As Ventura Era Begins, Hector Santiago is a Most Interesting Piece of the South Side Puzzle

Just because I haven’t posted lately, it doesn’t mean I’m not eagerly awaiting the 2012 season. And it makes it more fun when the so-called experts, who frankly don’t have much more insight than those of us fans that follow the game closely, predict doomsday for our Sox.

Things seem to be coming together with a week to go before the opener against the defending A.L. champion Rangers. The remaining roster spots are in the bullpen and on the bench.

It looks like the pen will shape up with Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman, Addison Reed and Hector Santiago with two of the following five fighting it out for the two remaining spots: Eric Stults, Brian Bruney, Nate Jones, Zack Stewart and Dylan Axelrod. The specific roles, including the annointment of the closer, are yet to be determined. The most interesting candidates are the rookie Reed, who closed for Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State, and Santiago, a New Jersey native who has impressed everyone in Glendale with an effective screwball.

If nothing unusual happens, Eduardo Escobar has won the last spot among position players. He’s had a good enough spring and displayed enough infield versatility to prompt the Sox to send the likes of Dan Johnson, Dallas McPherson, Jim Gallagher and Jordan Danks back to minor league camp.

It’s so hard to know what this team is going to be. For now, let’s sit back, relax and watch the Robin Ventura era begin.

Another Andy Strasberg Masterpiece: Baseball Fantography

Today, I’ll be writing about a new book that should be in bookstores and on Amazon.com as we speak. It’s called “Baseball Fantography: A Celebration in Snapshots and Stories from the Fans (Abrams Image).” It is written and compiled by  Andy Strasberg, a long-time baseball executive with the San Diego Padres and one of the most creative marketers in the game. A man who has also worked with Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn and umpire Doug Harvey.

The genesis of the tome came when Strasberg unearthed a snapshot of himself as a teenager with his idol, Roger Maris. Andy felt many others would have similiar photos and he set out on a long journey to find them.

Before I tell you about the book, which I absolutely love, here’s a disclaimer. Andy happens to be one of my best friends. A friend of more than 40 years in a relationship that has surivived the 3,000 miles in between his home in San Diego and mine in New York. But my affection for the book has little to do with my enduring affection for Andy. It’s just a wonderful project that I would appreciate if  I didn’t know Andy Strasberg from Stephen Strasburg. It will take us back into time and bring up our best baseball memories.

Baseball Fantography is Andy’s latest passioniate idea turned into reality. What he has done is put together hundreds of iconic baseball photos, all taken by fans, and assimilated into a very personal collection of images with accompanying stories.

You’ll find a young Roberto Clemente, a graying Carl Yastrzemski and classic images both on and off the field of the likes of Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Tony Gwynn, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Cal Ripken, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Derek Jeter and Jackie Robinson, among many others.

Have no fear, White Sox fans, we’re included too, as evidenced by the photos below, that all appear in the book. In order, that’s Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm,  pinch-hitter extraordinaire Smokey Burgess;  hard-nosed outfielder Jim Rivera; and Bob Shaw, a stalwart hurler on the 1959 American League Champion Sox.

I’ve given you a little taste here of this amazing new book and there’s much, much more. Treat yourself and buy it–or have some you love buy it for you. Enjoy!

 

 

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Glendale, AZ—The uncertainty I’m feeling about the 2012 White Sox remains after having witnessed five spring training contests. As has been the pattern since the Sox left Sarasota for Arizona, the record is below .500–2-6 as of this morning. While that in itself is not serious cause for concern, all things considered a win is always better than a loss.

A few observations that contribute to the continuing uncertainty:

* Adam Dunn (knock on wood) looks much, much better. He’s making contact and looked his old powerful self with a three-run shot and a solid double against the Rangers last week.

* Alex Rios really hasn’t made an impression one way or another. A bit disappointing for those of us hoping for his revival.

* John Danks is struggling with his command. He doesn’t seem concerned since it’s happening so early in the spring, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

* Nestor Molina, who was acquired for Sergio Santos, got lit up in his first appearance, but seemed to be much more relaxed in a good outing the next time he took the mound. Simon Castro, who came to the Sox in the Carlos Quentin deal, had an appearance he’d like to forget. Entering the game in the top of the ninth with a 6-5 lead, he imploded with a walk, a wild pitch, a hit batsmen and then surrendered a grand slam home run, sending the Sox into defeat. Neither one will make the opening day roster, but much will be expected of both as early as this summer so it’s worth watching.

* I like what I’ve seen of Brent Morel. I think he’ll just get better and better. His infield mate Gordon Beckham, in somewhat of a do or die situation, has also been a positive. Defensively, they will combine with Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez to give the Sox a stellar infield presence.

