The final winners of shiny, new major league minimum salaries were announced on Saturday, and joining IF Eduardo Escobar in the White Sox bench player winner cirlce is long reliever RHP Zach Stewart, and regular reliever RHP Nate Jones.
Escobar had his utility role confirmed when IF Ray Olmedo was sent down, Stewart made the cut while RHP Dylan Axelrod was sent down to the Charlotte Knights rotation, and Nate Jones beat out RHP Brian Bruney and LHP Eric Stults for the final bullpen spot, where he'll presumably hidden from meaningful responsibility until further notice. The Opening Day roster is now set, and I've adjusted the tab on the main page to reflect that.
In all three selections, higher potential ruled the day. While all players at the back of the bench could be considered to be marginal major leaguers, the White Sox opted for higher raw talent for the major league roster, rather than stash and develop in the minors. The conservative off-season indicates the Sox certainly aren't going for it like previous years, but the organizational tendency for aggression still remains in lesser forms.
Nowhere is that more clear than the selection of Jones, who in 10.2 IP showed all of the dynamite stuff that makes him intriguing (17 K), and the wildness (8 BB) that has kept him from even reaching AAA in his career. There's no knowing whether he can survive at the major league level with those control problems (which, as Larry notes, may never be going way due to his delivery), but his high-90's velocity and power curve give him a better chance to dominate than known quantities Bruney and Stults, who have been bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors for some time now.
Stewart and Escobar have the advantage of having noticeably outperformed their competition throughout the Spring Training. Stewart still can't miss enough bats to get too excited about (9 K's in 19.1 spring innings), but flashed the exceptional control that he'll need to remain viable (4 BB in that time). It's too small of a time period to make a sweeping conclusion about it in terms of his ability, but Axelrod getting shelled this Spring (29 hits in 19.2 IP) was too much to overcome in a very even race.
As it happens, Stewart is a formerly well-regarded prospect who hasn't yet displayed dominant stuff beyond say, that Minnesota start, or that one August relief appearance when he struck out everyone. Axelrod has turned things around from his San Diego days, but is probably already maxing out his abilities. The loser of this race is the first starter available in Charlotte when needed, so it's far from a professional disaster for Axelrod.
It's closer to one for Bruney, Stults, or Ozzie Martinez. Regardless of how you feel about the White Sox starters, they're not a deep team, and had a lot of roster spots to fill. Instead of giving some fringe guys a chance, the Sox will continue push prospects aggressively--or what passes for prospects for them--and try to max out the potential out of the major league roster. It's not in roles large enough to make a huge difference, but that's not enough of a reason for the White Sox to tread water on them.
There's the unapologetic aggression we all know and love*.
*Or hate, or have deeply conflicted feelings about