Sox spring training preview: Outfield
February, 8, 2013
By Doug Padilla
AP Photo/Mark DuncanAlex Rios had a resurgent season in 2012, batting .304 with 25 home runs.Doug Padilla previews the White Sox by position in the days leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training on Tuesday.
Those loud footsteps you can hear are coming from a whole new generation of young outfielders ready to break through for the Chicago White Sox.
While the White Sox are set with an outfield of Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro De Aza and Alex Rios in 2012, a number of talented options could give the club a whole new look as early as the 2014 season, although 2015 seems more realistic.
Jared Mitchell, the first-round pick from 2009 could be the first to break through, but it's Courtney Hawkins and Trayce Thompson who actually rank first and second, respectively in Baseball America's list of the club's top prospects. Then there is Keenyn Walker, the club's first overall selection in the 2011 draft. Hawkins, Thompson and Walker are all a few years away from getting to Chicago.
The White Sox's outfield in 2012 was solid, not spectacular, with plenty of room for improvement. Viciedo is expected to deliver more with the hope that De Aza knows what it takes to avoid inconsistencies now that he has his first full season under his belt.
LEFT FIELD: After originally moving to right field for the 2011 season, there is a good chance this year will mark Viciedo's last in the outfield. The White Sox will need to clear room for their emerging youngsters and Viciedo could wind up being the long-term replacement for Paul Konerko at first base. Konerko will be in the last year of his current contract. Viciedo was 36th in the American League in slugging percentage last season at .444, a number that is expected to improve. The departed A.J. Pierzynski posted a .501 slugging percentage so somebody will have to pick up the slack in that area.
CENTER FIELD: De Aza was solid in his first full season, making things click from the leadoff spot. Of players with at least 200 plate appearances at the top of the order, De Aza had the 12th-best on-base percentage at .349. And among that group, his 26 steals were sixth best. Most glaring, though, was his July swoon when he batted .242 with a .294 on-base percentage. His 80 runs scored from the leadoff spot don't sound terribly impressive, but only six other leadoff men had more. By replacing Alex Rios in center field, De Aza helped the White Sox defense make considerable improvement. De Aza is one of only two left-handed bats in the starting lineup, along with Adam Dunn.
RIGHT FIELD: Moving to a corner outfield spot seemed to simplify things on defense for Rios. Most notably, though, was the return of his offensive production. Rios not only delivered a .304 batting average, his .850 OPS was his best since his 2007 season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. The key this season will be avoiding the Bad Rios-Good Rios cycle that has followed him in recent years. With another productive season at the plate this year, he can break the pattern.
IN THE MIX: Dewayne Wise and Jordan Danks are in line to be the fourth and fifth outfielders, respectively. The left-handed hitters will give manager Robin Ventura some lineup versatility when they give Viciedo or Rios a rest. Mitchell is expected to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him in a White Sox uniform at some point in the second half.