White Sox position players set (attainable) spring training storylines

Everybody wants more, whether it's Jose Abreu (steals), Tim Anderson (fun) or Rick Renteria (flexbility for Leury Garcia)

With the exception of four players awaiting visas from Venezuela (half of them Rondons), White Sox position players have joined the pitchers and catchers by basking in spring training optimism.

Camelback Ranch is the place to set goals, and a lot of them are on the too-ambitious side. Alec Hansen might think Steve Nebraska threw baseball’s only true perfect game, and Reynaldo Lopez is indirectly gunning for a Cy Young:

But others have set more modest goals, at least in their own words, and they’ll be easier to track in the season’s first month or two.

Jose Abreu’s wheels: At SoxFest, Rick Renteria professed that his first baseman had the ability to play shortstop — which Rick Hahn shot down immediately.

On Sunday, Renteria acted as the wet blanket. He struggled to keep a straight face after hearing that Abreu didn’t reject the idea of 30 stolen bases this year:

Even at the mention of a possible 30-30 season — typically a goal more readily placed on the shoulders of his mentee, Yoan Moncada — Abreu wasn’t willing to write off the possibility, and his boldness made for the rare moment in which Renteria couldn’t keep his composure.

“They’re all going … [laughs] … they’re all going to continue to improve their baserunning skills and if that happens to be one of the outcomes, him being able to take a base, that would be awesome,” said Renteria, fighting an acute case of the giggles. “But I’m actually more concerned about him making sure he gets himself ready to swing the bat and catch the ball at first.”

According to the Bill James Handbook, Abreu did improve by nine whole bases last year, and on the strength of his ability to run on the pitcher:

  • 2016: -15 bases (-11 baserunning, -4 steals)
  • 2017: -6 bases (-9 baserunning, +3 steals)

He succeeded on all three attempts last year after going 0-for-2 in that category last year, so I can see what he’s going for, at least within reason. I just might not talk about it so much if I were Abreu, because surprise will need to come before ruthless efficiency amongst his weaponry.

Abreu’s speed dreams were quickly overshadowed by the White Sox’ facial hair guidelines. He grew out his beard over the winter, and Renteria also wants to keep that in line:

“Our team rule is you can have facial hair but it’s got to be clean,” Renteria said. “The one thing that any organization uses—and I don’t think it’s any secret—my message to our players is this: What is the most important thing for you as a baseball player? It’s certainly being a White Sox (player). And playing the game is the most important thing, so anything else is of no consequence. So we keep it in perspective.

The immediate reaction is that other teams have thrived without a martinet in charge, so the White Sox have their priorities in the wrong place. Spin it as a “Less LaRoche” policy and it becomes harder to contest.

Tim Anderson’s confidence: After a rough year personally and professionally, Anderson is looking for a breakout season in both regards.

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said.

Stats and love — say it in Ringo’s voice — do seem to be intertwined in Anderson’s approach, though, lest you’re worried about his priorities. He’s said both at SoxFest and in this interview with Chuck Garfien that he wants to be the all-around dynamo we saw in September, which is good. You might not like his answer about drawing walks …

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

… but the shortest route to a first successful MLB season is emphasizing what he can do, rather than turn into a player he’s never been. A decent average, extra bases (pop and/or steals) and reliable playmaking at short are all in within reach for him. A 5 percent walk rate is more on the aspirational side.

Center field ownership: Speaking of the shortest distance between two points, the most direct course to adequacy in center field is Leury Garcia. He hit .298/.345/.459 over his first 200 plate appearances before injuring his hand, after which he hit just .227/.270/.370 over 107 plate appearances.

If the White Sox christened him the everyday center fielder — at least until Charlie Tilson proves himself healthy or Adam Engel proves himself hitting better than .160 — I wouldn’t see any reason to argue. But then Renteria dropped this …

… and after chewing on it a little, it doesn’t rule out Garcia from receiving the majority of reps in center field once the rubber hits the road. On a contender’s depth chart, Garcia would play in a role where he never loses his infield chops, but Garcia may very well be the most valuable to the Sox in a narrow role for the time being. The question is what happens when the ideal and practical conflict, and there’s going to be a lot of that for Renteria to negotiate in the second rebuilding season.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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PauliePaulie

Wasn’t encouraged by a single quote. This is either a whole bunch of silly pie in the sky and misdirected BS coming out of Spring Training, or I need another cup of coffee.

Lurker Laura

Most of the chatter out of spring training is BS. Watching what they do, and how they do it, is what has real meaning.

katiesphil

Virtually all sports quotes are BS. If you’re looking for insight and inspiration from a sportsperson’s talking, you’re liable to be a very glum person.

mikeyb

I’m most interested to see how they use Leury (and if those first 200 ABs were a mirage). He’s a guy who could have a ton of value to the Sox (either on this team or as a trade piece) if the pre-injury bat comes back.

Ceverettsdinosaurs

That was one of the exciting things about last seasons to me. If he could turn into a super-utility Zobrist-like player (the TB version), he would be an extremely valuable piece.

joewho112

If he turned into a quarter of the player Zobrist was in TB, he’d be valuable. Expecting full on Zobrist is setting the bar awfully high

Ceverettsdinosaurs

I agree, that is the pipe dream. But even becoming a fraction of what Zobrist was in TB would make him a valuable piece. That’s really what I hope for from Garcia.

seven11

He’s already a fraction of what Zobrist is.

Lurker Laura

Also, any “Less LaRoche” policy is a good policy.

Patrick Nolan

Danny Farquhar, pitching analytics guru.

Milky✌️

Just finished reading that, and came back over here to share. Really great read. 

Greg Nix

Fegan’s such a good reporter. I can’t imagine any of the other beat writers overhearing Farquhar’s casual comment, then following up on it so thoroughly.

Patrick Nolan

He is very good at his job.

35Shields

Fangraphs Depth Charts projections have been updated to include ZiPS as well as Steamer.

The Sox are now projected to tie the Royals for second-worst in the MLB at 66-96, beating out the Marlins.

lil jimmy

tie? there’s no ties in baseball!

Josh Nelson

Second worst American League offensive projected production will do that.

35Shields

Combined with worst starting pitching staff

yinkadoubledare

It could even be a boat!

Reindeer Games

Watch Lopez hit those extremely lofty goals, and PNoles has to spend hours on twitter fighting fans complaining about winning too many games because Rey was too good. Fight the good fight, pnoles. Fight the good fight.

MrTopaz

Every minute, every day.

Reindeer Games

What is dead can never die!

katiesphil

But with strange eons…

Patrick Nolan

It is my self-assigned cross to bear.

Josh Nelson

While you are at it, can you take over the “Matt Davidson is just as good as Todd Frazier” crowd? Thanks.

Reindeer Games

You’re a better man than me. I’d just call them dumb dumbs or dildos and be on my way.

Patrick Nolan

Figured natural selection would handle that one.

lil jimmy

you mean the hair is just as good,right?

Anohito

Even with some of the chatter being a bit too in the clouds, it shows a great positive attitude going into ST and a good sign it’ll translate to better team chemistry and results. Very exciting bunch, should be a very fun spring.

Josh Nelson

Tyler Danish is reportingly getting the start for Friday.

35Shields

Will there be a ST broadcast schedule post? Those were really helpful before

youhadmeatabreu

Anyone going down to Glendale this weekend? I will be at the Sunday and Monday games and headed straight to the airport on Monday.