Three big takeaways from SoxFest 2015

The White Sox front office trusts their starting pitching depth

At SoxFest 2014 Robin Ventura made it clear that Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino would likely round out the White Sox rotation. Those two pitchers, along with John Danks, did not have the years they anticipated having and the White Sox on the field product suffered greatly as a result. With that in mind, it’s understandable why White Sox fans expressed their concern over the back of the rotation this year as fans repeatedly asked Rick Hahn if he had another move in store or if the Sox were in on free agent James Shields.

The White Sox brass uniformly conveyed their comfort in not only Danks and Hector Noesi, the expected fourth and fifth starters, but all pitchers who could fathomably find their way into the rotation. Sure, no team’s officials are going to talk unenthusiastically about their own players, but different individuals gave high praise for multiple pitchers in the pipeline.

While plenty of fans teetered on replacing Noesi, Hahn made it quite clear that Don Cooper’s favorite isn’t going anywhere. Hahn said Cooper is “very bullish” on Noesi and expects him to continue to do “plenty of things well.” It’s safe to assume with the White Sox top four starter being of the established variety, that Noesi assumes the role of Cooper's project.

Buddy Bell on the other hand is not ready to give up on Erik Johnson who he said, “struggled with his first struggles” and could quite easily find that command that made him on the league's better pitching prospects. Johnson is a curious case because he was always an under-the-radar top performer, but once he started receiving recognition as a consensus top seventy prospect, the now 25-year-old right-hander fell flat.

To my surprise, Hahn mentioned Frank Montas, not once, but twice as a possible rotation piece this season. That’s quite an endorsement for a pitcher who has thrown sixty-seven innings above low a-ball. Hahn said that Montas, like Rodon, could work his way into the major league rotation through the bullpen.

Nick Capra, the team’s Director of Player Development, implied that Chris Beck is often overlooked. Beck, who made his last seven starts in Charlotte last year, owns a 3.47 ERA since getting drafted in the 2nd round in 2012. Beck also owns a heavy, sinking fastball that the White Sox front office covets in their playing environment.

Chicago has big hopes for Carlos Rodon and he’s all “business”

When mentioning potential starters, I did leave out 3rd overall pick Carlos Rodon who is certainly in the picture but is probably catching his breath right now after this weekend. Rick Hahn said, “He’ll come to spring training and work with all of the other starters.”

After Hahn and Robin Ventura had their conferences, the media had their first chance at the White Sox players. Plenty of the media swarmed to David Robertson and others flocked to Jeff Samardzija - I found myself with the latter. After spending a few minutes with Samardzija, I realized the crowd was trickling out one by one to interview someone else. That someone else was Carlos Rodon. After being the subject of a hefty number of questions directed at Hahn and Ventura, the left-hander with less than twenty-five professional innings seemed to pull in a bigger media presence than the two newly acquired All Stars.

Following Rodon's first date with the Chicago media, he took on more personal interviews and when asked why he wasn’t dressed as casually as the other prospects, Rodon, who was cloaked in a sport jacket, responded starkly, “It’s business.”

Rodon stated his business-like approach explicitly and his actions along with the way he carried himself echoed that statement. When talking with Rodon he reiterated to me that he does embrace a business-like approach off the field but has a different approach on the rubber. Rodon expounded, “When I step on the mound it’s a little different – I become a bulldog and get after it.” Being that self-described bulldog, I asked Carlos how he felt any potential innings limit this year: “I am not sure, whatever they put me on I am happy to do it, I am just ready to get better.” He also admitted that his changeup still needs help to become the secondary pitch he wants it to be but his slider comes with much more confidence: “I think I have that in the bag…I think I can roll out of bed and throw that right.”

In any case, Carlos Rodon figures to be a big story for the White Sox even if he doesn’t break camp with the team. The media loves the young lefty already and the front office has a long-term rotation spot with his name on it. With his contractual implications and other moving parts making his path uncertain, this will continue to be a story to watch from Spring Training on.

Matt Davidson cannot be overlooked

When Matt Davidson was acquired for Addison Reed in December of 2013, it was thought that Davidson was the third baseman of the future in Chicago. According to assistant General Manager Buddy Bell, Davidson was set on playing in Chicago: “Davidson thought he was going to break from Arizona with the big league team.” When Davidson did not make the team, Bell believed “he tried to do too much” and in turn, his swing suffered.

Davidson struggled mightily after his strong spring in Glendale and limped to a .199/.283/.362/.644 slash line with a career low 77 wRC+. Despite that ugly slash line, Davidson still ended up with 20 roundtrippers and as seemingly every baseball columnist will tell you, “right-handed power is at a premium.” Looking forward, Bell told us that “Davidson looks awesome in Arizona” while working at the hitters’ camp.

What is interesting is that the White Sox are totally aware of what they have in Conor Gillaspie. While Gillaspie had a nice, BABIP-fueled first half, his career may be more suited as a platoon type or a strong role player. Hahn said, “Conor is aware he struggles against lefties and he’s working to change that…that being said, there may be a need for an infielder who could play third and hit lefties.”

I asked the White Sox GM in my exclusive interview if they would rule out Davidson in that role and Hahn told me, “In fairness we have to consider it because we’re looking to win as many ballgames as we can in ‘15 so let’s go with the best group to do that, at the same time, given how the year went for him last year I think it’s important for Matt to get everyday ABs ideally.” Reading between the lines there, it’s clear that the Sox are not ready to relegate Davidson to any role that would permit him from reaching his full potential.

Hahn continued on with Davidson saying he still has a “world of talent” and Charlotte is the best place for him to get that “bad taste out of his mouth.” My favorite part of his response was when he offered a little bit of prescience and said “for at least the early part of the season, getting regular reps in Charlotte.” The way Davidson starts the season should be important, but regardless, the White Sox front office hasn’t written him off for a featuring role in 2015.

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