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CNN/SI Preview: Chicago White Sox
Posted: Monday March 08, 1999 03:24 PM
By James Quintong, CNN/SI
Player to Watch: Mike Caruso, SS
One of the more pleasant surprises in an unpleasant 1998, Mike Caruso emerged as a great complement to leadoff hitter and double play partner Ray Durham in the lineup. Only the Yankees' 2B-SS combo of Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter had more hits and runs. In his rookie season, Caruso hit .306 and stole 22 bases. He was also the hardest person to strike out in the American League, whiffing just 38 times in 523 at bats. His plate prowess helped him finish third in AL rookie of the year balloting and make people forget longtime White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen.
That is until you looked at his defense. He led the majors with 35 errors and had the worst fielding percentage (.944) among AL shortstops. His defense should only get better as he gets more mature. Should his glove come around, Caruso and Durham could become the foundation for solid White Sox teams in the 21st century.
1998 Recap (80-82, 2nd in AL Central)
With Albert Belle, Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura in the lineup, you would think the White Sox would compete with the Indians for the AL Central. Instead, they fought off the rest of the mediocre Central to finish second for the third straight year.
Even with the heavy hitters in the lineup, the White Sox were only in the middle of the pack in the major offensive categories -- eighth in hitting, seventh in homers, sixth in RBIs.
They weren't helped by a young rotation that suffered plenty of growing pains en route to a league-worst 5.24 ERA. Put the two together and you have more heartache on the South Side.
If things looked bleak for the White Sox last year, it could look worse this year as they continue their youth movement. Of the regulars on the roster, only Frank Thomas and Jaime Navarro were born before 1970.
Just like Jerry Reinsdorf's other team, the Bulls, the White Sox let some of their best players walk as Albert Belle headed to Baltimore and Robin Ventura went to the Mets. Thus, it could be another long year for Thomas, who hit a career-low .265 last season. The Big Hurt won't see many good pitches with little protection in the lineup.
Chicago's only major acquisition, first baseman Paul Konerko, could be a good one. After struggling in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, he will get plenty of chances to show off his bat. The rest of the lineup is young and, other than Durham at second, is very untested. Caruso and right fielder Magglio Ordonez hope to improve upon their promising rookie seasons. Jeff Abbott and Brian Simmons are unknown quantities who are taking over the outfield. Greg Norton, who hit .237 in spot duty last year, is expected to assume Ventura's spot at third -- although prospect Carlos Lee could earn the job sooner than later.
The pitching staff actually has some upside. James Baldwin took over as the ace, going 10-3 with a 3.68 ERA after the All-Star break. Starters Mike Sirotka, Jim Parque and John Snyder as well as closer Bobby Howry all showed promise late in the season. Unfortunately, Navarro is still on the roster despite giving up 277 earned runs the past two seasons.
Manager Jerry Manuel will have a long season ahead of him as his kiddie corps takes time to develop. However, in the mediocre AL Central, they do have a shot at yet another second-place finish.
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