Jose Abreu's first season in the Majors exceeded expectations as he won Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in the American League MVP voting. A .317 average, MLB best .581 slugging percentage, 36 home runs, and 107 RBI make the 6 year, $68 million contract he signed look damn unfair. He can only get better this year as the talent around him improved. Adam LaRoche's signing will allow Abreu more chances to DH. LaRoche won't probably get much run against left handers but he's a valuable bat to have in the American League. Micah Johnson provides an upgrade at second base over the recently brought back Gordon Beckham. Johnson has displayed both a penchant for hitting for average as well as an ability to steal bases in bunches in the Minors. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez is in a contract year (the team has a 2016 option) so he'll be looking to score a long term deal. The Cuban Missile won his second Silver Slugger in 2014 and stole 20+ bases for a third straight season. Third base is the least flashy with Conor Gillaspie. He's a below average fielder but does enough with the bat to warrant his spot over the previously mentioned Beckham. Emilio Bonifacio is an under the radar signing as he is a super utility guy who could give a much needed day off to any of the four infield spots as well as the outfield. Tyler Flowers will remain as catcher in 2015. He had his highest batting average in 2014, but that was only a measly .241. He'll hit for power, but he doesn't get on base nearly enough for an everyday player. I expect the front office to look for a replacement in the trade market or see if they can get a couple useful months out of former NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto.
The White Sox are hoping their outfield can stay upright as that is the spot where they lack depth. Melky Cabrera spurned a return to Toronto to sign a 3 year, $42 million pact with the ChiSox. We all know Melky like-a-da-woman, but he has also like-a-da-facing the Tigers and Indians, my (spoiler alert) top two teams in the AL Central. Cabrera combined to hit .358 in 12 games against those two opponents in 2014. Is this the year center fielder Adam Eaton finally breaks through? Chicago is hoping so as they just signed him to a five year, $23.5 million contract extension. After two injury riddled seasons in Arizona, Eaton made good on his chance to play every day in Chicago. He tied for the league lead in triples (10) and hit .300. Alas, injuries befell him again as he missed half of both May and August. Nevertheless, he played exponentially more than right fielder Avisail Garcia. He played in just 9 games in 2014 before a shoulder injury kept him out until the middle of August. It is the second such year in a row for the 23 year old Garcia. Manager Robin Ventura really needs the Venezuelan to keep himself fit as waiver claim JB Shuck is the only cover they currently have in the outfield.
The pitching staff will be missing their figurehead on Opening Day but even without him they are quite formidable. That figurehead is of course southpaw Chris Sale. Sale went 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 26 starts in 2014 and finished third on the AL Cy Young ballot. He broke his foot at his home in February and will start the season on the disabled list. When he returns in late April, he will most definitely retake his throne as White Sox ace. At #2, offseason acquisition Jeff Samardzija is far superior to last year's second starter, John Danks. A former Cub, Samardzija knows very well the pressures of playing in the Windy City. He showed he could hold his own in the American League with Oakland last year and is playing for potentially his last big long-term contract at age 30. Jose Quintana is one of the more formidable #3 starters in the American League. Run support has always been a hindrance to Quintana's win/loss record (he is 24-24 for his career) but has pitched 200 innings the past two seasons and has never had an ERA above 3.76. John Danks slots in as the #4 pitcher. He was a bit out of his depth the past four years (26 combined wins, 4.71 cumulative ERA), but White Sox management is surely hoping a less pressure packed rotation spot will help him break out of his funk. Hector Noesi is currently just a cheap placeholder until the White Sox call up top prospect Carlos Rodon. The third pick in last year's First Year Player Draft, Rodon is a Sale 2.0. The NC State product is a ferocious left hander with a fastball/slider combo that is going to make left handed hitters weep for years to come. You can expect to see him by the All-Star break in U.S. Cellular Field.
The bullpen also underwent quite the overhaul this offseason. David Robertson gives the White Sox stability at closer, something they didn't have last year. They also brought in Zach Duke to be the primary left hander. Duke had bounced around before developing his niche in Milwaukee's pen in 2014. The White Sox obviously don't think he was a one year wonder as they gave him a 3 year, $15 million deal. The trio of last year's closers will act as set up men from the right and middle relief. Zach Putnam, Javy Guerra, and Jake Petricka all got cracks at the ninth inning in 2014 as none really embarrassed themselves in the role. Unfortunately, none of the three really established themselves enough to be re-instituted as the closer this season.
I had the White Sox as the 28th ranked team in 2014. They exceeded those expectations and may prove me wrong again this year as the #18 team. I just believe that the American League Central is too tough of a division to make a worst to first type of jump. As the Tigers age and Indians and Royals struggle with small market constraints, I think the White Sox could be the kings of the Central in the near future.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #28 (UP 10)
PREDICTED RECORD: 80-82
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Jose Abreu (first baseman), Chris Sale (starting pitcher), David Robertson (relief pitcher)
Trevor Utley is hoping that the White Sox exceed his expectations as he just got autodrafted half of their team in one of his leagues.
Image Credit: White Sox logo (sportslogos.net)