Robin Ventura's White Sox surprised many observers by contending deep into the 2012 season. What does 2013 have in store for the South Siders? Can they return to the postseason for the first time since 2008?
Working against them is the fact that they finished three games back of the Tigers last season, and those Tigers figure to be improved thanks to a full season from Anibal Sanchez and the return from injury of Victor Martinez. As well, the Indians and Royals figure to be improved thanks to their offseasons. So it'll be a tough road for the White Sox.
Let us commence breaking things down ...
Under-the-radar offseason transaction
The addition of Gillaspie at a nominal cost (said nominal cost would be a junior-college reliever in the low minors) could pay off for the White Sox. The former Giant farmhand boasts a nifty left-handed, line-drive stroke and solid on-base skills. If he sticks on the roster, he could emerge as a part-time starter at third. That's upside, nabbed on the cheap.
Fantasy breakout: Dayan Viciedo
"One would think a 25-home-run season from a 23-year-old would already be considered a breakout performance. But Viciedo's 2012 has been mostly overlooked by Fantasy players. Viciedo had two straight 20-home-run seasons in the minors in 2010 and 2011, while keeping up a decent average. An improvement on his average is within reason and an uptick in power isn't out of the question, so a .280 average and 30 home runs from Viciedo in 2013 is a real possibility, making him a solid late-round pick in mixed leagues." -- Nano Di Fino [Full White Sox fantasy preview]
Their tested and uncommon ability to keep pitchers healthy. Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron laid out the numbers in an outstanding post'
As Cameron notes, White Sox pitchers, over the span in question, spent not even 2,000 days on the disabled list, which is far and away the fewest days lost to injury in all of baseball. The logical extension of such health is that the White Sox, compared to, oh, every other team in MLB, are giving fewer starts to emergency, sub-optimal starters. That, as you can imagine, confers a significant advantage.
The best news for the White Sox is that there's a very definite approach underpinning all that health -- i.e., it's not just luck. As Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago details, venerable White Sox trainer Herm Schneider puts all the team's pitchers through his "shoulder program":
At least twice a week, pitchers enter the training room for 45 minutes and participate in 32-35 exercises aimed at strengthening a pitcher's shoulder. Schneider accepts nothing less than perfection, which means players can't listen to headphones and they need to display good posture and textbook form.
Having an outstanding pitching coach like Don Cooper and an organizational mindset that emphasizes relentless communication also plays a vital role. Did the program have something to do with the often-injured Jake Peavy's highest inning total since 2007? Did it have something to do with allowing Chris Sale and his high-stress delivery to make 29 starts in his first season as a member of the rotation? The safe assumption on both counts is that, yes, it did.
Expect more of the same going forward.
Offense from up-the-middle positions. A general hallmark of winning teams is that they manage to get production from premium defensive positions (i.e., catcher, shortstop, second base and center field). The 2013 White Sox, however, have some concerns on this front. Last season, second baseman Gordon Beckham put up an unacceptable OPS+ of 78. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez was even worse, with a mark of 74. In center, Alejandro de Aza authored a passable 104, but catcher A.J. Pierzynski -- who was (aberrantly) one of the Sox's most productive hitters last season -- is now a Ranger. Replacing him is Tyler Flowers, who, while a quality hitter in the minors, has thus far failed to transition to the highest level. He's already 27 years of age. A moderate bounce-back for Ramirez seems likely, but overall this offensive niche is going to remain a concern and a liability.
Contention for an AL wild-card berth and perhaps the AL Central crown. That, of course, would require continued health in the rotation, a succesful comeback for John Danks, solid production from Flowers, a rebound for Ramirez, skills growth on the part of Addison Reed and 2012-quality seasons from Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. All of that's possible, but a healthy number of breaks will need to go Chicago's way.
Widespread decline among the older core hitters, significant drop-off in catcher production, injuries to Peavy and Sale. Fourth place.
Most likely scenario
A three-way struggle with the Royals and Indians for second place in the Central. The Sox seem unlikely to make up the necessary ground on the Tigers, and the wild-card contenders in the West and East are simply too tough to afford serious contention on Chicago's part.
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