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Friday, February 14, 2014
Countdown to Camp: Biggest question

By Doug Padilla

Avisail Garcia
Avisail Garcia has the talent, but will he realize his tremendous potential this season?
With Chicago White Sox spring training set to begin Saturday when pitchers and catchers report in Glendale, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.

Nobody should question whether the Chicago White Sox should have started a youth movement last year. The question that remains is whether the team's main decision-makers were able to bring aboard the right pieces.

On the surface, the White Sox no doubt have addressed needs. At just 22 years of age, Avisail Garcia has all the tools at his disposal to make him a force for many years to come. The reported hitting ability of Jose Abreu to use all fields and hit with power from foul pole to foul pole has the potential to lock up the first-base position for the next six seasons.

Then there were the two moves made with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the first of which brought aboard an on-base type in center fielder Adam Eaton, who is also a grinder. Both of those aspects have been missing in recent seasons.

The second move to acquire Matt Davidson for closer Addison Reed appears riskier on the surface, but if the right-handed power hitter can cut down on his strikeouts, while also refining his defense, he can be yet another answer to the team's recent run-producing woes.

While it isn't fair to nitpick the small major-league sample sizes from guys such as Garcia, Eaton and Davidson, there are areas of concern with each. And then there is the fact that Abreu has no professional experience outside of Cuba and will likely be asked to jump to the major leagues without an inning of minor-league play.

Garcia was a prized pickup since he can hit for power, average and has above-average foot speed. One missing characteristic to his game, though, is an ability to be selective at the plate. Garcia played 42 games after coming over from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal and walked just five times.

The right-handed hitter did post a .304 batting average in 161 trips to the plate in a White Sox uniform, but his .775 OPS suggests plenty of room for improvement.

The quicker Abreu adjusts to major league life, the better, but handling American League pitching is hardly his only obstacle. The 26-year-old is also in the midst of adjusting to life in a new country, without family. There are also the trappings that could come from having a bank account that is bursting at the seams. In essence, 2014 will be a gigantic adjustment year for the team's new first baseman.

As for Eaton, there is no questioning the determination of somebody who stands at just 5-foot-8, but there figures to be some worry about a sprained elbow ligament that cropped up just about one year ago and ended up costing the leadoff man three months of the season. Eaton joined the Diamondbacks midway through last season and never did seem to get his feet under him, delivering a .314 on-base percentage that was well under what his tools suggest he can do.

As for Davidson, he is not only going to have to cut down on strikeouts, the lament of the majority of power hitters, but he also needs to show some refined defense at third base. He was primarily a pitcher before he was drafted 35th overall in 2009, so his third-base defense still needs to be polished.

Yet for all the holes that could deflate the White Sox's youth movement, there remains upside aplenty. When it comes to the pitching staff, Nate Jones could end up as the team's next closer, while Erik Johnson is considered a favorite for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.

There are no guarantees that youth movements strike gold, but it was a route the White Sox needed to go if they wanted to not only be competitive one day soon, but also able to battle for a playoff spot year after year.

Also new is the White Sox's commitment to player development, something that didn't always get the financial backing that it needed in recent years. The White Sox will commit more to both the draft and to international signings in the upcoming season.

So while there is plenty at stake for each individual young player to reach his maximum potential, the pressure is just as high for the front office to find the players who have the makeup to completely tap into their natural ability.

OUTLOOK: Garcia, Abreu, Eaton and Davidson are getting the most attention at this part of the youth movement, but there are plenty of others who could play a key role. Leury Garcia could be the rare young player asked to deliver with sporadic playing time, not only as a utility player, but also to deliver speed off the bench. After an impressive minor league season, right-hander Daniel Webb could find himself with a key bullpen role.

If the big-league rotation needs any help, young pitchers such as Andre Rienzo, Eric Surkamp and Charlie Leesman could be the next in line. Players at the minor league level who are expected to take a big leap in their development are shortstop Tim Anderson, second baseman Micah Johnson, outfielder Courtney Hawkins and right-hander Chris Beck.