Playing Pepper 2014: Chicago White Sox

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Chicago White Sox
63-99, fifth in the AL Central

We turn our attention to the south side of Chicago, which legend says is the baddest part of town.  If you are looking at records, that held up in 2013, as the White Sox clocked in three games worse than the Cubbies up in Wrigley.

However, the hopes for the ChiSox aren’t as dark as the black jerseys they wear at times.  The AL Central isn’t the powerhouse division that its National League compatriot is and it was just two years ago that the White Sox were leading the division with about a week to go in the season.

Will the yo-yo be on its way up this season?  We asked James from Southside Showdown, part of the FanSided network, what his thoughts were on the offseason and what might happen in 2014.  (BTW, you can find James on Twitter @JRFegan.)

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

SS: Something positive but non-committal like a B+ or an A-. Hahn didn’t change the White Sox from scrubs to contenders (a transition commonly referred to as ‘ashy to classy’) overnight, but he took a team with a league-worst offense and a bottom-10 farm system, and turned over four of the position slots with potentially permanent solutions.

He sorta cheated because he started working turning over the roster during the middle of 2013, but try telling anyone who watched the White Sox second half that it wasn’t “the offseason.” You can do it, and they wouldn’t hurt you. It would just be really mean.

C70: What are people expecting out of Jose Abreu?

SS: I think we’re afraid to ask for much more than a competent first base bat. There’s awesome raw power that should be fun to watch, but there are enough issues and adjustments he needs to make to MLB pitching that anything beyond league average would be gravy. Adam Dunn and End Stage Paul Konerko have really lowered our collective standards anyway.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during Spring Training?

SS: Matt Davidson is probably the most interesting player involved in any position battle, but I’ll take Marcus Semien trying to push his way onto the major league roster. The 2013 Southern League MVP doesn’t have the highest ceiling, but has a professional plate approach and a lot of polish and could easily make Gordon Beckham or Alexei Ramirez–two guys not dripping with much upside themselves–expendable for trade, which could add a little something more to the stockpile the Sox need to build.

On the flip side, Matt Davidson can only make Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger men without regular playing time sooner than expected.

C70: What rookie, if any, will have the most impact on the team in 2014?

SS: Erik Johnson still has rookie status and is a full-fledged member of the starting rotation, so it will be pretty easy for him to be the most important young person around. Moreover, Johnson will likely be the difference between the White Sox rotation being top-heavy and middling or finishing in the top-five in ERA+ again. He does exciting things like throw 88 mph power sliders that play well against hitters on both sides of the plate, but he also spent a lot of his MLB time getting tagged and struggling to find whiffs. It could go either way with him.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

SS: 75-87, 4th place and WE WILL ALL BE THANKFUL.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

SS: Any non-Chris Sale answer is trying to be far too cute, or evidence of very tangible self-loathing. So, uh, yeah…Chris Sale, I guess.

My thanks to James for his insight (and humor) in regards to the White Sox situation.  If you are into the “enemy of my enemy” bit, there should be some things to cheer about out of Chicago this season!

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