* Matt Thornton is the leader in the clubhouse for the closer role, but youngster Addison Reed is lurking. Seems like the call won’t be made until the end of the spring.

* Tyler Flowers, the backup backstop, has struck out a lot, but has shown power. Those who have watched him see his potential at the plate, but he’s yet to show it on a consistent basis.

* One reserve position player will likely be selected from Eduardo Escobar, Ozzie Martinez, Dan JohnsonDallas McPherson and Jim Gallagher. I would say Johnson is the guy right now.

It’s just been that kind of a spring.

Will the Sox Be Pulling From the Same Rope?

I’m a week away from my annual trip to White Sox spring training to watch the Sox with my own eyes, but I like what I’m hearing from Camelback Ranch.

While Ozzie (Remember him?) is on the cover of Sports Illustrated  representing the circus that will personify the Miami Marlins, our new low-key skipper is talking about “effort,” giving positive feedback to his players and acting like this club is going to confound the so-called experts and be a major surprise in the A.L. Central. And to that point it seems the troops are responding by saying all the right things with a sense of renewed camaraderie.

I wasn’t born yesterday. I know that every team thinks they have a chance in February and March. I’m just saying that after the Ozzie years Robin Ventura‘s approach is a breath of fresh air. As big a fan I was of Ozzie’s, it’s just time for a change.

The Sox marketing slogan this year is “Appreciate the Game,” low-key like the new skipper. I have no quarrel with that, but I could have been just as satisfied with something like, “No More Drama.”

Changing Times

I just finished watching the video of Robin Ventura‘s gaggle with the press after yesterday’s initial spring training workout. Not that it comes as a surprise to any of us, but it’s more obvious than ever that we’re not going to recognize the aura around the White Sox for a while in this post-Ozzie existence.

It was pretty startling to hear the low-key, wry-humored Ventura interact with the media after eight seasons with the non-stop, often profane rants of Ozzie. I’m not making a value judgment, just observing that we’re living through changing times with the Sox and it’s going to be an interesting exercise.

The hope here is that Robin’s more even demeanor will have a positive and calming effect on a team that will be looking a new identity and direction as they attempt to prove that they are better than all the pundits are predicting.

So, as you’re watching the Sox perform these spring, also keep a close eye on how their collective personality is being formed. It could be the difference between success and failure.

Here we go…

It’s going to be a spring like no other in recent years. As opposed to the past few seasons when the conventional wisdom was that the White Sox were bonafide contenders, there is virtually no one on the outside that is predicting success for the Sox in 2012.

It all starts tomorrow as pitchers and catchers officially report with a group of position players who want to get a head start.

The good news is that there are surprise teams each year that fool the so-called experts. As I’ve stated in this space before, I have no idea how the Sox are going to fare, but they very well could have the makings of one of the teams that will fool the baseball world. If…

* Robin Ventura takes to this managing thing.

* Adam Dunn is the Adam Dunn of old.

* Gordon Beckham reverts to the success of his rookie season.

* Alex Rios plays like he did in 2010.

* Matt Thornton, Addison Reed or someone else becomes a competent closer

* Jake Peavy is close to his previous Cy Young form and he and his fellow starters–John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Phil Humber and newly-appointed rotation member Chris Sale–make up for the innings lost with Mark Buehrle‘s departure.

We’ll have to wait on these and other issues, but my gut tells me things aren’t going to be as dark as everyone is saying.

10 Days to Pitchers and Catchers

Scott Merkin whets our White Sox appetite today on whitesox.com with some facts, figures and projections to chew on:

* Pitchers and catchers report on February 23

* Full squad reports on February 28

* First Spring Training game, March 5, vs. the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch

* Opening Day, April 6, at Texas

Merkin’s Projected Batting Order:

Alejandro DeAza CF, Gordon Beckham 2B, Paul Konerko 1B, Adam Dunn DH, Alex Rios LF, A.J. Pierzynski C, Alexei Ramirez SS, Dayan Viciedo RF, Brent Morel 3B

Projected Rotation:

John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Philip Humber

Projected Bullpen:

Matt Thornton Closer, Jesse Crain RH setup man, Will Ohman LH setup man (with all other spots up for grabs). Key bullpen prospect to watch is Addison Reed, who very well might be the closer (my two cents, not Merkin’s).

New Guys:

Nestor Molina RHP, Dan Johnson 1B, Ozzie Martinez IF and, of course, the skipper Robin Ventura

Key Losses:

Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel, Ramon Castro, Jason Frasor