"If we're going to be a better team, then I have to assume we'll have better defense because it wasn't very good last year."
-- Paul Konerko's assessment of the 2009 White Sox defense
Certainly, part of the Chicago White Sox's master plan this winter was to shore up their bullpen and try to make their defense a strength rather than a weakness.
One of the major problems for the White Sox in 2009 is that they basically had three rookies playing at third base, shortstop and second. Growing pains were a big part of the process for Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez and Chris Getz. All three were playing those positions in the major leagues for the first time. (Ramirez was the starting second baseman in 2008). Although Ramirez's game eventually got straightened out last season, the first few months of the year were very tough for him, the pitchers and White Sox management. To put it bluntly, the "Cuban Missile" lacked focus in the field.
"That's why we have [Omar] Vizquel now," manager Ozzie Guillen said when asked about how the Sox would prevent future lapses in the field for Ramirez. "That's why I took him out of the lineup at one point last year, because his offense was affecting his defense."
This season, the White Sox will have five players in different positions than in their Opening Day lineup of 2009. The five position players with new positions will be Juan Pierre in left field, Alex Rios in center, Carlos Quentin in right, Mark Teahen at third and Beckham at second base.
In breaking down their defensive skills, Pierre is an average outfielder with a below-average arm, who for some reason this spring has shown more arm strength than in the past. Rios will be the best center fielder the White Sox have had since Aaron Rowand was doing his thing for the 2005 world champions. Rios' throwing shoulder has been sore all spring, something to watch as the season opens. Quentin is moving from left field to right field, his more natural outfield position that he played before he was obtained by the White Sox. Quentin's throwing has been a work in progress this spring as he rediscovers his throw from the opposite corner. As for Teahen, who was obtained from the Kansas City Royals for Getz and third baseman Josh Fields, he has never played third base for an entire season. The veteran infielder should handle the position well after getting used to manning it on a daily basis.
The major concentration on defense this season will be focused on Beckham, who is being asked to start at yet another position he has never played. For Beckham, this is the second year in a row he will be playing a position in the major leagues for the first time. The White Sox are confident that their second baseman will be able to handle the job. In fact, Beckham is being compared to Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who came up with the Cubs in 1982 and was shuffled to a new position at third base only to be switched the next year to second base, another position he had never played full time. For Sandberg, the rest was baseball history for the next 15 seasons.
Beckham has looked good at second base this spring, although he has had few chances to turn the 6-4-3 double play. The White Sox catching is solid with A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro behind the dish. Both are experienced and solid catchers who call good games, but throwing out baserunners is not their strong suit. Truthfully, they would be better with a little help from the pitchers if the men on the mound would cooperate by holding baserunners on a little bit better.
Hard statistic to ignore: The 2009 White Sox made 113 errors, the second worst in baseball
The Sox catch on: All five new defensive players tighten up the defense as the White Sox turn a weakness into a strength.
White Sox drop the ball: This scenario would take place if Beckham fails to turn the double play, Teahen fizzles at third base and the outfielders must be shuffled because of poor offense.