And now the Twins and White Sox are tied for the AL Central lead at 3-3. Hmmmm... feels like I might be forgetting something but I'm not sure what.
This was an interesting weekend for White Sox baseball and at the same time a fun one to watch as the Sox swept the lowly Tigers. Also this weekend, the Minnesota Twins were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays. So all the Sox fans worried about the insurmountable 3 game lead the Twins had on the morning of April 4th can rest easy tonight.
The Sox middle infielders were dominant in the Tigers series. Jose Valentin, Tony Graffanino and D'Angelo Jimenez combined for over a third of the Sox 60 total bases. I have to wonder if Sox fans would be calling for Valentin's head because of errors if he hadn't been the Sox most productive hitter so far.
One of the things that surprises me about the White Sox is how Valentin is lauded as a team leader. He is a vocal player but one of the things he is most vocal about is his desire to not be platooned. It's unfortunate but if there is one player on the White Sox that needs to be platooned it's Valentin.
Valentin is horrendous against left handed pitching. For his career Valentin's OPS against lefties is 595 whereas against righties it is 825. In the last three seasons the same split holds true so it is not something Valentin has corrected late in his career. On the other hand Tony Graffanino has a 753 career OPS against lefties. This is a perfect platoon situation and Jerry Manuel should take advantage of it regardless of how Valentin feels. If Valentin were a true team leader he'd take one for the team here.
Sox pitching also deserves a fair amount of credit for the series sweep of Los Tigres. All three starters were impressive and each one logged a quality start. Sox starters' numbers for the series:
21 1/3 innings pitched
13 hits allowed
4 runs allowed
The Sox pen also tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings. I am glad Josh Stewart got to face a AAA offense like the Tigers in his major league debut. Stewart did not even have to battle with one of the Tigers best hitters, Carlos Pena. This may give Stewart a bit of a confidence boost going into his next start, which will also be against Detroit. With Shane Halter (714 career OPS), Brandon Inge (545) and Craig Paquette (689) all in the same lineup the Tigers might as well be sending thier pitcher up there too.
While I don't think it's wise to stress about rough starts, one Sox player I am worried about is left fielder Carlos Lee. Lee has come out of the gate reverting to the "swing at what moves" Carlos Lee of the past rather than last year's well disciplined model. When I saw Lee on Saturday (way to go WGN national broadcasts) he swung at the first pitch in all of his plate appearances. Lee has already proven he is not nearly as effective with that mode of operation. Lee needs to find the approach that he used to torture AL pitchers in the second half of last season. I am a little less excited about Lee's 2003 season than I was a month ago.
On the other side of the coin, when I saw Frank Thomas at the plate he looked great. His home run on Saturday was very reminiscent of the mid 90's and year 2000 Big Hurt rather than Thomas' late 90's struggles. In addition, Thomas has acknowledged in public that he was less patient at the plate last year and he plans to bring the patience back this year. It is funny to talk about a guy who walked 88 times last year as needing to regain his patience but Thomas has one of the game's best batting eyes. Last year was Thomas' first full year when he failed to walk 100 times. This guy needs to talk with Carlos Lee a bit.
To close out this entry I am going to give an overview of the Sox talent at AAA Charlotte. This begins a series of four overviews covering the Sox full season minor league teams.
The Charlotte Knights look strong this year with a solid mix of prospects and minor league veterans. The Knights' best prospects are outfielder Joe Borchard, infielders Willie Harris and Tim Hummel, starting pitchers Jon Rauch and Felix Diaz and relievers Arnie Munoz and Dave Sanders. Not really a prospect anymore but also at AAA Charlotte is Matt Ginter. Most of the marquee players on the Knights roster were mentioned in my major league overview. Check the beginning of my archives.
Also in the outfield but low profile is Mario Valenzuela who returns to the field this year after spending all of last season injured. Valenzuela was a sleeper prospect going into the 2002 season due to his power (.469 career minor league SLG) but may not get on base enough to be a major league regular. As a prospect he reminds me of Olmedo Saenz who toiled unrecognized in the Sox organization before he was liberated by Oakland. Saenz posted an 800 OPS in four seasons with the A's.
The names above that did not make my organization overview are Felix Diaz and Dave Sanders. Felix Diaz pitched in AA last year and was ranked #8 on Baseball America's White Sox top 10 prospects list. Diaz was acquired from the Giants organization last year with minor leauge reliever Ryan Meaux for centerfielder Kenny Lofton. Diaz has three pitces including a fastball in the 90s and would rank higher on the Sox prospect list if he could stay healthy. He has yet to pitch a full season without breaking down. He sounds a lot like the last highly touted hard thrower the Sox acquired from the Giants, Lorenzo Barcelo.
Sanders is a left handed reliever who is known within the Sox organization for an awesome slider. He hasn't gotten much attention, not making the Baseball America top ten or John Sickels' Prospect book, but Sanders performed well in AA and the Arizona Fall League. He could have a career as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY).Andrew Ritchie