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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Sizing up the '03 Sox!

Before we begin this weekís session, letís just note that the last time I had one of these feelings was before the 2001 season, and we all know how the Sox performed then.† With that being understood, I can now give my predictions for the Sox in 2003, and you can take them for exactly what they are worth.†

I really have a good feeling about the 2003 White Sox.† Maybe itís because we have our best one-two punch on the mound since Lamar Hoyt and Floyd Bannister, or perhaps even Gary Peters and Joel Horlen.† Maybe itís because Billy Koch is more of a traditional closer than Keith Foulke.† Or maybe itís because Frank Thomas appears to be hitting the ball with authority for the first time since 2000. †

Whatever it is, I think the Sox are going to surprise a whole lot of pundits who have predicted the Minnesota Twins to walk away with the AL Central Division.† †

Granted there are some questions about the lineup.† DíAngelo Jimenez was impressive during his brief appearance in 2002 after the Ray Durham trade, but we donít know if he can sustain it for a whole season.† I think weíll find that although he may not hit for the same average as Ray Durham, heíll still be on base as much.† Letís just hope heís a lot smarter on the bases than Durham was.† †

Despite the howls of derision this is going to get, Iím going to state categorically that the Sox are far better off with Jose Valentin at shortstop.† ďWhat about all those errors?Ē you ask.† Well, what about all those double plays.† What about all those extra putouts that Valentinís replacement at shortstop used to wave at in order to protect his precious fielding average.† There is a reason Royce Clayton set a record for fielding percentage, and it had nothing to do with his defensive ability.†

Clayton also held up the promotion of Joe Crede who finally owns third base.† My prediction for the third sacker is that he might not make you forget Robin Ventura, but he will certainly make you remember Joe Crede.† †

It says something about the power in the Sox lineup when Crede, definitely a home run threat, is batting seventh in the order.† There is just no place for him any higher with a rejuvenated Frank Thomas batting third, Magglio OrdoŮez in the cleanup spot, Paul Konerko hitting fifth, and Carlos Lee in the six hole.†

Thomas tore up spring training after his February sessions with Walt Hriniak.† He no longer appears to be bailing out on inside pitches.† Heís going with the pitch and trying to make contact rather than killing the ball.† Look for Big Frank to put up MVP-type numbers this year.† †

Meanwhile, look for OrdoŮez to finally be recognized beyond the South Side as a superstar.† Only with the White Sox can a player bat over .300, hit close to forty homers, and drive in 130 runs and have people say, ďWho?Ē when his name is mentioned.† Thatís going to change this year.†

Meanwhile, Paul Konerko needs to put up big numbers for a full season.† Last year he was hampered by a foot injury during most of the second half, and his numbers plummeted.† If he can stay healthy, he should put up numbers that rival those of OrdoŮez.†

That brings us to Lee, who has learned to take pitches.† In 2002, he walked 75 times.† In the previous two seasons he accumulated 76 walks.† Now all he needs to do is hit for average.† Lee, like Valentin, ha gotten the rap of being poor defensively, but the facts belie this.† He may never be a great outfielder, but left fielders rarely are (think Ted Williams).† But Lee has learned to read fly balls, something that gave him major problems a few years ago, and get the jump on them.† Thatís what he needs to do, and he is doing it.†

The only possible weaknesses in the Sox batting order are in the eighth and ninth spots.† Aaron Rowand would probably be a good fourth outfielder, but heís not much more.† He also has a tendency to get hurt.† (See Simmons, Brian.)† If Joe Borchard can cut down on his strikeouts and pick up his batting average, he should replace Rowand sometime after June 1.†

The only scary thing I find with the Sox offense is the catching troika of Sandy Alomar, Josh Paul, and Miguel Olivo.† I donít think Olivo is ready to pull his weight offensively and probably should start the year at Charlotte.† The Sox think otherwise.† I hope Iím wrong.† Alomar is probably here for two reasons:† to catch for Bartolo Colon and to help develop Olivo.† The only conceivable reason Paul is here is that he is out of options and nobody wants to trade for him.† Offensively, the bottom of the order is weak, but it isnít as weak as when Mark Johnson and Royce Clayton were batting there.† Chalk it up as a net improvement.†

I donít think I need to comment on the quality of our first two starting pitchers.† Mark Buehrle is on the fast track to winning twenty.† Colon has already done it.† The only worry about Colon is all of those years of pitching in winter ball.† Thatís tough on an arm, but it hasnít hurt him up to now.†

For the second year in a row, Iím predicting that Jon Garland will have a breakout year.† This time I really mean it!† Last year he was hindered by Nardi Contreras.† This year, heíll have Don Cooper working with him all year.† The kid is only 23 years old.† Heís ready.†

It is bothersome that Danny Wright is starting the 2003 season on the DL.† Like Garland, Wright improved under Cooperís supervision.† Hereís hoping that Esteban Loaizaís spring wasnít a fluke and that he can fill in until Wright is ready to pitch.† Letís also hope that pitching in a major league ball park doesnít so awe Josh Stewart that he falls apart, as so often happens to rookie pitchers.† If Wright does come back relatively early, the Sox could have one of the best rotations outside of New York.†

Koch fits the role of closer much more than Foulke, who always wanted to be a starter, it seems.† The bad rap on Koch is that he throws one pitch and that itís laser straight.† He also pitches himself into jams that he likes to pitch out of.† He could scare a lot of fans, but he generally does the job.†

Behind Koch is a combination of Damaso Marte, Tom Gordon, and Kelly Wunsch.† Marte looked great last year.† Marte comes off an excellent performance in 2002.† Wunsch has looked terrific in spring training and seems to now be fully recovered from his 2001 injury.† Gordon is a question mark if only because he is an ex-Cub.† Some in the media have predicted that Gordon will lobby for the closer role, but with Koch there, it ainít gonna happen.† Hereís hoping the media types are wrong.†

The wild card in all of this is Gen. Disarray (aka Jerry Manuel).† He is on the record as saying that he was wrong for trying to get off to a fast start in 2002.† The correct translation of that is that he didnít use some of his bench guys like Jeff Liefer enough.† This year the general has Brian Daubach to come off the bench in Lieferís role.† Daubach does need to somehow work his way into three or more games per week.† How Manuel goes about doing this could say a lot as to how the Sox start the year.†

I hope someone points out the weakness of the teams we are playing to start the season.† The Sox need to get off to a good start just because theyíre playing a bunch of weak sisters.† With the pitching and bench the Sox have, they should get off to a fast start.†

If they do not, look for the following things to occur;†

††††† 1) Fans donít come out to games after Memorial Day as they do in good years.

††††† 2) Fans get blamed when The Chairman doesnít spend money for players to help out.

††††† 3) Prof. Chaos fires Gen. Disarray.

So general, you do need to get off to a fast start.† The fans donít expect any less, and I suspect neither does your boss.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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