White Sox players old and new like the partial lineup makeover general manager Rick Hahn has crafted for its first on-field display in spring training starting Saturday in Glendale, Ariz.
“This organization is already starting to move the right way from last year,” said captain Paul Konerko, soon to turn 38 in advance of his 16th and final season on the South Side.
“We got a lot of talent and young guys. They want to play hard,” said Avisail Garcia, 22, beginning his first full season in right field after coming over last year in a trade-deadline deal from Detroit.
No one is brash enough to suggest the Sox will overhaul the nemesis Tigers for the American League, or even contend seriously much of the season. Yet optimism will reign in the West Valley simply because of the collection of new faces that freshen up a batting order gone stale after a late-season collapse in 2012 and 99 losses in 2013.
Spring training will determine if all of the imports, starting with Garcia, Cuban signee Jose Abreu, spunky center fielder Adam Eaton and power-hitting third baseman Matt Davidson will grab hold of waiting jobs and not let go anytime soon.
With manager Robin Ventura locked in for several more years thanks to a contract extension, the direction for a re-tooling, not rebuilding, is clear. And for one year, Ventura will be assisted by part-time first baseman/DH Konerko in a role as mentor to the younger players that will begin in Glendale. In reality, Konerko will be an assistant coach in all but name only.
“I know we’re coming from the same place,” Konerko said of having worked with new hitting coach Todd Steverson in January drills, and espousing the same philosophy when he doles out batting tips to teammates.
Competition will be seen at all points of the field.
Abreu is pretty much penciled in at first after signing a $68 million contract. Garcia has no serious competition in right. Young veterans Gordon Beckham at second and Alexei Ramirez at short are locked in, for now.
If Diamondbacks émigré Davidson hits in camp, he’ll seize third base. Otherwise, he could start out in Triple-A while the likes of Marcus Semien, who impressed in September, and Conor Gillaspie hold down third until Davidson proves he’s ready.
Only a complete meltdown by Eaton would return Alejandro De Aza to center. As of now, De Aza and Dayan Viciedo stand to platoon in left. However, Sox brass want to give Viciedo, still just 24, another chance to blossom as a power threat after 2013’s off season.
Hahn was expected to bring in a catcher after Tyler Flowers and rookie Josh Phegley were found wanting at the plate. But the GM’s internal analysis apparently showed some potential with the two.
After Addison Reed was traded for Davidson, competition for the closer’s position will provide the biggest pitching-staff storyline. Reed buddy Nate Jones, who could bump up his fastball to 100 mph, seems a favorite for the job. Veteran Matt Lindstrom is also in the running.