White Sox

Poetry in Pros: White Sox Indispensables

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Poetry in Pros: White Sox Indispensables

Monday, March 28, 2011
Posted: 2:30 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Last November, CSNChicago.com counted down the top 30 Chicago White Sox, taking into account each players value to the team in 2011 and beyond.

With an offseason to add and subtract players and a nearly-completed spring training in the books, heres an update to that list, this time focusing only on how crucial each player is to White Sox success in 2011. (In other words, how lost are the White Sox without them?)

The Indispensables

1. Gordon Beckham, 2b
Beckham topping the list seems nutty at first blush. But the third-year man is being put in a position of great responsibility, be it as the best fielding second baseman on the club, the crucial No. 2 hitter on a team full of non-No. 2s, and his status as an up-and-coming hitter (a hot second half of 2010 and an .896 OPS this spring) who could well surpass Alexei Ramirezs offensive output in 2011.

2. Paul Konerko, 1b
Indeed, there is little reason to believe that Konerko can duplicate his 2010 campaign this season. And unlike a year ago, PK has a legitimate backup in Adam Dunn behind him. But in the ideal lineup, Dunn is busy designated hittingwhich leaves Mark Teahen at first base. Konerko may be a subpar fielder, but the step down both offensively and defensively to Teahen makes Konerko indispensable at the first sack.

3. Alexei Ramirez, ss
There may be no player more crucial to White Sox success than Ramirez. But in terms of being irreplaceable, Omar Vizquel has proven that at least for short stretches, he can still throw some leather at short, and swing the bat as well.

4. Alex Rios, cf
Rios anchors the White Sox outfield as a fielder who eats acreage and can throw the pill as well. Sans Rios, the White Sox are faced with moving Juan Pierres weaker arm to center, or spot-starting Brent Lillibridge or Lastings Milledge. All of those options are a significant step down, especially defensively, where the corner outfielders feed off of Rios range.

5. Adam Dunn, dh-1b
Teahen is also the primary backup at DH. Which is the only place you really want him to be the primary backup.

6. Juan Pierre, lf
The baseball world isnt so kind to Pierre, highlighting how many outs he makes per season and chiding his laughably soft arm in left. So why is he indispensable to the Chisox? Hes the only legitimate leadoff hitter (Milledge? Vizquel?), he gets to everything in left and then some, steals bags to set in motion manager Ozzie Guillens speed offense oh, and he plays in nearly every inning of every game. Hes so taken for granted, even a Pierre champion like me has probably ranked him too low on this list.

7. Matt Thornton, closer
Yes, Thornton is the closest thing the White Sox have to a proven closer, and hes been aces almost since the day he first fastened on a White Sox cap. But the truth is, no one knows if he can handle the closer roleand if he doesnt, the White Sox have options. Sergio Santos is a closer-in-training, rookie Chris Sale sports a live arm, and Jesse Crain closed all through his tour of the minors. Thornton is the most crucial arm on the White Sox this season; indispensable as a closer, no.

8. Jake Peavy, starter
Yeah, its the guy on the shelf hogging all the attention again. But a healthy Peavy has the potential to anchor a very strong White Sox rotationa fact borne out by his performance as the teams best starter three or four times through the rotation until his shoulder tendinitis flared up. Without Peavy, the White Sox are forced to grab a begging bowl and long wistfully for the days when Freddy Garcia suited up for them.

9. Sergio Santos, reliever
Santos is no longer the sweet The Club story from a year ago, but a viable live arm with closer potential. Any notion that the third-year pitcher was due for a setback (as fellow young gun Sale was shackled) can be dismissed, as Santos was Chicagos strongest pitcher all spring (nine games, 0.00 ERA, .097 batting average against, .194 on-base percentage against, 10 strikeouts in 9 23 innings). Despite never being seriously looked to as Chicagos closer, Santos earned the right to be the first option behind Thornton to finish games.

10. Edwin Jackson, starter
Wait a minute, Jackson and not John Danks, or another rotation member, is the most indispensable healthy starter? Last year, Jackson was the White Soxs best starter in the second half and brings a consistency and electricity that fellow righty Gavin Floyd does less often. Danks is the White Soxs most valuable starter, but Jackson spreading his entire 2011 campaign out like his second half of 2010 is the difference between a playoff berth and sitting at home watching the Minnesota Twins get swept out of October once again.

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

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

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AP

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

It wasn’t long ago that the question was: “Why isn’t Michael Kopech pitching in the major leagues?”

The question is now firmly: “What’s wrong with Michael Kopech?”

The new script is of course a reflection of how quickly opinions change during a baseball season, when “what have you done for me lately?” tends to drive the conversation more than looking at the entire body of work.

