2014 Chicago White Sox: You can take it off the board

Tommy McCraw

Tommy McCraw was a first baseman with an unusual skill set: more speed than power, and not a lot of average, either. He hit .326 in the minors in 1962 and was a White Sox by June of the next year. He never approached his minor-league best; his .261 in ’64 was his White Sox best, and only topped by part-time numbers in 1973 (.265 with the Angels) and 1974 (.294 with the Angels and Indians). McCraw was the White Sox regular through ’68 and a part-timer the next two years. His best season was ’67 despite a .236 average. He hit a career-high 11 home runs and 18 doubles and stole a career-high 24 bases. His .236 was the third-highest average for a White Sox team which was hard-pressed to score (Ken Berry and Don Buford tied for the team lead at .241). The ’67 White Sox were last in MLB in team OPS (.612) and 12th of 16 teams with 531 runs scored, yet won 89 games and finished just three games behind pennant-winning Boston (the other Sox), thanks to a team ERA that was an AL-leading 2.45, or .69 better than second-place Minnesota. McCraw hit three of his 11 home runs in a single game that year in a 14-1 win over the Twins, knocking in eight runs (one off Jim Kaat, two off Dean Chance). McCraw hit just 75 home runs in his career, and one of those was a popup in which three fielders collided, according to baseballreference.com. McCraw had another more dubious threesome: he made three errors in the same inning against the Yankees in 1968. The White Sox lost, 3-2, on three unearned runs. McCraw played his last game in 1975 and was a longtime hitting coach, four times with Frank Robinson as manager. The final numbers: .246 average, 75 homers, 42 triples. 143 steals, 972 hits, .509 on-base, 3.61 slugging, 8.7 WAR, with a high of 2.6 in ’67.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: ESPN’s Keith Law ranks the White Sox’s farm system 28th, although he may be wrong. It might not be that good. Neither is the major-league team, which means any upper-level prospect is already a White Sox. And any lower-level one might be sooner than normally expected. Second baseman Micah Johnson looked much more like a high-level prospect last year at low Class A when he hit .342 with 11 triples than he did at high A when he hit .275 with 12 extra-base hits. He dropped 282 points of OPS, from .952 to 670. Given the state of the White Sox farm system, that still earned him a promotion to AA, where his OPS dropped another 205 points in five games when the season mercifully ended before any statistical samples were large enough to draw conclusions from. In the land of the barren, he’s a prospect.

Trivia: The 1959 AL pennant-winning White Sox were known as the Go-Go Sox. Did they have more players in double figures in steals or home runs? Name them. Answer below.

What he said: White Sox manager Robin Ventura after Jose Quintana arrived a half hour before game time and then gave up seven runs in three innings: “He got stuck in trafiic.” What he meant: “If he gets stuck in traffic in Tempe, we might want to keep him off the Dan Ryan at rush hour.”

Outlook: There’s no tanking in baseball (except for perhaps the Marlins), but there is delaying, reorganizing or whatever corporate euphemism you want to give it. That’s what the White Sox are doing.

They won 63 games and finished last in 2013, dropping 22 games. They won’t do much better in 2014, although they won’t drop much further.

Since the farm system isn’t producing the products that will better the team, new GM Rick Hahn decided to trade for them, even if it means sacrificing wins now. So the White Sox gambled: they traded Addison Reed, a sure thing as a young closer but approaching arbitration, for third base prospect Matt Davidson, who has high potential for power and strikeouts; Hector Santiago, a wild, young lefty starter, of which the Sox have a surplus, for young centerfielder Adam Eaton, who hit .381 in the minors; and Jake Peavy, a former Cy Young winner went to Boston in a three-team midseason deal that netted young outfielder Avisail Garcia, a 22-year-old outfielder who hit .379 in the minors last year.

White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson, showing his homerism knows no bounds, said, “This has got a chance to be the best trade the White Sox have ever made. (Garcia) can run, throw, hit, hit for average, hit for power, he’s got a gun in the outfield and he is going to be an absolute force in a White Sox uniform for many years to come. Rick Hahn, in his first year, made possibly the greatest trade the White Sox have ever made.”

Yes, but how’s his will to win?

Given Harrelson’s abhorrence of sabermetrics, his is not an endorsement Hahn should be seeking. It’s going to be a tough slog in 2014 for the White Sox, who were last in 2013 in the AL in runs scored, ninth in pitching, next to last in wins and 12th in run differential. No one wanted the Astros to feel more welcome in their new league than the White Sox.

The White Sox won’t be much better this year, because all the young prospects either aren’t major-league ready or major-league worthy. The Chicago Sun Times’ Daryl Von Schouwen reported last week that Conor Gillaspie is “tightening his grip on being the White Sox’s No. 1 third baseman;” that will help strangle their ability to score runs.

Gillaspie batted 400 times in 2013 and produced a .695 OPS; that was All-Star compared to Tyler Flowers, who hit .195, fanned 94 times in 256 at-bats and is expected to catch. How much worse could Josh Phegley be? If last year’s .206, five walks, 41 strikeouts and 11 extra-base hits in 204 at-bats is any indication, a lot. The White Sox’s ineptitude at catcher greatly explains their reported interest in Francisco Cervelli.

The players Hahn acquired might be an improvement, but it’s limited. Davidson will be 23 by Opening Day and has slugged .452 in the minors, but has fanned 2.6 times for every walk. There’s a lot of Mark Reynolds in his game, although that shouldn’t prevent him from wresting the job from Gillaspie in a few months.

Adam Eaton could probably hit the pitcher of the same name, but he’s hit .254 with 24 extra-base hits and 31 walks against everyone else in his first 380 big-league plate appearances. That’s a long way from his .348 career minor-league average and .450 on-base percentage, though he’s only 25. Still, it’s looking as if his minor-league stats should have come with a Pacific Coast League/California League warning: These stats may be inflated.

“Best trade ever” Garcia is also hard to interpret. He was in the majors by 21, and has batted .289 in 291 at-bats. But he apparently walks only when distracted (95 times in 2,354 minor-league plate appearances, with a season-high of 20), and his power is displayed only slightly more frequently (season-high of 14 homers, career .409 slugging percentage).

There seems to be only one thing wrong with Hahn’s plan: he needs better players.

Trivia answer: The 1959 Go-Go White Sox had four players in double figures in home runs and three in steals. The home run hitters: Sherm Lollar, 20; Jim Landis, 15; Al Smith, 12; Earl Torgeson 10. The base-stealers: Luis Aparicio, 29; Jim Rivera, 21; Landis 19. Torgeson was next with seven. As a team, the White Sox led MLB in steals with 113 (the Dodgers were second with 84) and were last in homers with 97. They were 11th of the 16 teams in runs scored with 669.

Team song Tom Robinson: It’s Going To Be A Long Hot Summer

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