As the MLB season approaches, Athlon updates every camp in the Majors.
-by Charlie Miller
As the regular season approaches, Athlon will go around the majors with updates from every division. Today, we focus on the AL Central.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are clearly in it to win it this season. The major question is solving bullpen issues. Last year’s first-round pick, Chris Sale, who impressed at the major-league level last season, has not been as sharp this spring. Matt Thornton will open the season as closer, but Sergio Santos has tossed eight scoreless innings allowing only two hits and three walks...Another question heading into the spring was who would surface as the third baseman. The Sox love Brent Morel’s glove, but he hasn’t overwhelmed the coaches with his bat. Veteran Mark Teahen is out to prove he can still play. He’s hitting .345 and slugging .552…Tyler Flowers, considered the heir apparent to A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate, struggled last season causing the Sox to re-sign Pierzynski for this season. But Flowers seems to have found his stroke hitting .476 and slugging .857. He has been optioned to the minors, but his development is encouraging...Lastings Milledge and Brent Lillibridge are competing for the final spot on the roster. Milledge is having a better spring with four homers and hitting about 100 points higher than Lillibridge, but the latter offers more versatility defensively.
While there may not be much optimism for 2011, there are some positive signs in camp this spring. Grady Sizemore apparently has recovered from knee problems and is working his way into baseball shape. He won’t be ready be Opening Day, but he is getting regular time in the outfield…Lefthander Tony Sipp has pitched well in the spring continuing the success he had in the second half of last season when opponents hit just .176. He and closer Chris Perez may be a bright spot at the back of the bullpen this season…There have been few encouraging signs for the rotation this spring beyond Fausto Carmona, who hasn’t exactly been dominating…Luis Valbuena leads the Tribe with four homers this spring but Is hitting .216. Matt LaPorta is tied with Shin-Soo Choo with 10 RBIs, but is batting .182. Both players must be consistent this season for the Indians to make any strides.
The battle for second base is over — for now. Until the injured Carlos Guillen returns, Will Rhymes, who was impressive last season, will start the season as the Tigers’ second baseman. Scott Sizemore, who started last season in that role, will begin the season at Toledo…Brad Thomas has solidified a spot in the bullpen as the top lefthander. Daniel Schlereth and Adam Wilk are still candidates for the final spot. Schlereth, leading when spring training began, has struggled with control issues. Wilk has had a strong spring…Although Brad Penny struggled in his most recent appearance, he appears to have a place in the rotation along with lefty Phil Coke.
Kansas City Royals
Manager Ned Yost remains high on lefty starter Mike Montgomery, recently optioned to Omaha, and Greg Holland, who had 10 Ks in seven scoreless innings this spring. Both are key prospects in the Royals future…Not that spring stats mean that much, but it has been encouraging to see some life in Alex Gordon’s bat. He’s hitting .349 with three home runs and 13 RBIs. Kila Ka’aihue and Melky Cabrera have made the most of their opportunities as well. Eric Hosmer is batting .450, making decisions tough for Yost. With Billy Butler and Ka’aihue at DH and first, there aren’t enough at-bats to go around now. Hosmer is still the future, though.
With the health of key players the most prominent thing on manager Rod Gardenhire’s mind, there wer a few key decisions recently made in spring training. Scott Baker will be the fifth starter and Kevin Slowey will pitch out of the pen now…With a week to go prior to the season, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer had combined for 18 at-bats. And Morneau was 0-for-10. But he had good swings hitting the ball on the screws five times in a recent B game, with three hits and two lineouts to first to show for his day…With just two home runs last season with Rochester and Minnesota combined, Luke Hughes has five this spring…Matt Capps will get a few save opportunities early in the season while closer Joe Nathan will not be rushed back into the role after missing last season with an injury.