The start of Cactus League play has brought a mixed bag of results from the new-look Chicago White Sox offense, not that anybody is ready to put too much stock into early spring games.
New hitting coach Todd Steverson appears to be working closest with the younger hitters so far, content to allow the veterans to use their existing routines to get loose in the early going before starting to work extensively with them too.
The White Sox might have been shut out twice in their first five games, but they also scored nine runs in back-to-back games as they adjust to the changes Steverson is bringing aboard.
If anybody was worried about how the offense is adapting, the main decision-maker from Steverson’s previous organization, the Oakland Athletics, recommends a little patience.
“He was a major part of our organization for a long time,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “Look, we’re happy for Todd. First of all he’s in a good organization. The White Sox are a young team now that should continue to grow. He should be perfect for that because that’s essentially the role he provided for us. We’re very, very happy for him. A guy like that is not very easy to replace.”
As Oakland’s roving minor league hitting instructor, Steverson was in charge of implementing a universal hitting philosophy for the players who were next in line to make it to the major leagues. Steverson’s impact was evident when the A’s kept right on hitting last season with young players who were plugged in seamlessly.
Now Steverson is slowly trying to do the same thing with the White Sox. He will primarily be with the major leaguers once the regular season begins, but now is the time for him to plant necessary habits in the heads of those on the cusp of arriving in Chicago.
Steverson has mainly preached strike-zone discipline in an effort to get White Sox hitters to stop chasing pitches off the plate. Part of that strategy has been to emphasize the outer half of the plate and get hitters to embrace the opposite field.
“I’ll say it, and say it time and time again, as a hitter your best swings are going to be off of strikes,” Steverson said not long after the White Sox held a hitting camp in January. “Your best approaches, everything you want to have happen positive, will be off balls you can handle in the strike zone. The more times we make the pitcher work to get his outs by staying in the strike zone, the better off we’re going to be.”
New third baseman Matt Davidson, who is prone to striking out as a power hitter, has received a number of post-workout tutorials in the batting cages from Steverson. He is slowly becoming comfortable with a new way of approaching at-bats.
“Just getting out here every day and getting in the rhythm of things is helping me a lot,” Davidson said when asked about working with Steverson. “I know I can do it. At the start, even though you have been working at it, it’s way different when you get out here. I can’t wait to see how it goes.”
Oakland had just the 14th-best batting average in baseball last season at .254. Despite that, they had the ninth best on-base percentage at .327 and the fourth best slugging percentage at .419. That helped Oakland to finish fourth in runs scored in all of baseball.
The White Sox targeted OBP and slugging percentage as primary areas to improve this season. Steverson's task is clear.
“Todd is a really good communicator, the guys like working with him, he’s got credibility based on his own experiences,” Beane said. “He’ll do well. He was a great hire. We obviously thought very, very high of him.”