The 2013 Houston Astros and Miami Marlins got a lot of publicity last season for being horrible ballclubs, but the black-and-white team on the south side of Chicago was just hoping nobody looked their way. The Chicago White Sox were just one loss away from tying the Marlins with 100 losses (still well behind the Astros' 111), and for the first time since 1989, the Sox placed last in their division.
Chicago's 2013 offensive power outage was a steep dropoff compared to 2012, when they scored 748 runs (seventh in the majors). The team scored just 598 runs last season, which was worse than all teams but the Marlins (513).
The White Sox pitching staff was mediocre, at best, in 2013, with a 3.98 ERA (19th in the majors), although, they did rank 12th in quality starts.
The bullpen has plenty of new faces compared to last spring, with Jesse Crain, Addison Reed, Hector Santiago and Matt Thornton pitching elsewhere in 2014, and the White Sox offense has overseen a slight (much-needed) overhaul.
They also brought in a new hitting coach, Todd Steverson, in hopes of improving on the team's patience at the plate. The Brewers were the only team in the majors to draw fewer walks (407) than the White Sox (411).
Nearly half of the lineup in 2014 is new to the pale hose, and starting pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are the only reliable arms in the rotation, from a Fantasy perspective. Heck, Sale is more than reliable, with a possible Cy Young Award waiting for him in the near future.
The organization made several other moves, including signing Cuban free agent Jose Dariel Abreu to man first base, and trading for leadoff hitter Adam Eaton. Things are actually looking up for this offense. But the best news for White Sox fans is that the Cubs might be even worse in 2014.
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Alejandro De Aza, LF
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Adam Dunn, DH
5. Avisail Garcia, RF
6. Alexei Ramirez, SS
7. Gordon Beckham, 2B
8. Matt Davidson, 3B
9. Tyler Flowers, C
1. Chris Sale, LHP
2. Jose Quintana, LHP
3. John Danks, LHP
4. Erik Johnson, RHP
5. Felipe Paulino, RHP
Others: Andre Rienzo
Bullpen: Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom
What can we expect out of Jose Abreu in his first season in the majors? As if he was plucked directly out of the Sierra Maestra mountain range in Cuba, Abreu will loom as an impressive mountain of a man in this lineup. When he steps into the batter's box, expect a few oohs and ahhs from the home crowd, as his 6-foot-3, 255-lb. frame gets ready to swing for the hitter-friendly fences at U.S. Cellular Field.
It's quite difficult to project for a player like Abreu. As a matter of fact, it's tougher to gauge what an international hitter will do in the United States than it is to guesstimate what an imported pitcher might do. You can see a pitcher's velocity, his movement and his makeup, for the most part. But for hitters, you can only assess him against the quality of pitchers he faces, his speed on the basepaths and his selectiveness at the plate. You can also see how hard he hits the ball, too, which is part of Abreu's resume.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn discussed how he believes Abreu steps up to the plate with a plan, which is already better than most minor league sluggers. While he flashed power in Cuba (setting the league's home run record in 2010 and 2011), he also posted a .479 on-base percentage last season. Three of his nine hits in the 2013 World Baseball Classic ended up in the cheap seats. We've seen power, and we've seen patience.
If the White Sox were happy to hand over the biggest contract ever to an international free agent, then we should be happy to draft him as a corner man for our fantasy team. He's being drafted in Rounds 6-9 of most 12-team Rotisserie drafts, so you better be confident if you take him before two-thirds of the rest of your lineup.
Who is going to be the White Sox closer for 2014? After the White Sox jettisoned Reed in a trade to Arizona, and after several other 2013 bullpen parts ended up in different jerseys this winter, the White Sox essentially opened up the closer competition to everyone.
It looks as if Nate Jones has the inside track on that spot heading into Spring Training, but a dozen things could change before Opening Day. But after pitching in 135 major league games in his career, Jones still doesn't have a save recorded in the bigs. Well, he has 12 saves over his five-year minor-league journey, it's awfully difficult to put too much faith in Mr. Jones.
