Now, it's Ozzie's turn
White Sox are all in, and the pressure is on their manager to win now
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As Ozzie Guillen's evolution into a communications expert continues with Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a new website at ozzieguillen.com, there is really just one arena where he needs to get his ideas and thoughts across.
With Paul Konerko returning, Adam Dunn added and some budding young talent at his disposal like Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Chris Sale and Brent Morel, expectations on Guillen and on the team are high.
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So now that general manager Kenny Williams devised the offseason free-spending plan and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf approved it, all eyes would seem to be on Guillen to get his point across this summer and mold the package of talent into a winner.
Would it really be Guillen's fault if Dunn struggled, Konerko showed signs of age, Carlos Quentin continued to deal with nagging injuries and Sale went through a sophomore slump? Probably not. But at the cusp of a season that could go a long way toward determining just how long Guillen mans his current post, rightly or wrongly, all eyes will be upon him.
So in honor of No. 13 Guillen, whose 2012 option was picked up by the club at SoxFest last month, we shun the notion of bad luck and offer the 13 things to look for at spring training, which begins Thursday when pitchers and catchers report.
1. A Beckham resurgence
Last month it was suggested that Beckham was looking impressive in the batting cage, meaning his mechanics were refined, and he was making solid contact. While the batting cage is a good indicator of how a hitter looks, nothing is more telling than putting a big league pitcher 60 feet, 6 inches away and letting him have at it. Beckham struggled mightily in the first half last season, but the assessment of his batting cage sessions would seem to suggest he has put himself in a better position for a hot start.
2. Building up Sale
It's hard to believe after what he showed on the mound last season, but Sale has never even been to spring training, unless you consider that pitching at Florida Gulf Coast University is somewhat spring training-like. The plan is for Sale to follow the schedule of a starter for the next six weeks, meaning he will gradually increase his innings and pitch count each time he takes the mound. If he continues to impress like he did in the second half last season, a starting spot figures to be his until Jake Peavy returns from surgery to reattach his latissimus dorsi muscle.
3. Sale's role
Pitching coach Don Cooper expressed a sensible concern in regard to Sale when he said this winter that he would prefer the second-year pitcher to assume just one role this year: starter or reliever. Cooper's logical thought was that shuffling Sale between jobs was a lot to ask from a guy who was pitching in college at this time last year and will turn just 22 years old two days before the season begins. Williams later said that Cooper basically spoke out of turn and didn't care for Cooper going public with his thoughts. Williams' take is that what Sale showed last year is proof that he can handle whatever role the club throws at him.
4. Dunn's Arizona pop
There is no truth to the rumor that there are no longer teams training in Tucson because Adam Dunn is coming to the Cactus League. Imagine the majestic shots Dunn might deliver facing a pitcher fighting for a roster spot while hitting in the high altitude and dry air of the upper desert. Watching Dunn take batting practice in the Phoenix area might still be worth the price of admission, so a word of advice to anybody coming to watch White Sox spring games: Get there early, wander the grass berm in right field and bring a glove.
5. Ozzie's photo finish
Frustrated by the speed-enforcement cameras used on Arizona freeways that issued tickets even if there wasn't a highway patrol officer for miles, the White Sox manager, rumor has it, got some revenge in his own Ozzie way. On the last day of spring one year, Guillen flipped one of the cameras the bird as he drove past. There is no word on whether or not he was going fast enough to generate what was sure to have been a priceless photo. Those cameras were eliminated in July so how Guillen gets his aggressions out this spring is still to be determined.
6. Closing argument
When it comes to a closer for the 2011 season, all the White Sox are saying is that lefties Sale and Matt Thornton and righties Jesse Crain and Sergio Santos could be called upon based primarily on what the opposing lineup dictates. What seems more likely is that at some point this season somebody will grab the role and run with it. Auditions begin when spring games start, although the closer-by-committee scenario figures to be around at the start of the season. Thornton is up for the job, and Crain said he was being considered for it in Minnesota before Joe Nathan arrived. The better bet is that if and when Sale is sent to the bullpen, the lanky left-hander ends up with the role.
7. Ramirez's start
Slow starts offensively have plagued Ramirez throughout his young career and the excuse always offered up for the Cuban native is that cold weather is the main culprit. What it could be is not having a sense of urgency as spring training comes to a close. Ramirez knows all eyes are on him after signing a four-year, $32.5 million contract extension. He could start taking some heat if he doesn't improve on a .200/.233/.278 career batting line in March and April regular-season games.
8. Rookie at third
Brent Morel is the third baseman most White Sox fans seem to want, and that's probably the case for White Sox pitchers, too. At this point of his career, at least when talking about defense, Morel is ahead of where Joe Crede was at the same point, and Crede ended up being a solid third baseman. Mark Teahen figures to have a say in the final decision at third base. Morel appears to have an inside track on the job, so Teahen will have to impress with his offense if he wants to be more than a utility player for the upcoming season.
9. Non-contract year for Konerko
If there is anybody on the White Sox whose work ethic, approach and performance are hard to question, it would be Konerko. But the fact remains that two of his best seasons are ones that came in contract years (2005 and 2010). While some could be accused of putting in more effort in order to cash in during free agency, with Konerko it's more like those years were his final chance to show appreciation for the contract he was about to finish. He was one of the few White Sox hitters to start strong in 2010, and a solid spring could head him in that direction again.
10. Will he Lastings?
When Lastings Milledge arrived to the major leagues in 2006 with the New York Mets, he was dubbed as the next great thing. That never happened, and he has since played in Washington and Pittsburgh. In line to be the White Sox's fourth outfielder after recently signing a minor league contract, Milledge seems like a guy who is washed up. It's only when you see that he is still just 25 years old that you realize the guy is still in position to do some special things. First things first, though. He needs to earn a roster spot with an impressive spring training.
11. Pierre's preparation
Watching Juan Pierre go through his spring preparations is a sight to behold. After all his time in the big leagues, he continues to show durability and will enter the season at age 33. Just watching Pierre during the season as he keeps running, diving, sprinting and chasing, you know his preparation routine must have been first-rate. Last September, while everybody in baseball seemed to be wilting, Pierre was still stealing bases and didn't appear to have lost a step, leaving much younger players in his wake. He led baseball with 68 steals a year ago.
12. Quentin's health
Could Carlos Quentin benefit from following Pierre's preparation routine? Since the two play an entirely different game and have entirely different body types, probably not. But something has to change when it comes to Quentin's uncanny knack of suffering nagging injuries. Yes, we know Quentin pushes himself during the season and plays with reckless abandon, but other major leaguers are trying just as hard and aren't missing time like he does. Maybe more than staying away from injuries, Quentin needs to find a way to produce consistently instead of being so streaky. The two issues do seem to go hand in hand.
13. Peavy's progress
More than anybody, Peavy figures to be the most talked-about White Sox player this spring. As of last week, the right-hander was still saying there is a chance he could be ready by Opening Day. After Peavy convinced the White Sox to let him pitch last season only to wind up with a serious injury, expect the club to take things slow, which means that returning by April 1 would seem unlikely. If Peavy comes anywhere close to finding the form he displayed in San Diego, the White Sox will be in business. And if it takes waiting until May or even June for that to happen, expect the White Sox to be patient. Peavy's timetable to return is already tight so any setbacks in the coming weeks could signal big problems.
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
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