The Chicago White Sox will enter this season a sleeker, younger, more exciting model than the 2013 version, which finished last season 63-99, owners of the American League's second-worst record.
General manager Rick Hahn began the re-tooling last season, at the trade deadline, sending away Jake Peavy in a three-team deal that netted the White Sox Avisail Garcia, a 22-year-old mini-Miguel Cabrera who hit .304 with five home runs and three steals over 161 at-bats after the trade. In the offseason, the team sent Hector Santiago to the Angels in a three-team deal, which brought back centerfielder and new leadoff hitter Adam Eaton. And less than a week later, closer Addison Reed was traded to Arizona (in a two-team deal) for third baseman Matt Davidson. Throw in the signing of Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, and the starting lineup features four players with tons of potential and an average age of 24, who weren't on the team last June.
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One of the casualties of the youth influx is Paul Konerko, who has been the team's starting first baseman since 1999, having accrued 7,961 at-bats and 427 home runs over those 15 seasons. With Abreu at first and Adam Dunn at DH, the 37-year-old Konerko will likely shift to a bench role -- Fantasy players should take note of this before casually drafting Konerko in the later rounds of mixed drafts, assuming nothing has changed and he's still a starter. At shortstop, Alexei Ramirez is coming off his first 30-steal season, which followed his first 20-steal season (in 2012). His home runs have essentially dried up -- he's staggered downward from 18 home runs in 2010 to a career-low six in 2013 -- but he hit a career-high 39 doubles in 2013 and his .284 average was his best since 2008. The transformation has basically moved around his value to other areas, instead of him losing any. But Roto players should be aware of this recent shift from power to speed.
One of the more interesting role players in 2014 will be Leury Garcia, a 22-year-old infielder/outfielder who stole six bases over 20 games with Chicago last year, after coming over in the Alex Rios trade with Texas. Garcia stole 12 bases in 33 Dominican Winter League games -- for context, Jean Segura and Junior Lake both stole 11 in that league last offseason. With his positional flexibility, Garcia could fight his way to 300-plus at-bats and be a nice AL-only option for steals at middle infield.
The rotation, led by lefties Chris Sale (3.06 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 over the last two seasons) and Jose Quintana (3.61 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 6.6 K/9), is probably better than many realize. If John Danks can return to his 2008-2010 form (3.61 ERA and 1.24 WHIP), the White Sox have a solid foundation. Prospect Erik Johnson -- who had a 3.25 ERA over five starts after posting a 1.96 ERA in 24 starts between Double- and-Triple-A in 2013 -- could be a nice surprise for owners willing to take a chance on a relatively untested starter.
In the bullpen, Nate Jones is a solid candidate to replace Reed as closer. His fastball averaged 97.7 mph last season, as he struck out 89 batters in 78 innings. If Jones -- who has never saved a game in the majors -- fails, there may be a darkhorse candidate in Felipe Paulino, who is currently lined up as the fifth starter, but hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 Tommy John surgery (and a 2013 procedure to remove a cyst in his shoulder). If the White Sox feel Andre Rienzo can excel as a starter, and the team wants a safety net for Jones, it might make sense for the Sox to keep Paulino's innings low with a bullpen stint.
Overall, this is a White Sox team primed for a rebound year. They're young, exciting and full of Fantasy upside. Don't be surprised if some of 2014's biggest Fantasy surprises are on this roster.
Breakout... Avisail Garcia, outfield
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Avisail Garcia and Miguel Cabrera are both listed at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. They're both from Venezuela and both played their first professional season at age 17. Over their first four minor league seasons, the two produced these lines:
Cabrera: .286 average, 28 home runs, 103 doubles, 23 steals, 1,428 at-bats
Garcia: .275 average, 23 home runs, 56 doubles, 49 steals, 1,534 at-bats
It's not a perfect comparison -- Cabrera walked and doubled a lot more, while Garcia has more speed -- but what's not in this comparison is the fact that Garcia spent another season and a half in the minors (Cabrera was called up after four), with his OPS rising and BB/K rate normalizing. And for a deeper picture of the similarities between the two players, this 2012 article from the Detroit Free Press should convert a few new believers (and be sure to check out the pictures of the two, mid-swing). Garcia's 2013 stretch with the White Sox was encouraging, and showed what he could do with regular at-bats in a hitter-friendly park. A .280 average and a combined total of 40 home runs and steals is not out of the question for 2014.
Underappreciated... Adam Eaton, outfield
Adam Eaton entered 2013 with a ton of promise -- he'd steal bases, hit for average and maybe even throw in some home runs. But a spring training elbow injury that was supposed to have Eaton back by May turned into a series of setbacks that saw him playing his first game of the season on July 9. He finished with a .252 average, two home runs and five steals over 250 at-bats. With a full offseason to rest, strengthen and rehab, Eaton is expected to start 2014 as the leadoff hitter for this revamped Sox lineup, which could get him close to (or over) 100 runs scored. Eaton's minor league career was promising enough to have faith in the 25-year-old for 2014 -- a .348 average over 1,300 at-bats (an average dragged down by his 2013 rehab, when he hit .256 in 26 games), with 106 steals over those four campaigns, along with 26 home runs. Let others be scared off by his major league numbers. Eaton finally enters a season with a favorable set of circumstances, and can contribute with a great average and possibly 30-plus steals..
Impact prospect... Matt Davidson, third base
Addison Reed saved 69 games over the last two seasons, with 40 saves in 2013 alone. And the White Sox traded him -- with no clear-cut backup option -- to the Diamondbacks, getting Matt Davidson in return. Davidson has played in 31 major league games, all of them coming in 2013, as he hit .237 with three home runs and six doubles over 76 at-bats. A three-time Top 100 prospect (according to Baseball America), Davidson has hit 17 or more home runs in each of his last four minor league campaigns, with 30 or more doubles in three. His career minor league batting average (.268) doesn't give a ton of hope for anything over .250 in the majors, but he's slated to start at third base from opening day forward, and can probably be relied on for 20-plus home runs and 75-80 RBI.
Erik Johnson and Matt Davidson are expected to start the year in the majors, so expect good things right away from the duo. And if we consider Jose Abreu a prospect (technically, he is), he joins Johnson and Davidson at the top of the list. ... Marcus Semien played shortstop, second base and third base last season, while hitting .284 with 19 home runs and 32 doubles. The 23-year-old would probably need an injury to Alexei Ramirez or Davidson (or just a total implosion from Davidson) to make an impact in 2014. Keeping him on the roster as a utility player would likely just stunt his development. ... Micah Johnson has a little Billy Hamilton in him, stealing 84 bases across three levels of the minors in 2013. He also hit .312 with seven home runs and 15 triples, but is likely ticketed for Double-A to start the season. Keep an eye on him in dynasty leagues, though, as Johnson plays second base and could offer lots of future speed potential from the middle infield. ... Daniel Webb excelled in his first season as a full-time reliever, finishing 2013 with a 1.87 ERA and 78 strikeouts over 62 2/3 minor league innings. The 24-year-old may have a shot at a bullpen slot in 2014 if he can put together a strong spring. Fantasy owners in deep AL-only formats who are pessimistic on Nate Jones (this is a very specific subset) may want to consider Webb as a very long shot option for saves.