Sep 29, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (49) delivers a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Royal Rivals: Chicago White Sox

Even though Major League Baseball has tried to increase the excitement and hope of franchises by adding another playoff team to each league, the surest way for teams to make the post season is to win their divisions.  Winning their division should be the foremost goal for each and every team each season.  Kansas City Royals‘ fans should always have at least a bit of knowledge about each of the Royals’ division rivals in the American League Central.  This is the second of four parts that will take a small look into how each of the other AL Central teams shape up for the 2013 season. The first installment, covering the Minnesota Twins is here.

Sep 25, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko (14) hits a solo home run against the Cleveland Indian during the ninth inning at U.S. Cellular Field. The Indians beat the White Sox 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago White Sox are a hard team to pigeon hole because they are a team with some talent but did little to bolster that talent in the off season. The only significant players Chicago added were Jeff Keppinger, who is most likely to take over at third base, and veteran Matt Lindstrom for depth out of the pen. If their starting rotation can stay healthy and in a couple of cases, continue to develop, then the White Sox will be right in the mix for the Central.  The White Sox seem to be relatively set in the field, barring any crazy, surprising spring performances or major injuries.

Catcher: The job belongs to Tyler Flowers, who has shown good power and the ability to get on base in the minors.  The 27-year old has not been able to display those same skills in limited action in the majors, due mainly to uneven playing time at that level. He only has 108 career games over four seasons with the big league club.  The White Sox will be patient with Flowers, hoping he will pay big dividends.  Hector Gimenez will back up.

First Base: For the 15th season, Paul Konerko will be the man at first base for the Pale Hose.  At age 37, Konerko has to eventually start showing his age.  There was a slight down tick in performance in 2012 but nothing alarming or significant.  What will Chicago do if Konerko’s numbers start to drop?  At his age, it is likely to happen quickly.  Adam Dunn can play first, although not well, and the Sox acquired Lars Anderson during the off season but Anderson has very limited major league experience.  For now though, Konerko is still the anchor of this infield and in the middle of their batting order.

Second Base: The White Sox are still waiting for Gordon Beckham to develop into the player he was drafted to be.  Taken with the 8th overall pick in 2008, Beckham has never quite performed to that lofty draft status.  The good news is that Beckham is still only 26 years old and can still turn things around.  He certainly needs to get on base more often.  He doesn’t walk enough and he has been plagued his whole career with an unusually low career Batting Average on Balls in Play of .266 (MLB average is right around .300).  This is largely due to a chronically low career line drive rate of 18%.  This number needs to be no lower than 20%.  Until Beckham can figure out how to hit a few more line drives and get those to fall more often for hits, his average is going to suffer.  Their is little danger though, of anyone replacing him at second in 2013.  Former Royal Angel Sanchez will be the utility infielder.

Short Stop: The White Sox really have no other options other than Alexei Ramirez at short.  Although the 31-year old set a career high with 20 steals in 2012, there was a disturbing downturn in several key areas for Ramirez.  His OBP and SLG dropped drastically, causing his OPS to drop from .727 in 2011 to a paltry .651 in 2012.  He is still young enough that this could just be a poor outlying performance but the Sox have to be slightly worried that Ramirez’s slight frame is wearing down just a little.  If Ramirez isn’t on the downside of his career, he may be approaching it quickly.  Again, Angel Sanchez will most likely serve as the back-up.

Third Base: Chicago signed Jeff Keppinger, 33,  to play third in 2013.  Brent Morel has just not developed the way the White Sox hoped. Keppinger, another former Royal, does not do any one thing spectacularly but isn’t terrible at much either. He is a steady player who can offer some average, just a little power, and a decent glove.  There is no wow factor here, just good effort and steady play.

Left Field: Just like the infield, the outfield boasts strong, steady players with little flash but decent skills.  In left, Dayan Viciedo isn’t the best glove man in the world but he can knock some balls over the fence on a regular basis. He strikes out a lot and walks very little but guys who can hit 25 home runs are nowhere near as prevalent as they were a few years ago.

Center Field: Alejandro De Aza has developed into a nice player for Chicago.  Like so many of their position players, nothing stands out about his skill set.  De Aza, provides good defense in center, a decent average, a little power, and some speed.  He strikes out a little too much (109 in 2012) but offsets that with a decent OBP (.349).

Right Field: Alex Rios is probably the best offensive threat after Konerko and Dunn in Chicago’s line-up, during even numbered seasons.  His career has been a roller coaster of terrifically  productive seasons in even years and pedestrian performances in odd seasons.  This has been the case his whole career, the lone exception coming in 2007, when he broke the pattern.  If the White Sox are to challenge the Tigers this season, Rios needs to break his career pattern in 2013.  There is a competition for the 4th outfielder position between rookie Jordan Danks and veteran Dewayne Wise. As long as no one is hurt, both could make the team with the versatile Sanchez able to play second, third, and short.

DH: Adam Dunn bounced back from the horrific 2011 campaign as if it never happened.  Dunn bashed 41 home runs last season, drove in 96, and walked 105 times.  He was able to produce an acceptable .333 OBP despite an anemic .204 batting average.  If Dunn and Rios can hit to their potential, and Konerko doesn’t trail off drastically, the White Sox offense can compete with anyone.

Starting Rotation: Jake Peavy will anchor a talented, if not delicate, rotation.  Peavy can be an ace but health is always a question.  Chris Sale emerged as an ace candidate for the future but his hard throwing style, combined with a slim frame, is worrisome for Chicago.  If Sale’s arm and body can hold up, he and Peavy can provide a one-two punch at the top of the rotation that can stand toe to toe with anyone.  The Sox are hoping John Danks can return from injury as well.  Gavin Floyd always seems on the verge of being better but at this point in his career, he is what he is – a very stable number four starter.  The fifth spot boils down to a competition between Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago.  Both performed very well at times in 2012 and both are viable back of the rotation options.

Bullpen: Addison Reed enters the season as the closer.  He has the skill set but must perform at a more consistent level to hold the job.  He is surrounded by solid veterans like Matt Thornton, Matt Lindstrom, and Jesse Crain.  Add a good arm like Nate Jones and the Sox’ bullpen has to grade out as an asset.  Team brass would love to see Reed step forward and become a shut down closer.

Summary: It is easy to see Chicago finishing anywhere from 2nd to 4th in the Central in 2013.  This whole team is solid but not spectacular.  They have several players on offense who have shown inconsistency and a couple key components are starting to age.  If health holds, Father Time doesn’t grab others, and most can meet their potential, then the White Sox will be very difficult to beat.  If things go the other way, they will be keeping the Twins company at the bottom of the division.

Tags: Chicago White Sox Chris Sale Kansas City Royals Paul Konerko

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