We're going to take a weekly look at the Spring Training performances of players who are NOT locked into a 25-man roster spot. This should provide a succinct view into who appears to be winning or losing the battles for open roster slots, and also a look at how some minor leaguers that aren't in real contention (i.e. Courtney Hawkins and Trayce Thompson) are looking in camp.
What roster slots appear to be "open" at this point? Starting 2B, backup catcher, two more bench roles (Emilio Bonifacio being a given for the other), at least a few bullpen slots and maybe a starting pitcher (if Sale isn't ready for Opening Day).
- Micah Johnson: The speedster appears to be running away with the starting job at second base, at least in the early going. After hitting a game-tying home run on Monday, Johnson went a perfect 4-4 at the plate Tuesday, and is now slashing .500/.563/.929 in his first six games (16 plate appearances) a double, triple and home run. But probably even more important, he made two very slick defensive plays Tuesday and has zero errors on the season; defense was the biggest question mark coming into camp.
- Geovany Soto: After missing much of 2014 due to an array of injuries, simply showing up healthy and with minimal rust would have been a win at this early stage of camp. He's done that and a little more, looking comfortable at the plate (2-for-6, 2 2B, BB) and behind it thus far.
- J.B. Shuck: This offseason signee has flashed some leather in the outfield looking quite comfortable out there, and is hitting .417 so far in four games to further solidify his lead for the fourth outfielder job (if such a job will even exist).
- Carlos Rodon: The White Sox' top prospect and potential contender for an Opening Day job, Rodon has only pitched once (goes again Wednesday), but he made quite an impression. While taking over Chris Sale's slot while his foot injury heals, this lefty showed off that wicked slider and briefly showed his new change-up while striking out four and giving up just one hit and no walks in two innings' work. He's not making the club's decision any easier, and he looked very composed when we saw his debut live.
- Matt Albers: This experienced reliever has a track record that could make him a very good late inning reliever if he's healthy, but that health question is what allowed the club to sign him to a minor league deal. At this point the gamble looks pretty smart: he looks plenty healthy and strong in his two outings, striking out three in as many innings. If he's looking good, he's got a very good chance at breaking camp with the team.
- Maikel Cleto: This big right-hander has flashed a lot of potential with a big fastball, but struggled with control at times in 2014. He's got a shot at the bullpen for 2015 if he throws strikes consistently, and so far he has: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K.
- Scott Carroll: It's not clear what role Carroll may play for this year, but with Sale hurt and the team likely wanting to start Rodon in Charlotte, he does have a small window to perhaps get a start or two early on. So far he's looked pretty good, striking out three while allowing three hits and a walk in 4.2 innings. Pretty amazing to look at where Carroll stood just a year ago at this time.
- Courtney Hawkins: The club's 2012 first round draft pick has been getting a surprising amount of playing time early in camp, and he's certainly been hitting: .417 AVG in six games (12 AB) including a 430 foot bomb to dead center. But more encouraging is how the big outfielder's swing looked on that long ball - this is the quietest, simplest and best his approach has looked at the plate since he joined the system. He's not in the mix for a major league job in 2015, but his performance so far represents good progress.
- Trayce Thompson: Another outfield prospect not likely to break camp with the team, Thompson has also displayed some encouraging stuff. At the plate he's 2-for-7 so far with a walk and a strikeout, but he hit an oppo home run in the intra-squad game and he's displayed good defense and his strong arm in Cactus League play. It's a term that is overused, but 2015 truly looks like a make or break year for Trayce's future.
- Gordon Beckham: Signed as a likely backup infielder, Beckham also had a shot to start at second or ending up in Charlotte depending on how things went. Given how good Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez have looked so far, the starting gig seems highly unlikely for Scott Fletcher's son-in-law. And Beckham's play so far hasn't exactly impressed: he's hitting .077 in five games. At this point a bench role still seems probable, but even that isn't guaranteed.
- Daniel Webb: Webb has a big fastball that he rode to the majors, but command and control issues dogged him throughout 2014, and now he's not at all guaranteed a major league job. So far in a pair of outings, Webb has walked four batters and given up a pair of runs in 2.2 IP, which isn't exactly helping ease concerns.
- Zach Phillips: Another new acquisition, Phillips is likely ticketed for Charlotte as the next LHP up. So far he's not exactly inspired confidence, giving up seven hits in four innings.
- Zach Putnam: It's almost unfair to put Putnam here given he's pitched just once due to an illness, but he did get hit around in that one outing: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. He's still got a good shot at a bullpen job and will have plenty more opportunities to tune up.
- Michael Taylor: No camp cuts yet, but we did see the sudden and somewhat unexpected retirement of this 29-year old outfielder. Taylor made a brief appearance with the big club last season, was released and re-signed this offseason. But according to quotes from manager Robin Ventura, "I think his heart wasn’t as much into it as it has been in the past. Some opportunities presented itself & he decided to take that up. … Was no talking him out of it." (via Dan Hayes of CSN)
We'll revisit this again in a week, and there will likely be some roster cuts by that time, as well as some larger sample sizes to look at.
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