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.

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

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USA TODAY

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.