2014 White Sox: What We Learned

Everyone knew that this would be a transition year for the White Sox. No one expected them to compete for the division but what was expected, was that we would learn a little more about the players on the Sox roster, and whether or not they would be a part of the team moving forward. Some of those questions were answered this year, but not all of them. Let’s take a look at the good and the not-so-good from this year.

Put em on the board, YES!

Jose Abreu: The White Sox big off-season “free agent” acquisition was Cuban import Jose Abreu. The Sox dropped a record $68 million to lock up Abreu for six years. Coming into the year everyone knew that Abreu had big power, but many were unsure whether he would be able to handle major league pitching enough to be a complete hitter. I think it’s safe to say those questions have been answered.

Abreu has hit .316/.382/.586 with 35 home runs and 105 RBI and will become the White Sox first Rookie of the Year since Ozzie Guillen in 1985. In addition to leading the league in slugging, Abreu had the longest hitting streak in the AL this year at 21 games and hit safely in 39 of 40 games at one point.

Abreu has answered the question of who will replace Paul Konerko, both at first base, and as the big bat in the middle of the Sox lineup. His mere presence in the order makes everyone better and gives opposing pitchers and managers plenty to worry about. He has been everything the Sox hoped he would be and more.

Adam Eaton: The Sox acquired Eaton from Arizona as part of a three team deal that sent Hector Santiago to the Angels. In return the Sox were hoping that they had acquired their centerfielder and leadoff hitter of the future. Despite his small size, “Spanky” has done almost everything you could want a leadoff hitter to do in his first full season in the big leagues.

As of now Eaton is hitting .300 with an on-base percentage of .362, second on the team to only Abreu. He has shown an ability to get on base and make things happen at the top of the order. While not a power hitter, Eaton has collected 25 doubles and 9 triples in 118 games.

Credit: David Banks, USA TODAY Sports

Credit: David Banks, USA TODAY Sports

The one area he needs to improve on offensively is stealing bases. Eaton has 14 stolen bases in 23 attempts, a pretty poor percentage for someone with his speed. Base stealing technique can be taught though, and hopefully Eaton will be able to improve this part of his game.

Defensively, Eaton has been great in centerfield. He has made a variety of highlight plays like robbing home runs and diving catches. The one concern is that Eaton tends to go all out and as a result, has dealt with a variety of injuries throughout the year.

Conor Gillaspie: In spring training, many people thought that the third base job would be Matt Davidson’s to lose. Davidson, a highly rated prospect, was brought over in an off-season trade for Addison Reed. Despite a solid spring, Davidson lost out on the job to Conor Gillaspie, partially because if Gillasipie didn’t make the team, the Sox would risk losing him. It turned out to be the right choice as Conor has gone on to have a terrific season.

Despite trailing off a little late in the year, Gillaspie was very good at the plate. He has triple slashed .285/.340/.423 for the year with 31 doubles, five triples and seven homers. While the home run power is a little low for a corner infielder, his overall slugging percentage is second on the team to Jose Abreu. Gillaspie has also struck out just 75 times, the fewest of any regular position player.

Defensively Gillaspie has improved and has acquitted himself as a solid third baseman. He doesn’t have the best arm or the greatest range, but he makes the routine plays and occasionally surprises you with a great play here and there.

Going forward Gillaspie should be thought of at the very least as the left handed piece of a platoon at third base. He hit .305/.366/.454 against right handed pitching this year but only .221/.248/.317 against lefties. The Sox can maximize his value by sitting him against most lefties if they can find an acceptable right handed option.

He Gone!

Gordon Beckham: The opinion of most Sox fans coming into this year was that this was the last shot for the former first round pick to prove himself, especially with several prospects waiting in the wings. Beckham started the season on the disabled list before returning in late April. After a slow start, Beckham hit .306 in May and the hope was that he had finally figured things out. These thoughts were quickly dashed in July when Beckham hit .138/.158/.213 for the month with more strikeouts (19) than hits (13).

In August Beckham was dealt to the Angels for a player to be named later, ending his time on the South Side.

Alejandro De Aza: The injury to Avisail Garcia meant that De Aza was going to get a lot of playing time, rather than being part of a platoon in left field. He did not take advantage of it, and batted just .223/.293/.347 with five homers and 25 RBI through the first three months of the season. His continued struggles in the field did not help matters either.

De Aza was dealt to the Orioles on the last day of waiver trading and in 17 games with Baltimore has hit .300 with two homers, four doubles, three triples and nine RBI.

Erik Johnson: There were high hopes for Johnson this year, after a great season in the minors last year and a solid showing with the Sox late in the year. Instead of the Sox finding their next young pitcher, Johnson pitched his way out of the rotation by late April and then struggled mightily at AAA Charlotte for the rest of the year.

