10 Reasons to Keep Watching the Chicago White Sox with an Eye on 2014

Matthew SmithCorrespondent IIISeptember 2, 2013

10 Reasons to Keep Watching the Chicago White Sox with an Eye on 2014

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    One year removed from a September push towards a division championship, the Chicago White Sox are limping towards this offseason with a 56-79 record.

    That does not mean that there aren't any reasons to watch the White Sox for the rest of the year, though.

    Fact is, there are 10 things to keep an eye on as the 2013 season comes to a conclusion.

    Prospects will be given the chance to show that their performances at Double-A and Triple-A can translate into big league success, one player will be gunning for a franchise milestone and a White Sox legend may say goodbye when the season ends. 

    Beginning with the pitching staff, here are the 10 reasons White Sox fans should keep watching this September with their eye on 2014 and beyond.

1. Prospect to Watch: Charles Leesman

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    The 2013 season has been an interesting one for Charles Leesman.

    On April 17, Leesman was unconditionally release by the White Sox after five seasons in the minor leagues in order to make room for Tyler Greene on the 40-man roster. Two days later, he was claimed by the Texas Rangers and it appeared the left-hander’s time in the organization had reached its end.

    Not so fast, though. Leesman rejected his assignment to Triple-A Round Rock, elected free agency and was re-signed by the White Sox 10 days later, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers. Less than four months after that, he made his major league debut against the Minnesota Twins, striking out eight and walking five in 5.0 innings before being optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte.

    Leesman was then added to the active roster and made an appearance on Sunday against the Boston Red Sox with mixed results. He gave up one earned run and walked four over 4.1 innings in relief of Andre Rienzo.

    How the 26-year-old performs during the final month of the season will go a long way towards determining whether or not he will be a legitimate back-of-the-rotation starter or come out of the pen in long relief next season.

    Either way, it will be fun to watch a home-grown prospect take the next step in his development. 

    Leesman will be headed to the Arizona Fall League this offseason, per CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes. He had a 4-3 record with a 3.87 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 88.1 innings at Triple-A Charlotte.

     

2. Prospect to Watch: Jake Petricka

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    In 31 games between Double-A and Triple-A, Jake Petricka compiled a 1.81 ERA and struck out 58 in 54.2 innings. That stat line was good enough to earn a promotion to the 25-man roster in the middle of August. Since then, however, he has only appeared in five games.

    While he has looked good in three of those contests, he has also seemed unsure of himself at times. Look no further than Saturday night against the Boston Red Sox. He loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning, allowed a run to score on a wild pitch, walked two and needed 43 pitches to make it through two innings.

    Petricka does have the stuff, though. He features a mid-90s fastball that he complements well with a changeup which averages 86 mph, per Fangraphs.com. The White Sox coaching staff would be wise to give him more of an opportunity to show what he is capable of over the final four weeks.

    Barring any trades, Matt Lindstrom, Addison Reed and Nate Jones appear to be the only locks in the Chicago bullpen for next season. How Petricka ends the season will directly impact his status going into spring training.

3. Will the White Sox Rest Chris Sale?

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    Chris Sale is having another great season for the White Sox, but he needs to take a break. Whether or not he gets one is the most important thing to watch for as the 2013 season nears its end.

    The fact of the matter is that the Sox have no legitimate reason to continue allowing Sale to throw more than 100 pitches per start. There is also no reason to let Sale make his remaining six scheduled starts. 

    General manager Rick Hahn intimated that the White Sox will begin easing up a bit on his workload. He made an appearance on the Hit and Run Show on 670 The Score in Chicago on Sunday morning. During a conversation regarding Sale, Hahn said that "with the expansion of the rosters and some off days we will be able to protect a lot of our starters," per CBSLocal.com.

    Another thing to consider here is that if Sale makes his remaining starts, it would take valuable opportunities away from both Erik Johnson and Charles Leesman.

    They need to be given at least two starts each in order to have a better understanding of where they may fit into the team’s long-term plan.

     

     

4. Prospect to Watch: Erik Johnson

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    Erik Johnson’s raw numbers are incredible.  

    Between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, the right-hander is 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA, 131 strikeouts, 40 walks and a 0.986 WHIP in 142 innings pitched. Oh, there is also the fact that his .197 batting average against (BAA) was the fifth best in the minor leagues going into his last start, per the Charlotte Knights' Twitter feed.

    The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers noted that Johnson has “drawn some comparisons to a young Curt Schilling.” If that is even remotely true, White Sox fans will be quite pleased.

    Two good starts this September could give Johnson added momentum going into spring training next season when he will be given every opportunity to win a spot in the starting rotation

    Just about the only negative this year for Johnson was a short trip to the disabled list with a groin strain. Otherwise, 2013 has been a marvelous campaign for him.

5. Can Andre Rienzo Find the Plate on a Consistent Basis?

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    Will a few more solid starts make the case that a nod in the 2014 starting rotation is Andre Rienzo’s to lose? 

