We are just over a week into the official start of White Sox Spring Training. Each day has brought new quotes, videos, questions, and storylines. So let’s take a moment to break down some of the more significant items as they relate to the team’s offense.
Tim at the Top
The elephant in the room all season will likely be Tony La Russa and how he fits in with this clubhouse. And so far so good. All reports out of camp indicate there is far more structure and purpose to everything the team is doing and the players seem to be on board based on their quotes. This certainly makes one wonder exactly what the team was doing under the previous regime, but that is a separate discussion.
Additionally, Tim Anderson notably came out in support of La Russa. After admitting that he was a little taken aback by the hire upon first hearing the news, Anderson said he believes the organization has “the right man,” and that he is “110% behind him.”
This is obviously the feel-good part of the season when there are no tallies in the loss column and everybody is in an upbeat mood. It will be interesting to see how these relationships withstand the stresses and frustrations of a 162-game season, but this is certainly the start anyone would have hoped for.
Since La Russa is the one filling out the lineup card every day, we have to read the tea leaves from what he has said thus far. On Wednesday, La Russa called Anderson his leadoff hitter, which should not have been in question, but doesn’t hurt to confirm.
Competition at DH
The most interesting development thus far came when La Russa was asked about the DH role. Based on the lack of any DH-type acquisitions this offseason, Andrew Vaughn appears to be the only option for that spot. It is hard to fault the front office for not bringing in a veteran DH, given the fans have had to suffer through at-bats from Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion the last two seasons. However, that is exactly why it raised some eyebrows when the manager said that Vaughn will have to “earn his way onto the club,��� and also mentioned Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets as DH candidates.
This can be taken as an old-school manager not wanting to anoint a young player to a significant role. It could also be construed as the club laying the groundwork to play the service time game with Vaughn and call him up after the allotted 20 games or so. Both options could also be true, but there's no doubt Vaughn will be expected to take the lion’s share of DH duties this season.
Analyzing the other candidates mentioned for the DH, Burger was the team’s first-round pick in 2017 at 11th overall. Since then, the third baseman ruptured his Achilles tendon twice in 2018 and missed 2019 due to a heel injury. The White Sox drafted Burger where they did due to his prolific offensive skills at Missouri State, so it is no surprise that his bat looks good now that he is healthy.
What has come as a surprise is that Burger reportedly lost 40 pounds during the time away, and he has come into camp noticeably more svelte than White Sox fans have ever seen. Clearly, Burger has put in the work to be a productive big-league player, and seeing him succeed after all of his setbacks would be a great story.
Gavin Sheets was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft as a power-hitting left-handed first baseman. Although he was not at the alternate site in Schaumburg last season, he was still working on his game and reportedly dropped 15 pounds himself, in order to play right field.
Sheets deserves a lot of credit for knowing the team has been looking for a left-handed-hitting right fielder with some pop, and he went out and made himself fit that mold. La Russa himself has been incredibly complimentary of Sheets, and when asked about him said that he “would like to be his agent.”
Of course with such limited at-bats available for these two players, they will have to go above and beyond any expectations to earn big-league playing time. It is also very conceivable that management talking them up is nothing more than trying to increase their value as potential trade pieces down the line.
Where Does Zack Collins Fit?
If you are Zack Collins right now, you have to be reading the writing on the wall, unfortunately. The fact that both Burger and Sheets were named as DH candidates ahead of Collins, whose best tool is supposed to be his bat, does not bode well for his chances of making the roster. His best chance seems to be beating out Jonathan Lucroy for the backup catcher job, but Lucroy’s experience and defensive abilities will be difficult to overcome.
When asked about Luis Robert, La Russa said that he will “have to earn his way up the lineup.” He also mentioned that he will more than likely spend the majority of his career in the 3-5 spots, but for now he will most likely hit in the 6-7 spots. This is not entirely surprising, especially since Robert did struggle mightily down the stretch last year, as I outlined in my last article.
The most disappointing rumor out of camp thus far, in my opinion, is that Adam Eaton is being strongly considered to hit in the #2 spot. The staff will undoubtedly cite Eaton’s experience if this does come to fruition. But getting your best players the most at-bats should not be controversial, and a healthy Yoan Moncada is clearly a more potent offensive force than Eaton. Ideally, Moncada gets off to a good start and forces his way back into the two-hole. Getting a healthy Moncada back will be the biggest addition for this team.
One item I am curious to see: where will Yasmani Grandal bat? He spent the majority of last season in the 4-5 spots, but if Eaton really does begin the season hitting second, it is possible Moncada slides to 4-5 spot and Grandal is forced further down in the lineup.
Grandal has been a professional run-producer his entire career, but having players ahead of him that make more contact could help the lineup and still give Grandal those run-producing opportunities.
Even though this is the feel-good part of the season, it has been a long time since the White Sox had this level of talent in Spring Training. And that is why every rumor, quote, and report is analyzed under a larger microscope than in previous seasons. But regardless of how these decisions play out, fans should allow themselves to take a step back and enjoy one of the most exciting White Sox teams in recent memory.
Be on the lookout next week as I will break down some of the early storylines as they relate to the pitching staff.