White Sox

White Sox season preview: Infielders

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White Sox season preview: Infielders

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Today, we kick off the home stretch of the preseason with a look at what to expect from the White Sox infield in 2012, specifically looking at the defense. Check back later Monday for a look at what the infield could provide offensively.

While Detroit may gaffe their way to a few losses thanks to extremely suspect infield defense, the White Sox may have a few victories saved by the stellar gloves of Alexei Ramirez, Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham. Those three, plus the sure hands of Paul Konerko, the run-saving abilities of A.J. Pierzynski and the slick fielding of backup Eduardo Escobar could combine to give the Sox their best defensive infield since Joe Crede and Juan Uribe manned the left side.

Ramirez should've won at least one Gold Glove by now; that he hasn't tells you all you need to know about the legitimacy of that award. Over the last three seasons, Ramirez has been a top-three shorstop in baseball, in the same zip code as Brendan Ryan and J.J. Hardy, per UZR. Ramirez is the defensive stalwart of the infield, and he and Beckham combine to give the White Sox outstanding infield defense up the middle.

Beckham started to come into his own defensively at second base last year. His low error total was great, but more importantly, he began to show better range and instincts as he settled in as a second baseman. Expect to see Beckham make more difficult plays as he enters his third year at second base -- his familiarity with the position and Ramirez should pay off in a big way.

The same can be said for Morel, who enters his second year as the team's starting third baseman with a greater knowledge base of opponents -- something that should come in handy in terms of his instincts and positioning. And it can't hurt that he has arguably the best defensive third baseman in franchise history saying he's a great defender.

Sliding across the diamond to first base, Konerko has as sure a pair of hands of any first baseman in the game. He's never had good range, but if you hit a ball in his vicinity, he'll make the play. That's more of a problem for secondthirdshort -- positions where you want to have guys who can go out of their zones to make a play -- but for first base, it's not the biggest problem ever. A good pair of hands is extremely important at first, and Konerko has just that.

Behind the plate will be a little tricky in all this defensive optimism. Pierzynski, defensively, hasn't rated as being a good catcher in quite some time now. His caught stealing percentages -- which have been at or below the league average for the last decade -- are actually not accurate as to how many runners Pierzynski has thrown out (pitcher pickoffs count toward the total). By Baseball-Reference's count, Pierzynski threw out 13 runners last year, the lowest total of any starting catcher in the majors.

But Pierzysnki earns another paragraph because of his aforementioned ability to prevent runs by doing other things right -- namely, his ability to work with the Sox pitching staff. Pierzynski's knowledge of opponents and ability to pick up on tendencies during pitch sequences has been pretty valuable to the White Sox since he joined the team in 2005. And for that, he deserves some praise.

The backups -- Escobar, Flowers and Lillibridge -- range from good to average-at-best on the defensive spectrum. Escobar is a plus defender who can play third base, shortstop and second base, but he's not much of a hitter. Conversely, Lillibridge's infield defense isn't as good, but he has a much better bat and can play first base. Expect Lillibridge to see most of the backup infield playing time, although if Dayan Viciedo needs a day off in left on the same day, say, Beckham needs a day off at second, both he and Escobar will find their way into the lineup.

How Robin Ventura uses Tyler Flowers will be one of the more interesting managerial trends to follow in 2012 -- no full-time catcher has played in more games since 2005 than Pierzynski, who has appeared in 40 more games than Yadier Molina, the next closest backstop on the list.

That meant White Sox backups didn't play a whole lot: Ramon Castro (91 games, 2009-2011), Toby Hall (79, 2007-2008) and Chris Widger (72, 2005-2006) saw the most action. But the Sox haven't ever had a young catcher come through to back up Pierzynski, and given this is the last year of Pierzynski's contract, it'll be interesting to see if Ventura wants to get Flowers in more to determine if the 26-year-old is a viable long-term replacement.

To sum it up

Ground balls should be fun this year, whether they're hit to short, second or third.

White Sox Talk Podcast: The 10th anniversary of Mark Buehrle's perfect game

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

White Sox Talk Podcast: The 10th anniversary of Mark Buehrle's perfect game

Chuck Garfien and Steve Stone take a look back at Mark Buehrle's perfect game. How did Buehrle do it? How did Dewayne Wise make that catch?

