Season preview: Outfield

Juan Pierre led the American League with 68 stolen bases last season. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The season hasn’t even started and already the Chicago White Sox’s outfield is set to pull off a rare feat. For just the second time in the past 35 years, the club will employ the same outfield during consecutive seasons. Juan Pierre, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin will do what only Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand and Magglio Ordonez have done before them in the past three and a half decades. Of course, changing the outfield mix isn’t always a bad thing. When Lee and Ordonez departed, the White Sox plugged in Scott Podsednik in left and Jermaine Dye right and won a World Series.

Continuity can have its benefits, though. Pierre is widely viewed as a classic leadoff man capable of making contact and using his speed to drive opponents crazy. Rios has re-established himself as a productive run producer and Quentin showed in the past that he can produce with the best RBI men in the game if he stays consistent and healthy.

Pierre has the ability to make the White Sox roar out of the gate as the leadoff man, or he can leave the club stuck in the mud if he struggles. Last season Pierre couldn’t get things going early in the season and the club sputtered. It wasn’t all his fault. But Rios, the No. 3 hitter and Paul Konerko, the cleanup man, were the only ones to get off to a decent start, and they didn’t have enough men on base to make a decent impact.

Like Pierre, Quentin has the unique ability to affect the lineup. Quentin can be crazy good at times, enough so that he can carry a club for stretches. Conversely, he can also go through mind-boggling dry stretches where he is virtually invisible at times. Neither Pierre nor Quentin will be confused for Gold Glove outfielders which makes steady contributions of offense more imperative.

Now that Lastings Milledge and Brent Lillibridge pulled off the unexpected by both making the Opening Day roster, what happens to them now? Neither is expected to get much playing time … or will they? Manager Ozzie Guillen used Milledge in the leadoff spot with frequency this spring, which seemed to suggest that he might go with the former minor-league phenom if Pierre struggles at the outset like he did in 2010.

Then again, Milledge can be used in right field if Quentin finds himself slogging through another injury-plagued season. Lillibride and Mark Teahen will also provide coverage in the outfield, but they also have the ability to play on the infield if needed, giving Guillen plenty of versatility.