After a 3-2 win over the Royals on September 18 last season, the White Sox held a three-game lead over the Tigers in the AL Central. They lost their next five games, eight of their next nine and 10 of their next 12, ceding the division to Detroit, the eventual AL champion. Despite that disastrous finish to the season, it was an unexpectedly successful year on the South Side of Chicago. The White Sox started the 2012 season with a questionable rotation and two of 2011's worst players -- Adam Dunn and Alex Rios -- in their everyday lineup. Dunn and Rios bounced back in a huge way, Chris Sale proved to be a legitimate ace and the since departed A.J. Pierzynski had the best year of his career.
This year the White Sox enter the season in similar fashion to 2012. It's the Tigers and then everyone else in the AL Central, and the White Sox have to be considered somewhat of a long shot to make the playoffs. Still, there is plenty here for the fantasy owner. Sale can sit at the top of a fantasy rotation, and Jake Peavy enjoyed a resurgent 2012 season. Dunn, Rios and Paul Konerko make up a strong 3-4-5, and though this team will miss Pierzynski's presence, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza both could be overlooked at draft tables. On the whole, this team likely overachieved last year, and they should regress in the win column.
1. Alejandro De Aza, CF 2. Jeff Keppinger, 3B 3. Adam Dunn, DH 4. Paul Konerko, 1B 5. Alex Rios, RF 6. Dayan Viciedo, LF 7. Alexei Ramirez, SS 8. Gordon Beckham, 2B 9. Tyler Flowers, C
1. Chris Sale 2. Jake Peavy 3. John Danks 4. Gavin Floyd 5. Jose Quintana
I see no reason why Dunn won't hit another 37-42 homers and drive in 100 runs this season. If you're in a batting average league, you have to compensate for him, and if you already have a roster that doesn't exactly feature world beaters in the batting average category, you'll probably have to stay away from Dunn. However, if you can get yourself a few Vottos or McCutchens or Reyeses or Mauers, you can easily take on Dunn's batting average sinkhole. And if you're in a league that uses OBP, slugging percentage or OPS, all of a sudden Dunn becomes an asset in your rate category.
With Sale entering his age-24 season, I don't think anyone doubts there are big things in his future. Instead of talking about that, let's look at why you should take him ahead of some pitchers being selected around him, specifically CC Sabathia, Gio Gonzalez and Kris Medlen. I'll be taking Sale over Sabathia this draft season because of Sale's strikeout ability. Sabathia obviously has never been a slouch in terms of strikeouts, but he has a few things working against him: He turns 33 years old in July, and his velocity is starting to slip. I love Gonzalez (I'd take him over Sabathia and Medlen), but he was a bit lucky last year, evidenced by his .267 BABIP. He whiffed 9.35 batters per nine innings, and I'm betting that comes down a bit this year as National League hitters become more and more familiar with him. As for Medlen, I trust Sale more because we saw him pitch for a full season last year. I'd be thrilled with any of these guys as my No. 2 starter, and would even feel good about having any of them as my ace, but I'm grabbing Sale first out of this bunch.
On the plus side, Viciedo had a 22.1 percent line-drive rate last year; if he can consistently post a number like that, he should be able to improve on his .286 BABIP from last season. On the downside, Viciedo's lack of plate discipline could undermine his overall skills. He had a 5.2 percent walk rate and 22.1 percent strikeout rate last year, and he swung at 39.9 percent of all pitches he saw outside the strike zone, way more than league average. Unsurprisingly, he had a 12.2 percent swinging-strike rate.
In a league that only uses three outfielders, I wouldn't feel totally comfortable with Viciedo as a starter on Opening Day, though I would consider drafting him. In a five-outfielder league, he's definitely a starter.
AL-only guys to know