With the Chicago White Sox set to begin Cactus League play on Wednesday when they take on the Los Angeles Dodgers, it is time to look at three storylines to watch as Spring Training unfolds.
1) The battle for second base. The only everyday position up for grabs this spring is at second base. Youngsters Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez are the leading candidates, but veteran Gordon Beckham will compete for the job as well. At this point, I’d say that Beckham’s chances of landing the starting gig are extremely low, but you never know if Johnson and Sanchez both struggle. It is no secret that the White Sox would love to see Micah Johnson win the job this spring with his offensive potential, but he must also prove to be above-average in the field. Johnson brings elite speed and athleticism to the lineup, and could he hit at the top of the order in the future. During his three seasons in the minors, Johnson has shown promise with a career .297 average, .366 on-base percentage, and 125 stolen bases. If the White Sox aren’t convinced Johnson is ready yet defensively (career .958 fielding percentage), then they will likely turn to Carlos Sanchez to begin the year. Sanchez provides solid defense with a career .973 fielding percentage in the minors, and he committed just one error in 28 games last season with the White Sox. While Sanchez is considered the batter fielder, his offensive ceiling is not nearly as high as Johnson’s. Sanchez owns a career .284 average and .353 on-base percentage with 74 stolen bases in 6 seasons, which suggests he’s more of a .260 to .270 hitter with the ability to add about 15-20 steals across a full season. Either way, it would be nice to get more speed and athleticism out of the position than the White Sox have had the past several season.
2) Carlos Rodon. The White Sox selected left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon with the 3rd overall selection in last year’s draft with the expectation that he could reach the majors quickly. Rodon will prepare to be a starter this spring and he is now slated for more starts while Chris Sale is sidelined the next three weeks. It will be interesting to see how well Rodon performs and if he forces the White Sox to let him start a game or two during the first two weeks of the regular season before Sale is ready to return. Rodon pitched a combined 123 innings between college and the minor leagues, so I would expect him to be limited to a maximum of 150-160 innings. My gut feeling is that Rodon will spend the bulk of the 2015 season working out of the bullpen, but he should see some starts as well. Assuming the White Sox are in contention around the All-Star break, don’t be surprised to see Rodon sent down to the minors to be stretched out as a starter for the final two months of the season.
3) Bullpen Roles. The additions of closer David Robertson and left-handed reliever Zach Duke should solidify the back-end of the bullpen, but there are still 2-3 holes that need to be filled. Zach Putnam and Jack Petricka had solid rookie seasons and should be reliable mid-to-late inning options once again, but the White Sox need more than four quality arms in the bullpen to be legitimate contenders. Prior to last season, I was pretty bullish on Daniel Webb by predicting that he would lead the team in saves, but control issues (42 walks in 67.2 innings) limited his success. Webb did finish 2014 with a 3.99 ERA, but a 1.49 WHIP shows that he needs to have better command to reach that next level. Francellis Montas is the player to watch and could be the wildcard in the bullpen. Montas was acquired from Boston in the Jake Peavy deal, and he has been a starter in his minor league career. Last season, Montas shined with 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 80 strikeouts in 81 innings across 15 starts, but many scouts believe his future is in the bullpen with a two-pitch arsenal that features a fastball that can top 100-mph. The White Sox feel that Montas can be a starter in the majors, but the need for another power arm out of the bullpen might force the White Sox to hold off those plans for another season or two. If Webb and Montas can reach their full potential and make the type of impact I believe they can, then the White Sox could have a dominant bullpen in 2015.