White Sox

White Sox season preview: Outfielders

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White Sox season preview: Outfielders

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 look at the extremely volatile outfield on the South Side. Be sure to check out yesterday's preview of the infield, too.

There's no unit on the White Sox that could be more boom-or-bust than the team's trio of starting outfielders. All three have the potential to put together solid offensive seasons that would be invaluable to supporting the Sox pitching staff. And while the Sox do have good outfield depth, one or two things going the wrong way would be a detriment to the team's playoff hopes.

Let's start in left field with Dayan Viciedo, who wallowed through the first four weeks of spring training before coming on strong as of late. On March 25, Viciedo's OPS fell to .288 -- but since then, the 23-year-old has been on a tear, collecting six hits (two of which were home runs) with two walks and four strikeouts.

Buddy Bell mentioned that Viciedo may have been taking his defensive struggles to the plate, contributing to his paltry spring numbers. He's going to be a work in progress as a left fielder this year, so his ability to separate his defense from his offense will be key in getting him back on track.

A 20-homer season out of Viciedo would be a nice boost to the Sox lineup -- ideally, he'll be hitting fifth behind Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko at some point this season. But if his offensive issues persist into the season, the absence of his power from the batting order could be a major problem.

Alejandro De Aza won't be as dynamic as he was during his 54-game stint with the Sox last year: a .329.400.529 slash line would give the Sox the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr. in center. De Aza is good, but he's not that good.

The key for De Aza will be to stay off the disabled list. Four years ago, it looked like he was going to assume the starting center field role for the Marlins before he suffered a devastating injury late in spring training. The soon-to-be 28-year-old has quite a bit of talent, both offensive and defensively, and if he's healthy expect for that talent to translate into quality production from the leadoff spot.

Alex Rios, though, is the real wild card here. He's had a handful of good months since joining the White Sox in 2009 surrounded by a sea of bad stretches, and last year posted the worst offensive season of his career. While Rios, overall, was fine in 2010, he's struggled in two of the last three seasons.

At 31, time is running out for Rios to prove his recent struggles aren't a trend. He didn't have a good spring training, hitting .224.266.293 with three walks, eight strikeouts and two extra-base hits. But that was just spring training, and if he's as comfortable in his stance as he and the White Sox have intimated, hopefully good results are ahead.

If they're not, though, Rios could begin to see his playing time dwindle in favor of Kosuke Fukudome or Brent Lillibridge. Fukudome would probably be the first option, although Lillibridge certainly could play his way into an increased role for the second straight year.

Expect Lillibridge to take most, if not all, of the innings in left field if Viciedo needs a breather -- Fukudome hasn't played an inning of left field since coming to the United States.

And therein lies the good news: If something does go wrong, the Sox have options. Lillibridge proved to be a more-than capable backup last year and could replace Viciedo if the Sox aren't sold on his value. Fukudome has experience in both center and right and could fill in for De Aza or Rios if need be.

Of course, the best scenario involves Viciedo, De Aza and Rios all being effective. But if one of them isn't, it may not completely doom the Sox chances.

MLB Power Rankings: It's Eloy's world and we're all just living in it

MLB Power Rankings: It's Eloy's world and we're all just living in it

Eloy Jimenez is wasting no time endearing himself to the South Side. His game-winning, broken bat homer against the team that traded him away, in his first time back, is the stuff of legend. The Quintana-Eloy trade still probably has 10-15 years of barguments ahead of it, but it's quickly becoming one of the more fascinating storylines in recent memory. 

There's apparently baseball going on outside of Chicago, though, and as it turns out, the teams that were still really good last week are still really good this week. The Astros and Yankees are actually probably getting better. The Orioles are not. 

To the rankings! 

YOU CAN SEE THE ENTIRE MLB POWER RANKINGS RIGHT HERE

Seven walks last year, now Lucas Giolito goes back to Wrigley as one of baseball's best

Seven walks last year, now Lucas Giolito goes back to Wrigley as one of baseball's best

Looking for another example of how far Lucas Giolito has come this season? Look back to last year’s Crosstown series.

Giolito pitched in games on both sides of town, but the start he made against the Cubs at Wrigley Field was emblematic of his woeful 2018 season. He actually earned the win in that game, but he walked seven batters and threw three wild pitches. By the time he exited, his season ERA was nearly 7.00.

White Sox fans know that 2019 has been the complete opposite for Giolito, and he rides into his Wednesday-night start on the North Side as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Just like Eloy Jimenez’s game-winning home run Tuesday was the best snapshot of the White Sox rebuilding progress to date, putting last year’s start at Wrigley next to where Giolito is heading into this year’s start at Wrigley is the best snapshot of his amazing transformation.

“It was survival mode,” Giolito said Tuesday. “Now I feel like I’m on the attack. When I take the ball, I have full confidence in myself that I will come after you with really good stuff, changes in velocity and movement. Last year I went out not knowing what I had that day.

“I don’t want to walk seven, like I did last year here. I got the win somehow. The offense and defense bailed me out a ton. This year I’m much different. I’m all about filling up the zone, attacking hitters. That’s pretty much the M.O.”

The difference has been obvious to anyone who watched Giolito struggle last season to the tune of a 6.13 ERA (the highest among baseball’s qualified starters), a 1.48 WHIP (the highest among baseball’s qualified starters), 118 earned runs (the most in baseball) and 90 walks (the most in the American League). This season, he’s been dominant, on an incredible run that’s made him as good a Cy Young candidate as you’ll find. He’s got a 2.22 ERA right now, best in the AL, with 95 strikeouts in 81 innings.

Over his last eight starts, Giolito has a 0.94 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. Opposing hitters are batting just .149 against him during that span.

The dude’s on fire, a near lock to be an All Star, and perhaps most importantly, he’s totally changed his long-term perception in the minds of White Sox fans. They groaned during the walks and the runs and the wild pitches last year and cast him out of their projected future rotations. Now they’re cheering a guy who looks capable of leading that rotation of the future.

What a difference a year makes.

If those White Sox fans are anything in number and volume like they were Tuesday night, when they made Wrigley Field sound like Guaranteed Rate Field after Jimenez’s homer in the ninth, then Giolito can expect a rocking atmosphere as he looks to keep the good times rolling — and make a Crosstown moment worth remembering this time.

“I want to give the fans a show as much as I can,” Giolito said. “I like to see we’re filling up our ballpark with more White Sox fans, more people starting to pay attention. Just want to continue on that train. Our team is playing really hard and we’re happy to be here.

“My goal every time I pitch is to win, so not too much changes. But it's going to be a lot of fun, I'll say that. I'm looking forward to it.”

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