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WSI News - News Watch

White Sox position-by-position breakdown

By Jimmy Greenfield / MLB.com

The skinny: Every start Wright, Garland and Rauch make will be magnified and scrutinized. That's what happens when unproven kids make up 60 percent of a starting rotation. The only sure thing on the staff is the 23-year-old Buehrle, and he'll be stripped of that tag quickly if he gets off to a slow start. The soft-spoken Ritchie is expected to give an automatic 200 innings, but that's a total he surpassed last year for the first time in his career. If any of the starting pitchers falter, LHP Jim Parque will be at Triple-A Charlotte building velocity and foaming at the mouth to rejoin the rotation.
Manager Jerry Manuel says: "All I want to make sure is (the young guys) throw strikes. If they're throwing strikes I won't have a problem with them. But it's difficult to manage balls. If a guy's throwing strikes you can strategize, do some different things. But if you're not throwing strikes, that's tough. They have thrown strikes down here. When the lights come on with 50,000 (fans) -- I don't know."

Pitching prognosis

Bullpen
The skinny: Keith Foulke arguably has been the best closer in baseball the past two seasons but can the Sox get the ball to him? Glover is unproven and Osuna may be rusty coming off shoulder surgery. A huge boost could come if Howry regains his 96 mph fastball -- he's been below 90 all spring. The addition of lefty Damaso Marte should give Kelly Wunsch some much-needed backup.
Manuel says: "Our bullpen is going to be a big key for us. If Osuna continues to do what he's doing and continues to climb he can give us the guy out there that we feel can get lefties out, because of the changeup. Therefore, we won't need to go to some mediocre left-hander, or a left-hander just to have a left-hander, because he can do that. Keith Foulke is the same way because he can get left-handers out. We're still kind of putting that together out there and once we do, we feel very confident that once we go out there and (make a pitching change) we're bringing in a quality arm."

Position-by-position breakdown

Designated Hitter
Starter: Frank Thomas; .221/4 HRs/10 RBIs in 68 at-bats
Backup: Jeff Liefer; .256/18 HRs/39 RBIs in 254 at-bats
The skinny: It's been a serene, pleasant spring for The Big Hurt as he's been upbeat and optimistic that he'll be back to his old self after missing most of last season with a torn triceps. A slow start last season, however, had nothing to do with his injury. Still, his last full season in 2000 was magnificent. No reason to think he can't do it again.
Manuel says: "(Getting Frank back) is like going out and purchasing a superstar free agent and plugging him right into the third spot knowing there isn't a better hitter out there when he's right. Thats a big plus for us, a big boost for us."

Center field
Starter: Kenny Lofton; .261/14 HRs/66 RBIs/16 SB in 2001
Backup: Willie Harris; .305/9 HRs/49 RBIs/54 SB (Double-A Bowie)
The skinny: The Sox expect Lofton to do for them what Ichiro did for Seattle. Well, not quite, but you get the idea. A healthy, productive Lofton gives the Sox a chance at 1,000 runs and takes even more pressure off the pitching. An unhealthy, aging Lofton ... and Cleveland gets to say "we told you so." Harris may start in the minors if the Sox take 12 pitchers.
Manuel says: "Kenny Lofton has probably been the most pleasant surprise this spring as far as his ability to bunt, draw the third baseman in and hit it by him, steal bases, and play great defense. He should be exciting."

Right field
Starter: Magglio Ordonez; .305/31 HRs/113 RBIs/25 SB in 2001
Backup: Liefer (see above)
The skinny: The only thing he doesn't do is pitch. Think he isn't one of the game's best players? Last year he became the first American League player ever -- and 7th overall -- to hit .300 with 40 doubles, 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. A sore left wrist in Spring Training didn't hurt his production.
Manuel says: "Mags this spring has shown more power than I've seen before and the ability to hit real tough pitching. When (Curt) Schilling threw a two- or three-hitter at us, he was the guy who got two of the hits. He's an offensive force."

Left field
Starter: Carlos Lee; .269/24 HRs/84 RBIs/17 SB in 2001
Backup: Aaron Rowand; .293/4 HRs/20 RBIs in 123 Abs in 2001
The skinny: If the Sox are going to make a deal before Opening Day, Lee is the most likely to go. Despite regressing defensively last season and having a mediocre second-half at the plate, he still has vast potential.
Manuel says: "Carlos Lee is an improved guy. Gary Pettis has done a good job with him this spring, I look for him to be a better left fielder and we need to get him off to a good start with the bat. It would be difficult to have an adequate, or less than adequate, left fielder who's not hitting. So his bat is going to be very important for him at the start."

