With Chicago White Sox spring training set to begin Feb. 15 when pitchers and catchers report in Glendale, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.
One effect of having three first basemen on the roster is that the Chicago White Sox are going to have to put together a versatile bench.
Between Jeff Keppinger and Leury Garcia, the White Sox figure to be covered with a backup at second base, third base and shortstop. If Marcus Semien doesn't win the starting third base spot in spring training his best bet wouldn't be a bench role but rather to get regular at-bats at Triple-A Charlotte.
The backup catcher figures to come from the loser of the battle between Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley for the starting spot. One exception is the possibility that Flowers runs away with the job and the White Sox elect to go with last year's Opening Day backup, Hector Gimenez. Phegley would return to Charlotte in that scenario to get regular playing time. The chances that Rule 5 selection Adrian Nieto makes the roster are extremely slim.
If Keppinger and Garcia were the two utility men, the White Sox could actually carry five outfielders meaning that Jordan Danks could land a job as a late-inning defensive replacement for Dayan Viciedo in left field, as well as a left-handed bat off the bench.
The power potential from the White Sox's bench will be as good as it has been in a long time. Assuming Jose Abreu starts at first base every day, the bench will either have Adam Dunn or Paul Konerko ready to deliver in the late innings.
Alejandro De Aza also has a little power off the bench, but his true value is that he gives manager Robin Ventura the option of another left-handed bat to use either in the starting lineup at times, or as a pinch hitter.
Ventura's ability to mix and match his bench with his starters has never been greater. The unique position the White Sox are in is that while they do have so many young starters spread around the field, they also have experienced players ready to back them up at a moment's notice.
If Abreu is having a tough go of it at first base, Konerko or Dunn can give him a breather. If Adam Eaton is in a funk in center field, De Aza can step in. And if Davidson is scuffling, Gillaspie or Keppinger is there to fill the void at least temporarily.
The flip side of that scenario is how well guys like Dunn, Konerko and De Aza can adapt to the nuances of a bench role when they have been used to getting the bulk of the at-bats during the season. Konerko has always said that he is best when seeing pitches every day, while Dunn showed when he became a designated hitter that change doesn’t always happen smoothly.
OUTLOOK: With Dunn in a part-time role now, this makes for a very expensive bench and the White Sox will no doubt have trouble getting value out of it, especially in the early going. Expect struggles from those players moving from starting to backup roles. No matter how the bench is constructed, Garcia figures to play a role in it since he not only is the only option for a backup shortstop, but he also adds a speed element. Look for the White Sox to explore a side deal with the Nationals to keep Nieto and send him to the minor leagues rather than return him per Rule 5 Draft requirements. De Aza figures to be the fourth outfielder unless Dayan Viciedo struggles and a platoon in left is developed.