White Sox

Spring training storylines: Last Sox bench spot

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Spring training storylines: Last Sox bench spot

Assuming nothing wild like an eight-man bullpen comes to fruition, the White Sox will have four bench players in 2012. Three of those spots are locked up, with Brent Lillibridge, Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Flowers filling roles.

That leaves one open spot. Enter three players: Dan Johnson, Eduardo Escobar and Ozzie Martinez. Most likely, one of them will win a spot on the White Sox opening day roster. Here are the cases for and against each of them:

Dan Johnson, 1BDH (career line: .235.334.405)

Here's a guy who would've fit perfectly on the White Sox last August when Paul Konerko was hobbled by a bad knee, but as long as Konerko is healthy, Johnson doesn't have much of a place with the White Sox. He's better-served starting the year off in Triple-A and waiting in the wings in case Adam Dunn struggles out of the gate. Of course, a strong spring could make it tough for the Sox to leave him off the 25-man roster.

A note about Johnson, though: His career splits are actually pretty even between facing righties and lefties. He's not a world-beater against each, but his OBP against lefties is actually higher (.337) than against righties (.332).

Eduardo Escobar, 2BSS3B (career minor-league line: .270.315.351)

The 23-year-old doesn't have a high offensive ceiling and he's not a particularly good base-stealer (75 steals in 118 attempts in the minors), but he's a slick fielder who could be a fit on the roster if the White Sox aren't able to trust Brent Lillibridge at shortstop. That he can play third base is a plus, although his defense there almost certainly isn't better than that of Brent Morel. Escobar probably would only play there if the incumbent third baseman needs a day off.

Ozzie Martinez, 2BSS3B (career minor-league line: .261.331.352)

There really isn't much between Martinez and Escobar. Martinez showed better plate discipline in Triple-A than Escobar, but his results were pretty much in line with that of Escobar. Martinez is a more efficient baserunner (60 steals in 88 attempts), although Escobar probably is the better fielder.

It probably will be tough to name a favorite between these two -- both are more likely to make the roster than Johnson -- given how even they are. The decision should come down to factors we won't necessarily see in game action.

Dark horse: Tyler Kuhn, IFOF (career minor-league line: .314.368.428)

Kuhn had a fantastic 2011 with Double-A Birmingham (.341.401.464), although high-average, BABIP-fueled seasons like that rarely carry over to future season and higher levels of the minor leagues. He hasn't graded out well defensively and is somewhat of a player without a position. A few good weeks in Arizona will probably warrant a long look, but ultimately, he needs to prove himself against Triple-A pitching before being considered for the majors.

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

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Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

The Cubs made the Jose Quintana deal knowing it would have been more difficult to give up Dylan Cease if he was already performing at the Double-A level, and that the White Sox organization would be a good place to continue his education as a young pitcher.

While Eloy Jimenez keeps drawing ridiculous comparisons – the running total now includes Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz – Cease is more than just the other name prospect from the deal that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break.

“We still project him as a starter,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “He certainly has the stuff where it’s easy to envision him as a potential dominant reliever. But to this point – for the foreseeable future – we deal with the starting and continue to develop him as a potential front-end arm.”

The Theo Epstein regime still hasn’t developed an impact homegrown pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from winning 292 games, six playoff rounds and a World Series title across the last three seasons, while still being in a strong position to win the National League Central again in 2018.

Without Quintana and his affordable contract that can run through 2020, Epstein’s front office might have been looking at the daunting possibility of trying to acquire three starting pitchers this winter.

While surveying a farm system in the middle of a natural downturn, Baseball America ranked seven pitchers on its top-10 list of prospects from the Cubs organization: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Oscar De La Cruz, Brendon Little, Thomas Hatch and Jen-Ho Tseng.

So far, only Alzolay, an Arizona Fall League Fall Star with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee on his resume, and Tseng, who made his big-league debut in September, have pitched above the A-ball level.

Cease – who went 0-8 with a 3.89 ERA for Class-A Kannapolis in his first nine starts in the White Sox system – has a 100-mph fastball and a big curveball and won’t turn 22 until next month. That stuff allowed Cease to pile up 126 strikeouts against 44 walks in 93.1 innings this year, putting him in the wave that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

“Ideally, we have a lot of guys we project to be part of the future, very good, championship-caliber rotation,” Hahn said. “In an ideal world, there’s not going to be room at the inn for all of them. You only have five in that rotation and some of these guys will wind up in the bullpen. In reality, as players develop, you’re going to see some attrition.”

One spot after the White Sox grabbed Carlos Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Cubs did Kyle Schwarber’s below-slot deal, using part of the savings to buy out Cease’s commitment to Vanderbilt University ($1.5 million bonus for a sixth-rounder) and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Cease was never going to be on the fast track to Wrigley Field, and now the White Sox hope he can be part of the foundation on the South Side, where it’s easier to sell a rebuild after watching the Cubs and Houston Astros become World Series champions.

“It doesn’t change really for us internally in terms of our commitment or focus or our plan or our timeline or anything along those lines,” Hahn said. “I do think, perhaps, it helps the fan base understand a little bit about what the process looks like, where other teams have been and how long the path they took to get to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series (was). In Chicago, many fans saw it firsthand with the Cubs.

“There are certainly more and more examples in the game over the last several years to help sort of show fans the path and justification for what we’re (doing).”

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

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USA TODAY

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

The White Sox continued their rebuild Thursday by trading for an intriguing young right-handed pitcher.

The South Siders acquired Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.

The 24-year-old Vieira is a Brazilian native and has only made one appearance in the big leagues, striking out a batter in one perfect inning of work in 2017.

While his career minor-league numbers don't jump off the page — 14-19 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 13 saves and 7.4 K/9 in 290.2 innings \— Vieira has been reportedly clocked at 104 mph with his fastball and was ranked as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect at the time of the deal. He also held righties to .194 batting average in 2017.

Here's video of Vieira throwing gas:

And this may explain why Vieira was even available:

Control has been an issue throughout his career, as he's walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has improved in that regard over the last few seasons, however, walking only 22 batters in 54 innings across three levels in 2017 and he doled out only one free pass in 5.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

What does this deal mean in the big picture for baseball? How did the Sox pull off a move like this while not having to give up a player in return? 

This may help shed light on the situation from Baseball America's Kyle Glaser:

Either way, the White Sox may have just acquired a guy who could potentially throw his name in the hat for "future closer." Or at the very least, throw his name in the hat for "best name."