Chicago White Sox: Breaking Down the 2011 Projected Lineup

Travis MillerAnalyst IMarch 23, 2011

Chicago White Sox: Breaking Down the 2011 Projected Lineup

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    One through nine (maybe eight), the Chicago White Sox have one of the nastiest lineups in the American League this year, mainly due to the addition of left-handed slugger Adam Dunn, who general manager Kenny Williams snagged off the market in early December.

    Here's a look at the projected lineup, why they're hitting there and what you can expect from them.

No. 1: Juan Pierre

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    With speed and the ability to get on base several different ways, Pierre is the clear pick to hit leadoff in this lineup. He is the active leader in stolen bases (459) and bunt hits (165), and he is third among active players in infield hits (405) behind Ichiro Suzuki (457) and Luis Castillo (515).

    In an perfect world, Pierre's on-base percentage would be closer to .370 or .380, but when you get 700-plus plate appearances per season, the White Sox can deal with .340 or .350.

    Pierre stole a career-high 68 bags last season and also led the team by being hit with 21 pitches. He has been an absolute workhorse this spring and at age 33, is showing no signs of slowing down.

    It's doubtful that he'll steal 70 bases this season, but 55-60 is completely reasonable. He scored 96 runs in 2010, a number I expect to skyrocket, given the names hitting behind him.

No. 2: Gordon Beckham

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    At first glance, Beckham's .252 average in 2010 doesn't look all that great. But, if you look deeper into the numbers, there is plenty of evidence for optimism this time around.

    Beckham struggled early last year, batting .199 through June 23. He rebounded nicely, hitting .310 the remainder of the season.

    He came into spring having put on a lot of muscle and leads the team with 18 hits (.346 avg.) in Cactus League play. He has three home runs and 11 RBI.

    Though I like Alexei Ramirez here (I'll refute that rationale later), Beckham is the perfect candidate for the No. 2 hole because he can work the count and give Pierre a chance to swipe a base. He can put the ball in play, but can also get a bunt down when necessary to advance JP into scoring position for the boppers waiting behind him.

    Manager Ozzie Guillen has also said Beckham will be much more active on the bases this year. Whether that's good or bad will yet to be seen, as he's had several blunders on the basepaths already this spring.

    It's safe to expect Beckham to hit around .280 with 10-15 home runs and as many stolen bases.

No. 3: Adam Dunn

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    This will probably be the most controversial spot in the lineup all year.

    Alex Rios flourished hitting third last season, and it's easy to justify a right-left-right combo in the 3-4-5 positions to break up Rios and Paul Konerko, but bear with me, because this is also bound to change from time to time.

    With a lefty on the mound, you may see Rios hitting third and Dunn fourth. However when there's a righty on the mound, you want Dunn to get an at-bat in the first inning.

    Furthermore, Rios hitting third with Dunn and Konerko behind him will take away Rios' ability to cause havoc on the bases. With two outs and Rios on first, you're not going to send him with Dunn or Konerko at bat.

    The big question mark with Dunn is how he will adapt to the designated hitter role. He has expressed concern about all the down time when he's not playing in the field, but he's a fun guy. I'm sure he'll find something or someone to keep him busy.

    Dunn will be his usual self, hitting 35-40 home runs in a Dunn-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. He'll drive in 100 runs and strike out more than you want him to.

No 4: Paul Konerko

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    Paulie absolutely carried the team on his back early last season, hitting 17 homers and driving in 41 runs with a .280 average through June 8 when the White Sox went on their 25-5 run to even out a 24-33 start.

    He had MVP numbers and would have won the award if the White Sox made the playoffs. There is much less pressure on him to bear the offensive load, so a repeat of his .312/39/111 is unlikely, but also unnecessary.

    As long as he stays healthy, Konerko will produce solid numbers in the middle of this lineup. About 30 homers, 100 RBI and a .275 average wouldn't be too much to ask of him at all. Just. Stay. Healthy.

    Guillen has said Konerko will be DH-ing less this year. With Dunn expected to play first base once or twice a week, you will probably be seeing more full days off for Paulie to help keep him fresh.

