After a week at Camelback Ranch, it’s back to reality. Here are my spring training thoughts from A to Z:
* A — A big plus for me was to see both Andruw Jones and Alex Rios off to great starts. Jones has hit two home runs, eight RBI and is hitting .385 with a .467 on base percentage. Rios has been nursing an injury, but is hitting .304 with a pair of homers, six RBI and a .346 OBP.
* B — The Natural, Gordon Beckham (pictured below), doesn’t look like he’s going to suffer from the sophomore jinx. So far in the spring, he’s hitting .333 with five doubles and a homer and is getting on base 43 percent of the time. He’s also been making every play at second base.
* C — is for the catching situation. A.J. Pierzynski is hitting at a .345 clip and shows no signs of slowing down. Ramon Castro is a capable backup. There was never any question that Tyler Flowers would begin the season at Charlotte, but it is a bit troubling he’s off to such a slow start.
* D — One of the highlights of Sox spring training has been the play of former Florida Marlin, outfielder Alejandro De Aza. Despite being destined to begin the year with Charlotte, he is hitting .333 with seven RBI. He’s an exciting player who very well might be up in Chicago at some time during the season.
* E — is for errors, which I’m happy to say will hopefully occur much less in 2010. The Sox will be a more versatile and fundamentally sound team so there will likely be fewer miscues and brain cramps.
* F — is for the Twittergate “flap,” which looked for a while like it would be a major
distraction. Luckily Ozzie stopped it before it really impacted the team.
* G — Our old friend Freddy Garcia (pictured below) takes the hill this season as the fifth starter. He seems a lot older because he’s been around so long, but Freddy is just shy of 34 and should give us the necessary push at the No. 5 spot in an outstanding rotation.
* H — If Freddy doesn’t come through the Sox are well-protected with Dan Hudson, who pitched at every level of baseball last season and did a creditable job with the Sox in September. He looks like the real deal.
* I — I predict that the Sox will win the AL Central with the Twins, Tigers, Royals and Indians finishing in that order.
* J — Bobby Jenks has been struggling with his calf, but he says he’ll be ready to go Opening Day. The Sox have some depth in the bullpen, but losing Jenks would definitely be a big blow.
* K — We need Paul Konerko to have a big year, especially with the departure of Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye. It could be Paulie’s last season in Chicago, but let’s hope it’s one of his best.
* L — Scott Linebrink has proven himself to be a capable reliever, but you wouldn’t know it from his performance a year ago. He’s been up and down this spring, but he needs to rebound to max out our pen.
* M — As THE lefty in the bullpen, Matt Thornton (pictured below) is indispensible. While I was in Arizona he was perfect. The other half of the main DH platoon with Jones, Mark Kotsay, is on fire this spring, hitting .433 with a .514 on base percentage and a .500 slugging mark.
* N — Will Jayson Nix, Brent Lillibridge or a perhaps a late spring pickup win the last remaining spot among position players? Since it’s listed under “N,” my choice is naturally Nix.
* O — Brought to the Sox to back up and mentor Alexei Ramirez and Beckham, Omar Vizquel, who will be 43 in April, still looks perfectly capable of contributing.
* P — Jake Peavy, entering his first Sox season, J.J. Putz and Juan Pierre (pictured below) all have key roles. From what I witnessed in Glendale, Peavy’s in mid-season form, Putz was up and down and it’s obvious what positives Pierre is going to give us from the leadoff spot. Another “P” is Tony Pena, a member of the relief corps who has compiled a 1.59 ERA in five appearances in Arizona.
* Q — Carlos Quentin looks ready to go, even though his spring stats aren’t gaudy. Health is the key here and CQ looks like he’s ready for the long haul.
* R — With the help of Vizquel, Ramirez will be better defensively and that may make him more relaxed at the plate.
* S — A converted infielder and former No. 1 draft choice of the Diamondbacks, Sergio Santos has been a revelation and a real candidate for the final spot in the bullpen. He’s been very impressive and brings a lot of heat. The fact he’s out of options may force the Sox to bring him North.
* T — If I have one major concern, it’s Mark Teahen. He’s been awful so far in spring training, presumably putting a lot pressure on himself. I don’t even want to think about what happens if he flops.
* U — U stands for the Sox being underrated. Haven’t seen any of the so-called experts throwing compliments our way, let alone picking the Sox to win the AL Central. Hopefully I’m right and they’re wrong.
* V — I’ve thrown around the word versatile when writing and talking about the Sox. It was certainly apparent to me that they’ll be more running and bunting on this team–with players that can actually execute.
* W — Randy Williams, the journeyman reliever who has pretty much locked up the role as the second lefty in the pen, has pitched eight scoreless innings this spring.
* X — Saw a few ex-Sox in Florida, including Orlando Cabrera, Nick Masset (Reds), Josh Fields, Chris Getz and Scott Podsednik (Royals) plus former farmhand Aaron Cunningham (Padres). I saw that Brian Anderson hit for the cyle for KC and went 5 for 5 in a game during that time, but I wasn’t there to witness it.
* Y — Why is Jordan Danks listed here? Because I had to find some place to give him his due, that’s Y. He’s big, strong, fast and will be a major element to the Sox fortunes for many years to come. We’ll likely see him in Chicago with his big bro some time this season.
* Z — Z stands for the many zeroes our starting staff will throw this season. The strength of the club is definitely our rotation with Peavy (pictured below, top), Garcia, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and last but not least Mr. Perfect, Mark Buehrle (pictured below, bottom).
While Sox favorites Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede are still looking for new homes, a number of other former Pale Hosers are with new teams–for example, Jim Thome (Twins), Jose Contreras (Phillies), Scott Podsednik (Royals) and Jon Garland (Padres). The following is a list of the most recent ex-Sox to sign: one fairly significant, the others not so much.
* The well-traveled, but talented, shortstop Orlando Cabrera is now with the
Cincinnati Reds. For the record, this is the “fairly significant” signing.
* Timo Perez, a reserve outfielder on the 2005 World Champs, signed a minor league
deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
* Josh Fogg, a one-time closer candidate for the Sox, inked a minor league
pact with the New York Mets.
* Lefty hurler Jimmy Gobble, who had a cup of coffee with the Sox, is now with the
Colorado Rockies after agreeing to a minor league contract.
* Catcher Gustavo Molina, not related to Bengie, Jose and Yadier, signed a minor
league agreement with the Boston Red Sox.
* Pitcher Horacio Ramirez, who had a short stint with the South Siders, just signed
with the San Francisco Giants on a minor league deal.