But the body of work doesn’t look too awesome for the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect these days. He carries a 5.08 ERA through 14 starts with Triple-A Charlotte. But it’s the recent struggles that have folks second guessing whether he’s ready for the big leagues.

The month of June hasn’t gone well for Kopech, who has a 9.00 ERA in four starts this month. That features two especially ugly outings, when he allowed seven runs in two innings and five runs in three outings. But for a guy who’s got blow-em-away stuff, it’s the walks that are of the utmost concern to box-score readers: He’s got 21 of them in 16 innings over his last four starts. That’s compared to 20 strikeouts.

More walks than strikeouts is never a good thing, and it’s been a glaring bugaboo for White Sox pitchers at the major league level all season. Kopech wasn’t having that problem when this season started out. He struck out 68 batters and walked only 25 over his first 10 starts. But things have changed.

With director of player development Chris Getz on the horn Thursday to talk about all of the promotions throughout the minor league system, he was asked about Kopech and pointed to Wednesday’s outing, which lasted only five innings and featured four more walks. But Kopech only allowed two earned runs, and Getz called it a good outing.

“Last night I was really happy with what he was able to do, and that’s really in comparison looking at his last probably four outings or so,” Getz said. “He did have a little bit of a hiccup, getting a little erratic. He was getting a little quick in his delivery, his lower half wasn’t picking up with his upper half. The command of his pitches was not there.

“But last night, although the line is not the best line that we’ve seen of Michael this year, it was still a very good outing. He was in the zone, commanding the fastball. His body was under control. He threw some good breaking pitches, a couple of good changeups. He was back to being the competitor we are accustomed to. We are hoping to build off of this outing. I know he’s feeling good about where he’s at from last night and we’ll just kind of go from there.”

It’s important to note, of course, that the White Sox are often looking for things that can’t be read in a box score. So when we see a lot of walks or a lot of hits or a small amount of strikeouts, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it count as everything the decision makers in the organization are looking at.

Still, this is development and growth in action — and perhaps a sign that the White Sox have been right in not yet deeming Kopech ready for the majors. Kopech perhaps needs the time at Triple-A to work through these issues rather than be thrown into a big league fire.

As for how these struggles will affect his timeline, that remains to be seen. The White Sox aren’t ruling anything out, not promising that he’ll be on the South Side before the end of this season but certainly not ruling it out either.

“If he builds off of what he did last night, commanding his fastball, his breaking pitches continue to kind of define themselves, I think we’ve got a chance to see him,” Getz said. “He’s going to find his way to the big leagues. He’s going to be an impact frontline type starter. I’m very confident in that.

“Now just like a lot of great players, sometimes it’s a meandering path. And to say that he’s gone off track is not fair because it’s only been a couple of outings. I think he’s in a really good spot. If he builds off of this, I don’t think it’s unfair to think he’ll be up here at some point.”

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Rick Hahn’s been saying it all year: The good ones have a way of forcing the issue.

Consider Dylan Cease one of the good ones.

The pitcher acquired alongside top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez in last summer’s crosstown trade with the Cubs was one of the more than a dozen players promoted within the White Sox farm system Thursday. He put up stellar numbers during the first half with Class A Winston-Salem and because of it is on his way to Double-A Birmingham.

While many rebuild-loving fans could’ve forecasted Jimenez’s rapid journey through the organization, Cease’s acceleration is one that even the White Sox are considering a “pleasant surprise.”

“There’s definitely been some pleasant surprises,” Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, said Thursday. “For one, I think Dylan Cease was a guy, heading into the season, his first full year with us, the focus was: every fifth day, a full season’s worth of innings. He’s more or less forced our hand.

“He's really come on, he’s pitching with four pitches, four plus pitches, he’s commanding the ball, very mature kid. And he’s certainly ready for the next challenge at Double-A.”

Cease turned in a 2.89 ERA in his 13 starts with Winston-Salem, striking out 82 batters in 71.2 innings. Considering he made just 25 starts above Rookie ball during his time in the Cubs’ organization, the dominance in his first taste of High A is quite the positive for the White Sox.

The team’s starting rotation of the future is a mighty crowded one, with roughly a dozen different guys competing for those spots: current big leaguers Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito; Triple-A arms Michael Kopech, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams; Double-A hurlers Cease, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning; and Class A pitchers Lincoln Henzman and Blake Battenfield, both of whom earned their own promotions Thursday.

There’s a lot of time before the White Sox have to settle on which five will make up that future starting staff. But Cease could be doing the work of making a name for himself, something that hasn’t been easy to do. With all the love he’s getting, he’s still the organization’s fourth-ranked pitching prospect. Heck, thanks to Jimenez, he wasn’t the top-ranked guy in his own trade.

But Cease is getting attention now, and if he keeps pitching like this, he could keep forcing the White Sox hand.