Despite going on an acquisition binge during the offseason, the Chicago White Sox did little to alter the overall landscape of their infield. All five presumed starters were in the organization last year — if you count designated hitter, Adam LaRoche is a newcomer — though there is some new blood among the secondary faces.
To get a feel where the White Sox could use some improvement from last year, here are their positional ranks by wOBA:
Catcher – .304 (13th)
First Base – .359 (6th)
Second Base – .275 (25th)
Third Base – .320 (11th)
Shortstop – .314 (t-6th)
Designated Hitter – .312 (8th in AL)
As a team the Pale Hose were 12th in wOBA at .312 — just a percentage point behind the Indians and Brewers who tied for 10th. For all the perceived hand-wringing about the White Sox’ offense, the additions to this crew could take it from ‘pretty good’ to ‘among the league’s best’ in a hurry.
Anyway, what we care about today is the infield. I’ve enlisted the help of esteemed White Sox beat reporter Dan Hayes from CSN Chicago — follow him — to get the inside scoop. Let’s take a peek:
Abreu outperformed even the wildest expectations last year — .317/.383/.581 — and will no doubt be among the first few first baseman off the board in your draft. For all the worry about his plate discipline, Abreu fanned in just 21.1% of his plate appearances last year — below the 21.3 percent league-average mark for first basemen. As long as he hits he’ll draw walks out of respect, and pretty much everyone is forecasting another solid season from him. Maybe not quite a .400-plus wOBA, but on the cusp.
Among qualified shortstops last year, Ramirez ranked seventh with a .314 wOBA. He’ll be harder to roster in linear weights leagues, but his combination of power (15 home runs in 2014) and steals (21) make him a strong target in 5x5s. He also scored 82 runs (second among shortstops), drove in 74 (third) and hit .273 (seventh) — all marks that are solid for a shortstop. He’s not a superstar but a nice value pick.
Gillaspie was a first-round pick of the Giants who washed out with them before landing in Chicago. He’s put together a decent body of work — .265/.322/.404 in 958 plate appearances — with heavy emphasis on the second season. With Matt Davidson scuffling badly at Triple-A, Gillaspie got the keys to third and ran with ‘em. Steamer isn’t expecting big things — .252/.313/.388 — and it’s likely the Hose still want to get a look at Davidson considering the acquisition price — former Sox closer Addison Reed — but at this point Gillaspie is Mr. Right Now. A repeat of last year — .282/.336/.416 — would make him a really nice late-round flyer.
We only mention LaRoche because it’s sort of difficult to know where else to mention the DH. The best thing for him and his left-handed swing is that he’s moving to the Cell, where hitters had 2B/3B park factors of 100 and 110 on HR. Washington’s park played a little better for non-HR extra-base hits (103), but was an absolute graveyard for home runs (75). LaRoche is good for pretty much 25 home runs annually, but if he threatens his career high of 33, that would not be shocking. The only wrench is how he’ll take to DH’ing — something he’s only done for 22 of his nearly 6,000 career plate appearances. Chances are he’ll find himself donning a first base mitt somewhat routinely, anyway.
Hayes surmises that these two will win the remaining two spots, and after all he’s the expert. The White Sox didn’t get much out of second baseman last year — the departed Marcus Semien, the prodigal Gordon Beckham and the also-rans Carlos Sanchez and Leury Garcia — and that might again be the case with Johnson, who hit just .275/.314/.370 at Triple-A after blitzing Double-A in 170 plate appearances (.329/.414/.466). Steamer sees a .289 wOBA, which would actually be a marked improvement from last year’s crew.
Flowers actually owns one of the 10 worst strikeout rates in the history of baseball at 34.8 percent, which is sort of mind-blowing. Flowers has ample power — he ranked 15th among 40 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances with a .155 ISO — but simply just doesn’t make enough contact. Flowers is not regarded as a great defensive catcher, ranking in the bottom third in framing numbers and around league average in terms of caught stealing rates, and his playing time could be threatened by a newcomer posited below.
Bonifacio is a sneaky addition for the White Sox. With question marks across the infield, Bonifacio — somehow still not 30 yet — can be a glue guy across the board and, according to Hayes, is in the race to act as the fourth outfielder too. His main competition out there is J.B. Shuck, for what it’s worth. Bonifacio is worth watching simply because of steals. When he doesn’t hit, he’s still usually good for about 20 steals. When he does hit — like his .296/.360/.393 mark in 2011 with the Marlins — he can threaten 40 steals. Even as a part-timer it wouldn’t be shocking to see him 25 steals, making him a valuable late-round guy in really deep leagues.
Beckham has simply fallen flat after a nice rookie season back in 2009 — save for a great second half in 2010 — and at this point might have a leg up for utility duties solely because he can play a little more shortstop than Bonifacio. Neither are ideal there, however.
Hayes said he would imagine a 5-2 or 4.5-2.5 split of playing time between Flowers and Soto — that’s in games per seven-game week — which sort of squashes any already minimal fantasy value either held. Soto hit a bit in 2013, but never got anything going last year in stints between Texas, Oakland and like all true Rangers, the disabled list. A meniscus tear cost him the first half of last year. At 32, he looks almost nothing like his early-Obama Cubs days. I wouldn’t draft he or Flowers in anything other than very deep AL-onlys. Even then, it’s just desperation.
The Kids/The Rest
There’s nothing terribly exciting here. Sanchez has some speed and punch but appears ticketed for Triple-A. He could make a dent in Johnson’s playing time at second if the latter struggles. Our scouting reports have Johnson has a future 45 and Sanchez as a 40, for what it’s worth.
Garcia got an awful lot of plate appearances (155) to hit just .166/.192/.207. He’s also likely ticketed for Triple-A. His all-around versatility could play in his favor as a possible 25th man, but there’s just nothing there bat-wise.
Davidson hit Charlotte with a thud last year, putting together just a .199/.283/.362 line after four straight years of .800-plus OPSes in the Arizona system. Davidson is a top-100 prospect multiple times over, so it’s likely the White Sox will want to get another look at him sooner rather than later. He’s not really someone to monitor right now, though.