wednesday in fitting form: a 9-9 slobberknocker with their sadder selves, the San Diego Padres. Jake Peter tied the game in the eighth with a two-run homer, but he and Luis Alexander Basabe struck out with the bases loaded in the ninth. Based on that ending, the two teams should have to resume the game next spring.
The Sox are off today, but they have exhibition games in Milwaukee Friday and Saturday, so the preseason is not yet over. The book on the Cactus League is closed, though, so let’s take a look at the standout performances, since they have some impact on White Sox roster and depth decisions.
Batting average, regular work: Tyler Saladino, .367.
The White Sox showed faith in Saladino by cutting Brett Lawrie when they didn’t have to, and Saladino responded by 1) staying healthy himself, and 2) posting the handsomest line of any spring player, with a .436 OBP and a .714 slugging percentage. Eight of his 18 hits went for extra bases. He reached base six times in 55 plate appearances without a hit. He struck out only eight times. As a result, Rick Renteria said Saladino will start “a significant amount of the time” at second base, although the revolving door at DH will allow the Sox to still make use of his versatility.
As for Lawrie?
(I struggled with deciding whether to embed that one or the Salt Bae one. “Both” wasn’t an option.)
Batting average, not-quite-regular work: Kevan Smith, .375.
Smith lost his 40-man roster spot thanks to an influx of catchers over the previous five months, but he turned in the best spring at the position, hitting. 375/.429/.531 over his 35 plate appearances. He’s returning to Charlotte while Omar Narvaez and Geovany Soto start in Chicago, and now we’ll see how the White Sox handle the workload between him, Roberto Pena and Alfredo Gonzalez in the high minors.
Hits: Jacob May, 22.
May seized the starting center field job — at least at the onset of the season -- by hitting .349/.369/.524 with four stolen bases in five attempts. The strikeouts (14 in 65 plate appearances) are worrisome, but the White Sox have more to gain by throwing him into the deep end than running with the other flawed candidates, assuming they have a lifeguard on duty.
Home runs: Nicky Delmonico, 5.
Delmonico and May are nothing alike as players, but they have similar profiles — minor prospect status, initial success in Birmingham, a step back in Charlotte, but young enough (born in 1992) to regain the ground. Whereas May will get a chance to survive in Chicago, Delmonico will have to return to Charlotte and show that it wasn’t a fluke. If his April looks similar to his March, the Sox will have audition opportunities for left-handed bats.
RBIs: Jose Abreu, 14.
He took the crown with this three-run homer, which confirms that it’s still a helluva lot of fun to see him clobber one.
He edged out Yoan Moncada and Danny Hayes, both of whom had 13, and both of whom should be part of a fun Charlotte lineup.
Walks: Cody Asche, 10.
Asche had a nice spring — at least when his swings made contact -- and leads the list of potential reserves in MLB plate appearances, even if they indicate that he’s a Quadruple-A player. Here’s where Renteria left the final bench spots according to Colleen Kane:
In play for the final two roster spots are Cody Asche, Matt Davidson and Rymer Liriano. Any could spend time at designated hitter, though Renteria said he still expects to rotate the role as a tool to give players a rest from playing defense.
I’m more bringing this up to note that Zack Collins nearly had as many walks (six) as at-bats (eight). He hit .375/.643/.500 over his 14 plate appearances.
Strikeouts: Matt Davidson, 25.
Davidson only needed a decent spring to lock up a bench job since he’s out of options and warranted a good look last year. Then he went and struck out in 38 percent of his spring plate appearances to cloud the picture. The good news is that Liriano (42 percent) and Asche (32 percent) are in his neighborhood. The bad news is that they’re all in the same neighborhood.
Innings: Reynaldo Lopez, 19.1.
This is unusual, in that innings leaderboards in previous seasons were all dominated by that year’s starting five. The World Baseball Classic removed Jose Quintana and Miguel Gonzalez for part of the spring, and injury took Carlos Rodon out of action, giving Lopez the chance to make more starts than anybody. That said, Lopez pitched well enough to actually accrue the innings, which wasn’t a given since he’s all of 23 years old. He made a more compelling case than Carson Fulmer and Lucas Giolito for the first promotion.
Strikeouts: Zack Burdi, 17.
Burdi confirmed on Wednesday that he’s starting the season in Charlotte, which is good both for his development and all of the White Sox’ future concerns. The Sox haven’t confirmed the bullpen, but Dan Hayes says that the out-of-options Michael Ynoa has one of the two open spots, with the other going to Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak came to the Sox as a non-roster invitee, but he had a better story than the others since he’d just switched to a slider-first approach. Now he’s reached new heights with velocity this spring.
ERA: Cory Luebke, 0.96.
Brad Goldberg threw the most innings without allowing a run, but with only half of Luebke’s workload (42⁄3 innings against 91⁄3). Both were reassigned to Charlotte.
On the flip side, Zach Putnam brought up the rear with a 14.21 ERA, as he gave up 10 runs on 10 hits (three homers) and three walks over 61⁄3 innings. This would normally be cause for concern considering he missed the second half of 2016 with an elbow surgery. Then you go back through the last few years and see that his last two springs were terrible, too. It’s possible that his effectiveness is truly diminished, but for now, the soundest answer is that the desert is no place for a splitter-first pitcher to ply his trade.