By Peter King, SI.com
Player I Saw Whom I Really Liked
I'm not sure what I expected to see out of Frank Thomas, who'd disappeared after offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle. Reports weren't encouraging; the Big Hurt might not be ready to play again until June or July. But when he walked out of the White Sox clubhouse around noon Monday, an hour before the Giants and Sox squared off across the parking lot in Tucson Electric Park, he looked nothing like the patient I thought I'd see. Thomas was sculpted, much thinner than I remembered. Amazing; he'd been on crutches for seven months ... and lost weight. "Lots of fish," he said. "I lost 15 pounds. The thing I've really got to work on now is getting my left leg back to normal, because I've had such a long period of inactivity." Thomas wants to be playing baseball in a month -- not with the major league club, obviously, but baseball at some level to start getting ready for a return to DH duty with the White Sox for the majority of the season. He walks without a limp and talks with confidence. "At the end of spring training, I'll test it," he said. "If I feel I can run 90 percent, I'll be ready. But the doctors have told me not to do too much too fast or the ankle will snap." He doesn't think it's a career-threatening injury. "I feel I've got a good four, five years left," he said. If confidence and swagger mean anything, Thomas looks like he'll give the White Sox a solid five months this year.
Team's biggest strengths
The White Sox are a more balanced team after importing 70-base-stealer Scott Podsednik from Milwaukee in the Carlos Lee trade. What they've lost in home run potential they've gained in a better bullpen (Luis Vizcaino and Dustin Hermanson will serve as set-up men) and an improved starting staff -- assuming former Yankees Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez can finally produce and stay healthy, respectively.
Team's biggest weakness
Counting on Contreras to be the No. 3 starter is dangerous. His wife and two daughters defected from Cuba and joined him here in the U.S. last June, so his family is whole now. The Chisox think that without the mental strain of worrying about his family Contreras will be a significantly better pitcher. But even after the Contrerases were reunited last season, Contreras was still hit pretty hard .... to the tune of a 5.50 ERA.
I heard plenty of confident talk about Podsednik, though I sensed confusion about the mysterious 70-point drop in his batting average from 2003 (.314) to 2004 (.244). He's a leadoff lock. ... "I've always been against steroids," said Thomas, who has been called to testify before a congressional committee hearing scheduled for March 17 and may make the trip. "There's no need for them, and I'm happy I've kept my nose clean." ... New catcher A.J. Pierzynski is as much a punching bag as a catcher these days. His former Giants teammates ripped him on his way out the door last season for being a bad clubhouse presence, and he seemed ready to boil over when writers talked to him about the accusations. Pierzynski doesn't have much love for Giants pitcher Brett Tomko -- who criticized Pierzynski for not being prepared last season and who started Monday's game. Pierzynski didn't face his former teammate, but he said, "Tomko's pitching? I definitely wish I was in the lineup today." He then promised $100 to any Chicago teammate who homered off Tomko. And after the game, sub outfielder Joe Borchard found $100 on his stool. ... In the White Sox clubhouse, you hear more Spanish than English spoken in the White Sox clubhouse; 18 Chicago players hail from Latin America. ... The early scouting report on new second baseman Tadahito Iguchi: good contact hitter with some pop, and a smooth fielder with decent range.