Plus, Buehrle and A.J. Pierzynski talk about how Buehrle actually told Pierzynski before taking that field that day that he would throw a perfect game and more.

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

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Yoan Moncada cleans up for White Sox: 'I think we found our No. 4 hitter'

Yoan Moncada cleans up for White Sox: 'I think we found our No. 4 hitter'

Though Jose Abreu and James McCann represented the team at the All-Star Game earlier this month, Yoan Moncada holds the title of the White Sox best hitter through the first 97 games of the 2019 season.

The guy who struck out 217 times during his first full season in the majors last year has been a completely different hitter this time around. Instead of looking lost at the plate, he’s the guy White Sox fans want to see at the plate in run-producing situations. He hasn’t spent much time in one of those traditional run-producing spots in the batting order, but manager Rick Renteria inserted Moncada into the cleanup spot Monday night.

And Moncada cleaned up, all right.

“I think we found our No. 4 hitter,” starting pitcher Ivan Nova said after he went the distance in a 9-1 waxing of the Miami Marlins. “A lot of times you get surprised. While he was hitting second, you're thinking and knowing, the type of hitter that he is — you're only thinking as a player, they have another way to think. But today, I think it was first time hit in fourth, and he showed.”

Moncada went 2-for-4 with the game’s biggest blow, a three-run homer in the fifth inning that blew things wide open. He drove in four runs on the night, and he flashed a potential glimpse of the future of this future-focused franchise.

Combining with Abreu, who went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and three runs scored, Moncada showed what the middle of the order might look like for this team when rebuilding finally transitions to contending. That could come as soon as next year, and when you throw the currently injured Eloy Jimenez into that group, the White Sox could boast a fearsome 3-4-5 as soon as later this season.

“If someone is happy that we finally found a cleanup hitter, it’s me,” Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Nothing that he does surprises me because I know all the talent he has. I know that he still can do more. He has been working hard. He’s a great baseball player with a lot of talent and I still think he can do more.

“What he did today is not a surprise for me. I still know he’s a great player and I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season this year. He’s going to get better.”

Moncada has been sensational all season long, proving why the White Sox weren’t at all worried during his struggles in 2018. He owns a .304/.362/.530 slash line through these first 97 games, and his three-run blast Monday night gave him a new career high in that category after he smacked 17 a year ago. He’s six RBIs away from setting a new career high there, too. And even though he made a fielding error Monday that only briefly delayed Nova finishing off his complete-game effort, Moncada has been generally excellent at third base in his first season at that position as a big leaguer.

But putting Moncada in a run-producing spot in the order is a new wrinkle for Renteria this season. Coming into Monday’s game, Moncada had spent 63 games as the team’s No. 2 hitter and just 26 everywhere else. According to the skipper, Moncada is good enough to hit anywhere, and that’s certainly true. His eventual everyday spot in the lineup might have more to do with the hitters around him than simply what he can do by himself.

But if Moncada keeps up the kind of offensive production he’s churned out this season, maybe sticking him right in the thick of the order is what's best for the White Sox — even if those lineups of the future include big bats like those swung by Abreu, Jimenez, Luis Robert and Andrew Vaughn.

“For me, it's an advantage to hit in the cleanup spot having (Abreu) ahead of me,” Moncada said through Russo. “That way, you can see how the pitchers are attacking him, and you have a better idea, in those situations when you need to produce, how the pitchers are doing it. Even though he's a right-handed hitter and I hit from both sides of the plate, it's good. It's something that gives you a better idea of how the pitchers are doing, how their pitches are working.”

“He had a nice game,” Renteria said. “He can hit anywhere in the middle and the top of the order. I wish I could say I'm really a genius, but I'm not. He's got that talent. He's able to take advantage of it and today he had a nice day. He made everybody look good.”

It would make sense to see Moncada batting fourth again as this first homestand of the second half and the 2019 season roll on, but that’s up to Renteria, who has his reasons for every permutation to his lineups.

Of course, if Abreu gets ahold of Renteria's lineup card and starts writing out the batting orders, we’ll know where Moncada will be slotted.

“If I would have that decision,” Abreu said, “I would put him in the cleanup spot for the rest of the season.”

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