03/02/11 4:20 PM ET
Walker believes lineup deeper, stronger
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Or just imagine some venomous comments being posted on White Sox message boards.
All it will take is one prolonged slump from the South Siders' offense and Greg Walker will become the target of fans' derision. It's the nature of the beast where hitting coaches are concerned.
Placing the blame upon Walker for some sort of group-wide shortcoming doesn't make the hard-nosed Georgia native flinch for a moment. He enters the 2011 campaign with what might be the most complete offense assembled during his tenure, and still knows team-wide droughts are part of the game.
"I understand what goes on," said Walker, during a recent interview with MLB.com after a White Sox morning workout at Camelback Ranch. "If you look hard enough, you will find something every day we could have done better offensively.
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Walker began his run in this position on May 19, 2003, replacing Gary Ward during the final campaign of manager Jerry Manuel's regime. Over the past 7 1/2 seasons, Walker has worked with speedy leadoff hitters such as Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre, adept handlers of the bat such as Tadahito Iguchi and powerful middles of the order featuring Magglio Ordonez, Frank Thomas, Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko.
Among the 2011 attack, Walker has speed at the top and bottom, bracketing a group of balanced run-producers made up of Adam Dunn, Konerko, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin. If you are looking for that adept bat-handler, A.J. Pierzynski fits that bill rather nicely.
On paper, well, this White Sox offense amid the franchise-record $125 million payroll looks almost slump-proof.
"One of the deeper lineups I've coached here," Walker said. "When I first got here, we had a real powerful middle of the lineup but had some younger guys and holes at the top and bottom. One through nine, this is one of the stronger offensive teams I've been with, and this is my ninth year."
Even with one open spot still to be decided at third base, Walker doesn't seem worried. Let's assume rookie Brent Morel wins this position battle, and remember how this example is completely hypothetical.
A rookie surrounded by eight veterans has far less pressure than a first-year player expected to come in immediately and be a star. Morel can move across the diamond to Gordon Beckham if he has questions about pressure brought about by that second scenario.
Defense is what gives an edge to Morel over Mark Teahen, and defense is what will keep Morel on the field in a slump. But Walker thinks the sound mechanics of Morel's swing will help him become more than a slick-fielding, no-hit addition.
"He worked real hard on his offensive game this offseason," said Walker of Morel. "His defense will enable him to stay on the field, if he is playing above-average defense.
"But I like his swing where it's at. He's swinging it better right now than I've ever seen him technically."
At the end of each season, Walker does a little self-analysis to figure out if he wants to come back in this same position. This isn't a job Walker needs to do, not as a successful businessman outside of the baseball world with a family and grandchildren to dote on. It's one done almost completely out of passion for the White Sox organization and dedication to his players.
It's one done with great respect for White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who has known Walker since his playing days with the organization from 1982-89. And while Walker and manager Ozzie Guillen are bound to have disagreements from time to time, the White Sox are like one big close-knit but sometimes dysfunctional family.
There's great protection for each other. That protection comes to the forefront during those inevitable times when Walker goes under the public microscope as the offense falters, even though Walker and assistant hitting coach Mike Gellinger have White Sox hitters as prepared as any in the game.
With this year's group, though, Walker won't say it but he has the chance for more praise to come his way than catcalls.
"First of all, every team in baseball, including Boston and the Yankees and Philadelphia, all the teams deemed to be at that same higher level, they have question marks," Walker said. "They are worrying about things. Some teams have less. This [White Sox] team has less question marks than a lot of teams we've left with.
"Overall, everyone looks good, everyone is doing the work and everyone is healthy, but the games are the test. Go take the test, and see where we are. If we have to make adjustments, we will within the workload.
"We are going to have win some games 2-1. It's not slow-pitch softball, as they run guys out there pretty good, too," Walker said. "We know we have a chance to be really good. If I have to take a little heat, as long as we win games, I can handle that. The big thing is winning games."