Friday, April 11, 2003

I can't believe it's been almost a week since I wrote here. I promise more content! There's too much to do when you are a college student.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

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
4 walks
9 strikeouts

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

Friday, April 04, 2003

The White Sox finished their season opening three game set with the Royals with a 12-6 loss, leaving them 0-3. Jon Garland struggled allowing ten baserunners and five runs over four innings. This is a dissapointing start for Garland. Garland is a breakout candidate this season and it would have been nice to see him tear up a weak offense like the Royals to open the year. His next start will be Wednesday April 9 against the Indians who aren't exactly the 27' Yankees either. The one positive coming from this start is Garland threw a lot of strikes. He threw 70% of his pitches for strikes and walked just one batter.

The real killer for the White Sox was Billy Koch who is already proving he's no Keith Foulke. Koch came in with a one run lead and the bases loaded in the eighth and proceeded to get beaten like Wil Cordero's wife. Koch faced six batters and saw just as many runs cross the plate while he was on the mound. I can rationalize that Koch won't kill us like this all season but it is still maddening he is on this team instead of Keith Foulke.

Right now Manuel seems to think he can use Koch like he used Foulke when Foulke was at his best. Koch just is not that caliber pitcher. One of the keys to the season could be how quickly Manuel learns to best utilize the talent in his bullpen. The White Sox pen has the potential to be very good. Manuel needs to figure out how to use the pen as a weapon ASAP, the AL Central division race could come down to a couple games in the standings. One advantage the Twins have in returning most of their team from last year is that Ron Gardenhire should know his club well from the gate.

Miguel Olivo had a dissapointing day today, he didn't reach base in four plate appearances. Hopefully Olivo will get another shot to prove he's better than the geriatric Sandy Alomar and the useless Josh Paul in the weekend series against Detroit.

The middle of the Sox order, Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko and Carlos Lee was 6 for 39 against the Royals. That's a good first step to getting swept by any team. With all the talk about Bartolo Colon's arrival some people have forgotten the Sox offense is still their best weapon. Theoretically it shows up to play five times as often as Colon. If all four members of the offensive core are cold the Sox are going to struggle to win games. Even against terrible teams like the Royals. When Jose Valentin finally showed up with a bat (11 total bases in the third game) the team couldn't hold their lead. Tough luck and cold bats. Hopefully things should be different against Detroit this weekend.

Beginning today I'm going to summarize the day's Sox minor league action. I don't guarentee a lot of minor league coverage everyday, it depends on how much time I have. Also, starting with my next entry I will do overviews on the talent at each level of the Sox system.

AAA: Charlotte opened their season with a 7-6 win against Richmond. Jon Adkins allowed 3 baserunners in 5 1/3 shutout innings, striking out three. Matt Ginter threw in another 2 2/3 shutout innings. Arnie Munoz allowed 5 of Richmond's runs in 2/3 of an inning in his AAA debut. Munoz is one of the game's better hyped relief pitching prospects. He received a grade B- in John Sickels 2003 Baseball Prospect Book. Cliff Brumbaugh and Joe Borchard were the offensive stars for the White Sox. Each one of them collected three hits and two RBIs. Brumbaugh and first baseman Scott Morgan each clubbed their first home run of the season.

AA: The Birmingham Barons won their season opener 6-2. Corwin Malone pitched the opener and his numbers look a lot like last year when his control suffered due to an elbow injury. He allowed just 2 runs in 5 IP but also walked 4, striking out just 2. Ryan Hankins was the offensive star going 3-4 with a home run.

A+: Season begins Friday

A: Lost 4-3, no box score available just yet.

Andrew Ritchie

Thursday, April 03, 2003

The Sox lost their second game of the season, most importantly though we learned why the Sox have three catchers on roster. We have one to start, thats Sandy Alomar, one to pitch run, Miguel Olivo and one to play defense, Josh Paul. I never should have doubted Jerry Manuel. Today Olivo is getting his first start of the season. I'm hoping Olivo can prove he's the best catcher of the bunch and get a lot of playing time. Right now the Sox only plan on Olivo starting one two out of five games. Olivo is our best offensive catcher and might be the best defensive also, he needs to be in as much as possible.

Another thing that came to light yesterday is that the Sox plan on using Armando Rios as a second string centerfielder. This is an interesting decision, Rios only has seven career games in center coming into this season. He's also been through a torn ACL since the last time he played center. I am at least a little worried about Rios playing center. At the same time I don't think it will be long before Willie Harris replaces one of the three catchers. Maybe I'm just being optimistic. Today Rios starts in center.

Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus is reporting the Sox are a bit fed up with Dan Wright. Wright has now seen just about every arm expert in the country and they all say he's okay. Wright still says he's in pain. This situation is just getting weird. The Sox have said they expect Wright back by the end of the month. I hope everything works out because I believe in Wright and I feel like this team needs him.

Today is opening day for the minor leagues. Starting tomorrow I should have reports on the Sox minor league system. Fun stuff. I was hoping to attend both Sox baseball and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers baseball this week but it looks like I will not be making it to Chicago so I'll have to settle for Midwest League action.

Andrew Ritchie