02/05/2003 4:35 pm ET
Sox Spring Training rundown
Club poised to challenge Twins for AL Central crown
By Damon P. Young / MLB.com
Spring Training preview
Colon an ace for Chicago
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Tucson Electric Park
81-81, second in AL Central
2002 Hitting Leaders
(min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Magglio Ordonez, .320
OBP: Ordonez, .381
SLG: Ordonez, .597
Runs: Ordonez, 116
RBIs: Ordonez, 135
Hits: Ordonez, 189
2B: Ordonez, 47
3B: Kenny Lofton, 6
HR: Ordonez, 38
SB: Lofton, 22
2002 Pitching Leaders
(min. 30 IP)
IP: Mark Buehrle, 239
W: Buehrle, 19
L: Todd Ritchie, 15
Win %: Matt Ginter, 1-0, 1.000
S: Keith Foulke, Antonio Osuna, 11
ERA: Damaso Marte, 2.83
K: Danny Wright, 136
K/9: Marte, 10.74
WHIP: Foulke, 1.00
Projected Starting Lineup
2B D'Angelo Jimenez
SS Jose Valentin
DH Frank Thomas
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Paul Konerko
LF Carlos Lee
3B Joe Crede
CF Aaron Rowand
C Miguel Olivo
1. Mark Buehrle
2. Bartolo Colon
3. Jon Garland
4. Danny Wright
5. Jon Rauch, Gil Heredia or Esteban Loaiza
LH setup man: Damaso Marte
RH setup man: Tom Gordon
Closer: Billy Koch
Spring Cleaning: Five questions that need to be answered
1. Will the middle of the rotation pull its weight? Despite Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon leading the way, the White Sox's starting rotation has questions. The success or failure of Jon Garland and Dan Wright will go a long way to determining the overall success of the White Sox in 2003. If either regresses, the pressure to have a surprise season out of Jon Rauch, Gil Heredia, Esteban Loaiza or Josh Stewart in the No. 5 spot increases dramatically.
2. Is Miguel Olivo ready to be a starting catcher in the Major Leagues? Catching in the big leagues may be the toughest transition for a young prospect, but Olivo appears to have the bat and arm to be successful. Can he handle the daily grind behind the plate? How quickly Olivo settles in as the starting catcher will determine how much the club has to rely on 36-year-old Sandy Alomar, Jr.
3. Can Joe Crede and D'Angelo Jimenez survive a full season in the big leagues? Both youngsters enjoyed success late last season when called up after the Sox fell out of contention, but each is now being counted on to contribute in a pennant race. Jimenez played extremely well, offensively and defensively, in Puerto Rico this winter and will likely hit lead-off. Can he spark the offense at the top of the order? Meanwhile, Crede showed he was more than ready to be an everyday third baseman last year when given a chance. Will he hold up over the 162-game schedule?
4. Will a healthy Frank Thomas become a dominating offensive force again? Having suffered through an injury-shortened 2001, a sub-par 2002 and the embarrassment of the "diminished skills" clause, Thomas returns to Comiskey Park with an agenda. Thomas, who reportedly spent the offseason working out with renewed energy, reunited with hitting guru Walt Hriniak in an effort to reassume his status as one of the game's most prolific sluggers. At the bargain price of $5 million, the Sox retained a potential All-Star and saved money that helped bring Bartolo Colon into the fold. If Thomas buys into the "team first" mentality and produces, the clubhouse distractions should go away. As could Thomas at the end of the season, if he wants to exercise a buyout clause for 2004.
5. Will Aaron Rowand recover from his offseason injuries? Rowand, who covers a fair amount of ground in center field, with an adequate arm, is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but the club can't afford injuries up the middle. If he suffers a setback in camp -- his injuries are said to affect his ability to swing more than throw -- center field becomes a position of weakness. The front office is high on Willie Harris, who played center field and second base this winter in Puerto Rico, but he has not played the position on a full-time basis. Newcomer Armando Rios has played mostly in right, but may be called on to play center if Rowand's health is an issue.
New Faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency
RHP Bartolo Colon -- One of the game's premier starters, Colon comes over from Montreal, giving the White Sox a potentially dominating 1-2 combination at the top of the rotation. Went a combined 20-8 with a 2.93 ERA in 33 starts for Cleveland and Montreal in 2002.
