Sox welcome pitchers, catchers
Guillen begins second season as Chicago's skipper
TUCSON -- On the morning that pitchers and catchers reported to the White Sox complex at Tucson Electric Park in 2004, new manager Ozzie Guillen admitted to be suffering from a little bit of sleep deprivation due to a case of nerves the night before.In 2005, Guillen appeared ready to pursue the American League Central crown as soon as the first few players arrived at 8:30 Wednesday morning. "I'm real excited," Guillen said, addressing the media Wednesday afternoon. "Last year, I was very excited because it was my first year and everyone was talking about Ozzie. It was nice for my family and myself. "Right now, it's the real deal. I think we built the best team we can to win the division. We have pretty good players. We just had a meeting and we are going to focus on not making the same mistakes this year that we did last year. We are going to practice moving the guy over, hit and running and bunting. "Kenny (Williams) and Jerry (Reinsdorf) and (assistant general manager) Rick Hahn did a tremendous job to put this team together," Guillen added. "Finally, we are going to see a baseball team in Chicago. We will see an exciting ball team."
Guillen's reference to seeing a "baseball team" has more to do with the changes made to personnel in preparation for 2005. General manager Ken Williams spent the offseason re-shaping this current crew in the form of a run-oriented, deep-pitching approach.Familiar faces such as Carlos Lee in left field and Magglio Ordonez in right have moved on to other teams, with Ordonez staying in the American League Central as a member of the Detroit Tigers and Lee traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Even with these departures, the White Sox seem supremely confident in terms of their chances for 2005 success. Part of that upbeat attitude, and in turn, the plethora of offseason changes, stems from Guillen's quick learning curve on the job. "Last year, I came in here blind," Guillen said. "Everything sounded great, but I didn't have the chance to see what I had. Last year, it was a lot of 'Rah, rah. We have Ozzie.' "Now I know what I can do with the team. This year, it's win the division from the first day -- that's my goal. As soon as Spring Training starts, we are focused on winning the division." In order to facilitate that goal, Williams brought in eight new faces since the end of the regular season. Position players such as second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, right fielder Jermaine Dye and left fielder Scott Podsednik won't be in camp until Monday, but new faces showed up Wednesday in the form of catcher A.J. Pierzynski and pitchers Orlando 'El Duque' Hernandez and Dustin Hermanson. Hernandez gives the White Sox a rare bonus in having five solid starters, all of whom are capable of winning in double-digits, while Hermanson and Vizcaino should turn a steady bullpen into one of the best in the American League. Meanwhile, Pierzynski provides an offensive upgrade behind the plate and a gritty edge to the entire clubhouse. "Grit, or whatever it is, this team has the chance to be very good," Pierzynski said. "I have a lot of respect for the guys on this team." "We've made a few changes," Williams added. "That's going to happen when you don't win. We just weren't getting it done the old way, so we thought we had to change it up a little bit and we like where we are." Williams' wide array of moves surprisingly covered every hole the White Sox failed to plug last year. Even on paper, that's a tough job to accomplish. In fact, the only real position battles left during this current spring are at utility infielder and for someone such as Jamie Burke, Tony Alvarez or Joe Borchard to convince Guillen and Williams they are worthy of the last roster spot. It's an offseason job well done that has a very distinctive buzz of excitement around the White Sox franchise. "I think it's because it's different," said center fielder Aaron Rowand, who arrived at camp early, of the excitement coming from the team changes. "This team has gone in a different direction. "Over the years, fans have gotten used to seeing us hit a whole lot of home runs, score a lot of runs and then go into slumps and not score any runs. It's just a change. "Whether we're good, bad or indifferent, people are going to want to see what it's all about, so there's more of a buzz," Rowand added. "As a team, player-wise, when you look around and see it's going to be a little different, it's also exciting for us." Of course, this team is not without questions. Can Pierzynski meld with the White Sox clubhouse, as part of his third team in three years? Will Hernandez stay healthy, after spending all of 2003 and part of 2004 recovering from rotator cuff surgery? What day will Frank Thomas return, and will he perform close to the lofty standards he has set for himself and the team needs? The White Sox begin searching for responses to these and other thoughts with Thursday morning's first workout for pitchers and catchers. But if Williams' case of Tuesday night insomnia counts for anything, the excitement certainly overrides any doubts. "Oh, yeah. The juices are flowing right now," Williams said. "Once you get going at this time of the year, the sun is shining and you smell the grass -- it's good to get back to work. And I'm excited about the club we have, so I'm doubly enthusiastic." "We have the starting rotation ready, from top to bottom, the bullpen will be stronger and, offensively, there will be a lot of excitement," Guillen added.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.