For the 2013 Chicago White Sox, much has changed, yet little is different.
Just like in 2012—when Sports Illustrated famously predicted the White Sox would lose 95 games—the 2013 squad will have to prove the doubters wrong.
The good folks at Baseball Prospectus, for example, have little faith in the South Siders. They have them finishing the 2013 season with a 77-85 record. Ouch.
Some of their reasoning is due to the changing landscape in the AL Central. It is a much different division than it was last season.
With that said, let’s take a look at a complete 2013 White Sox season preview to see how they stack up.
2012 Record: 85-77
Key Arrivals (courtesy of MLBDepthCharts.com): 3B Jeff Keppinger (FA), RHP Matt Lindstrom (FA), OF Blake Tekotte (from San Diego), IF Angel Sanchez (Rule 5), 1B/OF Lars Anderson (waivers), RHP Zach Stewart (waivers), bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen, first base coach Daryl Boston.
Key Departures: RHP Brett Myers (FA), SP Francisco Liriano (FA), C A.J. Pierzynski (FA), 3B Kevin Youkilis (FA), SP Philip Humber (waivers), 1B/DH Dan Johnson (FA), OF Kenny Williams (to Colorado), bullpen coach Juan Nieves.
Projected Starting Rotation (per Official Team Page)
1. Chris Sale (L) (17-8, 3.05 ERA, 192 K, 1.135 WHIP)
2. Jake Peavy (R) (11-12, 3.37, 194, 1.096)
3. John Danks (L) (3-4, 5.70, 30, 1.491)
4. Gavin Floyd (R) (12-11, 4.29, 144, 1.363)
5. Jose Quintana (L) (6-6, 3.76, 81, 1.350)
6. Hector Santiago (L) (4-1, 3.33, 79, 1.336)
Projected Opening Day Position Players
C: Tyler Flowers (.213/.296/.412)
1B: Adam Dunn (.204/.333/.468)
2B: Gordon Beckham (.234/.296/.371)
SS: Alexei Ramirez (.265/.287/.364)
3B: Jeff Keppinger (.325/.367/.439)
LF: Dayan Viciedo (.255/.300/.444)
CF: Alejandro De Aza (.281/.349/.410)
RF: Alex Rios (.304/.334/.516)
DH: Paul Konerko (.298/.371/.486)
Projected Opening Day Bullpen
Closer: Addison Reed (R) (3-2, 4.75 ERA, 29 SV, 4 BLSV, 1.364 WHIP)
Matt Thornton (L) (4-10, 3.46, 26 HLD, 3 SV, 4 BLSV, 1.231)
Jesse Crain (R) (2-3, 2.44, 10 HLD, 1.083)
Nate Jones (R) (8-0, 2.39, 7 HLD, 1.381)
Donnie Veal (L) (0-0, 1.38, 0.682)
Matt Lindstrom (R) (1-0, 2.68, 1.255)
Dylan Axelrod (R) (2-2, 5.47, 1.510)
Undetermined left-hander (either Quintana or Santiago)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
If the White Sox are going to win the Central, they will need the starting pitching to be on point all season.
At the forefront of the conversation are the first two spots in the rotation. Chris Sale and Jake Peavy will set the tone for the squad from the onset.
Sale exploded onto the national stage last year. In just his first season as a starter, the lanky left-hander was lights out for most of 2012. Featuring an overpowering slider, he struck out 192 batters in 192 innings while holding opponents to a .235 BAA.
Expectations are high for Sale to—at minimum—repeat last season’s success, and there will be no restrictions to his workload in 2013. That is a departure from last season when the White Sox coaching staff routinely gave him extended time off between starts to rest his arm.
Like Sale, Peavy was superb in 2012, and he will need to be as dominant during the upcoming season if the White Sox plan on making the postseason.
Peavy finished with 194 strikeouts in 219 innings pitched last year, which effectively ended the conversation about his durability. He had, after all, been shut down at the end of 2011 after a strong start.
While Peavy only won 11 games, he was the model of consistency for the White Sox. Look for Peavy to make a smooth transition into the No. 2 starter role.
The wild card in the rotation is John Danks.
Coming off of shoulder surgery last August, how well Danks can perform is an unknown. He reported no problems after throwing his first bullpen session last week in Glendale, but it is still too early to be sure if he will be available at the start of the season.
While Danks may not open the season with the team, he will, no doubt, be counted on to provide both stability and results.
