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White Sox spring previews: Outfield

2/16/2015
AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles

The outfield overhaul that started in the middle of the 2013 season is complete now with the offseason additions of left fielder Melky Cabrera and fourth outfielder/utility man Emilio Bonifacio.

This year’s starting outfield (Cabrera, Adam Eaton in center field and Avisail Garcia in right) is in stark contrast to the 2013 Opening Day outfield of Dayan Viciedo in left, Alejandro De Aza in center and Alex Rios in right.

The upgrades are clear.

At age 30, Cabrera is the elder statesman of this year’s White Sox outfield, with an offensive game that is more steady than flashy. He also has an ability to take over a role that has long been a void for the club. The White Sox have been searching for a No. 2 hitter for years and finally have somebody well versed in the job.

Eaton was not only the sparkplug of a revamped offense last season, he finished the year as a Gold Glove finalist for his determined outfield play. If he can avoid nagging injuries that plagued him last season, while improving his base running, then even better things are ahead.

Garcia’s heartbreak 2014 season started to play out early when he injured his shoulder in April during the first road trip of the season. He not only proved to be a fast healer by returning in the middle of August, when it had first looked like his season was done, he also put up solid numbers in Venezuela this winter.

The White Sox even went as far as to bring in a new backup outfielder in Bonifacio, who can actually cover all three spots if necessary. The fact that Bonifacio can also play on the infield makes him the kind of super utility man who could ultimately help a team carry an extra pitcher at times, if necessary.

Tony Campana, who was going to head to Arizona in an attempt to lock up a spot off a minor-league contract, was lost for the season with an ACL injury, but there are a number of other players who will see time in the outfield during big league camp.

In addition to J.B. Shuck, who was claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in November, the White Sox will also get closer looks at Jared Mitchell, Courtney Hawkins and Michael Taylor. Expect Trayce Thompson and Keenyn Walker to also see a little time when called over from minor league camp.

The simple subtraction of Viciedo from the equation (the White Sox released him on Feb. 4), means the defense is better. Nobody has seen a full season of defense from Garcia, though, as he reinvents the way he roams right field. Garcia has committed to not leaving his feet to make plays after a diving attempt on a catch resulted in his shoulder injury.

OUTLOOK: Eaton still has room for growth, which makes him a primary player to watch this season. If new base running coach Vince Coleman can unlock a base-stealing element from Eaton, his stock certainly will rise. Garcia got at-bats where he could last year, compiling 30 before he was injured, and 142 after he returned. He also had 125 in winter ball, batting .312 with a .528 slugging percentage. The White Sox would like to get a chance to see what he could do with 500 at-bats in the upcoming season. The club would be satisfied if Cabrera followed his typical career pattern of a .339 on-base percentage and a batting average in the high .280 area, as well as 80-90 runs scored. He could also be valuable in helping guide Jose Abreu through the rigors of a long season, something the rookie struggled with last year.