The White Sox went into last season with a wide range of possible finishes. If everything broke right for them the playoffs were possible. Instead they lost 99 games and finished with their worst winning percentage since 1970. The good news is that it would take a lot of things going wrong for them to be that bad this season.
Of the 13 guys who got at least 100 PA last season, only 5 registered positive fWAR. When only factoring offense, only three were positive, and one was Alex Rios who didn’t last the season with the team. Paul Konerko had what was easily his worst offensive season ever. Adam Dunn was horrible again.
So now what? Adam Dunn is back for his 4th season with the team, after an atrocious 2011, a pretty good 2012, 2013 was somewhere in between. He has to be better in 2014, and will get most of the at-bats at DH. Most of the projections aren’t very good, but time will tell. Jose Abreu was the White Sox big acquisition of the offseason. He is from Cuba and hasn’t played a game in the Major or Minor leagues yet. The projections put him somewhere around 30 home runs, which is what people are hoping for. The really test will be later in the season after teams have more tape on him. If he works out he should be better than any hitter on the team last year. He is probably the most important offensive piece on the team.
Gordon Beckham’s struggles have been well documented. He hasn’t been a positive offensive player since his rookie season, and his defense wasn’t particularly great in 2013. Still, when all rolled together according to FanGraphs, he was a positive WAR player last year (and every year so far). The White Sox would like to see him take the next step, but even if he doesn’t the probably couldn’t do a ton better. Beckham will start the season injured so Marcus Simien will get a shot. It’s a golden opportunity for him to win the job away from Beckham. Alexei Ramirez has slipped some as an offensive player over his career. He struggled to take walks last season, and seems to lost any power he had, although his 39 doubles are respectable. His defense is also slipping, and last season was the worst it’s been in a while. If both he and Beckham have better seasons it will be a big boost to the offense, but the trends are not moving in the right direction.
Conor Gillaspie had only played 29 major league games before 2013. He came out of nowhere to play 3B for most of the season. His 13 home runs overshadow what was a pretty dismal season. He managed just 17 other extra base hits, and didn’t play good defense. Matt Davidson was acquired for Addison Reed in the offseason, and should be the future, but the White Sox want him to get a bit more seasoning in the minors first. In the meantime Gillaspie needs to hold things together.
The White Sox traded for Avisail Garcia last season and are hoping his 42 games was just a start. He needs to learn to take more walks , and although it’s a small sample size his defense wasn’t great. Like Abreu, his performance is not just important for this season, but the future as well. It’s too early to see what he is, but this season will show a lot. The White Sox added Adam Eaton in a trade, and he started strong before getting hurt last season. Much like Garcia, it’s much too early to see what Eaton is. He is fast, and scrappy, and fits the mold of the kind of guys the White Sox have preferred over the last few years. He is supposed to be their leadoff hitter, and if he, Garcia and Abreu come close to hitting their potential anytime soon the Sox should have a good offense.
Left field will be manned by a combination of Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo. De Aza smacked 17 HRs last season but based on wOBA and fWAR he really didn’t have a very good season offensively. He has never been a great defensive player either, but he has some speed and can be a good part-time player. Dayan Viciedo is the last Cuban player the White Sox signed, and four seasons in he hasn’t much lived up to his potential. He has shown some power, but struggles to draw walks and does strike out a fair amount. Despite having a good arm, he isn’t much of a fielder either. He will only be 25 on Opening Day though, and still has a chance to improve offensively. At the moment there isn’t another option besides De Aza, but Viciedo could get traded if the right offer came around.
Tyler Flowers is entering his 6th season with the White Sox. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, probably because it’s only been 192 games. Flowers, like many guys on this team, is a strikeout machine with immense power. He couldn’t stay healthy enough to hold the job all of last season, but now more than ever the job belongs to him. The expectations have to be low at this point outside of 15 or so home runs.
The odd man out from De Aza or Viciedo will be the primary backup outfielder. De Aza could play all three positions which means he will probably rotate around as needed. Paul Konerko is expecting a much smaller role after an awful season in 2013. It’s unclear exactly how much he will play. It would make sense for him to spell Abreu and Dunn each once a week or so, and he will probably be the first pinch hitter off the bench. Adrian Nieto won the backup catcher job out of the spring. He has shown some hitting ability in the minors, so it’s possible he is a diamond in the rough. Jeff Keppinger will serve as the primary utility player on the bench for now. There isn’t much to say there. The less he sees the field, the better.