Johnson had control issues all year and also saw a drop in his fastball velocity from last year. While he is still just 24-years-old and has time to figure things out, it would appear that he is no more than an afterthought for the Sox going forwards.

Jury is still out

Dayan Viciedo: “Tank” reached the 20 home run plateau for the second time in his career this year but has posted career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In addition to his struggles at the plate, Viciedo has been a butcher in the outfield.

While many fans will be ready to send Viciedo packing, the truth is that there is a decent to good chance that he will be around next year. He’s still just 25-years-old and is under team control for a while, with his first year of arbitration coming this off-season.CT ct-spt-0616-white-sox-royals-32.jpg

Whether or not Viciedo sticks around may depend on what the Sox are able to do in free agency. If they bring in another outfielder and/or a DH, that would make Viciedo expendable. If not, he could compete for a platoon role in one of those spots. The problem with that though, is that Viciedo hit just .233/.273/.410 against left-handed pitching this year.

Tyler Flowers: After getting off to a great start in April, Flowers regressed back to his 2013 form before rebounding a bit in the second half of the season. His current line of .243 with 15 homers and 50 RBI is not terrible, but it’s not good either. He has struck out a team high 157 times with only 25 walks. As a result of the low walk totals his OBP is just .299 for the year.

Flowers has also continued to struggle defensively. He has made eight errors, allowed 8 passed balls and 51 wild pitches on the season. His caught stealing percentage has improved to 30%, which is slightly above the league average (27%). Overall though, he has just not been good enough at either the plate, or in the field to justify handing him the starting job next year.

Avisail Garcia: Avi lands on this list mostly because we just didn’t get to see enough of him this year. The shoulder injury he suffered in April cost him most of the season and thus doesn’t give us enough of a sample size to truly evaluate his performance. What we have seen has been pretty solid, especially in September where Garcia has hit .288/.354/.452 with three homers and 13 RBI in 19 games. He has also drawn nine walks, which is a very good sign.

All things point to Garcia being an important part of the White Sox going forward and hopefully we will see the growth and development over the course of a full season next year.

Young Bullpen Arms: The bullpen for the White Sox this year has been a major issue. Injuries to Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom played a part but the veterans brought in haven’t performed well and that has put a lot of pressure and innings on young, unproven arms.

Jake Petricka has probably been the most solid of the young relievers, having held the closers role for a time and picking up a team high 14 saves. Walks have been the biggest problem for Jake though, posting a 4.0 BB/9 rate, which is way too high for a late inning reliever.

Daniel Webb has also struggled with his command, walking 5.6 batters per nine innings.

Zach Putnam has been a nice find for the Sox and leads the bullpen with a 1.98 ERA and a 1.079 WHIP while picking up six saves.

All of these guys expect to compete for a role next year but with none of them having established themselves as a lock down closer, the Sox will have a lot of work to do re-shaping the bullpen for next year.

Hector Noesi: No one thought much of the move when the Sox picked up Noesi off waivers early in the year but Hector stepped into the starting rotation and, if nothing else, gave the Sox a decent start more times than not. Noesi posted a respectable 4.39 ERA with the Sox and has posted quality starts in 14 of his 26 outings. He has a solid 2.15 K/BB ratio but is giving up 1.5 homers per nine.

Noesi has performed well enough to be in the mix next year for a spot in the rotation, depending on what the Sox do in free agency. He wouldn’t be the worst fifth starter in the league and even if there isn’t a rotation spot available, I could see Noesi as a possible bullpen arm as well.

The Sox certainly have found some nice pieces this year and are in a much better place than they were a year ago. They still have some work to do, but if nothing else they know that they have a legit power bat in the middle of the order, a solid leadoff hitter and one of the best pitchers in the league in Chris Sale.

You will note that there were several key players left out of the above lists. That is because we already know what we are going to get from Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks and Alexei Ramirez. They have proven that they pretty much “are who we thought they were.” I also expect all of them to be back next year in their same capacities.

Clearly there is still work to be done. This will be an interesting off-season for the Sox, who should have plenty of money to spend if they so choose. With a couple key additions, the Sox could find themselves in the mix next year. Rick Hahn had a very good off-season last year, as shown above. Hopefully he can follow that up again this year.

matthoeppner

About matthoeppner

White Sox fan for as long as I can remember. Graduate of the Michigan State School of Journalism, Pitch F/X Operator for MLB.com, play-by-play announcer for the Michigan Regional Sports Network and new dad. I live in the Detroit area but am still a Chicagoan all the way.

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