Different sites have him projected for over 35 saves, based on his high-90s fastball, his ability to keep the ball over the plate, and the fact he struck out over a batter per inning last season. But are you convinced?
As we've learned over the past couple decades, the closer position is the most volatile in all of fantasy sports. No position ends up with more different names at seasons' end than at seasons' start than the last-inning reliever.
Also, while good closers on bad teams get plenty of save opportunities, we haven't proven Jones is good, and no other team in the majors lost more one-run games than the White Sox (36) last season. That was WITH Reed installed as the closer.
Rather than spend a pick on Jones in the mid-to-late rounds of your drafts, consider rolling the dice with your final pick on someone like Daniel Webb or Matt Lindstrom. Webb spent 2013 in three different stops in the minors, posting a 1.87 ERA. Lindstrom used to close games with Houston and the Marlins, but he'll be more of an emergency situation kind of guy.
Is Adam Eaton a buy-low candidate now, a year after his injury in Arizona? The speedy lefty was a popular sleeper pick in mock drafts last season, since he had speed to spare and was taking over center field for Chris Young. But a freak Spring Training injury in which he sprained his UCL in his left elbow made fantasy owners wait until midseason for his return. Instead of a two-month absence, as trainers predicted, he struggled to get healthy for an extra month.
Once Eaton returned, he had to regain his batting eye, timing and momentum that he had built up during Spring Training, and he was very slow out of the gate for Arizona. He improved in August, but slumped again in September, finishing with a meager .252/.314/.360 slash line, with three homers and five steals in 250 at-bats.
You can count on him to get on base, and that means he'll have stolen base opportunities, with chances to score if the heart of the White Sox order can push him around.
A stutter-start in 2013, and moving to Chicago this offseason could make other owners look elsewhere when filling their fourth and fifth outfielder spots in their mixed-league drafts. But he'll serve fantasy owners well in 2014 -- at a discounted price.
Gordon Beckham, 2B -- No, seriously. There seem to be two types of people in this world: Those that have been burned by Beckham, and those who will end up getting burned by him at some point. But I'm here to say, "This is the year we won't hate him!"
Please, please, let me explain. While I remove the rotten tomatoes thrown upon me, check out his 2013 final stats: .267 batting average and a .322 on-base percentage. Those are his best numbers since his rookie season, and most of it came after he recovered from hand surgery.
He's 27 years old, above average in the field, and he has a couple prospects breathing down his neck in Micah Johnson and Marcus Semien. It's now or never in the South Side.
Alejandro De Aza, CF -- While he's coming off a pretty good fantasy season, with 17 homers and 20 steals, some projected lineups don't even have him as a starter. He's going to have to battle for at-bats since he has some problems to work out defensively, and it's unlikely he gets 600 at-bats again in 2014.
Jose Quintana, SP -- Hi, kids! Do you like innings? Do you like ERAs better than all but 41 other pitchers in the majors? Do you like ice cream? Jose Quintana and a pint of Half Baked is exactly what you need then. He's not great at any one position, and if the White Sox offense is better than last season, he should reach double digits in wins this season.
AL-Only Guys to Know
Matt Davidson, 3B -- While he has yet to do much at the major-league level, he's a highly touted prospect over the past few seasons that seems to have sputtered in the hype category. He might not do much in the batting average category, but he should flash some power. At 22, he seems like ripe for a buy-low trade candidate in dynasty leagues by midsummer, when others have tired of him.
Avisail Garcia, OF -- He's just 22 years old, but he's a big guy with decent speed. If his bat can catch up to his size, he could produce passable power numbers.
Erik Johnson, SP -- The White Sox auditioned him late last season after he shut down hitters in the minors (0.986 WHIP), and he enters 2014 with a rotation spot. Every season, there are a handful of rookie pitchers that shine brighter than we expected. Johnson could be one of those guys.