How will the White Sox fare this year? Two keys to the team are reliever Chris Sale and the newly acquired Adam Dunn.
Except for the Jake Peavy domino-theory-affecting-Chris-Sale saga, the White Sox's spring training should be devoid of drama, huh? It's almost a set-piece lineup, Big Four rotation and back of the bullpen, for sure?
Almost right. Little things that won't generate headlines will add up to whatever winning mix the Sox can create. Those minor details are worked on in Glendale, such as:
* How Adam Dunn adjusts to the DH role.
"The Big Donkey" has never had this much time off between at-bats in his career. A lifelong National League, Dunn took his "Dr. Strangeglove" out to the field for workouts. He'd stumble on occasion in the outfield and muff throws and grounders at first, but at least his mind was in the game if his glove wasn't. Now he has to keep his focus as a DH.
“I’ve never DH’d for a significant amount of time,” Dunn said. “These questions are great questions, but I don’t have an answer for them, because I’ve never done it. I’ll let you know in April.”
Dunn will need to develop a between-at-bats routine. Easiest is to keep on swinging, like Jim Thome. The former Sox DH went to the indoor cage behind the dugout and took, by his estimation, some 100 swings while the innings progressed.
“I’m not going to sit on the bench and eat sunflower seeds,” Dunn said. So February and March is a good tryout time for his new routine.
* Dunn's place in the batting order.
When Dunn was signed for $56 million back in December, Ozzie Guillen reflexively placed him third in the batting order. Hmmm, upon further review, Alex Rios was now returned to No. 3. For all of Dunn's raw power and fine on-base percentage, he still strikes out too much for a third-place hitter. That job is usually reserved for the team's best overall offensive athlete. And if he can run a bit, so much the better.
The best combination of Dunn at cleanup and Paul Konerko at No. 5, or vice versa, is a spring-training experiment.
* Brent Morel vs. anyone else at third base. If rookie Morel hits like former Cub Gary Scott in Glendale, run for the hills west of town. That's the sure kiss of death for the fine-fielding kid at the hot corner.
A steady performance at the plate would be better for Morel's long-term future than a sensational spring. Slotted in ninth in the order, a Morel who fields his position while hitting around .250 would absolutely delight Guillen. The alternatives are Mark Teahen with his clunky glove, probably better suited to the outfield, and 44-year-old Omar Vizquel, who can't possibly repeat his offensively good 2010 season in his advanced baseball dotage. Meanwhile, hitting prospect Dayan Viciedo already has proved the outfield is his future, so he's off the books here.
* Sale's fearlessness in the ninth inning.
If all goes well, Sale is not yanked into the starting rotation to fill in for Peavy. He stays in the ninth where he can intimidate hitters. That intimidation factor, though, goes only one way for the eager 21-year-old fireballing lefty.
“It's the last three outs of the game,” Sale said. "Obviously there's going to be more pressure. I loved it. I loved being out there being able to close, feeling that pressure, being the last guy out there. You're either finishing the game shaking hands with your teammates or your walking off in a bad mood. That kind of pressure I really liked.”
Little things have been traditionally employed by the Minnesota Twins successfully against most teams (the New York Yankees the notable exception). If the Sox match and exceed the Twins on all these fine points, then the season that begins in February finally gets extended into October.