The 2014 version of the White Sox was certainly an improvement over the 2013 team. In record alone the team improved 10 games from last season. And while a 73 win season is certainly nothing to write home about, there was plenty to be excited about.
However, if the Sox want to compete next year, or in the next few years, they still have plenty of work to do. Here we are going to take a look at the positions the Sox could or should address this off-season. We will only give forth specific names of internal candidates and this moment, rather than speculate on potential free-agents. Trust me, there will be plenty of time for that over the next six months.
Second Base: Gordon Beckham is gone. With the departure of the former first round pick, the door is open at second base for one of the Sox middle infield prospects to take over. This is the one position that I am absolutely sure will be filled with someone from within the organization. So let’s take a look at the candidates.
Carlos Sanchez: Following the Beckham trade, it was Carlos Sanchez that got the bulk of the playing time at second base. He started 26 games at second over the last month of the season and hit .263/.283/.316 with five doubles, five RBI, 23 strikeouts and three walks. He was one for two in stolen bases. Sanchez committed one error in the field and had a -0.4 UZR at second base.
Overall, Sanchez handled himself pretty well at second base and was good enough at the plate to warrant heavy consideration next spring. While the strikeout numbers and the on-base percentage were not great at the big league level, Sanchez had a .349 OBP in AAA last year and drew 36 walks against 84 strikeouts. At just 22 years-old, there is plenty of time for improvement.
While Sanchez doesn’t really do anything great, he could be a very solid major league second-baseman and potential number two hitter. The fact that he is a switch-hitter is also attractive.
Marcus Semien: The Sox got a good look at Semien at second base at the start of the season with Gordon Beckham on the disabled list. Semien hit just .218 in his first stint with the Sox last year but did hit three homers and drive in 18 runs. Many of those RBI came late in close games, giving Semien a reputation as a clutch hitter.
Semien was then sent back down to AAA Charlotte where he hit .267/.380/.502 with 15 homers and 52 RBI in 83 games. He had nearly a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio at AAA posting 53 walks and striking out 59 times.
After getting recalled in September, Semien hit .273/.333/.485 with three homers and 10 RBI in 21 games (18 starts).
In the field, Semien committed four errors in 26 games at second base and had a -3.6 UZR.
Semien might be the best offensive option among the players in the hunt for the second base job. While his offensive numbers at the big league level weren’t particularly impressive, he did have a knack for the big hit. Compounding his numbers out to a full season would put him in the area of 16 homers and 71 RBI, which would be pretty solid production from the second base spot.
The concerns with Marcus are his defense, and the fact that the strikeout to walk numbers have not translated yet at the Major League level. The good news is that Semien is just 24-years-old and has a .374 career OBP in the minors.
Micah Johnson: Without a doubt the most intriguing option for the Sox at second base is Micah Johnson, who burst onto the scene last year in the Sox minor leagues. Johnson played at three levels in 2013, starting at low-A, and working his way up to AA Birmingham by the end of the season. Over those three levels Johnson hit .312/.373/.451 with 24 doubles, 15 triples and seven home runs. He led all of professional baseball with 84 stolen bases, although he was caught 26 times.
The Sox started Johnson at AA in 2014 and in 37 games in Birmingham Johnson hit .329/.414/.466 with 13 extra base hits and 10 steals in 17 attempts. He had 27 strikeouts and 21 walks in those 37 games.
Johnson was then moved up to AAA Charlotte where he hit .275/.314/.370 over 65 games before being shut down in mid-August with a hamstring injury. At AAA, Johnson’s extra base hits were down, just 17 in 65 games. More concerning, his stolen base numbers, and his attempts, were way down. Johnson stole just 12 bases in 18 attempts after being promoted to AAA. The reasoning behind this seemed to be that Johnson was trying to pick his spots more, rather than just running for the sake of running.
In the field, Johnson made a total of 13 errors in 88 games at second base. Yes, that is a lot.
Johnson might be the most talented overall of the three players gunning for the Sox Opening Day second base job. He is also the least experienced. Johnson has only spent two years in the minors above rookie ball. If the Sox truly believe he is their long term solution at second base, it might be worth it to give him another season at AAA and let him work on his plate discipline and his stolen base technique.
Left Field: The White Sox seem to have two-thirds of their outfield situation solved for the long term with Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia. The issue now becomes what to do in left field. Had Garcia not gotten hurt, you likely would have seen a full season of platooning between Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza. Unfortunately, Garcia’s injury meant we saw a whole lot of Viciedo and De Aza both in the lineup on an everyday basis.
De Aza is gone now, headed to the ALCS with the Orioles, so the Sox are left without many platoon options and will likely be looking for one player to take over the position. My guess is that this is one of the spots that the Sox look to free agency for a solution. If they don’t, or if they strike out, here is what they have in house.
