A manager often dreams of fielding a lineup of players in his image, but there are no Ozzie Guillen clones in Chicago. A slap hitter with no home run power who bunted, stole the occasional base and used his quickness to alchemize singles into doubles, Guillen does see flashes of himself, however, in second baseman and lead-off hitter Willie Harris, a 25-year-old with wheels but, thus far, no stick. "It is important to me to have some speed in the lead-off spot," says Guillen, 40, bubbly and gregarious during his first camp as White Sox skipper. "I'm not worried about Magglio Ordo�ez or Frank Thomas or Carlos Lee. Helping Willie is my biggest goal."
Chicago's order is loaded with power—its anticipated two through seven batters averaged 28 home runs, 61 extra-base hits and a .488 slugging percentage last season—but relatively lacking in speed, which makes the development of Harris a priority. (All of last season's one-hole hitters, Roberto Alomar, D'Angelo Jimenez and Tony Graffanino, have departed.) From the start of camp, Guillen had Harris reporting for work daily at 8 a.m. on a back diamond at Tucson Electric Park, where he worked on sharpening the little-bailer's tools: sacrifice bunts, bunts for base hits, and taking a lead and getting a jump on the pitcher. Though his considerable skills have not yet yielded big league production—he batted .213 in 137 games over the last three seasons—the 5'9" Harris finds himself in the most encouraging environment of his career. "In previous years I didn't have a chance in camp," he says. "I've learned a lot, and I feel like I belong here. Triple A has nothing for me."
Harris will have every opportunity to prove that he belongs—that the 54 bags he swiped while batting .305 at Double A in '01, as well as his .380 average and nine steals in 100 Triple A at bats last season, were a sample of big things to come. "You have to get 300 at bats, consecutive at bats, before anybody can determine whether you can produce or not," says general manager Ken Williams. As Guillen's catalyst at the top of the order, Harris will get the at bats, and he'll have the green light to steal at will. "He told me to run, run, run," Harris says. "He's not going to shut me down. We're playing a small man's game."
In one of his few off-season moves, Williams added another middle-infield piece, obtaining Juan Uribe from the Rockies; Uribe will spell Harris at second against lefthanders and back up Jose Valentin at short, batting leadoff or second. Like Harris, Uribe, a 24-year-old Dominican, has evident talent that has failed to translate. He has power but is grossly undisciplined (a career .298 on-base percentage); he has speed but not the tactical ability to steal bases; he has dazzling defensive skills but often makes miscues on unnecessarily stylish attempts.
Chicago believes it can tap Uribe's potential, largely because of the Latin American support system in its clubhouse. "Uribe's ceiling is as high as any young shortstop's in the league," Williams says. "The reason we targeted him is because we thought, in this environment—not just with Ozzie and some of the coaches being of Latin descent but with Lee, Ordo�ez, Valentin, Sandy Alomar—we have guys with a history of being able to bring out the best in a player such as this." Uribe was placed in Ordo�ez's and Lee's hitting group in batting practice; when he lapsed into his bad habit of pulling pitches, they, and not the coaches, corrected him.
Chicago's staff took a colossal hit when free-agent, 15-game winner Bartolo Colon, who was offered a three-year, $36 million deal by the White Sox, walked to the Angels for an extra year and an extra $15 million. Colon's departure dumps 242 high-quality innings on questionable back-of-the-rotation types like Jon Garland (career 4.60 ERA), converted reliever Scott Schoeneweis (5.08) and Dan Wright (5.52).
Guillen sees himself as a communicator and an ally of his players; he is a full pendulum swing away from his predecessor, Jerry Manuel, who was reserved and sometimes distant. "In my first meeting I told them it was a shame Jerry got fired because they didn't play up to their talent," Guillen says. "I want them to stick together, stick up for each other, and I'll be the best friend they have."
Let's see how long the lovefest lasts.
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