Adding baseball’s top home-run and RBI producer to the middle of the order and a legit leadoff man at the top has given life to a White Sox attack that ranked last in most statistical categories in 2013.
Having two-time All-Star Chris Sale, a solid No. 2 in Jose Quintana and an improving John Danks hasn’t prevented the pitching staff from being the Sox’ weaker link. Its 4.34 ERA ranks 27th, the 325 walks lead all of baseball and the WHIP of 1.42 ranks 28th.
A young bullpen that ranks 18th in the majors with a 3.83 ERA and a majors-worst 142 walks (Oakland A’s relievers, by comparison, have walked 72) is learning on the job because of injuries and ineffectiveness. Since closer Addison Reed was traded during the offseason, no one has grabbed hold of the vacated role, leaving manager Robin Ventura with no choice last week but to go with the dreaded bullpen-by-committee.
If only the Sox could turn to Class AAA Charlotte for help. They’re patching the rotation with 29-year-old Scott Carroll, who is 2-5 with a 5.05 ERA and not in much danger of losing his place. It’s pretty clear what the organization’s greatest need is from top to bottom.
“Pitching,’’ Sox director of player development Nick Capra said. “Industry-wide, a lot of people would say the same thing. Starting pitching, we’re thin. That’s an area we really need to get better in.’’
The rotation was iffy coming out of spring training, with rookie Erik Johnson and free agent Felipe Paulino, coming off two surgeries, filling the 4 and 5 spots as the only right-handers. Johnson is struggling in Charlotte, and Paulino is hurt.
General manager Rick Hahn has taken chances on pitchers other teams had waived or not re-signed, including Hector Noesi (the No. 4starter), relievers Javy Guerra and Eric Surkamp (in the bullpen), Maikel Cleto and Frank Francisco (no longer in pen), Tommy Hanson and Mitchell Boggs. When the system is thin on pitching, you have to look elsewhere, and some have worked out.
The Sox used four of their first five picks and 14 of their first 20 on pitchers in the June draft. With the third overall pick, they selected left-hander Carlos Rodon, the most major-league-ready pitcher in the draft who, if signed by the July 18 deadline, could help the major-league club in some capacity before the season is over.
Rodon will raise the Sox farm system’s rankings, which last year moved up a notch from the bottom of most lists. Thanks in part to a 63-99 record last season, Hahn is armed with more resources than ever to sign draft picks and international prospects who aren’t in the draft. Four Latin American teenagers were signed on the first day of the international period Wednesday, including shortstop Amado Nunez and catcher Jhoandro Alfaro for a reported $900,000 and $750,000, respectively. Both are ranked as top-30 international prospects. The Sox’ bonus pool this year is $4.3 million, so more will be spread around on a market that only a few years ago excluded the Sox because of a bonus-skimming scandal.
“We’re trying to get better,’’ Capra said when asked to assess the team’s farm system. “We’re probably just OK right now. The first half of this season, we’ve struggled at each level win-wise.
“But our objective is to develop. We’re already seeing a little progress as the second half gets started.’’
The White Sox requested waivers on left-hander Scott Downs for the purpose of granting him his unconditional release.
◆ Two Sox first-round draft choices are sidelined with injuries. Outfielder Courtney Hawkins was put on Class A Winston-Salem’s disabled list with a concussion. Shortstop Tim Anderson, also at Winston-Salem, has a fractured right wrist.