Dayan Viciedo: In his third full season in the big leagues, Viciedo regressed in almost every way last year. He posted career lows in batting average (.231), on-base percentage (.281) and slugging percentage (.405). He also posted a career high in strikeouts (122).
Defensively, it was also a disaster for Viciedo. He made eight errors in the outfield, up from five last year and just two in 2012. His UZR was -10.8 last year, which has also gotten worse each of the last two years. The one area that Viciedo was actually decent at his first two years was outfield assists. He had 25 over his first two years but only five last year.
Vicideo is only 25-years-old, so in theory there is still time for him to turn it around. The problem is he has had three full years in the majors and not only has he not shown signs of improvement, he’s actually getting worse. He doesn’t do anything well right now, other than occasionally hit the ball over the fence. Much like Beckham and De Aza, it might be time to move on.
Moises Sierra: After being claimed off waivers, Sierra actually played pretty decently for the Sox. In 83 games Sierra hit .276/.311/.417 and had an OPS+ of 105.
Sierra is 26-years-old and has decent power and decent speed and more than anything, brings some energy to the team when he is in the lineup.
In the field Sierra is a bit of a mixed bag. At times he can look very good, and at others he looks like he has no idea what route to take to a ball. He did pick up four assists this year in 73 games in the field, or one fewer than Viciedo.
Sierra is probably nothing more than a fourth outfield on a good team. I wouldn’t mind him sticking around as a bench player. Someone who can come in to pinch hit, or pinch run and provide some energy to the team when they need it.
Catcher: This is another area where I believe the White Sox will probably go with an internal candidate, rather than through free agency. If they were going to go the free agent route, they likely would have done so last off-season. You know the candidates on this list but I’ll run through them again anyway.
Tyler Flowers: He won the catching job more or less by default this year and caught 127 games for the White Sox. After getting off to a .354 start in April, Flowers hit just .201/.263/.321 from May through July. For the final totals Flowers hit .241/.297/.396 with 15 homers and 50 RBI. He struck out a team high 159 times and drew only 25 walks.
Flowers threw out 30% of attempted base stealers in 2014, up from 24% in 2013 and slightly higher than the league average of 27%. Flowers allowed nine passed balls, third most in baseball, and 51 wild pitches, the second most in baseball.
At this point we know what Flowers is, and it just isn’t really that good. The fact he was only able to hit 15 homers in a full season as the starting catcher is a bit disheartening after all we heard about was how strong he was and the power he had. Combine that with the strikeouts and the fielding and you have nothing more than a replacement level player at best.
Josh Phegley: After appearing in 65 games for the White Sox in 2013, Phegley spent the entire season at AAA Charlotte before being called up in September. At AAA, Phegley had a very good season and was named to the International League’s post-season All-Star Team. Phegley hit .274/.331/.530 for the season with 23 home runs, 30 doubles and 75 RBI. He struck out only 72 times while walking 31 in 107 games.
With the big club Phegley got off to a terrible start going 0 for his first 11 with five strikeouts. After that he hit .308 with three homers and seven RBI in seven games.
In the field at AAA, Phegley threw out 44% of potential base stealers but also allowed 14 passed balls and committed eight errors.
This might be the last chance for Phegley to win the starting job with the White Sox. He will be 27-years-old before the start of next season and is approaching that time when a player either makes that next step, or he doesn’t. I still think Phegley can be a solid offensive catcher in the big leagues, but I’m not sure the White Sox are too thrilled about his defense, not that they are getting much better from Flowers.
Designated Hitter: With the departure of Adam Dunn, the White Sox have a need at designated hitter. This is a spot that could be rotated around throughout the year, especially when someone needs a night off from the field here or there. I would expect the White Sox to look outside the organization to try and fill this role. It would be ideal if the Sox could find a lefty to fill this role, as Adam Dunn was the only thing even resembling left handed power that the Sox had.
Dayan Viciedo is a candidate for this spot as well, especially if the organization wants to keep him but doesn’t want him out butchering plays in the outfield. Other than Tank the only other candidate in the organization is…
Andy Wilkins: It was a breakout year for Wilkins, who led the International League with 30 home runs. He also hit .293/.338/.558 with 30 doubles and 85 RBI. Wilkins struck out 91 times and walked 34 times in 127 games.
Wilkins was a September call up but did not fare well at all with the Sox going 6-for-43 (.140) with 22 strikeouts.
Wilkins just turned 26 and while he had a very good year at AAA, doesn’t have that much of a successful track record. He is a lefty, which works to his advantage, but I am not sure he is anything more than the left handed side of a platoon at DH/1B.