Season preview: Infield

Adam Dunn struggled through a nightmarish debut season in Chicago. Jerry Lai/US Presswire

The Chicago White Sox’s infield should be the strength of the team this season. Comeback seasons from Adam Dunn (DH-1B) and second baseman Gordon Beckham will be key elements to the club’s success.

The infield returns in tact from last season’s group and only first baseman Paul Konerko could be considered as having lived up to expectations during the 2011 season. Konerko gets better with age. The 36-year-old slugger, who has averaged 35 home runs and 100 RBIs in his last three seasons, is just four homers away from 400 for his career. He will need more time at DH in order to keep his legs strong, and that’s where Dunn must step up his game.

Management believes Dunn will benefit from more time on the field. The outlook is good for Dunn, who has been more aggressive at the plate driving balls to all fields earlier in the count all spring after a disastrous debut season in Chicago. Dunn worked hard at his conditioning in the offseason which began with extensive hitting, something he never had to do in the past. Defense always has been a challenge for Dunn, who has looked good digging balls out of the dirt in spring training. Range is an issue regardless of whether it’s Konerko or Dunn at first.

This is Beckham’s time to prove himself after struggling the past two seasons following a promising rookie season in 2009. Beckham changed his approach after his father told him to get back to his roots and quit the big-league posturing. Beckham is as good on defense as any second baseman in the league. Taking the loop out of his swing will be his major challenge.

Like Beckham, shortstop Alexei Ramirez is one of the elite defenders at his position in the major leagues. Ramirez was supposed to step up his offense in 2011. Instead he hit 15 points less while staying flat in home run and RBI production (.269, 15, 70). The Sox will need more offense from him to make up for the loss of Carlos Quentin in the lineup.

In September, Brent Morel looked like the power-hitting third baseman the team was hoping for when he hit eight of his 10 homers on the season during the final month. Taking more walks will be key for a more productive season for the 24-year-old. Sox officials believe in Morel and feel manager Robin Ventura will have a strong influence on his career. Although he made 14 errors in 126 games, Morel is a solid defender.

Backup infielders Brent Lillibridge and Eduardo Escobar will get plenty of playing time as Ventura promises to rest his position players all season long. Sox fans will enjoy Escobar, who has some flash that might remind people of a young Ozzie Guillen. Lillibridge will back up the infield and outfield.

The White Sox are in transition behind the plate with a veteran in A.J. Pierzynski and heir apparent Tyler Flowers fighting for time. Ventura will be able to platoon the left-handed hitting Pierzynski and right-handed hitting Flowers but at some point the club may want Flowers to get more playing time.

At some point during the season a contending team will lose a catcher and approach the Sox about the availability of Pierzynski, who has 5-10 trade protection rights and will have to decide to stay or go.

Flowers, who has 20-homer potential, has improved dramatically at calling pitches at the major league level. He needs to catch 120 games to begin to reach his own expectations as a catcher.

Three keys to success

• Dunn bats at least .240. If he is able to make contact he will hit 35 home runs and drive in 100 runs.

• Beckham lives up to expectations, hitting .280 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs.

• Ramirez and Morel pick up the slack left behind by Quentin’s departure, combining for 35 homers and 150 RBIs.