    Phil Rogers, from the Chicago Tribune, posited that the only guarantees spots in the rotation next year belong to Chris Sale, John Danks and Jose Quintana. Rienzo has a chance to prove that he belongs with them when next season opens. He has some work to do, though.

    One area to watch for is whether or not he can begin finding the strike zone on a more consistent basis. In six out of his seven starts, Rienzo has walked at least three batters, which is a lot considering that he averages less than six innings per contest.

    In addition to walking far too many batters, he is wild in the zone. During his last start against the Red Sox, Rienzo left a curveball on the outer half of the plate that Jacoby Ellsbury promptly smoked into center field for a two-run single. The pitch had great action, but was left in the one spot where Ellsbury could make solid contact and drive the ball.

    Getting the ball over the plate and locating his curve will be the key to his growth as a starting pitcher.

    White Sox manager Robin Ventura said after the game on Sunday that the plan is to stick with Rienzo, per MLB.com's Scott Merkin. One has to wonder, though, what another poor outing will do to his stock.

6. Will Addison Reed Reach the 45-Save Plateau?

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    The only question left this season for Addison Reed is whether or not he can get to 45 saves.

    Going into action on Monday, Reed has amassed 36 saves, 63 strikeouts and a 1.011 WHIP in 63.1 inning. While a tall task, getting to 45 saves for Reed is a distinct possibility.

    Even if he fails to reach that goal, however, Reed has a great chance to supplant Keith Foulke, who closed out 42 games in 2001, and claim the No. 2 spot on the single-season saves leaderboard behind current White Sox bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen.

    Currently tied with the Kansas City Royals’ Greg Holland for fourth in the American League in saves, the right-hander has proven that he is a top-flight closer with a shorter-than-short memory. Following his breakout rookie campaign last year, the White Sox could have asked for little more than what Reed has delivered to this point.

7. Two Words...Avisail Garcia

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    Avisail Garcia has been nothing short of outstanding since arriving on the South Side in the deal that sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox.

    In the 22 games he has played with the White Sox, Garcia has a.354/.391/.488 slash line with two home runs and 11 RBI. He has been flat-out exceptional and is playing better than anyone reasonably expected him to play.

    September takes on added importance for him because 82 at-bats is a fairly small sample size, so his inflated numbers can come hurtling down into the mid-.270 range in a very short amount of time. If Garcia's final month is a strong one, White Sox fans will have a legitimate reason to be quite excited for the 2014 season.

     

8. Can Jordan Danks Finish the Season Strong?

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    Jordon Danks has really come on strong since getting the opportunity to get more playing time following the departure of Alex Rios.

    In August, Danks had a robust .333/.377/.509 slash line along with four doubles and two home runs over 57 at-bats. Long known for his defensive abilities, Danks' recent offensive production has been a pleasant surprise.

    One area of great concern for the left-handed hitter is his inability to hit with runners in scoring position (RISP). Prior to his game-winning single against the Astros last week, he had failed to deliver with RISP all season. In fact, Elias Sports Bureau noted that it was the first time he’d recorded a hit with RISP since June 27...of last year, via ESPN.com.

    If he can continue his hot-hitting ways in September, though, Danks could go into spring training next year with a chance to make the team as something other than the fourth outfielder.   

9. Will the White Sox Fall out of the Top 10 in Next Year's Draft?

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    With the exception of their recent sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, the White Sox have been on an incredible run. Winners of five out of their last six series, they are finally playing the type of baseball all White Sox fans had hoped for when the season began.

    It may be coming at a very high cost, however, because if they keep winning and fall out of the top 10 in the first-year player draft next season, general manager Rick Hahn may have to alter his offseason plans considerably.

    As a team with one of the first 10 picks in the 2014 draft, for example, the Sox would be able to sign anyone they choose this offseason and only sacrifice, at worst, next year’s second-round pick.

    However, if they are not in the top 10, and the free agent has been tendered a qualifying offer, they would be forced to surrender their top pick next June as compensation.

    As it stands, only five losses separate the White Sox and the Seattle Mariners for the 11th pick. To be sure, five games is quite a bit of ground to lose in less than one month, but I am fairly certain that we all remember how quickly the White Sox's fortunes changed last year.

    With payroll flexibility and numerous holes to fill in the lineup, it stands to reason that the more options GM Rick Hahn has, the better.

10. Is This the End for Paul Konerko?

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    September may be the final month in a White Sox uniform for Paul Konerko, and what a career it has been.

    Just take a look at the statistics he has compiled and where they rank all time in franchise history:

     

    Home Runs4242nd
    Runs Batted In13522nd
    Hits22303rd
    Doubles3973rd
    Runs Scored11174th
    SLG.4979th
    oWar34.55th
    Games21642nd

     

    A fringe Hall of Fame candidate at first base, Konerko—who is hitting .245 with nine home runs and 45 RBI—embodies all that is right in the game of baseball. A consummate professional, tireless worker and grand statesman, he has been the standard to which many a Sox player has aspired to during his 15 years with the team.  

    If this is, in fact, the last month for Sox fans to bask in Konerko’s greatness, then what other reason do you need to watch?

     

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