Complete 2015 Chicago White Sox Spring Training Preview

Matthew Smith@@MatthewSmithBRCorrespondent IIIFebruary 13, 2015

Complete 2015 Chicago White Sox Spring Training Preview

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    Chris Sale enters the 2015 as a Cy Young favorite.
    Chris Sale enters the 2015 as a Cy Young favorite.Associated Press

    On February 19, the Chicago White Sox will officially begin preparations for the 2015 campaign with the start of spring training. It marks the beginning of what the fanbase hopes will be a season that ends with an American League Central title.

    Unlike seasons past, however, there is legitimate optimism surrounding the White Sox. General manager Rick Hahn made an extraordinary amount of progress this offseason, acquiring multiple players to fill just about every hole on the roster.

    To be sure, the work isn’t complete. There are still evaluations to be made by manager Robin Ventura and the rest of the coaching staff, but the outlook is decidedly more upbeat than it was one year ago.

    So let’s dig into a complete spring training preview for the White Sox, looking at individual battles, players to watch and the projected composition of the lineup, starting rotation and bullpen.

Offseason Recap

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Key Additions

    Player

     2014 Stats

    SP Jeff Samardzija (R)

     33 G, 33 GS, 7-13, 2.99 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 1.065 WHIP

    RP Zach Duke (L)

     74 G, 2.45 ERA, 2.14 FIP. 1.125 WHIP, 11.4 K/9

    CL David Robertson (R)

     63 G, 39 SV, 3.08 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 1.057 WHIP, 13.4 K/9

    RP Dan Jennings (L)

     47 G, 1.34 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 1.537 WHIP. 8.5 K/9

    1B/DH Adam LaRoche (L)

     .259/.362/.455, 26 HR, 92 RBI, 19 2B, 124 OPS+

    LF Melky Cabrera (S)

     .301/.351/.458, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 35 2B, 126 OPS+

    UT Emilio Bonifacio (S)

     .259/.305/.345, 24 RBI, 17 2B, 26 SB, 81 OPS+

    Analysis

    The White Sox went into the offseason needing a power-throwing right-handed starter, left-handed slugging, on-base percentage and power from the two-hole, a top-flight closer, at least two left-handed relievers in front of said closer and a switch-hitting super-utility man who can play at least six positions. Things looked bleak.

    Never doubt the power of general manager Rick Hahn, however. All he did is add Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings and Emilio Bonifacio via trade or free agency. In the process, he turned his club into a contender and wiped away any lingering doubts about his capabilities as the man making roster decisions.

    True, the season may not go as planned, but the 25-man roster that opens the 2015 season will be considerably better than the one that opened last year’s disastrous campaign. And that is something worth celebrating.

    Key Departures

    Player

     2014 Stats

    SP Andre Rienzo (R)

     18 G, 11 GS, 4-5, 6.82 ERA, 5.73 FIP, 1.778 WHIP

    SP Chris Bassit (R)

     6 G, 5 GS, 1-1, 3.94 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 1.584 WHIP

    RP Matt Lindstrom (R)

     35 G, 5.03 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 1.735 WHIP

    1B/DH Paul Konerko (R)

     .207/.254/.317, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 8 2B, 62 OPS+

    C Josh Phegley (R)

     .216/.211/.514, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 2 2B, 98 OPS+

    IF Marcus Semien (R)

     .234/.300/.372, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 10 2B, 90 OPS+

    LF Dayan Viciedo (R)

     .231/.281/.405, 21 HR, 58 RBI, 22 2B, 92 OPS+

    Analysis

    Regarding the players the White Sox lost this offseason, there isn’t a lot to lament. See, other than Marcus Semien and Chris Bassitt, the club lost little in the way of production or promise.

    Sure, the retirement of Paul Konerko hurt from a leadership perspective, but he’d failed to put up a 100 OPS+ in either of his final two seasons. And if the White Sox weren’t so god awful last year, the fact that he took up a roster spot would have been the subject of intense debate.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that not only did the White Sox not lose anyone they couldn’t afford to, but the top of the farm system was kept intact. That is quite impressive considering the type of talent the club traded for this winter.