If Danks ends up with 175 innings pitched and an ERA under 4.00, the White Sox will be just fine because of who follows him in the rotation.
See, Gavin Floyd is one of the best No. 4 starters in baseball.
Getting 12 wins from the fourth guy in the rotation is an almost dream scenario for any manager, and the White Sox have a pitcher capable of that in Floyd.
Featuring one of the best curveballs in the game, Floyd is particularly effective against power-hitting teams like the Tigers. Expect 170 innings out of the big right-hander along with 13 victories in 2013.
Finally, the fifth spot belongs to Jose Quintana—at least for the moment. What may end up happening is that Ventura rotates who occupies that spot in the rotation.
Consider this scenario: Jose Quintana gets the first three starts from the fifth spot, followed by Hector Santiago for three and, finally, Dylan Axelrod would get three turns. The rotation of No. 5 starters would keep each arm fresh—Quintana and Santiago both tired at times during 2012—and allow Ventura to maintain matchup flexibility.
All told, the starting pitching looks to be just fine.
Scouting the Bullpen
What is not to like.
Granted, Addison Reed could stand to lower his ERA by at least a full run and turn on the intensity in non-save situations, but the White Sox are fortunate to have a group of relievers as capable as they are.
Nate Jones and Donnie Veal proved that they belong in the majors in 2012. Veal, in particular, was lights out and figures to improve in 2013.
The newly acquired Matt Lindstrom is a fireballing veteran who will be a more-than-capable replacement for Brett Myers. He is particularly effective in high-leverage situations, compiling a .205 batting average against in 46 appearances.
Dylan Axelrod actually performed better in longer appearances last year, and he could excel in the long-relief role that is so important to a team's overall success.
Even the much maligned Matt Thornton is an asset. To be sure, he lost quite a few games last season, but, then again, he was used way too much. Thornton will benefit from a more solidified collection of arms in the bullpen with more defined roles.
Combined with the starting rotation, pitching will be a definitive strength for the White Sox in the coming months.
It must be noted that how well bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen transitions into his new role will be crucial to the unit’s success. Juan Nieves—who left to become the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox—did a great job preparing the youngsters in the ‘pen. He will be missed.
Scouting the Order
The batting order for the White Sox is an area of weakness. That said, it has the potential to be more than enough for them to make the postseason.
To be fair, there are a few keys to that happening.
First, Tyler Flowers needs to hit more than his body weight. More will be revealed about what to expect from him in just a bit, but it is safe to say that he is one of the keys to sustained offensive success.
Second, Jeff Keppinger will have to live up to his three-year, $12 million contract. He is an offensive upgrade over Youkilis, though, so it should not be too hard. While he does not have the same kind of power as the current New York Yankees third baseman, he excels in other areas.
He is a much better contact hitter, for example. He also gets on base more frequently and is a better situational hitter.
With all due respect to Youkilis—who provided an immediate spark when he was acquired last season—the White Sox have a more balanced lineup with Keppinger in the 2-hole.
One of the more intriguing questions that will be answered during spring training has to do with the lineup. Here is my take:
1. De Aza
Moving Dunn out of the 3-hole will give the Sox much more speed at the top and allow for a greater degree of situational hitting.
Dunn strikes out far too often to be that far up in the order. In addition to the high strikeout totals he routinely puts up, Ventura would be best served separating the only two left-handed hitters in the lineup by more than one batter.
Fans should also expect some improvement from Dayan Viciedo. He has been working with hitting coaches Jeff Manto and Harold Baines on developing a leg kick, which should improve his timing.
The offense will also get a boost from their improved depth. Dewayne Wise and Angel Sanchez are both significantly better than the primary backups at their respective positions last season.
The good news is that it will not be hard to match last season’s offensive output.
Don’t forget, the White Sox were fourth in the AL with 748 runs scored in 2012, yet only hit .255 as a team.
Put into that context, the offense for the White Sox will, in fact, be OK after the losses of A.J. Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis.
Without a doubt, Sale is the ace of this team.
His body of work in 2012 was good enough for him to place sixth in voting for the Cy Young award.
To be sure, there was a dramatic drop-off in his production during the second half of the season last year—his ERA went from 2.19 to 4.03, for example—but much of that can be attributed to a dramatic increase in his workload.
Along with receiving added rest at times last season, he worked hard to add weight this offseason and will benefit from the experience he gained in 2012.
