Now that football season is officially over, it means that baseball season isn't very far away.
For the Chicago White Sox it means it's almost time for them to start a new era with Robin Ventura as manager.
Within three weeks, all members of the 2012 Chicago White Sox will be gathered in Glendale, Arizona to officially embark on a season where not much is expected of them.
With a new manager and several familiar faces now gone, the Sox will be relying on a lot of youth to help them try and contend in the AL Central this year.
There now remain only two guys from the 2005 championship team—Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski—and it will be up to them to help guide the White Sox's young talent.
Konerko will be playing his 14th season on the south side and Pierzynski his eighth. Paulie will be 36 when the season starts and A.J. will be 35.
So it's fair to say both of them are at the end of their careers, but hopefully they still have something left in the tank because come opening day both of their names will be on that lineup card for the eighth consecutive season.
Here's an early projection of what Robin Ventura's lineup will look like on April 6th in Texas.
It's pretty clear that De Aza will be the White Sox leadoff man to start the 2012 campaign considering he really has no other competition.
However, it's not like De Aza didn't earn this opportunity.
In 152 at-bats last year, he hit .329 with four home runs and 23 RBI's. He also stole 12 bases in 17 attempts, which was second on the team.
Of his 50 hits last year, 18 of them were for extra bases—11 doubles, three triples and four home runs—which pencils out to a .520 slugging percentage. That was slightly higher than Konerko's .517 mark and was the highest on the team, though it did come in a lot fewer at-bats.
In addition, De Aza is an above average outfielder with good speed and a decent arm.
If the Sox can get similar production from De Aza at the plate and on the basepaths over the course of an entire season, they will of course be ecstatic.
It remains to be seen if that will happen, but De Aza will certainly get his opportunity.
Ramirez spent much of last season hitting lower in the order because of his ability to drive in runs, but he may have to hit second because the White Sox do not have anyone better suited for that spot than him at this point.
It was originally thought that Gordon Beckham would fill this role, but his inability to put the ball in play over the past two seasons has caused reason for doubt.
Ramirez put up another solid season at the plate last year hitting .269 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI's and the Sox will be hoping he can provide more of the same in the number two hole.
Again, ideally it would be nice to have Ramirez lower in the order, but he is simply their best option at number two because of his ability to put the bat on the ball.
The best hitter on the team is typically in the three hole, and for the White Sox that is definitely Paul Konerko.
Paulie put together another solid season last year hitting .300 with 31 home runs and 105 RBI's. What's even more impressive is that he did most of that damage with absolutely no protection from the number four spot, which was occupied predominantly by Adam Dunn.
Konerko may have to carry an even bigger load this year with the departure of Carlos Quentin, but that depends heavily on the development of Dayan Viciedo.
Regardless, Konerko is the elder statesman of this team as well as the captain and a lot will be put on his shoulders as he tries to help this young team win.
Paulie carried the team last year, but the White Sox are hoping he will get some more help this year.
Let the groaning begin.
Yes, Adam Dunn will again be the White Sox cleanup hitter—but hopefully with better results.
Let's face it, it would be tough to do much worse than Dunn did last year.
Dunn hit a paltry .159 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI's while striking out 177 times in 415 at-bats.
If the Sox have any hopes of making noise in the Al Central, Dunn will have to improve mightily on those numbers.
I expect he will improve, but the question is, how much?
He's never going to hit for average, but getting back to at least 30 home runs and near 100 RBI's would do wonders for the White Sox.
For much of last season White Sox fans were clamoring for Viciedo to be called up from Triple-A Charlotte, but when he finally was, he didn't do much.
In 102 at-bats he hit .255 with one home run and six RBI's, but much more is expected of him this year as he steps into a starting role in right field.
There's no question that Viciedo has the potential to be a very dangerous hitter, but the Sox are hoping he realizes that potential sooner than later.
He's certainly not going to win any Gold Gloves in right field, but then again neither was Carlos Quentin.
However, even though Quentin was often injured he did put up solid power numbers over the last few years and that is what Viciedo is expected to replace.
Again, if the Sox want to contend this year, this is a guy who has to give them solid production.
Let the groaning begin—again.
Unless something drastic happens, look for Alex Rios to again be the opening day starter in center field for the 2012 White Sox.
Rios garnered a lot of criticism throughout last year for his seemingly disinterested attitude and his awful numbers at the plate—he hit .227 with 13 home runs and 44 RBI's in 537 at-bats.
As bad as Rios was at the plate, it was his attitude that seemed to irk fans the most.
Normally an above average outfielder, Rios played an underwhelming center field and seemed to dog it on several occasions—which doesn't go over well on the south side.
Along with Adam Dunn, Rios will have to increase his production dramatically for the White Sox to have a chance in the AL Central—if not, look for super utility man Brent Lillibridge to get increased playing time.
Though he is reaching the end of his career, Pierzynski can still hit and gives the White Sox the experience they sorely need in their lineup.
Last season he hit .287 with eight home runs and 48 RBI's in 464 at-bats, which is fairly solid production.
Although A.J. doesn't give you much defensively in terms of throwing runners out, he has called a lot of games behind the plate and gives the White Sox's young pitchers the veteran experience many of them need.
Like Konerko, Pierzynski will be asked to be a leader of this team and hopefully his never-say-die attitude will rub off on some of the younger players.
Morel struggled for much of last year at the plate, but came on strong in September to help post decent numbers.
In the end he hit .245 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI's in 413 at-bats, and the White Sox are hoping he can pick up where he left off last September.
One thing the White Sox won't worry about is Morel's defense at third base.
He finished the season with 14 errors in 297 total chances, which comes out to a .953 fielding percentage—not Gold Glove-caliber, but he has the potential to get there.
The White Sox are just looking for Morel to be improve on his numbers at the plate over the entire year and give them another solid year at the hot corner.
He has often been compared to Joe Crede in terms of being great defensively and is gradually becoming a better hitter.
I think Sox fans would be happy with that outcome.
After three seasons, White Sox fans are still waiting for Beckham to exhibit the hitting skills that caused the team to select him eighth overall in the 2008 MLB draft.
After a promising rookie campaign, Beckhams's numbers have been on the decline over the past two seasons. His batting average, RBI's, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS have all steadily gone down during that time and fans are growing impatient.
On the bright side, Beckham has played an outstanding second base. Last year he committed only eight errors in 723 chances, which comes out to a .989 fielding percentage.
Originally the White Sox thought Beckham would be a number-two hitter, but until he shows he can consistently hit major league pitching, the Sox will continue to hit him at the bottom of the order.
For nine of the last 10 seasons, Mark Buehrle has been the White Sox's opening day starter. However, now that he has departed for south beach, that role should fall to lefty John Danks.
Now that Danks has signed his five year, 65 million dollar extension, the White Sox are expecting him to anchor their starting rotation for the next several years.
There's no doubt Danks has the ability to be a top-notch starter, but after a disappointing 2011 campaign, he will be looking to recapture the stuff that helped him to win 40 games from 2008-2010.
Danks went 8-12 with a 4.33 ERA last year and he will be the first to tell you that it was not acceptable. It was the first time his ERA has been over four since his rookie season of 2007, and the eight victories were also his lowest total since that time.
The White Sox no longer have Buehrle to fall back on, so John Danks' role on this staff becomes even more important—he, along with Gavin Floyd, are now the longest tenured White Sox starters.
If the White Sox want to do anything this year, they must get a bounce-back season from Danks.