The next team on our tour around the American League is the Chicago White Sox. Astros fans still hold a grudge against the Sox for stealing four straight World Series games from our boys back in 2005. Obviously the roster has been completely turned over since then, but I think the Sox will provide more of a rivalry for the fans than most A.L. teams.
The Astros and White Sox have met 21 times in regular season play. Chicago hols a slim 11-10 advantage in those games. Last year the Astros took 2 of 3 from the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. The first meeting between the teams this year won’t take place until the middle of June when the Sox invade Minute Maid Park for a four-game series.
Last year Chicago held the lead in the A.L. Central for most of the season before stumbling down the stretch. Sox fans were disappointed when their team finished three games behind the Detroit Tigers and missed the playoffs. How are the Sox looking as we enter the 2013 season? We brought in Southside Showdown Editor James Fegan to shed some light on the subject.
Here’s my Q & A session with James.
CTH: There’s been more than enough conversation about Chris Sale’s dramatically increased workload last season putting him at risk for an arm injury in 2013. Are you buying into the “Verducci effect”?
James: Well, I don’t buy into the Verducci effect because it’s been statistically dismantled, most recently by Russell Carleton. But just because I don’t recognize any obligation to place a feather in Tommy V’s hatband if Chris Sale is rolling around the infield grass in agony later this summer, doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the risk. He’s young, he throws hard, he’s got wacky mechanics, and he’s going to be saddled with an ace workload and be expected to grind deep into games and work his way out of high-leverage moments. With the velocity loss and elbow tenderness he experienced last year, it wouldn’t be shocking if he wasn’t up to the workload. Few are.
CTH: The White Sox added our old fiend Jeff Keppinger via free agency this winter. Where do you expect the versatile contact hitter to fit into lineup?
James: He seems like a mortal lock for the #2 slot. With Adam Dunn, Dayan Viciedo and Tyler Flowers in the lineup, and Alejandro De Aza not being the most contact-oriented leadoff man in the world, it seems like the Sox are excited to have some guy put the ball in play. It exacerbates another issue where the Sox lineup doesn’t see enough pitches because it’s stocked with hitters who are best when they’re being aggressive. Keppinger’s job is to fill an infield position and not be an abomination at the plate. Chances are there’ll be work for him over the next three years, even if I lack confidence in his ability to hold up for that long.
CTH: With the exception of Kepp, new G.M. Rick Hahn didn’t do much this offseason to improve the team. Do you think they might still make a move before the season starts? If so, what area do you think should be addressed?
James: They need help on offense, but there’s no gaping hole at the moment. Any addition is going to require a bigger shakeup, or management giving up on someone prematurely, so I can’t imagine that’s taking place before they have had a few months to assess everyone. They need a bat worthy of the corner outfield, but Dayan Viciedo is going to get a chance to be that. They need more thunder from 1B/DH, but Konerko and Dunn are unmovable, for financial and sentimental reasons. Tyler Flowers might not be any good, but he’s going to get a chance first. It’d be great if a capable-hitting infielder became available, but it requires more extreme circumstances than spring training to make those players available.
James: It’s unlikely that A.J.’s possessiveness about his playing time will force Flowers to 1st base where he can go get tear his labrum, but even a successful Flowers season is going to be the antithesis of Pierzynski. The things Flowers is going to bring–better pitch-blocking, better throwing, better plate discipline, possibly improved relationships with the pitching staff–are all going to almost invisible. Even his 20-HR power won’t seem that special because of the way Pierzynski went out. The strikeouts and low batting average are guaranteed to be there and tick everyone off. Then there’s a fact that he might not just have what it takes to be a full-time starter at all.
CTH: The Sox farm system has been ranked as one of the worst in the league for a couple of years now. Are there any prospects in the system that you are excited about?
James: Well, there’s 2012 first-round pick Courtney Hawkins, who is far and away the best prospect in the system, but was still left off Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 prospects because apparently it’s debatable whether his athleticism would hold up through maturation to make him anything beyond a bat-only prospect who needs to shore up his swing. He’s also 19. As I might have implied, infield offense has been so bad that 20 year-old Carlos Sanchez — a slap-hitting, empty average glove man, is on a fast track to assuming a starting role, but hopefully has one more year of minor league work at least before the typical Sox rush job. I could bend your ear on some future mid-rotation guys, but forcing fans of other teams to listen to you talk about guys who could be #4 starters in 2015 is, or should be, a class C felony.
In sum, it’s a bad system that is not being remade quickly without a rebuild, but through competent drafting, and the Latin American market picking itself up from the David Wilder scandal, it’s at least improving at a steady rate. Why, it might even crack the top 20 next year with some luck.
Thanks for climbing the hill with us, James. We hope to hear from you again in June.