A realistic expectation is for Sale to win 20 games, finish with an ERA around 3.00 and for the phenom to record over 200 strikeouts.
Sale’s use of the “inverted W” delivery makes his fastball appear even more explosive than it is and makes his slider that much more effective.
The White Sox are fortunate to have a true No. 1 on their staff.
Rios—who led the 2012 White Sox in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, triples, slugging percentage and offensive WAR—has an ideal balance of both speed and power.
Much of the credit goes to a slight alteration in his batting stance prior to last season.
That alteration helped his batting average climb from .227 in 2011 to .304 in 2012. He also hit 12 more home runs in 2012 versus 2011 and drove in an additional 47 runs. He was the anchor in the lineup.
If Ventura pulls the trigger and moves Rios into the third spot in the lineup, the White Sox will have somebody who can make contact, move runners along and keep them out of being a station-to-station team at the top of the order.
Look for Rios to avoid the dreaded odd-year transgression that has seemed to define him as a player.
There are a few, but I will go with the most glaring question mark going into the 2013 season—Tyler Flowers.
Without question, losing Pierzynski to free agency was a big loss. He was a dynamic presence in both the lineup and in the clubhouse.
The White Sox have put their faith in Flowers—a career backup—to pick up at least some of the offensive slack. He has work to do.
Last season was an unmitigated disaster for Flowers. He hit a woeful .213 and had 56 strikeouts in only 136 at-bats. He did have a .412 slugging percentage, but 2012 was an otherwise forgettable campaign.
If he can somehow pull off .250/350/.400 slash line—not all that different from his final season at Triple-A Charlotte—he will make Pierzynski’s departure a bit more palatable.
Sox fans will see if his power surge last August (four home runs in only 29 at-bats) was an anomaly or a sign of his true potential.
Not to put too much pressure on the 27-year-old signal-caller, but he may be the key to the entire season.
Prospect to Watch
There are quite a few, actually, but Carlos Sanchez stands above the rest for two reasons.
First, the kid can flat out play baseball.
The switch-hitting infielder compiled a .323/.378/.403 slash line at three different levels in 2012. He followed up on his minor league success with productive stints in both the Arizona Fall League (.299/.367/.368) and the Venezuelan Winter League (.303/.378/.455).
He does strikeout a bit too much—92 times in 2012—but is savvy on the bases and can do damage from both sides of the plate.
The other reason to keep an eye on Sanchez is because his stiffest competition may be on his last leg with the organization.
Say what you will about Gordon Beckham’s defense saving runs, he is an offensive liability.
And even though Beckham recently signed a one-year contract, the White Sox may not have the luxury of enduring another bad season at the plate.
Nothing against the current second baseman, but the time for Sanchez to ascend to the 25-man roster is now.
Expect Sanchez to be in the starting lineup in a rather short amount of time.
What the White Sox Will Do Well
Pitch. Pitch. Pitch.
One through 12—potentially 13—the White Sox have one of the better units in all of baseball.
It is an area that general manager Rick Hahn began focusing on as soon as he was promoted to his current position. Immediately after taking over, he signed Peavy to a two-year, $29 million extension and picked up Gavin Floyd’s $9.5 million option.
Sale and Peavy are bedrocks as the top-of-the-rotation guys, and the White Sox have a bullpen capable of great things.
It is no secret that the 2013 season hinges on the pitching staff.
What the White Sox Won’t Do Well
Hit on a regular basis.
The Sox will be as productive in 2013 on offense as they were in 2012. That is the good news.
The offense last year was not very consistent, however. That is the bad news.
When the White Sox finally fell out of contention at the end of the season, the offense disappeared. The current group that Hahn has put together is capable of doing the same thing.
Then again, there will be a bit more balance at the top, which should take some of the pressure off of the lower part of the order.
At least they had better, or no amount of pitching can save them.
I am optimistic. Not just because I am an unabashed fan, but because the 2013 White Sox can be a very good baseball team.
They have rock-solid pitching and a more flexible lineup.
They are quite good defensively, and they have a core of young players who ran the gauntlet last season.
Robin Ventura will be entering his second season at the helm, and the minor leagues have an abundance of pitching talent ready to come up and help the team at a moment’s notice.
For as little positive publicity as this team gets, they are quite good.
Projected Record: 89-73, first in the AL Central
*Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com