RHP Billy Koch -- Hard-throwing closer acquired from Oakland will get majority of save opportunities. Last season's AL Rolaids Relief winner, Koch finished off 44 of 50 save opportunities in 2002 and has 144 saves over the last four seasons. Gives the White Sox a different look and attitude in the ninth inning, but has been prone to make things interesting with a lack of control.
RHP Tom Gordon -- Seasoned reliever signed a one-year deal with the White Sox, replacing Antonio Osuna in the right-handed setup role. Gordon went 1-3 with a 3.38 ERA and no saves in 34 relief appearances with the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros in 2002, after missing most of the first half with a major muscle tear in the back of his right shoulder.
RHP Rick White -- Setup reliever joins sixth different organization for his eighth big-league season. Went 5-7 with a 4.31 ERA in 61 appearances with Colorado and St. Louis in 2002. Righty was 3-1 with a 0.82 ERA after joining the Cardinals for a playoff run on Aug. 17. Expected to eat up innings in middle relief.
C Sandy Alomar, Jr. -- 36-year-old returns to South Side after getting traded to Colorado last July. Expected to serve as Miguel Olivo's backup and tutor and provide leadership to young starters. Relationship with Colon was also a factor in his return for his 16th season. Hit .287 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in 51 games for the White Sox in 2002.
OF Armando Rios -- Left-hander replaces 1B/OF/DH Jeff Liefer off the bench. Hit .264 with one home run and 24 RBIs in 76 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002.
RHP Gil Heredia -- Heredia, 37, did not pitch in the big leagues last year but won a minor-league contract after going 5-2 with a 4.26 ERA for Hermosillo in the Mexican League this winter. The right-hander is 57-51 with a 4.46 ERA and four saves as a part-time starter and reliever over 10 seasons. He pitched for Oakland in 2001, going 7-8 with a 5.58 ERA in 24 games, including 18 starts. Could earn a turn in the rotation.
RHP Esteban Loaiza -- Loaiza, 31, went 9-10 with a 5.71 ERA in 25 starts for Toronto last season. In eight big-league seasons, Loaiza is 69-73 with a 4.88 ERA in 235 appearances, including 202 starts. The right-hander could give the Sox valuable starts out of the fifth spot in the rotation.
IF/OF Brian Daubach --- Daubach, in camp as a non-roster invite, could provide a potent left-handed bat off the bench. The 30-year-old hit .266 with 20 home runs and 78 RBIs in 137 games for Boston in 2002, becoming just the fifth player in Red Sox history to hit 20 or more home runs in each of his first four seasons.
INF Jorge Nunez -- Middle infielder, acquired from Montreal in the Colon trade, hit .291 with 20 RBIs and 27 stolen bases at Triple-A Ottawa in 2002. Nunez will go to camp as a non-roster invitee and is expected to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte.
LHP Neal Cotts -- The 22-year-old lefty went 12-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 28 starts for Single-A Modesto of the California League. Cotts, who was invited to camp as a non-roster invitee, tied for third in the league in victories and ranked second with 178 strikeouts in 137 2/3 innings. A second-round pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, Cotts is a native of Belleville, Ill. and attended Illinois State. He was acquired from Oakland along with Koch and Holt.
OF Daylan Holt -- Holt, 24, hit .286 with 20 home runs and 88 RBIs in 134 games for Single-A Visalia and Double-A Midland. Acquired from Oakland along with Koch and Neal Cotts.
RHP Keith Foulke -- Foulke lost the closer role early in 2002 but seemed to regain his form over the second half in setup role and did not give up an earned run over his final 17 2/3 innings. Finished the season 2-4 with a 2.90 ERA and 11 saves in 65 relief appearances. Traded to Oakland, along with Joe Valentine and Mark Johnson, for Billy Koch, Neal Cotts and Daylan Holt.
RHP Antonio Osuna -- Osuna, the club's most reliable reliever a year ago, went 8-2 with a 3.86 ERA and a team-high 11 saves. Ended the season with 11 scoreless innings. Traded to New York Yankees as part of trade for Bartolo Colon.
RHP Todd Ritchie -- Went 5-15 with a 6.06 ERA in a very disappointing 2002, his lone season with the White Sox after being acquired from Pittsburgh. Non-tendered by the White Sox, Ritchie returned to the National League, signing a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.