Injury Updates Entering Camp

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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Thankfully, the White Sox are rather healthy heading into spring training. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few players who won’t be ready for the start of the season.

    Tony Campana tore his ACL in an offseason workout and will miss the season, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane. This is a rather large loss, as Campana’s speed and savvy on the bases would have been quite valuable late in games. He would have battled for (and likely won) the final roster spot.

    Nate Jones is another guy who won’t be ready to go, as he is recovering from a Tommy John procedure last season. Unlike Campana, however, he is on track to return sometime during the middle of the season, per CBS Sports’ Chris Cwik. No doubt, Jones will be a big addition to the 25-man roster if he pitches to level he has in the past.

    Finally, Jesse Crain’s status is entirely unknown. That said, pitching coach Don Cooper is realistic about what the future holds. According to a report from ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla, Cooper said:

    He and I are going to sit down and map out a plan when he lands in Arizona. And I’m not a patient guy, but for this I’m going to be patient. If we get him at some time during the year, if we get the availability of Nate Jones during the year, we know what Jesse can provide. We know what a quality person as well as a pitcher he is. That’s the reason why we signed him. If we can get him back healthy, he can give us a nice shot in the arm at some point.

    If Crain can return to form at any point this season, his signing will go down as one of the shrewder ones Hahn’s made to this point.

Coaching Staff Analysis

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    On the coaching staff front, not much has changed since the 2014 season.

    Robin Ventura will return for his fourth season at the helm. Unlike seasons past, however, he will not have a roster burdened with inflated contracts for underperforming players. Sure, John Danks’ $15.75 million deal is still on the books, but largely, his roster now boasts high performers who are not locked in for excessive dollars based on their skill set.

    Don Cooper is back for his 13th full season as the pitching coach. Things look a little different this time around.

    For example, Cooper now has a relief corps featuring several arms—David Robertson, Zach Putnam, Zach Duke and Dan Jennings—who’ve found success in specific roles. He also has three starters—Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Jeff Samardzija—who are legitimate front-end guys. Each area stands in contrast to what he had to work with in 2013 and 2014.

    Todd Steverson is also looking at things a bit differently. He went from working with Adam Dunn, Dayan Viciedo and Leury Garcia last season to having the talents of Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio. And with the return of Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, among others, Steverson has a collection of major league hitters that will make life in the dugout a bit more bearable.

    The one big addition to the coaching staff is Vince Coleman. The owner of 752 stolen bases over his 13-year career, Coleman was hired as a baserunning instructor.

    At the time of the announcement, Hahn said, “Early in the offseason we identified wanting to have someone with some base-stealing acumen and obviously tremendous credentials like Vince has as a means to augment our coaching staff and help draw out a little more from certain players,” per the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane. If the White Sox can become adept at taking the extra base, the lineup becomes even more dangerous.

    He will work with Micah Johnson, Bonifacio and Eaton to improve base stealing and with the rest of the regulars to improve their awareness on the basepaths. He will also assist in the minor leagues as the organization tries to get better at every level.

Lineup Preview

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup with 2014 Stats

    PlayerSlashHRRBI2BOPS+
    1. CF Adam Eaton .300/.362/.401 1  35  26 117 
    2. LF Melky Cabrera .301/.351/.458 16  73  35 126 
    3. 1B Jose Abreu .317/.383/.58136107  35 169 
    4. DH Adam LaRoche  .259/.362/.45526 92  19 124 
    5. RF Avisail Garcia .244/.305/.413 7  29  8 102 
    6. 3B Conor Gillaspie  .282/.336/.416 7  57  31 113 
    7. SS Alexei Ramirez .273/.305/.408 15  74  35 101 
    8. 2B Micah Johnson*
     .294/.351/.4035 44  19 N/A 
    9. C Tyler Flowers .241/.297/.396155016 95

    *Johnson's statistics are from his time at Double-A and Triple-A.

    Projected Bench

    Player Slash HR RBI2B OPS+ 
    UT Emilio Bonifacio  .259/.305/.345 3 24 17 81 
    IF Gordon Beckham  .226/.271/.348944 27 75 
    C Geovany Soto .250/.302/.363 1 11 88 
    OF J.B. Shuck  .145/.168/.209 2 

    Analysis

    From the leadoff man, Adam Eaton, through the No. 7 hitter, Alexei Ramirez, the White Sox have seven guys who put up an OPS+ over 100 last season, and five of them logged an OPS+ over 110.

