The White Sox's team picture is a bit out of focus at the moment.
After an offseason of aggressive moves by Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, the club will enter spring training with more than a few questions in need of answering.
The depth chart is so full of uncertainties that White Sox manager Robin Ventura will have a hard time choosing between certain players.
Who, for example, will open the season at third base, and who will assume the role of long reliever in the bullpen? And who will back up Tyler Flowers behind the plate?
The performances of some of these players during spring training will not only impact the success of the 2014 club but will also determine which direction Hahn takes moving forward.
Certain players will not be discussed.
Josh Phegley, for example, isn't really battling for a roster spot, because the position is his if a recent addition fails to make the team. Leury Garcia and Marcus Semien are two other guys who will not be mentioned, since Paul Konerko effectively occupies their spot on the roster regardless of what happens with (Foreshadow alert!) the situation at third base.
Here are six players who are fighting for spots on the White Sox roster this spring.
Unless noted, all player statistics and transaction information are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Velocity information is courtesy of FanGraphs.com. Depth chart information taken from MLBDepthCharts.
Rule 5 draft selection Adrian Nieto has a long road ahead of him.
Taken in the Rule 5 draft, Adrian Nieto is going to have to show the coaching staff quite a bit in order to make the Opening Day roster. And considering he has never played above High-A, that is going to be an uphill battle.
He does have the tools. MLB.com’s Scott Merkin noted that general manager Rick Hahn “listed solid defensive skills, a plus arm, some pop, a compact stroke and good plate discipline as impressive traits attached to Nieto.” Let’s hope that is enough, because the White Sox sure need some help at the catcher position, which compiled a .196/.238/.325 slash line last season.
Now, I have been wrong before, but I do not see Nieto being capable of making the leap to the big leagues this season. Expect for him to be offered back to the Washington Nationals for $25,000, per Rule 5 draft rules.
Matt Davidson has a chance to take over the everyday job at third base.
First, he could open the season as the everyday third baseman in the big leagues with Jeff Keppinger backing him up. Second, he could be sent to Triple-A for a touch more seasoning. The only thing White Sox fans know for certain is that whenever he makes his debut on the South Side, “he’s going to be here for a long time,” according to general manager Rick Hahn, via MLB.com’s Scott Merkin.
In 31 games last year for the Diamondbacks, he hit .237 with three home runs and 12 RBI. While those numbers are not all that impressive, he did draw 10 walks, finished with a 110 OPS+ and had a .197 IsoP (isolated power) over the course of just 87 at-bats. To be sure, it is a small sample size, but it is promising.
If I had to make a guess, I'd say he will start the season on the 25-man roster.
Charles Leesman seems to have the inside track on a spot in the bullpen.
Charles Leesman has found success at the minor league level. Over the course of six seasons and 125 starts, he compiled a 53-31 record with a 3.44 ERA, 512 strikeouts and a 1.429 WHIP in 691.1 innings.
At the major league level, however, the results have been mixed. In eight appearances last season, for example, he looked good four times and lost the other four. Control is a big issue for Leesman, as he walked four or more batters on three separate occasions last season and finished with an unsightly 2.087 WHIP.
The fact that Leesman is left-handed will help him out quite a bit. He can make a spot start and seems like he would be a good fit as a long reliever. I would imagine that his ability to pitch multiple innings will be the deciding factor in whether he is with the team when the season begins.
It is also not hard to imagine a situation in which the White Sox pass on Leesman in favor of a right-hander with a power arm.
Donnie Veal needs to overcome some control issues.
To say the least, Donnie Veal is a frustrating player.
On one hand, he has a hard time throwing first-pitch strikes with regularity. Look no further than pitching coach Don Cooper, who cited these control issues when discussing Veal’s demotion to Triple-A last May, via the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales.
On the other hand, he has a very nice repertoire of pitches—fastball, changeup and curve—that can be quite effective, especially against left-handed hitters. He also put up a very nice 3.82 xFIP against a 4.60 ERA last season, according to FanGraphs.
Some signs point to Veal being ready to put his control problems behind him. After finishing the month of June last season with a 7.53 ERA, he appeared in 26 more games, only walked five additional batters and had a .157 BAA while compiling a 1.80 ERA. It was a solid turnaround over an extended period of time, and that bodes well for the White Sox.
If he can’t get the ball over the plate this spring, though, the coaching staff may opt to have him open the season at Triple-A to work out the kinks.
Even after performing quite well last season, nothing is guaranteed for Gillaspie.
Conor Gillaspie exceeded expectations last season.
After being acquired from the San Francisco Giants before the start of spring training, Gillaspie ended up seizing the everyday job at third base for extended stretches and finished the season with a .245/.305/.390 slash line, 13 home runs and 40 RBI. His 86 OPS+ is poor, and his statistics took a dive in the second half, but, overall, he did better than even the most optimistic fans thought he would.
The unfortunate reality, though, is that he will be fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster because the White Sox have three first basemen—Adam Dunn, Jose Abreu and Paul Konerko—who effectively take away one of the utility infield positions.
In essence, if Matt Davidson makes the team out of spring training, Gillaspie will start the season at Triple-A, as the other infield spot will almost assuredly go to Jeff Keppinger.
It is an uphill battle for the would-be storm chaser.
Jake Petricka is yet another young arm with a chance to make the White Sox.
Jake Petricka seems to be on the outside looking in when it comes to breaking camp with the White Sox. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a legitimate shot at making the Opening Day roster, though.
In 16 appearances last season, he compiled a 3.26 ERA over the course of 19.1 innings. More impressively, he didn’t appear to be overwhelmed and had very nice mound presence, which is so important for a young reliever.
One area of concern for Petricka is his control. He did walk 10 batters last year, which led to a rather high 1.552 WHIP. But with a mid-90s fastball and a rather solid slider, the young man has a very good shot at opening the season with the White Sox.
Petricka will likely battle Charles Leesman and Donnie Veal for a roster spot.