RHP Rocky Biddle -- Part-time starter posted a 3-4 record with a 4.06 ERA and one save in 44 appearances in 2002. Traded to Montreal Expos as part of three-team trade for Colon.
1B/OF/DH Jeff Liefer -- Utility player complained about lack of playing time last year and will get a shot at starting in Montreal. Hit .230 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 76 games last year, striking out nearly once every three at-bats.
C Mark Johnson -- Traded to Oakland along with Foulke and Valentine. Hit just .209 with four homers and 18 RBIs in a career-high 86 games with the Sox in 2002.
LHP Jim Parque -- Left-hander went 30-33 with a 5.21 ERA in five seasons with the White Sox, including a 1-4 mark with a 9.95 ERA in eight appearances last year. Non-tendered by the White Sox, Parque signed a minor-league contract, including an invitation to Spring Training, with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
RHP Joe Valentine -- Valentine won the minor league Rolaids Relief Award, posting a minor-league best 36 saves for Double-A Birmingham. He went 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 55 outings, striking out 63 and walking 30 over 59 1/3 innings. Traded to Oakland with Foulke and Johnson.
RHP Delvis Lantigua -- Went a combined 7-7 with a 4.38 ERA in 31 games for Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, striking out 107 and walking 64 walks in 137 2/3 innings. Hard-throwing righty was 6-2 with a 3.48 ERA in 15 starts at Birmingham before struggling a bit at Charlotte. Traded to Yankees, along with Osuna.
Returning from Injury
INF Tony Graffanino -- Suffered season-ending torn right ACL on Aug. 25 while playing second base. Utility infielder is expected to open camp fully healthy.
CF Aaron Rowand -- Suffered multiple injuries to his left side from a dirt bike accident on Nov. 1. Starting center fielder will not be 100 percent when camp opens but is expected to be ready for Opening Day in Kansas City.
New Kids on the Block: Prospects to watch
OF Joe Borchard -- After getting a brief glimpse last September, Borchard looks to get an even bigger chunk of playing time in 2003 but is likely to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte. He hit .222 with two homers, five RBIs and 14 strikeouts in his first 36 big-league at-bats. Played winter ball in Puerto Rico, hitting .246 with one homer, 14 RBIs and 34 strikeouts in 114 at-bats. Excellent power potential but needs to learn the strike zone and cut back on the strikeouts.
LHP Josh Stewart -- Dominated the Arizona Fall League, going 1-0 with a 0.81 ERA in eight starts. Struck out 23 and walked nine over 33 1/3 innings. Southpaw will get an extended look in Spring Training but will start the season in Triple-A. If back end of rotation fails to meet expectations, Stewart may get a look.
LHP Arnie Munoz -- Mound prospect caught everyone's attention in the Dominican Republic with an average fastball and outstanding curveball. Munoz struck out 74 and walked only 11 over 40 2/3 innings, posting a 4-0 mark with a 1.55 ERA and four saves in 20 appearances. Could see action out of the bullpen if someone goes down with an injury. Spent 2002 in Double-A, going 6-0 with a 2.61 ERA and six saves (78 Ks in 72 1/3 innings) in 51 relief outings.
On the Rebound
DH Frank Thomas -- Looks to rebound from frustrating 2002 in which he heard more boos than cheers. Hit career low .252 over a full season with 28 homers and 92 RBIs last year, striking out a career-high 115 times. Has been working out this winter with hitting guru Walt Hriniak in an effort to return to his 1990s form.
RHP Tom Gordon -- Passed a physical before officially joining club but injury concerns loom. Right-hander missed first half of 2002 after suffering a torn muscle in his right shoulder. Had surgery on his right elbow in 1999.
The Bottom Line
The addition of Bartolo Colon to the starting rotation immediately makes the White Sox better in 2003. Just how much better is up for debate. With a potentially explosive offense, an improved rotation and a solid bullpen, the South Siders have a legitimate chance of overtaking Minnesota in the two-team battle for the AL Central. If starters Jon Garland and Dan Wright continue their improvement, clubhouse distractions are minimized and the offense continues to score runs, the division race should be more than interesting well into September.
Damon P. Young is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not
subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.