    It's a level of production that the fanbase is not used to, especially from the first four spots in the lineup. In previous seasons, perhaps two (maybe three) of the top batters were productive, but there was always at least one guy (we're talking about you, Adam Dunn and/or whoever hit second) who failed to carry his weight. 

    To that effect, the top four hitters in the order had an on-base percentage of at least .350 last season. That should help end the streak of not finishing with a team OBP over .320 since 2010, per Baseball-Reference. Not surprisingly, 2010 is also the only season the White Sox have finished with more than 85 wins since 2008.

    Another benefit of getting on base is that hitters like Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche and Avisail Garcia will see increased opportunities with men on base. It also means that a guy like Tyler Flowers should be able drive in more runs if for no other reason than he will have more chances.

    If there is a weakness, it is the bench. The loss of Tony Campana hurts from a speed perspective, and while Gordon Beckham has the ability to play several positions, his swing is still too long. And we don’t know what to expect from Geovany Soto or J.B. Shuck.

    Either way, this promises to be a dynamic lineup that will complement an improved pitching staff.

Rotation Preview

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Rotation with 2014 Stats

    Player G W-L ERA FIP WHIP K/9BB/9
    1. Chris Sale, L2612-4 2.17 2.57 0.966 10.8 2.0 
    2. Jeff Samardzija, R337-132.99 3.20 1.065 8.3 1.8 
    3. Jose Quintana, L329-11 3.32 2.81 1.243 8.0 2.3 
    4. Hector Noesi, R 288-11 4.39 4.85 1.331 6.3 2.9 
    5. John Danks, L  32 11-114.74 4.76 1.441 6.0 3.4 

    Analysis

    Going into spring training, the rotation is fairly set, with Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana setting the tone at the top.

    Sale, who finished third in AL Cy Young voting last season, is one of the best left-handed starters in the game and is, without question, the best lefty in the AL. He brings competitiveness and three years of dominance as a starter, making him the unquestioned leader of the staff.

    Samardzija, acquired from the Oakland A’s this offseason, gives Cooper and the White Sox the right-hander they’ve lacked for the past several seasons. In each of the past two years, Shark has logged at least 200.0 innings and finished with over 200 strikeouts. He provides balance and power to the rotation.

    And Quintana is a star on the rise. Truthfully, he is a star in his own right, posting a 3.42 ERA with a 3.31 FIP and a 1.231 WHIP over the past two seasons, per Baseball-Reference. If, however, the White Sox are in contention throughout the season, his national exposure will skyrocket.

    Hector Noesi and John Danks will open the season as the final two rotation pieces. Noesi gets the nod as the No. 4 starter because of his right-handedness. Simply put, Noesi and Danks are similarly poor pitchers, meaning that Ventura’s best course of action is to slot a righty after Quintana in order to maintain initial balance.

    To be sure, guys like Carlos Rodon, Erik Johnson and Brad Penny will be given a look this spring, but breaking camp with the club is a tall task. That said, if either Noesi or Danks has trouble finding the plate or has a poor start to the season, there will be no hesitation to use the depth in the minor leagues.

Bullpen Preview

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    M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

    Projected Bullpen with 2014  Stats

    PlayerGW-LERAFIPWHIPK/9BB/9
    RHP David Robertson (CL)634-5 (39 SV) 3.082.68 1.05713.43.2
    LHP Zach Duke745-1 2.452.14 1.12511.42.6
    RHP Zach Putnam495-3 1.983.08 1.0797.6 3.3 
    LHP Dan Jennings470-2 1.343.48 1.5378.5 3.8 
    RHP Jake Petricka 67   1-6   2.96 3.60  1.370 6.8  4.1 
    RHP Javy Guerra 42  2-4  2.91 3.95  1.317 7.4  3.9 
    RHP Scott Carroll (LM) 26  5-10 4.80 4.77  1.485 4.5  3.1 

    Analysis

    After watching the bullpen post a 4.38 ERA, 1.507 WHIP and finish with an abysmal 1.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year, general manager Rick Hahn had to do something. His answer was to drop a three-year, $15 million contract in Zach Duke’s lap, ink David Robertson to a four-year, $46 million pact and trade for Dan Jennings.

