Chicago White Sox Spring Training Report: Infield
At first glance, the White Sox pitching staff appears to be the strength of the team again, while the offense may have some questions marks.
There were not many changes during the offseason to an offensive group that was solid, but unspectacular in 2012.
The only real change of note is the addition of free-agent infielder Jeff Keppinger, who is slated to be the opening day third baseman—at least for now, anyway.
However, much has been made of the loss of long-time catcher A.J. Pierzynski and how it will affect this year's team.
GM Rick Hahn decided to let Pierzynski sign with the Texas Rangers this offseason and therefore has handed the catching duties over to Tyler Flowers.
Time will tell if this was a wise decision.
The 36-year-old Pierzynski put up big numbers in 2012 (.278 AVG, 27 HR, 77 RBI) and was always a guy that seemed to have a knack for the big hit. He was a fierce competitor, a leader in the clubhouse and about as dependable as they come. Needless to say, Flowers has some big shoes to fill.
Regardless, the White Sox must move forward.
Defensively, the infield should be solid again as they return the core of last year's group and add Keppinger at third and Flowers at catcher. They really shouldn't lose much, if anything, defensively at either position, and it can be argued that Flowers may actually improve the defense behind the plate.
However, it's the offense that everyone is worried about.
Here is a look at the infield (including catcher and DH) as the White Sox enter spring training in 2013.
Projected Starters (2012 MLB Stats)
1B - Paul Konerko (.298, 26 HR, 75 RBI)
2B - Gordon Beckham (.234, 16 HR, 60 RBI)
SS - Alexei Ramirez (.265, 9 HR, 73 RBI)
3B - Jeff Keppinger (.325, 9 HR, 40 RBI)
C - Tyler Flowers (.213, 7 HR, 13 RBI)
DH - Adam Dunn (.204, 41 HR, 96 RBI)
In the Mix
Are you confident that the White Sox infield will produce offensively?
Summary By Position
Paul Konerko will be 37 by Opening Day and hopefully fully recovered from a surgical procedure on his left wrist that he had in October. As long as the wrist is healthy, Konerko should have no problems putting up his typical solid stat line.
In 2012 Konerko managed to hit just a shade under .300 with 26 home runs and 75 RBI while missing several games because of the wrist issues. This is the final season of a three-year contract for the White Sox captain, who has been a mainstay on the South Side for the past 14 seasons. It could very well be his last season in a White Sox uniform, and nothing would be sweeter for Sox fans than to see him go out with a bang.
The enigmatic Gordon Beckham will return at second base and will once again try to find some semblance of consistency at the plate. He has struggled to find his groove at the plate since his rookie season, although he did put up solid power numbers in 2012 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI.
The bottom line is that Beckham has to find a way to get on base more as evidenced by his .296 OBP. If he can hit at least .250 with the similar power numbers, I think the White Sox would be happy, because his defense at second base is unmatched.
If Beckham can break out this season, the White Sox could be a dangerous team.
Alexei Ramirez will return at shortstop and has vowed to improve upon his offensive numbers from 2012 when he hit .265 with nine home runs and 73 RBI.
The biggest issue with Ramirez was his paltry .287 OBP, which was by far the worst of his career. Like his counterpart Beckham, he must improve on that if the White Sox want to stay in the hunt this season.
Defensively, Ramirez was excellent again and along with Beckham forms one of the better defenses up the middle in the American League.
In 2012, third base was a problem area for the White Sox until the midseason acquisition of Kevin Youkilis, who improved the production at the position, but tailed off at the end of the season.
With Youkilis now gone, the White Sox are hoping that new acquisition Jeff Keppinger can be their man at third base. Keppinger has been more of a journeyman throughout his eight-year career, but he is the contact hitter they are looking for and is coming off of a solid season hitting .325 with nine home runs and 40 RBI in only 385 at-bats.
Keppinger may not be your prototypical, heavy-hitting, third baseman, but the White Sox don't need any more of those guys. They need a guy who can make contact, hit behind runners, get on base and play a steady third base. Keppinger should provide all of those things, and that's why they got him.
As I mentioned above, the biggest change this year will be Tyler Flowers taking over behind the plate for the departed A.J. Pierzynski.
Pierzynski was a staple behind the plate for the past eight seasons and will no doubt be missed, but the question is how much?
The real question should be, can Flowers hit enough this season to make up for the loss of Pierzynski?
And that remains to be seen. He has huge power, but has struck out over one third of the time in 273 career at-bats. That will have to improve and hopefully will with consistent playing time.
Defensively he should be fine and may be an upgrade over Pierzynski in terms of blocking balls in the dirt and throwing runners out. He also handles the pitching staff well, and with the staff the White Sox have, that will be important.
At DH just about everyone knows what you are getting in Adam Dunn, which is home runs and strikeouts. The hope is that Dunn can pick up where he left off in terms of the home runs and RBI, but the White Sox would like to see the average in the .230 to .240 range instead of the .204 he put up last year.
With that said, Dunn did raise his average over 40 points last season after his dismal 2011 campaign when he hit .159, but he still needs to be closer to his career average of .240. Like Ramirez and Beckham, he also just needs to get on base. His OBP over the past two seasons were the worst of his career.
There will be a few guys in the mix for backup roles on the infield. The most likely candidates for the utility role will be Angel Sanchez and Carlos Sanchez.
Angel Sanchez is a veteran utility man that spent the entire 2012 season in the minors where he hit .320 at Triple A Oklahoma City. He can play third base, shortstop and second base and is a career .255 hitter at the major league level. He is more than likely the front runner for the utility job.
Carlos Sanchez is listed among the top 20 prospects in the White Sox organization and has a good shot to make it to the show this season. Like Angel Sanchez he can play second, third and shortstop, but is better suited up the middle.
He is a switch hitter that can spray the ball to all fields, but more importantly, he gets on base (career .379 OBP in minors), which is exactly what the White Sox need more of. He should battle it out with Angel Sanchez for the utility role, and the 20-year-old has a shot at a roster spot with a strong spring.
Last year's opening day third baseman, Brent Morel, is healthy again and hoping to reclaim his job. In order to do that he will have to beat out Keppinger, which won't be easy. Morel has had a rough start to his White Sox career, hitting just .230 over parts of three injury-plagued seasons since joining the team in 2009. He also has a chance to land a backup role depending on what the White Sox want to do with roster.
There are two guys who have a shot at the backup catcher role, and they are Hector Gimenez and Josh Phegley. Gimenez has 20 hits in his major league career and Phegley has exactly zero, so whoever gets the job will be short on experience. Phegley is probably the long term solution at catcher should Flowers not work out, but Gimenez played well when called up last year.
Either way it's easy to see why White Sox management and fans hope that Flowers can get the job done.
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