Entering the final season of his four-year, $56-million deal, Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn still remains an enigma. Like always, he talks about wanting to make improvements in his game, but that also comes with a qualifier. Batting average just isn't an issue for him.
"How important is it to me? It's not," Dunn said, when asked about batting average. "I care about on-base (percentage) -- getting on base. However I do that, I don't care. Obviously the higher your batting average, the higher your on-base will be. But if I walk 200 times and get 100 base hits, that's fine."
The problem is that hasn't happened. As a matter of fact, Dunn's three-year batting averages with the Sox go as follow: .159 in 2011, .204 in '12, and then .219 last season. Meanwhile, his on-base percentage those three seasons was .292, .333, and .320, respectively. His career on-base-plus-slugging percentage is .366, with his better years all coming in his National League days.
But if Dunn thinks he is going to get his usual number of at-bats to turn that around, that might not be happening. With Paul Konerko platooning at DH with him, as well as rookie Jose Abreu in the mix at first base and DH, Dunn will rarely see lefty pitchers and will again have to try and figure out the rhythm of being a DH.
Dunn hit a total of 75 homers the last two years, but the days of when he was regularly a .250 hitter (five times) seem to be behind him. He thinks differently.
"Yeah, I could do it. I've done it (before)," Dunn said. "I don't go out there trying to hit .200. I'm just going to stay the course and if they fall in they fall in."
First-year White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson spent a lot of spring camp working with Dunn, as well as watching video to see what can be tinkered with, and feels like better numbers are in front of him this season.
"You can say what you want about batting average, but as long as you're producing runs for the team -- RBIs, being on base -- that's a positive," Steverson said. "Of course you'd like to see his average higher. But average isn't everything. I've said it before about (Dayan) Viciedo -- I don't think anybody would be happy if he hit .280 and 10 homers.
"(Dunn's) got a good frame of mind. He is self-aware. He can take an at-bat now and go 'I know what's wrong.' That's huge for a guy like that. If you can feel it, you can fix it."
Dunn was back in the starting lineup in the March 14, 2-2 tie with Cleveland, going 0-for-4 to put his average at .182, and said that he does feel like he is in a better place to succeed this season.
"I might feel a little better at this time of year than I have in the past, but I don't put too much stock in the spring -- good or bad," Dunn said.
As far as if he'll finish the season in a Sox uniform, Dunn isn't thinking that far ahead.
"People are kind a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately deal," Dunn said. "I can't take back what's happened. It's a new year. I'm going to treat it that way."
--3B Conor Gillaspie is not just going to let rookie Matt Davidson win the starting job at third without a fight, and that's what the competition between the two has been in Cactus League games. Both have hit the ball well, and have been making the plays at third. The bigger question for Gillaspie will be can he handle the pressure? After a hot start last year, he seemed to think too much and got in his own way, finishing the year with a .245 average, after starting off with a .319 average and three homers in his first 22 games. "This is a tough game," Gillaspie said. "The less stressed I get about one day, it's going to help me in the long run. And I don't feel quite as stressed about everything this year as I did a little bit last year."
--2B Gordon Beckham looked like he had Gold Glove stuff defensively back in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but his 12 errors last year were the second most among American League second baseman. Guess what the focus has been for him this spring? "Stupid mistakes," Beckham said of his dismal 2013. "I can make the plays -- I've proved that. It wasn't a lack of concentration. But there were certain times where it just didn't work out. I had a terrible year defensively." It wasn't just Beckham. The Sox had the second most unearned runs last season with 80.
--LHP John Danks continued to be the talk of camp over the last week, making a second-consecutive start in which he didn't allow a run. For Danks, who missed most of the 2012 season with a bad shoulder and then spent last year struggling to get back to form -- evidenced by his 4-14 record and 4.75 ERA last year -- the better news was the shoulder feels great. "It has been fun to be healthy and feel good, and not worry about certain rehab things or being in the training room and just being able to focus on baseball," Danks said. "We get to (work) on the side in a couple of days and work on things rather than worrying about how the shoulder feels." Danks is still on schedule to be the No. 3 starter in the rotation.
