Not to oversell this, because Spring Training–no matter what–always reveals itself to be a lifeless, unsatisfying slog. Once you work through the thrill that people are actually throwing balls and swinging at them with bats again, you’ll quickly start wishing for them to start doing it with a damned smidgen of earthly purpose.
But more than I have seen in four seasons of blogging about non-playoff White Sox teams, this Spring Training has the most actual things that can be figured out through exhibition play that I can, or care to remember.
It’s going to be awful when Dylan Axelrod winds up winning this again somehow, but for now it’s ostensibly a battle between the rehabbing Paulino and the erratic Rienzo. Paulino has a longer stretch of success as a starter in his back pocket, but is an unknown entity after Tommy John surgery. Rienzo’s early success in 2013 was eventually overshadowed by 11 home runs allowed in 56 innings, which were more evidence of command issues than the problem itself.
If fully healthy, Paulino is the favorite, but it’s likely both are splitting time in the rotation this season anyway.
The winner receives the brunt of the fanbase’s withering scorn for, oh, two-to-three months or however long they can last. If Nieto somehow nabs a roster spot, it won’t speak well to progress shown by Phegley and Flowers.
Can Marcus Semien demand a roster spot?
He can ask, but can he demand one with his play? Alexei Ramirez are both slap-hitting middle infielders who are capable of filling starting roles on teams that can get their offense elsewhere. That makes them stiff competition for a Semien who is still finding his feet at the major league level (as he was last year), but they’re also not significant long-term hurdles if Semien’s bat retains any of the promise his 2013 Southern League MVP season at the plate.
Beckham and Ramirez are on constant tradebait watch, but it otherwise would seem hard for Semien to break camp.
Will Matt Davidson take a roster spot, not by asking, but by force?
The White Sox have no Earthly reason to start the year with Davidson over a platoon of Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger. They want to keep his service time down, they have every reason to wait until they are sure he is ready and they likely lose Gillaspie when they make the switch. Davidson has to not just mash, but mash management into a state of delirium where they think the pennant is at stake.
Or someone in front of him gets hurts or Gillaspie stops being able to do anything.
These two aren’t actually competing with each other for a roster spot, but locked in a battle for playing time until one of them is traded. Dayan can tilt this relationship by distinguishing himself at the plate, whereas De Aza is an unlikely fit for the long-term Sox plans and needs to channel Willie Mays to work his way off the trade block.
In our depleted and bleak reality, Viciedo is in this arrangement because he’s well on his way to a career as a little-used bat-only platoon player, and his usage will slowly shift to this.
Nate Jones vs. The Field for Closer
Robin Ventura rode Jones relentlessly as his primary setup man throughout the entire second half, and he’s the only veteran reliever in the group with primetime, bat-missing stuff. The role should be his, and he has a lot going for him.
Nate Jones had a K% of 35.6 after the All-Star break in 2013. #WhiteSox
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) February 11, 2014
But Brandon Webb and his 96+ mph heat lurks as a possibility, Matt Lindstrom has experience and the first closer Ventura ever anointed out of Spring was Hector Santiago. He’s not prone to conventional wisdom. If there’s any justice, this is where Dayan will land.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan