As the Chicago White Sox begin Cactus League play, there aren’t many players in danger of being cut or demoted. Frankly, the majority of the roster is set heading into the 2015 season.
There are, however, several moving pieces that can be addressed.
Let’s start with Dan Jennings.
Acquired from the Miami Marlins for Andre Rienzo, Jennings is out of minor league options and would probably not clear waivers if he doesn’t make the team. In and of itself, that should be enough to guarantee a spot on the 25-man roster.
Another thing to consider is that Jennings is a fine low- and medium-leverage lefty, posting a career .257/.323/.390 and .254/.333/.373 slash line against in each respective situation, per Baseball-Reference. If used exclusively in this role, his chance of success is quite high.
The problem with Jennings is that he struggles in high-leverage situations (.316/.417/.456 lifetime slash line against) and has some worrisome peripherals (1.460 WHIP, 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio) on the back of his baseball card. And if he struggles this spring, there could be a temptation to go with Eric Surkamp (who is also out of options). Surkamp pitched well at times last season and is likely a better option in long relief.
It will be incumbent on Jennings to keep the damage this spring to a minimum.
Then, there is the rest of the bullpen.
Jake Petricka, for example, opened some eyes last year with flashes of legitimate potential, but there are plenty of holes in his metrics. For one, he allowed a .306/.372/.439 slash line in high-leverage situations, and he compiled a troublesome .300/.429/.450 slash against with two outs and runners in scoring position in 2014.
Again he wasn’t bad by any definition and, as CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine posited, “The learning curve can be tough on young relievers walking the wire without a net for the first time.” That said, there is definitely room for improvement.
And what about Matt Albers? As Jim Margalus from South Side Sox noted, he’s compiled a 55 percent ground-ball rate over the past three seasons, which fits into the profile the White Sox are looking for.
Heck, Roster Resource has the right-hander breaking camp with the club. Given the uncertain status of Jesse Crain, however, along with guys like Daniel Webb and Maikel Cleto lurking in the shadows with experience and velocity, anything can happen.
As it stands, the only relievers guaranteed to be on the roster are closer David Robertson, Zach Duke, Zach Putnam and Javy Guerra. After them, manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper will have tough decisions to make.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the total number of relievers the White Sox plan to break camp with hasn’t been decided. As recently as last week, Ventura said that the coaching staff is “pretty open to” the idea of leaving spring training with eight bullpen arms on the 25-man roster, per the Chicago Sun Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen.
Frankly, that idea seems incredulous. After all, the club has several off days in the first month of the season. Sacrificing a position player for an arm that may or may not be needed seems overkill.
J.B. Shuck seems to have the inside edge as the final outfielder. After all, Tony Campana is lost for the season after injuring his ACL, Trayce Thompson needs to play every day at Triple-A and other prospects like Jacob May and Courtney Hawkins are at least a year away.
That leaves Shuck and Michael Taylor to battle it out for the final spot. Of the two, Shuck is protected on the 40-man roster and has a better MLB track record. True, he slashed out at .145/.168/.209 last year for the Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians, but he amassed a .293/.331/.366 slash over 437 at-bats in 2013, finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
That pedigree doesn’t mean a thing, however, if he fails to hit this spring and Taylor jumps off the stat sheet. Shuck does have an option left, meaning Hahn could stash him away at Triple-A for the time being and open the season with Taylor as the reserve outfielder. That said, if Shuck continues to make plays like he did against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, his chances improve considerably.
Finally, an argument can be made that if Geovany Soto fails to produce this spring, he could be left off the roster. After all, he is only on a minor league deal and the White Sox aren’t beholden to him by any means.
But if we consider his experience along with the fact that Jeff Samardzija has a 3.46 lifetime ERA pitching to him, Soto is certain to break camp with the club. Don't be surprised, however, to see Rob Brantly push Soto as spring training wears on.
The next few weeks will determine a lot, even if the number of positions up for grabs isn't plentiful.
Unless otherwise noted, all traditional and advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information courtesy of Cots Contracts. Transaction and injury information is courtesy of MLB.com.