White Sox

Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

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Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

Friday, March 25, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through spring training, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check. Even with the Chicago White Soxs final batch of big cuts this week, competition for the final two roster spots remains heavy. Are you a Brent Lillibridge fan, or Lastings Milledge? Want to see Jeffrey Marquez man the last bullpen spot, or Phil Humber? Lets take a look at the ins and outs of roster spots 24 and 25 for the White Sox:

Will only two of these four players break camp with the White Sox?

Theres a chance that only one player is turned away, but that all depends on whether projected fifth starter Jake Peavy is healthy enough to avoid a stint on the disabled list to open the season. With the brakes applied fully to his rehab as the righthander struggles through the setback everyone anticipated would happen, the odds are that Peavy will indeed open on the DL.

So, Marquez vs. Humberwho wins?

In both a stats test and an eye test, Marquez has earned a spot on the White Sox, ahead of Humber. Whats frightening about Humber is that whenever the light has started to intensify on him, poor outings have been the result. And those numbersa 5.87 ERA in six games, two losses, two home runs allowed and five walks against 10 strikeouts. He also seems best suited to be a starter, underscoring the need for him to begin the season at AAA Charlotte as longer-term insurance for Peavy.

Marquez, on the other hand, is a wild card who brings greater flexibility to the roster, available to start or pitch in long relief. Hes rocking a new cutter, cultivated since his acquisition in the Nick Swisher deal, and is having a terrific spring: 2.70 ERA in six games, a win and just two walks against 13 strikeouts. Marquez has an electric armnot always a good thing, given three wild pitches and two hit batsmenwith greater upside than Humber.

With off-days and likely postponements in the first two weeks of the season, why is there any hubbub at all about a fifth starter?

Its very strange that given the off-day between the first and second series of the season that the White Sox would still be tabbing the first start for a No. 5 reliever as April 6, when there is no need for a fifth turn until April 10and thats with no postponements at all in the first eight games of the season. The rotation has had six weeks and five or six starts to tune up for the regular season. Making Gavin Floyd pitch a simulated game in order to stay in a groove, as he did on an off-day on March 15 (just a month into training), makes senseand by extension, giving Opening Day starter Mark Buehrle five days between starts in the first week of the season and assuming that wont throw some rhythm off seems silly.

The White Sox are loaded with startersfour electric ones, and five when Peavy is healthy. They extend six strong in the bullpen, led by power arms Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain and supplemented by lefty specialist Will Ohman and long reliever Tony Pena. Let the top guys pitch, rather than giving five or six innings to the 12th or 13th-best pitcher on the club, as will happen with Humber (or even Marquez) taking the bump on April 6.

Does Marquez being out of options play a role in the decision?

As much as it shouldnt, were not talking about a pitcher whos spit the bit this spring. Marquez has been electric. Saturdays start could actually cement his position as the No. 12 arm on the White Sox, ahead of Humberbut even if Marquez struggles, hes got more weapons in his arsenal. Need proof? Hes tied with wunderkind Chris Sale, behind Thornton, for the second-best KBB this spring at 6.5.

Theres speculation that as the only viable piece left from the disastrous Swisher trade, GM Ken Williams wants to see Marquez succeed. But thats short-sighted and silly, and not how Williams operates. If Humber is the clear choice, transaction history will play no role in who gets cuts. Likely losing Marquez, who is out of options, if hes demoted? That will most definitely be a factor, especially in a pitching-thin system as the White Soxs.
As for the final bench spot, Lillibridge is out of luck, right?
It appears so. Lillibridge has a lot of factors in his favor while fighting for the final bench spot, including his history with the team, flexibility in the field (the Washington native basically excels everywhere but pitcher and catcher), even leadership. But his spring numbers havent been too goodjust a .591 OPS, two walks against nine Ks and one stolen base.

Milledge has the job?

Yeah, and deservedly so. The 25-year-old came to camp not even on the team roster and basically tore up the Cactus League, hitting at a 1.015 OPS clip, four homers, 10 RBI (fourth on the team) and three steals against one CS. Most significant for Milledge, at a time when the White Sox are whiffing with impunity and in direct contrast to his free-swinging past ways, hes had a team-best 10 walks against 10 strikeouts.

Isnt Milledge a head case, an eruption with Ozzie waiting to happen?

Youve seen flashes of impudence from Milledge, some slow jumps on fly balls, his odd habit of chucking equipment and snatching off his helmet in good times and bad. But with a clubhouse as tight as Chicagos, surely Guillen and Williams are confident that Milledge will adapt. Hes proven a ready pupil, learning early from Paul Konerko, Juan Pierre and others.

And hes a Kenny guy, right?

Well, Williams traded for Lillibridge just a few years ago, too. But do the White Sox see greater upside from Milledgeperhaps even to the extent where he could be a long-term possibility on the team ifwhen Juan Pierre or Carlos Quentin leave? Absolutely. Milledge has flashed five tools in the desert this spring.

So, assuming Peavy is sidelined, only Lillibridge gets his bus ticket punched out of town?

