White Sox Season Preview 2011 - Positional Battles

White Sox Season Preview 2011 - Positional Battles

Morel may look innocent, but really he's engaged in brutal warfare of the mundane and pre-determined variety // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

Positional Battles are generally something bad teams have. 

To have a spot on the field up in the air going into Spring Training means you have no strong incumbent, then you followed that up by failing to address it in free agency or via trade.  And even if you have a prospect in waiting to step up, if there's a battle in Spring Training, it means he's either not good enough, or hasn't gotten enough playing time to rule out 'Random Stiff On The Roster' from beating him out.  Sure, every now and then there's a situation like Chris Sale and Matt Thornton, where two excellent players battle it out for an arbitrary title, but for the most part, if there's a positional battle going on in March, some part of the roster construction was more or less botched.

Good thing the Sox don't have many, and most of them don't matter.

3rd base - Brent Morel or Mark Teahen....ormaybeDallasMcPhersonhahajustkidding

It's a relatively fair fight, but there's no question which is better for the organization's future.  Morel is a cheap, young prospect with plenty of years to improve under organizational control, whereas Teahen is salary we'd really love to have back.  Teahen is a pretty known quantity; an average or worse bat (career 94 wRC+) with awful to slightly less than awful defense (career -38.3 UZR at 3rd in 5 seasons).  He's also a lefty, which is almost useful.


This baseball has an uncertain future // Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

Morel on the other hand, has defense that's been graded to be at least above average if not exceptional, but is a question mark as far as being able to hit major league pitching.  He was a consistent contributor in the minors, but never spectacular.  Consider it this way.  If we horribly fudge things to assume that Teahen is a average hitter and terrible defender, and that Morel is an average defender and horrible hitter, then recent history suggests defense is the way to go if winning is the primary goal (I assuming on this one).  Morel is better than average with the glove, and Teahen can't hit the ball over that gosh-darn wall, so really, it would seem like Brent needs to start wearing a Jenks jersey to practice to lose out.

McPherson wins the job only if Vizquel's knees give out, Viciedo refuses to return to the position, and Morel and Teahen do this.

Last Outfield Spot - Alejandro De Aza, Brent Lillibridge, Lastings Milledge, or Jackin' Dayan

Both Lillibridge and De Aza are out of options, so they have the 'use 'em or lose 'em' advantage going for them.  Frankly, when it comes to guys barely good enough to make the roster, 'lose 'em' seems like an affordable option. 

De Aza seems to have the most usefulness.  His left-handed bat projects to be steady but not spectacularly in .700 OPS range, he has good speed and can play all three outfield positions.  Lillibridge has more speed, can play the infield, and even has more pop, but the way his contact bottomed-out last season (36.7% K-rate), there's a risk that he could give nothing on offense without some tweaks.


The burden of being the favorite to win the fourth outfielder spot weighs heavily on Alejandro De Aza // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

Milledge has the most potential in the sense that he could reach back and suddenly not be a massive bust anymore, but isn't what you think of for a backup outfielder.  He can't play center, meaning Juan Pierre would get his old bones rudely tossed out there with an injury to Rios, and really is a pretty poor defender in general.  He offers the odd skill of being able to hit lefties (.350 wOBA), which is the type of specialty you keep a spot for if you carry 10 outfielders, not 4.

Dayan Viciedo most likely won't have fully adjusted to the outfield yet, and is just too good to be relegated to backup at-bats.

Last Pitcher - Uh...goodness

It initially seemed like a done deal that the Sox would need to determine two roster spots in order to have a 5th starter and 7 relievers come Opening Day.  With Jake Peavy making Spring Training starts and whatnot, he's looking less like someone who will be placed on the DL to start the year.  That potentially parses things down to one roster spot.  Even if it comes down to a bloody scratchfest for the last Major League job, it doesn't seem like the role is even going to be the typically pointless last-reliever spot we were promised.

Ozzie may be zeroing in on another long reliever, which tips the cards firmly in favor of the potential starters, and with the increased workload, the contest seems to carrying away from unproven rookies as well.  That's trouble for would-be wunderkinds Anthony Carter (his 98 mph heater should see the pros eventually) and Charlie Leesman, and resolute high-walk, high-strikeout shorties Jhonny Nunez, Miguel Socolovich, and Gregory Infante.

With the way the Sox stockpiled projects like Brian Bruney, Jeff Gray, Shane Lindsay, and Josh Kinney, it really seemed like the hot hand would get rewarded a roster spot in a process similar to how the team wound up being the only club with an ounce of faith in Randy Williams last season.  But if the spot is going to be awarded to who can best fill a spot-starter/long reliever role, it seems almost tailor-made for Philip Humber, who has pedigree, recent performance, and organizational momentum favoring him over Lucas Harrell.


Josh Kinney - Bonafide fringe candidate // Kirby Lee, US PRESSWIRE

That said, Anthony Carter continuing his Arizona Fall League wrath of God or something similar would probably force the team's hand.

Closer - Matt Thornton or Chris Sale

It's looking more and more like an arbitrary distinction, and the loser might wind up easily pitching more innings and earning more value.  Both are lefties, both have essentially neutral splits, and Thornton probably will win the honorary title because of seniority, and because he's the only guy using the word in the clubhouse. 

Or the Sox could refuse, repeatedly refer to him as a "set-up man", never use him in the 9th, and do everything possible to drive his value down going into free agency next season.  Matt Thornton's a nice guy and all, but I'm pretty sure that would piss him off.

Meaty Links

Jim Margalus wraps up his initial impressions of the Sox first Spring Training game
Colin at South Side Sox has nice things to say about how the White Sox rotation stacks up against the AL Central.
Future Sox is active again.  If you paid attention to my liberal use of them during the 2010 wrap-ups, you know I value them as a reference.

Confused?  Annoyed?  Read my stat primer.  It's a fun read...at least as far as stat primers go.

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