No. 5: Alex Rios

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    No swing has looked sweeter on the White Sox this spring than that of Alex Rios. Nine of his 13 spring hits have been for extra bases, and he's driven in 14 runs in 14 games.

    Rios stole 34 bases last year and drove in a career-high 88 runs. After a down year in 2009, Rios appeared to have figured things out in 2010. Expect it to carry over, and then some, in 2011.

    Hitting behind Dunn and Konerko will offer him plenty of RBI chances, but will also give him many opportunities to act as a second leadoff hitter when those two clear the bases ahead of him. Similar stolen base and RBI numbers are not far from Rios' reach.

    With Carlos Quentin hitting behind him, he still has the protection needed to get good pitches to drive.

No. 6: Carlos Quentin

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    Which Carlos Quentin will we see this year? A common question, and a fair one.

    Often viewed as a head-case, Quentin seems to have come into camp with a much better grasp on the mental aspects of his game. He had a smile on his face when he reported on Feb. 22 and even joked around with reporters.

    He was still timid when answering questions at first, but eventually opened up about following the lead of good clubhouse guys like Konerko and Pierre, having conversations with them about how to handle certain aspects of the game that he had struggled with.

    Quentin had a four-hit game the other day and has a solid .326 (15-for-46) average in the Cactus League.

    In a "sub-par" 2010 year, Quentin jacked 26 long balls and drove in 87 runs in just 131 games. His .243 batting average needs to go up in order to provide protection for Rios.

    If Quentin maintains a clear mind and just focuses on baseball, there's no reason he couldn't return to 2008 form, when he finished fifth in MVP voting with .288/36/100.

No. 7: A.J. Pierzynski

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    The third lefty in the White Sox lineup, A.J. Pierzynski's main focus is always going to be managing the pitching staff, but he's no slouch at the plate.

    From 2001 on, A.J. leads MLB catchers in doubles (275), is third in hits (1325) and extra-base hits (406), fifth in RBI (574) and seventh in home runs (116). He also has a .285 average (as a catcher) over those ten seasons.

    Whatever offense comes from Pierzynski is a bonus, but the two-time All-Star is always a threat to get a big base hit.

No. 8: Alexei Ramirez

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    Who thought being clutch would be such a curse?

    Ramirez, my favored pick for the No. 2 hole, is stuck hitting eighth in this lineup. A .295 hitter with two outs and runners in scoring position last year, his ability to drive in runs is too valuable to waste hitting second, according to manager Ozzie Guillen.

    The good thing about this lineup is that there will still be lots of opportunities to defend his 2010 Silver Slugger award in 2011.

    Over the last two years, Ramirez leads A.L. shortstops in home runs and RBI.

    Ramirez hit .303 in his final 91 games for Chicago last year, and is staying consistent with a .292 mark this spring. At age 29, Ramirez is in the prime of his career, and his production will reflect that.

No. 9: Brent Morel

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    It's still unofficial, but Brent Morel has all but won the starting nod at third base for Ozzie Guillen. Mark Teahen is having a great offensive spring, but has struggled in the field. Teahen has been seen in the outfield and at first base in recent Cactus League games, so it's just a matter of time before the announcement is made.

    Morel will be the weakest link in the lineup, but Guillen has said that he is not looking for offensive output from him. Looking at the tendencies of Mark Buehrle, John Danks and the rest of the White Sox pitching staff, it's very important to have a solid defender on the hot corner, and Morel is the guy. He's had a flashy defensive spring with no errors.

    Like Pierzynski, any offense is a bonus with Morel. He had success in the minors, but showed very little in 65 at-bats when he was called up in 2010. He will hit for power and drive in runs on occasion, but as long as he hits over .220 and maintains his health, don't expect a regime change, probably just a pinch hitter late in games.

Consensus

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    Thumbs up, baby. Speed at the top, power in the middle, and an above-average bottom, this is a team that can get on base and come around to score.

    Like any team, health is a big key, but there is also depth. Mark Teahen and either Lastings Milledge or Brent Lillibridge will be around to come off the bench, and names like Dayan Viciedo, Stefan Gartrell, Jordan Danks and Alejandro De Aza are getting their reps and biding their time in the minors.

    If the pitching comes around and the offense does its job, you're looking at a very dangerous team.