Not in my book, actually. I fail to see the need for 12 pitchers breaking camp, especially given the delicate situation with Lillibridge, who most certainly will be claimed on waivers and lost to the White Sox (as Marquez would be) if hes cut. Without a pressing need for a fifth starter, Id send Humber down to begin as the No. 1 starter at Charlotte and employ Marquez as the wild-card arm out of the bullpen. That would allow the White Sox to break camp with both Lillibridge and Milledge, safeguarding the team against an early injury at almost any position, as well as buying time for Williams to broker a minor deal for Lillibridge if it remains clear hell be the odd man out when Peavy returns.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with Charlotte Knights catcher Zack Collins about

-His hot start to the season at the plate (5:30)

-How James McCann helped him with his catching during spring training (7:20)

-How he's changed his approach at the plate this season (13:10)

-What he orders at Chick-fil-A (15:40)

-Why he's not thinking or worrying about getting called up to the majors (17:50)

-An incredible story about Dylan Cease (20:30)

-His thoughts on Tim Anderson's bat flip (28:20) and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

Hitting has not been the biggest problem for the White Sox. But even after a win to kick off this week's series against the Baltimore Orioles, they're still under .500 and in fourth place in the aggressively weak AL Central.

There's a ton of baseball left, and their spot in the standings on April 22 indicates nothing about where they'll be at the end of September. But the issues that have cropped up in the early going — many of them having to do with what's gone on on the pitcher's mound — have signaled that another losing season in the thick of the ongoing rebuilding process wouldn't come as a great shock.

That point being established, there's still been more to smile about in the early going this season than there was perhaps in the entirety of the 2018 campaign, what Rick Hahn described from the beginning as "the toughest part of the rebuild." That turned out to be prescient, with the White Sox losing 100 games. This year, the early season emergence of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jimenez have made it so there are exciting reasons to pay attention to what's going on on the South Side, all the while making for a lineup that can push across a good deal of runs.

Now imagine if Jose Abreu wasn't hitting below the Mendoza Line.

He's not anymore after a big night Monday, but the guy who's arguably still the team's best hitter when everything's right hasn't been right very often so far in 2019. That could be starting to change, though, and if it does, a lineup that's already a heck of a lot more threatening to opposing pitchers than it was at any point in 2018 could become even more fearsome, even more productive. And that leads to more wins, important not just for fans hoping for a surprise run at relevancy given the weak state of the division, but for a team building a lineup for the future that it hopes is scoring a whole bunch of runs in meaningful games in seasons to come.

Abreu went 3-for-5 in Monday night's 12-2 laugher in Baltimore, the White Sox bats looking even better with an opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching, which entered as the worst staff in the majors with a 6.21 ERA and owned a 6.37 ERA after Monday's blowout. But it's a three-game hitting streak for a guy whose average was down to .174 after Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. Since, he's 6-for-15 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Maybe it's just a nice three-game stretch, boosted by a chance to swing against the big leagues' worst pitching staff. But it allows the White Sox to dream about a lineup made ever more dangerous by the regular production of a two-time All Star and one of the AL's reigning Silver Sluggers.

Again, offense has not been the main reason the White Sox are still underwater, from a win-loss perspective, at this point. They aren't exactly blowing the doors off the league when it comes to their offensive prowess, middle of the pack in baseball with 106 runs scored this season. But they entered Monday's game with a 5.44 team ERA, one of the four worst marks in the bigs. The bullpen's ERAs are still on their way down after short outings from the starting staff in the season's first couple of weeks forced them into unenviable situations. One run allowed in Monday's bullpen day should help with that. The team ERA shot down to 5.27 after Monday's game, still not enough to vault them out of the bottom six teams in the league.

But reliable versions of Anderson (who's still hitting over .400), Moncada and Jimenez are pieces this lineup didn't have last year, and they've been three of the best parts of it so far in 2019. Leury Garcia has been quietly productive if not flashy while doing it. James McCann, who hit a three-run homer to start the scoring in Monday night's rout, has put up good numbers in limited time while splitting catching duties with Welington Castillo. Even Ryan Cordell, only the team's starting right fielder for a few days, has shown promise with a couple homers already. There have been holes, of course, chiefly Yolmer Sanchez — who was still hitting under .100 on April 13 but is now batting .231 after a three-hit night Monday — and the sent-down Daniel Palka. Abreu and Yonder Alonso, in the middle of the White Sox order, have been unproductive, as well, while the younger guys have flourished around them.

But an Abreu turnaround — or, really, an awakening, considering how early it still is — would boost the numbers and make the lineup capable of even more on a regular basis.

It could also be another factor in the ongoing conversation about a potential Abreu contract extension. While Hahn has suggested it's unlikely that such a deal would be struck during the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see it come before Abreu is set to hit free agency once the 2019-20 offseason begins. The White Sox are such big fans of what Abreu does in the clubhouse and as a mentor for younger players that production might not play as big a role as it normally would. But obviously the consistency of that production in Abreu's first five big league seasons certainly helps. To keep that production going with a late-April awakening would be all the more reason to keep Abreu around for the transition from rebuilding to contending.

The White Sox lineup has been promising to this point. It could become downright potent if Abreu starts knocking the ball around as we all know he can.

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