In the second installment of the 2015 Chicago White Sox season preview, it’s time to look at the infield. Overall, Hahn kept things mostly the same with two new additions. First baseman/designated hitter Adam Laroche was the first big add of the offseason, and former Chicago Cubs starting catcher Geovany Soto.
With these upgrades, it’s time to take a look at how much this infield has really improved.
Adam LaRoche (Designated Hitter)
Meet Adam LaRoche, the biggest of the two infield additions.
Just three season removed from finishing sixth in the National League MVP voting, LaRoche signed a two year/$25 million deal with the White Sox this offseason. So what exactly is general manager Rick Hahn getting? The 2012 Gold Glove winner is a more than capable first baseman and DH, and will spell Jose Abreu in the field to keep him fresh.
Last year, LaRoche had a slashline of (.259 AVG/.362 OBP/.455 SLG) on top of his 26 homeruns and 92 RBI, all while playing 140 games in his age 34 season.
He is expected to provide protection in the fourth hole for Abreu, and should give third year outfielder Avisail Garcia many favorable plate appearances throughout the year. LaRoche could very well prove to be one of Hahn’s best offseason moves if all goes as plans.
Projected Year: 30 HR/100 RBI/5 SB (.250 AVG/.345 OBP/.480 SLG)
Jose Abreu (First Base)
What once looked like a risky contract, may turn in to one of the best bargains in baseball. Jose Abreu came into the league with a bang. He fired off 36 home runs, batted in 107 RBI, slashed an impressive (.317 AVG/.383 OBP/.581 SLG), and a (5.5) WAR Last year. Abreu had little protection in the lineup and faced a total 15 intentional walks in part to that. With Cabrera in front of him and LaRoche hitting in the four-spot, Abreu will see many more favorable hitting situations.
Abreu was voted Rookie of the Year, won a Silver Slugger, finished fourth in the MVP race and was a first year American League all-star. All of this in a very impressive start to his Major League career.
One underrated aspect of the Cubans game was his play at first base. He is not very athletic or quick, but that did not stop him from flashing some leather and turning some heads in year one. He did have his fair-share of growing pains with the glove but has shown his upside.
Biggest question remains: Can he duplicate his first year results? If he can, he’ll be a prime MVP candidate in year two.
Projected Year: 40 HR/115 RBI/5 SB (.310 AVG/.365 OBP/.585 SLG)
Micah Johnson (Second Base)
According to multiple team sources including CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes, top prospect Micah Johnson is expected to win the second base job, which is why he’s projected as doing so.
The 2012 9th round pick had a monstrous year in 2013 with 7 home runs, 84 stolen bases and an impressive slashline (.312 AVG/.373 OBP/.451 SLG) through single and double-A ball. Last year was more of an injury ridden year but the 24-year-old was still able to put up very worthy numbers.
Ultimately, the race for second base will come down to either Johnson or Carlos Sanchez but Johnson seems to be the clear favorite for the job. Former starting second baseman Gordon Beckham will be waiting in the wings for his chance to regain the starting role but it’s been said that it’s not likely he will break camp as the starter.
Projected Year: 4 HR/35 RBI/30 SB (.265 AVG/.305 OBP/.390 SLG)
Alexei Ramirez (Shortstop)
The starting shortstop since 2008 will be heading into his eighth Major League season with minimal signs of slowing down. Alexei Ramirez has been one of the more reliable players at his position and is coming off a year with his first Silver Slugger award.
Ramirez found his power again last year with 15 home runs, 74 RBI, a nice .305 OBP, a team leading 21 stolen bases and a (3.0) WAR. His fielding has slowly declined in terms of erratic play but he still possesses those flashy plays that all Sox fans know and love.
Going into the season at 33-years-old and two more years of team control, it’s not unrealistic to expect slightly more of a drop off. As long as he can consistently get on base and flashes with the leather, he’ll be worth his contract and keep this team above water at the position.
Projected Year: 12 HR/70 RBI/20 SB (.270 AVG/.300 OBP/.395 SLG)
Conor Gillaspie (Third Base)
The former 2008 first round pick is going into his third full season and his stock seems to be on the upswing. Last year, Conor Gillaspie saw a sizable improvement from his rookie year and it didn’t go unnoticed, especially after Matt Davidson‘s struggles in Charlotte.
Gillaspie saw a .37 point rise in his batting average and a .31 point jump in his on-base-percentage. Although he did see a dip in power, manager Robin Ventura will take him getting on base more over six home runs, any year.
The former Giant is just 27-years-old, but there is still some doubt if he can be the long-term solution at third base, especially with his inconsistent fielding in which he committed 12 errors in 120 starts at the hot corner. Hahn and Ventura like what they see in him, but the ultimate hope is still for Davidson to develop through the next year or two and eventually take over. For now, they will gladly take his rise in production.
Projected Year: 10 HR/55 RBI/3 SB (.265 AVG/.325 OBP/.410 SLG)
Tyler Flowers (Catcher)
The love/hate relationship between White Sox fans and Tyler Flowers looks to continue in 2015. To put it nicely, Flowers hasn’t performed up to expectation since taking over for AJ Pierzynski in 2013.
Last year, Flowers went from one extreme to another, and back again. Starting the season on a hot streak, hitting .300 into the month of May, before cooling off to under .200 before the all-star break to finish with a slashline of (.241 AVG/.297 OBP/.396 SLG) with 15 home runs.
Post-glasses Tyler Flowers seemed to be a much more consistent hitter. With that being said, there’s really no telling what the team will get from him in the coming year. With a fielding percentage of .991 and throwing out 30% of base stealers, Flowers holds his own behind the plate. The team should have better depth behind him this year, which should keep the competition tight through the year.
Projected Year: 15 HR/55 RBI/ 0 SB (.245 AVG/.300 OBP/.390 SLG)
Gordon Beckham (Infielder) and Emilio Bonifacio (Utility)
With the best infield depth the team has had in years, Beckham and Bonifacio can both start in a pinch and produce solid results. Beckham will look to push the two rookies in the second base competition, but should ultimately end up as the primary back up at second and third. Bonifacio can play anywhere on the field and will see his fair-share of at-bats, mostly coming from the outfield.
Competition for backup Catcher
Geovany Soto looks to be the odds-on favorite to win the backup job but he will be highly contested by Adrian Nieto, who was the team’s backup last year, Rob Brantly who was the Marlins former top catching prospect and George Kottaras who provides another veteran option on a Minor League deal. Ultimately, the job is Soto’s to lose but don’t rule out Brantly having a strong spring and making the decision tougher than most expect.
This may the most balanced unit that the White Sox have seen since their World Series run in 2005. Abreu looks to be a perfect replacement for Paul Konerko and Adam LaRoche should be a sizable upgrade over Adam Dunn. There are question marks at second base, third base, and catcher. But overall, this is an improved group that should see improvement in the field and in the batting order.