Chicago Whitesox

Southeast has another award winner as senior Asif Shah earned Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week. Shah is the second Redhawk in as many weeks to earn a weekly award from the OVC.  Shah, a left-hander from Cincinnati, Ohio, threw his first career complete-game shutout in game two of a doubleheader on Sunday against South Dakota State in a 1-0 victory. The win was his first this season as he struck out eight batters. The southpaw gave up just three hits and one walk through eight innings pitched as the game went into an extra inning. Shah retired 16 consecutive batters beginning with the last batter in the second inning.

2006 Finish: 90-72, 3rd place, six behind Twins

Manager:  Ozzie Guillen, 4th year

Comings:  John Danks, Nick Massett, Darin Erstad, Andrew Sisco, David Aardsma,

Gavin Floyd, Toby Hall, Gio Gonzalez

Goings:  Neal Cotts, Freddy Garcia, David Riske

Offense:    The heart of this lineup can mash with any team in baseball.  Jim Thome’s first year back in the AL could be considered a success.  All he did was hit .288/.416/.598 with 43 long balls and 109 RBIs.  He does strike out a lot, but he also walks a lot, 147 to 107.  Jermaine Dye had an MVP type season hitting .315/.385/.622 with 44 HRs and 120 RBIs.  Paul Konerko hit .313/.381/.551 with 35 homeruns and 113 runs batted in.  Darin Erstad and Scott Posednik will battle it out for the starting left field job and lead off spot.  Tadahito Iguchi is very solid in the second spot driving in 67 runs.  3B Joe Crede had a career year hitting .283/.323/.506 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs.  Juan Uribe did not hit for a very good average but does have good power.  C A.J. Pierzynski hit .295 with 16 HRs and 64 RBIs.  Brian Anderson struggled mightily offensively hitting .225/.290/.359.

Defense:  Anderson made up for his offense with outstanding centerfield defense.  Dye is solid in right and Konerko works hard at first.  Iguchi made only 8 errors last year and had a .988 fielding percentage.  Crede has a strong arm at third, but the rest of the defense is average at best.

Rotation:  Going into the 2006, this was supposed to be a huge strength.  It did not turn out that way.  Ace LHP Mark Buerhle struggled, 12-13 with a 4.99 ERA. RHP Jose Contreras was 13-9 with a 4.27 ERA.  Last year newcomer RHP Javier Vasquez went 11-12 with an ERA of 4.84. To make matters worse, he was acquired for CF Chris Young who is considered one of the top 10 prospects in baseball.  Jon Garland did have 18 wins, but had an ERA of 4.54.  Freddy Garcia is gone so the fifth starter will be chosen from a group of newly acquired Gavin Floyd or John Danks, with Charlie Haegar and Lance Broadway also possibilities.

Bullpen:  This is probably the hardest throwing bullpen in baseball with 6 guys who can throw 95-100.  Bobby Jenks recorded 41 saves in his first complete season as the Sox closer.  Mike MacDougal was brought in from K.C.  and was much improved.  Matt Thornton came over from Seattle and found a home going 5-3 with a 3.33 ERA.  6’10” LHP Andrew Sisco had a down year in 2006 after a very good 2005 rookie season.  RHP David Aardsma is a former first round pick who has yet to find his niche.  I see both of them being much improved on this team.  Rookie RHP Nick Masset came over from Texas and has excelled since moving to the bullpen.  He continued the trend finishing with 15 saves and a 22/2 K/BB ratio in 20 2/3 innings in the Mexican Pacific League over the winter.

Prospects:  Ryan Sweeney-CF-Has a chance to compete with Anderson for starting job.  Was productive in Triple A last year as a 21 year old hitting .296/.350/.452.  Biggest knock against him has been his lack of power but From June through August, he hit 11 homers, one fewer than the 12 he had in his 1,185 previous at-bats since being drafted in 2003’s second round. If he does not make the team, will start the year at Triple A, possibly in right field, as he could be a possible replacement if Dye is not resigned.

John Danks-LHP-Was the Rangers top prospect when acquired for Brandon McCarthy.  Fastball sits in the low 90’s and has a plus curveball.  Change up is still a work in progress.  Command has been an issue walking 56 in in a 140 innings, but did strike out 154 between Double A and Triple A.  Most likely starts out the year in Triple A.

Lucas Harrell-RHP-Considered one of the  top 15 White Sox prospects, he should be familiar to high school baseball fans in Missouri.  Harrell played on an Ozark team that beat Blake Dewitt’s Sikeston team in the state playoffs.  Harrell pitched a complete game and hit a homerun of Dewitt, which also happened to be Dewitt’s first high school loss. He started 2009 at High A, going 7-2 with a 2.45 ERA and a .182 BA against.  He was moved up to Double A and got shelled going 0-2 with an ERA over 10.  Will start the year at Double A and most likely projects as a back of the rotation starter or middle reliever.

Analysis:  Even though the rotation does not appear as loaded as this time last year, this is a World Series caliber team.  If Buerhle, Contreras, and Vasquez bounce back this is a very good rotation.  The bullpen is very good and power arms are needed in October and this pen has plenty.  The offense can score bunches of runs.  One of the keys is the lead off spot, where the Sox were 62-29 when Posednik got a hit.  He is recovering from a sports hernia injury and a target date for his return has not been set.  Erstad is the other real canidate for the job and he to is coming off an injury.  A real strike against the Sox is that they play in by far the toughest division in baseball with 4 of the 5 teams with a real chance of going to the World Series.

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