First base
Starter: Paul Konerko; .282/32 HRs/99 RBIs/1 SB in 2001
Backup: Thomas; (see above)
The skinny: It's taken Konerko three years to erase the doubts that surrounded him after he was traded from Los Angeles to Cincinnati and then to the White Sox in a four-month span in 1998. Konerko was inconsistent last season, hitting above .320 in April, June and August, but below .270 in May, July and September/October.
Manuel says: "I think every hitter that works as hard as (Konerko) does continues to grow and learn themselves. He has really grown. When he first got here he tried to hit 30 home runs in April. Last year, he hit the ball to right field and let all the power come. He's probably one of the better clutch hitters that we have. That's probably due to the fact that he's so intense and focused. When that game's on the line he wants to be the guy up there. That's one thing that excites me about him."

Second base
Starter: Ray Durham; .267/20 HRs/65 RBIs/23 SB in 2001
Backup: Tony Graffanino; .303/2 HRs/15 RBIs in 145 at-bats
The skinny: Durham is in the final year of his contract and could be this year's version of James Baldwin. If he plays well, he could be too expensive to bring back. If he plays poorly, the Sox could deal him in July and look to minimum-salaried guys like Willie Harris or Tim Hummel for next season.
Manuel says: Ray Durham has really improved his mechanics and fundamentals defensively. Obviously, he's an offensive force for us and if he can have a Ray Durham-type year he can be really dangerous.

Third base
Starter: Jose Valentin; .258/28 HRs/68 RBIs/9 SB in 2001
Backup: Liefer; (see above)
The skinny: Round and round he goes, and where Valentin will stop nobody knows. This year, it's third base. After playing center field, shortstop and third, last season there are no plans for him to move around. Had 13 errors in 66 games at third last season.
Manuel says: "Jose Valentin has seemed to have adjusted well. (Last week) was one of the first times he got that slow roller, that Robin Ventura-play where he comes in, barehands it and throws the guy out. He's worked on it diligently and I think he's finding a sense of comfort over there. That's big for us because when Jose's comfortable he begins to speak out about other things that can possibly help the team."

Shortstop
Starter: Royce Clayton; .263/9 HRs/60 RBIs/10 SB in 2001
Backup: Graffanino (see above)
The skinny: Clayton learned last year that you only get one chance to make a first impression on Sox fans. It was easier for them to remember he was hitting .099 on May 23 than it was to notice he hit .310 over his final 110 games. The only member of the infield whose defensive skills are unquestioned.
Manuel says: "Royce is probably one of the better defensive shortstops in the Major Leagues. He proved that last year. He's put together a nice little (16-game hitting) streak in Spring Training that I didn't even know about until the other day. Offensively, he seems to have taken up where he left off last season, which was swinging the bat extremely well. We can have that offensive-defensive shortstop package in Royce Clayton."

Catcher
Starter: Sandy Alomar, Jr.; .245/4 HRs/21 RBIs/1 SB in 2001
Backup: Mark Johnson; .249/5 HRs/18 RBIS in 173 at-bats in 2001

The skinny: If any of the catchers start 100 games this season it will be an upset. Alomar has had hamstring and shoulder problems but has hit well in spring. Johnson hasn't officially beat out Josh Paul for the backup job, though Manuel has hinted that battle appears over. Johnson may even be Opening Day starter.
Manuel says: "We don't quite have a rotation yet, or we haven't really decided if we'll go with two or three. We'll see how Sandy starts to bounce back from the day-to-day (playing). If (he can) we'll probably take two, but if not we'll take three. All three are pretty solid and the pitchers love throwing to them."

Injury update

RHP Rocky Biddle is the only pitcher from last season who had surgery and didn't pitch in a Cactus League game. He could be ready by May. A slew of hamstring problems that affected Durham, Wunsch, Johnson and Rowand appear to have subsided. Parque is 100 percent healthy, he says, but still will start at Charlotte.

Questions answered

After some doubts he would be ready to start the season, the Sox were relieved to see that Thomas is recovered from a torn right triceps. The bullpen is still sketchy but getting back Wunsch, Osuna and Barcelo relieved some worries. Lofton's success in camp convinced the Sox they have the offense to overcome what may be a shaky rotation.

Questions remaining

Jon Rauch? Jon Garland? Dan Wright? There will be question marks by their names until at least the All-Star break. Every other question pales compared to how well they perform.

The bottom line

The AL Central is likely to be the tightest division in baseball with no team appearing as if it can win 90 games. But that's how the Sox like it. There was no chance they could win 95 games in 2000 and that's what they did. If the Sox find that their rotation is solid, they could have the division won by August.



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