GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox came to spring training with a relatively short to-do list: Name a starting second baseman, identify the backup catcher, figure out the 25th man and sort out the bullpen.
And stay healthy.
With two weeks and a day from Opening Day on April 6, here’s how things are progressing:
Micah Johnson has taken control, leading the team with 14 hits and a .467 average and has six RBI. He has two stolen bases in three attempts. The biggest question mark on Johnson coming in was his defense, but he has not committed an error. There is no question about Johnson’s speed, which will be welcomed in the lineup.
Carlos Sanchez, who is hitting a respectable .263 with a .333 on-base percentage, is a switch-hitter and can play more positions, but the Sox are covered there with Emilio Bonifacio and Gordon Beckham.
Geovany Soto looked like the top contender in a group with left-handed hitters George Kottaras and Rob Brantly and has played like it with a .316 average, home run, two doubles and four RBI. Soto has also walked four times while striking out only twice, and his defense is good enough that he could warrant something closer to shared status than backup status behind Tyler Flowers. Soto’s bat could inject a little life in the bottom third of the lineup.
Brantly’s hitting .188 with a homer and Kottaras is hitting .154 with a homer. Staying healthy has been a challenge for Soto, though. But he looks to be in great shape.
If the Sox go with a fourth outfielder (they also have Bonifacio who can play all three positions plus second base, shortstop and third), J.B. Shuck has stood out as the choice. The 2013 Rookie of the Year candidate with the Angels is hitting 9-for-27 (.333, all singles) with three stolen bases in three attempts and a lay-out diving catch in right-center field.
“Versatility, the ability perhaps to complement some of the skills of the regulars, whether it’s from a handedness standpoint or a speed standpoint or just a diversity of skills standpoint” is what general manager Rick Hahn said he wants from the 25th man.
“It’s an important role, but it’s also one that conceivably over the length of the season, you could make a move with, if it’s not going the way you anticipate. But we like some of the options in that room right now.’’
Closer David Robertson, Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam should be in from the right side and Zach Duke and Dan Jennings from the left, leaving two spots from this group: Matt Albers (3.00 ERA); Javy Guerra (2.84); Maikel Cleto (3.38); and Daniel Webb (7.11). Albers, a proven commodity when healthy, and Guerra might be leading the race. A long man/spot starter type like 36-year-old Brad Penny probably shouldn’t be ruled out, either. Putnam, who has allowed four homers in as many appearances and has a 19.64 ERA, will throw a wrench into the pen’s alignment if he doesn’t get untracked soon. He was one of the Sox’ top relievers last year with a 1.96 ERA.
Chris Sale’s truck-related foot and ankle injury that will prevent him from opening the season — but probably not much more — was the worst. Jesse Crain, bouncing back from triceps surgery, had a minor setback last week but he wasn’t figuring into Opening Day plans anyway. All said and done, the Sox will take it.
For Hahn, health trumps everything as the Sox play through the last two weeks of camp.
“We came in with not a ton of decisions to make, and it’s good to see that, where we do have some decisions, we have quality options at each of them right now,’’ Hahn said. “Guys are showing us that either they belong in the big leagues if they’re healthy or they have the ability to help our club. For me, it’s all about getting to April 6 healthy.’’