Over the last several seasons, the White Sox have had an abundance of power. Their lowest finish in total homers since 2001 was sixth, and they've lead the league in home runs three times in the last five years. Three players eclipsed 30 homers last year while another three slugged at least 20.
So power has rarely been an issue; instead, they've often struggled to make contact and get on base. This especially shows up in clutch situations with runners on base. The team finished in the middle of the pack in both batting average and on-base percentage last year, and that probably won't change this season with several younger players joining the lineup. You never know when Kenny Williams will make a major move, but as things stand right now this is what their lineup will look like.
1) CF Jerry Owens
This spot worries me, and I'm sure I'm not the only Sox fan that feels that way.
The Sox don't have a proven top-of-the-order hitter that can get on base at a good clip and be a factor on the base paths, but Owens is the closest thing they have. While he has great speed that allowed him to swipe 32 bags in 40 attempts in 2007, he's a liability at the plate with a career on-base percentage of .321 and a total lack of power.
If Owens can't produce, things could get interesting both in centerfield and in the leadoff spot. Brian Anderson and DeWayne Wise are the other candidates at the moment, neither of which is very appealing. Brent Lillibridge could be another option, though he's more likely to spend the year in AAA.
2) SS Alexei Ramirez
Ramirez will slide over to shortstop after playing most of last year at second base. I'm guessing that Alexei will end up in this spot because of his ability to make contact and his decent speed. While he doesn't take many walks, Ramirez puts the ball in play and managed to hit 21 homers in only 480 at-bats. His performance was a significant surprise last year, and he came up with some huge hits. It would probably make sense to move him down in the lineup, but until some of the guys at the bottom of the order prove themselves, he is the best fit.
3) LF Carlos Quentin
Quentin was another pleasant surprise last year and probably would have won the AL MVP if not for a wrist injury. He was the Sox' best and most consistent hitter by a wide margin last year. The offense tailed of consistently after his injury, and Chicago was very lucky to still win the division without him. His balanced approach is crucial to an offense that often relies on the longball a little too much and can struggle to make contact in clutch situations.
4) RF Jermaine Dye
When Dye is on, he can be an extremely dangerous hitter, but he can really struggle at times (early 2005, most of 2007 and September of last year for example). While he's a better contact hitter than the two sluggers that follow him in the lineup, he has to rely on that more because he doesn't take as many walks. But in the middle of this dangerous lineup, he should have more good times than bad.
5) DH Jim Thome
Very few teams can boast a number five hitter that slugged 34 home runs the previous season. Ozzie will probably bat Thome fourth at times depending on which hitter is hot. Though he has a great batting eye and can change the game with one swing, his struggles to put the ball in play make him hard to trust in the clutch.
6) 1B Paul Konerko
Paulie is coming off a disappointing season in which he failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2003. Though his batting average over the past two years hasn't been exactly what fans are looking for from him, he has still been on-base at a rate above .340 and provides good power (22 homers in 122 games). He does go through stretches where he'll swing for the fences a bit too much, but overall he's still a productive hitter.
7) C A.J. Pierzynski
His offensive abilities won't blow anyone away, but for a catcher, Pierzynski more than holds his own. He is definitely a free swinger that is hard to walk, but he is a .284 career hitter that will give you double-digit homers. Ozzie has put A.J. in the two-hole in the past and may do it at times this season as well.
8) 3B Josh Fields
This is another spot that is a question mark. Fields is the favorite to play here, though Dayan Viciedo or Wilson Betemit could fill this spot as well. If Josh makes contact he can hit the ball extremely hard, as shown by his 23 homers in only 373 at bats in 2007. The problem is he also struck out 125 times over that same period. He's coming off a down year, so no one knows exactly what to expect from him. Viciedo is a highly touted Cuban import that also boasts elite power, but he may need some time in AAA.
9) 2B Chris Getz
This spot will be determined in spring training, but my best guess is that it will be Getz. Jason Nix and Wilson Betemit are other potential candidates, as well as the previously mentioned Lillibridge. Getz brings more of a line-drive approach to a lineup filled with sluggers. If he can hit .275 and take a few walks, the team will probably be satisfied. But whoever wins this job is likely just a short-term choice until the team decides that recent first-round pick Gordon Beckham is ready. Some experts have said he'll be the starter by June.
Much like previous seasons, the offense is likely to be productive yet inconsistent. While they have the power to put games away early, they can also be shut down by pitchers that force them to put the ball in play by throwing strikes and avoiding the center of the plate. If they can get production from the top of the order, this could be one of the elite offenses in the league and will probably be no worse than the middle of the pack, barring injuries.