White Sox will hit ground running in Arizona
Aggressive style expected from get-go at Spring Training
CHICAGO -- Fans planning to attend White Sox Cactus League games this March should be ready for a bit more exciting baseball than what sometimes is on display during Spring Training contests.
"From the first day of Spring Training, we are going to create how we are going to play during the season," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen during a recent interview. "I'm not waiting for the last week of Spring Training.
"You are going to see us on the first day hitting and running, bunting. Well, hopefully, they get on base, but that's how we play the game."
The fun for Guillen and crew begins on Sunday although a number of players will be arriving in Arizona before that first workout date for White Sox pitchers and catchers at Camelback Ranch. And Guillen should be able to focus on fine tuning his team's attack from the get-go because there aren't many roster decisions to be made.
Assuming the talent pool stays as is, without any last-minute free agent additions, the battles in Arizona will come down to Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge for the final position player slot and a group of three or four hurlers fighting it out for the seventh reliever role. That group includes right-handers Daniel Hudson, Freddy Dolsi and Sergio Santos, to name a few.
Nix and Lillibridge both have the ability to serve as true utility players, being able to play both on the infield and in the outfield. Nix, who is out of options, has more power than Lillibridge, but Guillen wants him to cut down on his strikeouts. Lillibridge has more speed than a fairly quick Nix, but didn't take advantage of that particular skill set where his 2009 game on offense was concerned, although he has received solid reviews from hitting coach Greg Walker for his offseason progress.
Even without the search for a fourth or fifth starter or a leadoff hitter, as the White Sox went through for most of last spring, there are plenty of key players to watch. Jake Peavy has asserted himself as the leader of one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and hopes for about 29 or 30 more quality starts just like the three he finished with at the end of 2009. Mark Buehrle went through an offseason program to strengthen his shoulder for the first time in his career, while Gavin Floyd (hip) and John Danks (circulation/blister issue on middle finger of throwing hand) are putting behind them minor maladies that briefly hampered their past year's effort.
A healthy and happy Bobby Jenks returns at the back end of the bullpen, with support from newcomer J.J. Putz and one of the American League's top left-handed relievers in Matt Thornton. In regard to the offense, Carlos Quentin looked ready to go at the end of January with the plantar fasciitis in his left foot, the sore right knee and the lingering effects of his 2008 right wrist surgery no longer issues.
Quentin has been helped by a switch in offseason workout programs.
"My main focus, and I made it known, was to train so I could train and prevent injuries during the season," Quentin said. "The training has been very preventative.
"It's a little different than what I've done in the past. Not to take away from what I've done in the past, but I'm happy with what I'm doing now and that I can achieve my goals this year."
This 27-year-old slugger will be moving from left field to right, while Gordon Beckham moves from third base to second base. Beckham seems confident in his ability to handle the new position, while avoiding the sophomore jinx following an opening campaign earning him two top rookie honors.
"Hit .300, that's all I really want to do," said Beckham, who isn't concerned as much with his home run power as he is with knocking out 40 or 50 doubles. "But it's not an easy task."
Andruw Jones will be splitting time with Mark Kotsay at designated hitter, while serving as the team's fourth and fifth outfielders. Jones is reportedly in outstanding physical condition, but his production is worth watching as a key ingredient to Guillen's DH by committee: pretty much from the first day White Sox hitters start taking cuts on Feb. 26.
Of course, with Guillen at the helm, young prospects such as Jared Mitchell, Jordan Danks and Dayan Viciedo will get plenty of spring at-bats and time in the field. Look for these same players to be following Guillen's plan of aggressiveness, meaning if they get on base, they probably will be in motion.
"I really want to know if I can manage or not," said Guillen with a laugh. "The thing is when you have a team like that, we might be doing so much stuff in the third inning that people will be like, 'What's Ozzie doing?' I have to take the heat and I will take the chance.
"With what we are trying to do with this organization, I think we are in great shape. But we are going to see in Spring Training what we can and can't do."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.