Early-Season Grades for Chicago White Sox's Offseason Acquisitions
The Chicago White Sox entered the 2014 season with lofty expectations for a roster that underwent significant upheaval.
To be sure, it isn’t as if everyone expects the White Sox to challenge the Detroit Tigers for AL Central supremacy just because general manager Rick Hahn brought in guys like Adam Eaton, Scott Downs and Jose Abreu. While possible, a scenario like that is rather unlikely. What the fans do expect is a greater sense of urgency, competent fielding, reliable relief pitching and improved baserunning.
Well, two out of four isn’t so bad. See, the bullpen is a mess, and the fielding is all over the place, but the baserunning is better than it was last season, and the increased energy on and off the field is palpable.
So with nine games down this season, let’s take a minute to grade each of Hahn’s offseason acquisitions on the 25-man roster.
Jose Abreu, 1B
“It would be lazy and accurate” to describe Jose Abreu’s performance at the plate “as a mixed bag,” according to FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan. Well said, Jeff.
In the first nine games, Abreu has a .278/.372/.583 slash line with two home runs, three doubles and a team-leading 11 RBI. He has taken balls the other way, hit towering drives, driven the gap and otherwise looked dominating at the plate. He also struck out and grounded out to end consecutive one-run losses to the Kansas City Royals. As MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby noted, he recently went through a “funk” that tested his resolve.
In the field, Abreu has shown remarkable range and is more agile than many expected he would be, but “still needs a little tidying up with his receiving skills,” per CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes. Hayes cited several instances over the first six games when the first baseman “had difficulty catching throws from Conor Gillaspie and Alexei Ramirez.”
So while the results have been varied, the one thing that is not in question is that Abreu is electrifying. White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin went so far as to say that he “literally is the talk of the town in Chicago.”
Yep. That sounds about right.
Ronald Belisario, RHP
Ronald Belisario has failed to find a rhythm.
True, the right-hander earned an extra-inning victory against the Minnesota Twins by pitching 1.1 scoreless frames, but he allowed an inherited runner to score in three other outings. He has seemed to control the strike zone to one batter and then have trouble locating his fastball to the next one.
Now, pitching coach Don Cooper defended Belisario late last week, saying he was only off on one offering in his first three appearances, via MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. That seems a bit disingenuous, though. Even the casual observer will note that Belisario was walking a fine line with each hitter, and this was before he gave up six earned runs in two outings against the Colorado Rockies.
As if it wasn’t bad enough, Belisario left his last game under the care of trainer Herm Schneider after only recording one out and allowing five earned runs.
Maikel Cleto, RHP
Like the rest of the bullpen, Maikel Cleto has struggled with consistency, and when he has been off, it has been costly.
In the White Sox’s first loss of the season, for example, he entered the game with men on first and second with nobody out and allowed both runners to score in what ended up being a one-run loss to the Minnesota Twins. Two days later, he gave up a run-scoring single to Salvador Perez in the eighth inning of the 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
When Cleto is on point, though, he is awesome. Take, for instance, the series finale versus the Colorado Rockies when he entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning and struck out pinch hitter Brandon Barnes on three off-speed pitches en route to three strikeouts in 1.1 innings pitched.
The hard-throwing right-hander has appeared in four games and has a 0.938 WHIP.
Scott Downs, LHP
Scott Downs is still looking to find his groove.
In his four outings, he has failed to record an out twice and has yet to make an appearance in which he didn’t allow a baserunner. Most alarming, he has thrown 47 pitches this year, but only 21 of them have been strikes, according to his player page at MLB.com.
That is a woeful percentage.
Downs was brought in to replace Matt Thornton as the primary left-handed setup man, and to this point, he has failed to provide the type of results anybody hoped for. The good news is that he has a track record to rely on. And while it is not unheard of for a reliever to suddenly lose the ability to get batters out, it is a safe bet that Downs will be just fine.
Then again, the White Sox may have rolled the dice on a guy who is simply past his prime at age 38.
Adam Eaton, CF
Adam Eaton is almost everything the White Sox hoped he would be when they acquired him.
Not only does he have a .346 on-base percentage with eight runs scored, but there is something to be said about the effect his presence has on the lineup. Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he is the reason the team seems to have more energy than in years past, as the Chicago Sun Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen intimated in a recent post, but he does bring an intangible to the batting order that was missing last season.
And don't forget about his defense. In the first game against the Colorado Rockies, for example, he robbed Charlie Blackmon of what appeared to be a triple to the gap in right with a running, one-handed catch to end the second inning. He has brought competency to the center field position.
If Eaton can continue to produce at this level, the White Sox will be in good shape for a few years. That is, of course, if he doesn’t pull an Aaron Rowand and knock himself out of the lineup by trying to run through a wall.
Adrian Neito, C
Thanks to the stellar start that Tyler Flowers (.444/.483/.593) is having, Adrian Nieto isn’t getting all that many at-bats this year. But that doesn’t mean he isn't making his presence felt.
He has appeared in three games and has doubled and scored a run. And who can forget the peg that caught Jarrod Dyson trying to steal second base. It was the type of throw that had been missing on the South Side since the time of Ron Karkovice behind the plate.
Expect for Nieto to see more playing time behind the plate in the coming weeks when Flowers inevitably cools off at the plate. All told, the young catcher is playing quite well for a guy who never made it to Double-A prior to being selected by the White Sox in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason.
Felipe Paulino, RHP
Felipe Paulino is throwing the ball poorly, and it is not lost on White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. Per CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes, Cooper didn’t mince words following Paulino’s last outing against the Colorado Rockies:
If you’re not going to throw it over, we will have to get somebody else. If you constantly don’t throw it over -- major league pitchers throw it over… He’s making too many mistakes with his breaking balls in the zone. … That’s a mistake that has been coming up too much for him.
Cooper is absolutely right. Paulino is all over the place.
In two starts covering 9.2 innings, the right-hander has issued six walks and yielded seven earned runs. True, four of the bases on balls and six of the earned runs came in his last outing against the Rockies, but he was only marginally better in his first start against the Minnesota Twins. Truth be told, the right-hander only gave up one earned run against the Twins because he induced 12 ground balls, according to Baseball-Reference.
As you can see, he has some work to do. Any future success will be predicated on throwing first-pitch strikes, which is something he only did to 14 of the 26 hitters he faced in his last outing, via the Chicago Sun Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen.
If he can do that and keep the ball down, he should be fine. If not, his stay with the White Sox could be shorter than expected.