--OF Dayan Viciedo was rumored to be in trade talks, as the Sox could be getting a feel of what's out there if they decide to move the power hitter. After a promising 2012 season in which he hit 25 home runs, Viciedo took a step back in 2013, needing a strong second half when the Sox were out of the division race to salvage a .265 season with 14 homers and 56 RBIs in 124 games. The focus this spring has been getting him to cut down on his aggressiveness a bit and be more patient at the plate, and it seems to be working. But Viciedo knows his name is out there, and wants to stay with the Sox. "This is where I want to be," Viciedo said through an interpreter. "I feel appreciative that the White Sox continue to give me the opportunity to succeed. I feel comfortable. I feel I'm among family. I feel I can get better, and they've given me the confidence to keep working at it."
--RHP Matt Lindstrom (oblique) is back throwing on the side, and once again feels good about making that Opening Day roster. The plan, according to manager Robin Ventura, is to get him back on the mound the last week in Arizona, and that should give them a good enough idea on if Lindstrom is far enough to be a difference maker out of the bullpen.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings; I don't want to come off like I don't care, but anybody that has been around me knows it's just not something that's really important to me as far as the moments of people recognizing you. Maybe I'll take it in a little more than I normally would. Certainly off the field with the guys on the road and the traveling and family stuff, there's going to be more stuff that goes on than in a normal year that I'll do on my own." -- 1B/DH Paul Konerko on the idea of going into visiting stadiums and handed gifts by the opposition for his time in the league and retirement likely on the way next season.
LHP Chris Sale
LHP Jose Quintana
RHP Felipe Paulino
LHP John Danks
RHP Erik Johnson
Even with an 11-14 record last season, Sale remained the undisputed ace of the staff, and one of the elite southpaws in the American League. The concerns about Sale being fragile are in the past, and that's why the Sox have had no problem admitting the staff is being built around him.
All eyes will be on Danks, as the lefty struggled in his first season back from shoulder surgery, going 4-14 with a 4.75 ERA, before being shut down for the final few weeks of the season. Johnson is one of the top prospects in the organization and has a chance to be an impact arm moving forward.
RHP Nate Jones (closer)
RHP Matt Lindstrom
LHP Donnie Veal
LHP Scott Downs
RHP Ronald Belisario
RHP Dylan Axelrod
RHP Daniel Webb
Jones will get the first chance to be the new closer, with a veteran like Lindstrom the safety net if Jones stumbles. But first Lindstrom (oblique) needs to show he can be healthy by Opening Day. Webb also opened some eyes, with pitching coach Don Cooper listing him as a candidate to get a look in the ninth inning, despite his spring inconsistencies.
The problem for the Sox will be a shortage of known lefty relievers. Veal is the only one that has shown anything, while Downs struggled in Cactus League play. Axelrod has emerged as the leading candidate to be a long reliever and spot starter if need be.
1. CF Adam Eaton
2. LF Alejandro De Aza
3. 1B Jose Abreu
4. DH Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko
5. RF Avisail Garcia
6. SS Alexei Ramirez
7. 2B Gordon Beckham
8. 3B Matt Davidson/Conor Gillaspie
9. C Tyler Flowers/Josh Phegley
The Sox lineup seemingly became younger overnight, with the additions of Eaton, Abreu, Garcia and Davidson since last July. All of them will be given a serious push to become everyday starters, hoping that one of the offenses in the AL can start turning things around. The key could be at the top with the speedy Eaton given the chance to take over the lead-off duties from De Aza. The real battle still going on is at third base, as Davidson and Gillaspie have both been solid in Cactus League.
Flowers entered the camp battling with several teammates for time behind the plate, but is now the leading candidate for those duties with the way he's gone about his business in Cactus League games. Phegley will likely be the back-up, but GM Rick Hahn will keep his eyes open for a proven veteran that could fall his way.
TOP ROOKIES: RHP Erik Johnson was one of the elite pitchers in the farm system for the White Sox last season, going 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 24 starts between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. He was then called up the final month of the season, and impressed with a 3-2 record and 3.25 ERA in five starts. The Sox have three lefties penciled in the starting rotation, so Johnson will have a chance to be a key starting righty. Abreu was the big offseason acquisition for the Sox, grabbing the Cuban for $68 million over the next six years. The 27-year-old could be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate, penciled in to be the everyday starting first baseman, and projected to have at least 25-homer power.
--RHP Matt Lindstrom (strained oblique) had a setback with the injury that now could make being on the opening day roster a question mark. Lindstrom thought he was back, but had a setback in a long-toss session in early March. He started throwing on the side in mid-March.
--INF Jeff Keppinger (right shoulder) is being shut down as of March 15 because of soreness in the shoulder he had surgery on back in September. According to manager Robin Ventura, Keppinger could start the season on the disabled list.
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