Who’s Going To Start in AAA?


The White Sox suddenly have a lot of choices to make about their roster. Although Spring Training results have heavily influenced the team in the past – and obviously Spring Training hasn’t happened yet – there are some indicators about whom to expect on the roster come opening day, and who the White Sox will start in Charlotte. For the first time in a long time, the White Sox have not publicly labeled themselves as a playoff contender for 2014, and perhaps it will yield some calmer, longer-sighted decision making with roster spots and development time tables.

There are a few places – surprisingly few, actually – where the White Sox look like their minds are made up. Right field, shortstop, and DH will belong to Avisail Garcia, Alexei Ramirez, and Adam Dunn from the left side respectively. Further, the White Sox probably didn’t bring Paul Konerko back in order to cut him. One has to imagine he is getting PAs at 1B and DH and making the 25-man roster. Judging by where he is at in his career, and what Rick Hahn and others in the organization have said, I also have to assume that Adam Eaton is going to be the starting center fielder heading into 2014.

There are other positions that look like they belong to a certain guy, although the odds of a trade are anywhere from possible to likely. For example, Gordon Beckham is the incumbent at 2B. The White Sox could trade him in order to make room for Marcus Semien, but until that happens, one has to assume that Semien will either be a bench player (varying degrees of unlikely depending on some other moving parts) or begin the year in AAA. My hope is that Semien is playing full time, wherever he is playing.

I am also of the position that, until proven otherwise, Gordon Beckham is who he is at this point in his career and if someone is offering something of value the White Sox should snap it up – however, I think  it’s possible Semien could benefit from a little more time in the minors and trading Beckham doesn’t have to happen in the offseason.

Likewise, unless something changes, Left Field is going to be occupied by a platoon of Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro de Aza, with de Aza available as a backup in center and right as needed. Hahn has explicitly said that he is shopping both of those guys – which makes a ton of sense, especially with the presence of Konerko diminishing the value of Viciedo as a platoon DH with Dunn.

Semien may be the White Sox’ best 2B – but will there be room for him? (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Catcher looks like it belongs to Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley. There is reason to believe that both can be better than they have been, and they’re certainly inexpensive, but unfortunately they are rather redundant in some clunky ways. They both hit lefties better than righties, and they both throw better than they receive pitches. There’s no really obvious way to divide playing time here, other than that Josh Phegley would seem to have more potential having at least performed extremely well at AAA in 2013, whereas Flowers has a lot of time in between now and his last positive results. While some have speculated that Adrian Nieto could be in the mix for the backup catcher spot, I am extremely skeptical that he can just make the leap from High-A to the majors in one offseason.

Lastly, unless the White Sox are willing to just cut Jeff Keppinger and eat the money (which I have advocated) – or see if someone is willing to pick him up for anything, anything at all – he is also likely to be clogging up the roster somewhere in 2014.

Okay, so we have now worked out something like this:

RF: Avisail Garcia

CF: Adam Eaton

LF: de Aza/Viciedo

3B: ???

SS: Alexei

2B: Beckham

1B/DH: Konerko/Dunn

C: Flowers/Phegley

Unless the White Sox are willing to use an 11-man pitching staff, there are only going to be four bench spots available. Even with ONLY the players cited above, you have two of those spots taken by whichever of the two catchers isn’t playing and whichever of the two left fielders who aren’t playing.

I have rather conspicuously not mentioned Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson yet. They are both clearly huge acquisitions and huge parts of the organization’s plans moving forward. On the other hand, these are guys that may benefit from starting the year in AAA depending on how Spring Training goes and how a few other dominoes on the roster fall.

In the mix at 3B, competing with Matt Davidson, are Conor Gillaspie, Jeff Keppinger, and Marcus Semien. Semien clearly has other vectors to obtain playing time (SS, 2B), and the White Sox should not be  stunting anyone’s development for Keppinger’s sake. Still, I think you could argue that Davidson will need a few more months of seasoning in Charlotte, especially given that the Arizona farm leagues he is used to are all insane hitter-friendly environments. I’m also not so sure that Gillaspie should just be kicked to the curb. He is out of options, and probably fungible in a lot of ways, but he is cheap and last year hit like an actual major leaguer against right-handed pitching (.261/.324/.414). So, unless you are willing to make Konerko retire after all, tell Keppinger to take a hike, or deal Viciedo/de Aza immediately, you are probably going to have to just dump him if you want to make Matt Davidson your starting 3B.

Jose Abreu is even more fascinating. We have no idea how major league ready he is going to be when he arrives in Spring Training. Perhaps he just hits the ground running and starts obliterating major league velocity right out of the gates. Perhaps he has never really seen major league quality stuff in Cuba, a league which is roughly equated to High A in terms of difficulty, and would benefit from a month in Charlotte. There is no real way to know from where we are sitting. One hopes that with the White Sox’ history with Cuban players, and the with presence of two Cuban players on the roster, that the off-the-field adjustments for Abreu will be minimized as much as possible. The presence of Konerko messes with Abreu’s short-term future as well. Whenever Abreu gets to the majors this year, he, Dunn, and Konerko are going to be shuffling around 1B/DH, and it doesn’t really make sense to stifle Abreu’s development to give Konerko and Dunn PAs.

Other guys to consider in the mix for the major league roster would have to be Leury Garcia and Jordan Danks, among others.

As a result of this meandering jumble, it is clear that this Spring Training is going to be one of the more interesting ones in recent memory. Depending on how Davidson and Abreu look, a whole lot of other players may be on the move. Conor Gillaspie may be sacrificed in the roster crunch. The arrival of Marcus Semien may have to wait until some of the dead wood is cleared. Perhaps you just start Abreu and Davidson in the minors, run out with a platoon of Keppinger and Gillaspie at 3B, with Beckham sliding to SS and Keppinger covering him at 2B on days you need to rest Alexei Ramirez, and letting Phegley or Viciedo get some reps at 1B/DH on days you want to sit Dunn against lefties.

It’s all a bit of a mess, but at least one can see how the roster streamlines itself for 2015 with the departure of Dunn and Konerko, and how Beckham and others are viable for the trading block after all. Injuries may make some decisions for you, as will performance. The team can buy itself some time legitimately developing a few of these guys in the minors, but eventually you are going to have to make some hard decisions about players who may not deserve as much of the benefit of the doubt as they have been given.