    As a result, guys like Jake Petricka, Javy Guerra and Zach Putnam are now slotted lower in the bullpen, allowing them to pitch to their strengths. Frankly, the makeover the relief corps underwent is more impressive than the one the lineup went through.

    And with guys like Onelki Garcia, Francellis Montas, Carlos Rodon, Michael Ynoa and Eric Surkamp in the minor leagues, as well as Jesse Crain and Nate Jones coming back from injury, the unit is both talented and deep.

    Now, if Ventura can find a way to not overuse his hurlers in the bullpen, we’re in business.

Prospects to Watch

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Carlos Rodon

    Carlos Rodon is the guy everyone is talking about.

    Taken with the third pick in last year’s draft, Rodon rifled through the minor league system. In all, he made three minor league stops, finishing the season at Triple-A after bypassing Double-A altogether. And in nine appearances across those levels, he pitched to a 2.96 ERA with a 1.356 WHIP and averaged a gaudy 14.1 strikeouts every nine innings.

    Rodon is so ferocious that MLB.com’s Jim Callis said that “his pure stuff is going to be right up there with Chris Sale,” via CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes. Strong words, indeed.

    To be clear, Rodon isn’t going to break camp with the club. Hahn would be wasting a full year of club control if he did. That doesn’t mean, however, that Rodon won’t be in the bigs as early as the end of April.

    Francellis Montas

    Acquired in the trade that sent Jake Peavy to the Boston Red Sox in 2013, Francellis Montas had never finished a minor league effort with an ERA south of 3.65. To be sure, he had the stuff, but he hadn’t quite connected the dots.

    Then 2014 happened.

    All told, he made 15 starts at three levels, compiling a 1.44 ERA with a 0.914 WHIP. Granted, he only made one start above Single-A and needs to work on his command, but his fastball is so solid that seeing him as a full-time reliever or getting a spot start at some point this season is likely.

    Montas is going to be fun to watch.

    Of course, there will be other prospects called up at some point in 2015. That is the nature of the game. These two, however, are the ones to watch.

Position Battles to Watch

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Final Roster Spot: J.B. Shuck vs. Field

    When Tony Campana went down with a torn ACL, the competition for the final roster spot became a one-man race. Simply put, J.B Shuck will have to fall on his face this spring to not leave spring training on the 25-man roster.

    For starters, Emilio Bonifacio’s ability to play multiple infield positions, along with Adam LaRoche’s experience at first and Gordon Beckham’s skills at second base, shortstop and third, means that Ventura won’t have to carry another infielder. That gives Shuck a leg up.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that Shuck is on the 40-man roster. True, Trayce Thompson is also on the 40-man, but he needs to play every day and will start the season at Triple-A. So unless Hahn wants to waste a minor league option on a guy like Michael Taylor, Shuck will get the call.

    To be sure, Shuck's leash will be short. If he struggles like he has in the past (.145/.168/.209 slash line in 2014), expect Hahn to make a move. 

    Second Base: Micah Johnson vs. Carlos Sanchez

    Prior to the reacquisition of Beckham, the job at second base was slated to be an open competition between Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson. Beckham’s addition does nothing to change that, as he will be a reserve infielder, grabbing time at second and third throughout the season. It would be a step backward if he is used in any other way.

    Now back in December, Hahn said that Sanchez “is maybe a tick ahead because he has been in the big leagues and the coaching staff is a little more familiar with him than Micah,” per CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes.

    That has changed with the injury to Campana.

    See, Johnson is a burner on the basepaths. And without Campana, that trait likely takes on added importance.

    True, Johnson has never played in the bigs, but he did stick around until final cuts last season, and with a lineup stacked with power and on-base percentage from the top of the order through the seventh spot, there won’t be as much pressure on him to become a candidate for American League Rookie of the Year. Ventura can hide him at the bottom of the lineup as he grows into his role.

    This will be the battle to watch this spring.

    Unless otherwise noted, all traditional and advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information pulled from Cot's Contracts. Transaction information is courtesy of MLB.com.

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