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WSI News - News Watch

2002 Sox Preview

March 26, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

Almost everyone on the White Sox roster has something to prove this year, making it a team whose members have a million chips on their shoulders.

Royce Clayton was booed extensively in the first half of his first year in Chicago, turning a negative into a positive with a productive second half. Kenny Lofton arrives with the tag as "washed-up" outfielder, while some are wondering whether Mark Buehrle is a one year wonder or the real deal.

The Sox rebounded from a poor start last year to have a respectable season, and many experts are picking them as this year's team to beat in the Central Division.

Yet the Sox still have quite a few questions marks, especially after the brutal performance of the pitching staff in Cactus League play. On the other hand, the offense looked like it was back to its 2000 form, which could make for an exciting season on the South Side.

Which team will show up on Opening Day?

Who knows. But with the 2002 season about to open, here is the cast of characters who are likely to "come to play" for the manager Jerry Manuel.

PITCHERS

Lorenzo Barcelo, reliever

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age (on Opening Day): 24

Coming off of shoulder surgery, he'll be the long man for the time being. The Sox still consider Barcelo a future starter, but he must regain his arm strength first.

Mark Buehrle, starter

Bats: Left Throws: Left Age: 23

The new ace of the team has high expectations thrust upon him after last year's 16-victory season. His goal is to win 20, and if he gets any kind of run support, he should be close to reaching it.

Keith Foulke, closer

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 29

One of the most effective closers in Sox history, Foulke has had a disappointing spring, serving up the long ball in Tucson. After losing nine games in 2001, he has to pitch better when entering in a tie game.

Jon Garland, starter

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 22

Will start the season as a No. 3 starter in the rotation, but must show consistency in that role. The time is now for Garland to fulfill his potential.

Gary Glover, reliever

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 25

Glover inherits the role of set-up man from Bob Howry, hoping it's only temporary so he can move back into the rotation. The Sox consider him in the Sean Lowe vein of utility pitcher.

Bob Howry, reliever

Bats: Left Throws: Right Age: 28

Howry and Foulke were the 1-2 punch in the Sox bullpen, until Howry reported to camp without the usual velocity on his fastball. Now Howry will try to find himself in middle relief and mop-up man until the fastball comes back.

Antonio Osuna, reliever

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 28

Of all the Sox pitchers returning from surgery, Osuna was the furthest along this spring. He's effective against left-handed hitters when he's on, making him the favorite to become the primary set-up man.

Jon Rauch, starter

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 23

Rauch joins the rotation despite coming off surgery. As minor-league pitcher of the year in 2000, he has the stuff to succeed. How he handles the pressure will be closely scrutinized in April.

Todd Ritchie, starter

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 29

Ritchie needs to steady young staff. The Sox gave up plenty in Sean Lowe, Kip Wells and Josh Fogg to get him but he should be in his prime.

Dan Wright, starter

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 24

After 12 starts in 2001, Wright is considered one of the rising stars of the organization, re-joining the rotation despite a so-so spring. Wright must overcome the first-inning "yips," which haunted him in many of his starts last season.

Kelly Wunsch, reliever

Bats: Left Throws: Left Age: 29

Wunsch returns as the left-handed specialist, a role that led to an American League-leading 83 appearances in 2001. Now he's coming off shoulder surgery and may not be able to be used as an iron horse in the pen.

CATCHERS

Sandy Alomar, Jr., catcher

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 35

Because of two surgeries on his right knee last year, Alomar's playing time figures to be reduced this year. With so much doubt about his health, Alomar has much to prove in his free agency year.

Mark Johnson, Catcher

Bats: Left Throws: Right Age: 26

After years of battling for a starting job, Johnson figures at least to share playing time with Alomar. He's one of the better defensive catchers in the league and his offense is much improved over two years ago.

INFIELDERS

Royce Clayton, shortstop

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 32

Clayton is the glue to the infield, one of the best-fielding shortstops in baseball. After a horrible first two months at the plate in 2001, he came around in the second half and led a late-season resurgence.

Ray Durham, second base

Bats: Both Throws: Right Age: 30

Could be Durham's final year with the Sox, though he's hoping to sign an extension. A switch from the lead-off spot to No. 2 should help relax him at the plate, and he must improve defensively as well.

Tony Graffanino, infielder

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 29

The quintessential role player, Graffanino was the team's only reliable pinch-hitter in 2001. He signed a two-year deal and will back up Durham, Jose Valentin and Paul Konerko.

Willie Harris, second base/centerfield

Bats: Left Throws: Right Age: 23

Harris had a fine spring training while competing for one of the final roster spots. Whether he would be wasted on the bench rather than getting regular playing time in Triple-A is the question the Sox must answer.

Paul Konerko, first base

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 26

He fell just shy of a 100-RBI season last year and has had one of the better springs of his career. Konerko assumes more leadership this year and should contend for an All-Star spot.

Frank Thomas, DH/first base

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 33

Thomas must return to his MVP form of 2001 if the Sox are going to contend. He called last year the "worst year of my life," and has been a new man in camp. Will it last?

Jose Valentin, third base

Bats: Both Throws: Right Age: 33

Now that he's settled at one position, Valentin can focus on his primary role as Sox sparkplug. Moving down in the order, Valentin can turn into a 100-RBI man.

OUT FIELDERS

Carlos Lee, left field

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 25

A poor year fielding stalled Lee's ascension as the star of the future. But few teams can say they have a 24-home run hitter batting seventh, which bodes well for the Sox lineup.

Jeff Liefer, outfield

Bats: Left Throws: Right Age: 27

Liefer may have a difficult time getting at-bats again, but he is the team's most valuable left-handed bat off the bench. He also can play first and third but is a defensive liability at third.

Kenny Lofton, center field

Bats: Left Throws: Left Age: 34

Written off as an injury-plagued, over-the-hill center fielder, Lofton is intent on proving his critics wrong. If he's the Kenny Lofton of old, the Sox offense could be the most productive in the league.

Magglio Ordonez, right field

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 28

The team's MVP in 2001, Ordonez may have surpassed Thomas as the focal point of the lineup. Looking for another All-Star year, and perhaps even some All-Star votes.

Aaron Rowand, outfield

Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 24

One of the better hitting prospects in the system, Rowand must learn to succeed without everyday experience because Lee and Ordonez are cemented in left and right fields. Also must learn to stop smashing into outfield walls, for health reasons alone.



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