Thursday, March 17, 2011
Posted 7:25 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
GLENDALE, Ariz. The Chicago White Sox opened camp with fewer players in the mix than in past years, so the fact that 15 players have moved out of the major league clubhouse means that time is getting tight for those remaining in the fight to head to Cleveland for April Fools Day.
There are 38 players remaining, but the big questions leftquestions that manager Ozzie Guillen claims will unlikely be made until the end of the monthare which of 15 players will fit into the final bench spot and as the 12th arm in the bullpen.
Fifteen players, two slots. Those are the long odds bubble players face when the big club goes All-In.
Stats are through games of March 16.
12th Bullpen Arm
Seven pitchers remain, and Guillen has recently added intrigue to the proceedings with his backing of Gregory Infante despite the righthanders 6.00 spring ERA. Heres a guide on how to handicap the arms race as time begins to run short in camp.
The Pick: Jeff Marquez
Marquez has pitched under the radar so far, using his wild streak (two hit batters, two wild pitches in 7 13 innings) to great effectiveness (10 Ks and a 0.00 ERA). The 26-year-old can be stretched out for more than an inning, a plus given the only multi-inning reliever guaranteed a spot in the pen in Tony Pena and his 4.91 spring ERA. Finally, some recompense for the abomination that was Nick Swisher.
Runners-Up: Phil Humber, Infante, Josh Kinney
Both pitchers had .258 batting averages against, and Humber has every right to the 12th spot as Marquez. But the former bonus baby has less of a wow factor with his arm than Marquez, and we know GM Ken Williams likes a power pen. Plus, the White Sox wouldnt mind seeing him devote his time to starting, in case there are any injuries in the five-man, big-league rotation.
Infante was crisp in his September audition in 2010 and has done nothing to hurt his chances of eventually being a short man in the White Sox pen. But he could use another year of seasoning after pitching nearly all of 2010 at Double-A Birmingham.
Kinney has been sharp in four spring outings, compiling a 1.80 ERA over five innings and a .278 batting average against, just not sharp enough to merit inclusion in the bullpen out of camp.
They Gone: Jeff Gray, Brian Bruney, Shane Lindsay
Gray got off to a splashy start with 1 13 innings of scoreless baseball in the White Sox opener, but has gone downhill since. Hes at 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA and a .333 average against. Wednesdays poor outing vs. the San Francisco Giants likely sealed his fate as one of the next wave of drops, likely coming on Friday.
Lindsay has been one of the most heartwarming stories of camp, a native Australian once knocked out for a year by shoulder problems. And Lindsay has impressed, to the tune of a 0.00 ERA until getting rocked for three runs in one inning on Thursday. But hes pitched in just three games, an indication that the team is not seriously looking at him to turn a strong few Cactus League weeks into a major-league roster spot.
Bruney started strong but also has been roughed up recently. Bruney has thrown better than Gray, with a 4.50 spring ERA, a save, and a terrific .217 batting average against. But thats not going to be good enough.
4th spot on the bench
There are eight players vying for this last bench spot alongside Ramon Castro, Mark Teahen, and Omar Vizquel. Whats sad, if not unsurprising, is that some of the best performers in camp come from this group of players, fighting for their major-league lives.
The Pick: Lastings Milledge
The pick could easily be at least five of the other seven players, but Milledge brings a wow factor to the White Sox that could prove crucial in the case of a prolonged slump or injury. The onetime first-rounder has proven nearly as sound defensively as Brent Lillibridge and Alejandro De Aza and is every bit the baserunner. He also brings more pop as evidenced by his pair of home runs on Thursday to bring his Cactus league total to four.
Lastings Milledge has displayed all of his "five-tool" potential that made him the top prospect of the New York Mets farm system only a few seasons ago. (AP)
Fundamentally (bunting), he might trail the competition, but the White Sox have enough bunters on the roster. It also helps that as the fifth outfielder (given that Teahen will likely see a healthy chunk of time spelling Carlos Quentin in right), Milledge balances the bench as a right-hander, which gives him an advantage over De Aza. Perhaps the biggest advantage Milledge has over the competition is five walks against five strikeoutsall of the other aspirant outfielders are much heavier on the Ks.
The Runners-Up: Tyler Flowers, Lillibridge, De Aza
If the Cactus League was a true, open competition, Flowers would not only break camp with the White Sox, hed probably start on Opening Day. But thats not the way the major leagues work, and Flowers largely disappointing 2010 necessitated the return of both A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro. The 25-year-old has proven worthy with his glove and arm, and the White Sox staff is really impressed with his maturity, especially in calling a game. But Flowers calling card has always been his lumber, and with a 1.233 OPS this spring, hes been mashing beyond expectations.
For his defensive flexibility alone, Id tabbed Lillibridge as the 25th man, but the reemergence of Teahen and continued strong play of veteran Vizquel has minimized such flexibility as a pressing need. Lillibridge has an outrageous eight RBI already on the spring, but hes not going to be looked to as a run producer. A .772 OPS isnt horrible, but two walks against seven strikeouts is not what the Chicago coaching staff is looking for.
De Aza is a Guillen favorite, and he does a little bit of everything well, with wheels of fire. But again, plate discipline is a key for the little guys, and De Aza is walking just once for every five Ks.
They Gone: Donny Lucy, Dallas McPherson
Lucy is the catching equivalent of Jim Gallagher for the White Sox, an everyman who just puts his head down and does his job each day. His bat has cooled, but with Flowers raking, hes no better than fourth on the catching depth chart anyway.
McPherson was an extreme insurance policy, in case both Brent Morel and Teahen disappeared in a windstorm. The 30-year-old veteran impressed Guillen early in camp, but slowed considerably after the first week. He has an unimpressive 10 Ks in 13 gamesyoure only allowed rates like that if you can launch moon shots like Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn.
Wild Cards: Jordan Danks, Dayan Viciedo
Before breaking his thumb last week, Viciedo was perhaps the biggest surprise of camp so far, with surprisingly intuitive defense in right field and continued stop-what-youre-doing-and-watch pop at the plate (.500.478). Thankfully he is back to baseball activity and could be ready to hit the field about the time the team breaks camp. That means ifwhen Quentin is hurt this season, Viciedo has earned the first look as his medium-to-long-term replacement.
Danks even has owner Jerry Reinsdorfs attention as an up-and-comer. He had every right to have been moved out of major league camp one or two cuts earlier, and Danks isnt just hanging around because his big brother is an easygoing lefty ace named John.
Like Viciedo, Danks isnt big on patienceone walk in his first 20 at-batsbut his revamped swing also has yielded just four Ks in that time as well. Danks has pop and catches everything launched his way. Charlotte is going to have fun watching an outfield of Stefan Gartrell, Danks, and Viciedo this summer.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.