Note: Originally posted by Tommy Barbee on BaseballDigest.com (March 6, 2009)
Although there are plenty of questions this season, there’s a palpable feeling of optimism about the young players the White Sox brass has proudly assembled.
That said, there are plenty of position battles that need to be addressed, and with that in mind, here are five things to keep an eye on as Spring Training progresses:
1. Who’s going to lead? (aka the battles at CF and 2B)
Early indications were that the center field job was Jerry Owens’ to lose, and so far he’s gotten off to the same slow start that plagued him last year. The good sign is that Owens leads the team with five walks and is posting a nice .360 OBP despite only hitting .211.
On the other hand, he’s yet to steal a base, and with the way Dewayne Wise is hitting and the newfound maturity of Brian Anderson, it’s easy to see Owens getting squeezed again.
If that should happen, then it’s up to one of the second basemen to determine the leadoff spot, which could explain manager Ozzie Guillen's - insistence on trotting out Brent Lillibridge so frequently.
Though blessed with incredible speed like Owens, Lillibridge has a knack for striking out far too often (he’s tied for first in strikeouts currently), and he isn’t displaying the kind of consistency you want from a leadoff guy.
While not a prototypical No. 1 hitter, I like the way Chris Getz has been approaching the plate. He hasn’t been getting the hits, but he’s very patient and can run a bit. There’s an exceptional dark horse in Jayson Nix as well, who’s currently batting .714 in limited appearances.
Although not as versatile defensively, he could also steal some of Lillibridge’s thunder should he get more playing time.
2. The Race for Fifth
For the first time in a long while there are multiple viable candidates for fifth starter. In particular, Jeffrey Marquez has been as good as GM Kenny Williams advertised, not giving up a single run in either of his two starts.
Jack Egbert has also looked very good, most recently pitching shutout ball in a start against the Dodgers. Clayton Richard has also been good, but needs to locate his pitches better as spring goes on to have a real shot at overtaking Marquez.
Barring any major setback, look for Marquez to get the nod here.
3. And the Bullpen?
Fifth starter and bullpen woes usually go hand in hand for the Sox, but once again there’s a lot of reasons to feel encouraged by this group (if your name isn’t Octavio Dotel, anyway). Richard, Egbert, and ex-Tiger Franklyn German are three guys in particular to watch as possible bullpen candidates.
4. The Two Injured Vets
Don’t forget that Bartolo Colon and Jose Contreras are still on the team. The unexpected expediency of their recoveries could cause the Sox to rethink some personnel moves, so this is something worth keeping an eye on in the second half of Spring Training and into the start of the season.
5. The Few Things We Know
Newly acquired Dayan Viciedo is the real deal offensively, and I actually think he could improve enough defensively to be an OK third baseman if need be. However, he’d be better off as a left fielder or first baseman.
Look to see how he continues to adjust. Speaking of third base, Josh Fields is doing a heck of a job playing at such a high level despite most of the attention going to Viciedo. That shows a great deal of maturity.
Lastly, I’m going ahead and handing the backup catcher job to Corky Miller. He’s made a huge impact on the team already and can actually throw a good number of runners out.