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Will '14 be turning point for revamped Sox?

3/29/2014



CHICAGO -- It is hard to find anybody inside the game of baseball who did not agree with the Chicago White Sox's decision to revamp their roster ... and just about everybody asked has applauded the actual moves the team made.

Now comes the moment of truth.

From Opening Day and beyond, the team's new, young players will get a chance to show what they can do. This might not be the White Sox's year to challenge for a title, but it could be the year the organization always looks back upon as the moment it took a major step toward being competitive on an annual basis.

New leadoff man Adam Eaton and new middle-of-the-order threat Jose Abreu already have stirred the senses this spring. Eaton's high-energy style has been evident from the start of spring training. And Abreu's ability to hit to all fields while also displaying major power no longer is a myth but a reality.

Add that to new right fielder Avisail Garcia, who continues to show major promise, and the latter-spring resurgence from Matt Davidson, and the White Sox already are optimistic about where this rebuild is headed.

That's the good news.

The reality is that renewed optimism won't mean this team is guaranteed to be a threat in the American League Central race. Not yet anyway.

All those young players also mean there is no track record of success; even general manager Rick Hahn, a primary architect in the rebuild, has admitted that growing pains will be felt.

The White Sox obviously hope these growing pains aren't as acute as many believe. A team that won just 63 games a season ago is only projected to win between 75 and 76 games this season, according to one betting website.

That is still a step in the right direction, despite a major reduction in payroll that will see the club pay out some $90 million in salaries in 2014. The White Sox have rarely been under $100 million in payroll since winning the 2005 World Series.

Success is sure to come for Eaton, Abreu and Garcia at some point this season, but how long will they be able to sustain the hot streaks? Few young players are able to avoid those awkward transition periods while trying to prove themselves as an everyday player. Davidson could end up shuttling between Triple-A Charlotte and the major leagues, as the club continues to refine his skill set.

The White Sox still have question marks at catcher, left field, the bullpen and the back half of the rotation, all of which are potential targets to fix next offseason if positives aren't shown in those areas. This was always projected to be a multilayered rebuild.

No rebuild of this magnitude is a quick-fix proposition. And the major league level isn't the only area that needs to be revamped.

Much of the money the White Sox are poised to save on payroll will be invested in the draft and the international market to build the farm system. Executive vice president Kenny Williams will defend the system vehemently, and while it has supplied quality players such as Chris Sale, Addison Reed and Erik Johnson in recent years, it is by no means a prolific pipeline for the major league team.

Even before that investment for a brighter tomorrow is made, there actually are a number of reasons for optimism. Starter Chris Beck's ceiling suggests a potential No. 2 starter behind Sale one day, while infielders Micah Johnson and Marcus Semien could be ready to contribute soon. Outfielder Trayce Thompson could be poised for a breakthrough on the minor league level as he returns to Double-A Birmingham for a second season.

Further down the prospect line, shortstop Tim Anderson and outfielder Courtney Hawkins have shown tools that could lead to future success.

There might be a focus on the future, all while the major league team probably fights toward the .500 mark this season. But that doesn't mean there should be zero expectations on the 2014 White Sox. Base running and defense must be better and the team needs to embrace the strategy of new hitting coach Todd Steverson sooner rather than later.

Steverson was instrumental in teaching Oakland Athletics prospects strike-zone discipline before he was hired away by the White Sox. But shaky offensive production this spring showed the White Sox are going to need more time to fully absorb the plan.

And even though nobody is predicting the worst-to-first scenario the Boston Red Sox achieved last year, there still needs to be one major difference for the White Sox in 2014:

While last year's team only seemed to get worse in the second half, this year's squad needs to get better as it gains more experience.

There always is a chance the rebuild could end up taking longer than expected. But once the first pitch flies on Monday afternoon, the new-look lineup will get its chance to show if things are now headed in the right direction.