White Sox A.J. Pierzynski PED Suspension Rumors

Rumors began to swirl on Chicago talk radio and in social media yesterday, that Chicago White Sox catcher, A.J. Pierzynski tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and would begin serving a 50-game suspension immediately, essentially being lost for the season.  With the White Sox clinging to a one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers, losing the veteran catcher for the season would be disastrous.

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Spring Sox Exchange

By The Soxman and Paul M. Banks

(PMB)  First off, I’d like to thank all the members of Soxman Nation that came out to give feedback on NBC Chicago.com in Soxman’s spring prospectus. We teamed up to possibly break the unofficial record for comments on the NBC homepage! Primary question out of the gate, what are your thoughts on the development of the kids most people have their eyes on: Jayson Nix, Dayan Viciedo, Aaron Poreda and Gordon Beckham…Of course, we all know these games don’t mean much, but do you like what you hear/see so far?

(SM) Spring training is really hard to get an idea of how a player will be, especially in the first few weeks because pitchers are often getting their mechanics down and even working on new pitches.

Listening to Ozzie Guillen speak, he is very impressed with all the aforementioned players thus far.
Beckham hit a game winning homerun on Sunday and smashed a 420-foot homer off former White Sox pitcher Jon Garland in the second game of the spring.

That said- I still believe he will start the year in the minor leagues.

Aaron Poreda thus far has not shown that he has developed a third pitch and cannot get anything but the fastball over the plate with consistency.  He’s likely to start in AAA as well.

(PMB) In my opinion, the biggest news this week is about starters Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon being way ahead of their rehabilitation schedule, with Contreras possibly throwing on March 14th (originally he was slated to return midseason).

(SM) He has looked cat-like fielding grounders off the mound which is very impressive considering some said he might never play again after rupturing his Achilles last year.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that both Colon and Contreras start the season in the rotation, forcing an even larger battle for the long relief job.

Clayton Richard looked awesome in his spring training debut.  After the heroics he demonstrated late last season, he has to have the edge for any vacant pitching spot on the roster.

(PMB) Yes, Richard’s heroics down the stretch was reminiscent of the pitching boost we got in August and September of another division winning year (2005) from another rookie (Brandon McCarthy). Speaking of March 14th, don’t you have an event/public appearance on that date in my original hometown of Palos Heights?

(SM) I’ll be throwing off the mound as well.  Likely over 200 bites of Irish soda bread into my mouth as a celebrity judge for charity.  It is for Trio Bar and Restaurant’s second annual Irish Soda Bread baking contest.
It costs $10 to enter a loaf of bread into the contest with a chance to win a trip for two to Ireland! All proceeds go to charity.   Batboy will be there as well signing autographs and posing for pictures.  We hope a lot of Sox fans will come out to represent the Soxside Irish.

Loaves have to be entered into the contest by 12:30.  Judging starts around 2:00 p.m.  Trio is

located at 11845 SouthWest Highway, Palos Heights, IL 60463.  For more information call Trio at 708-448-1900.

(PMB) What have you heard about the new Camelback Ranch spring training facility that our boys share with the Los Angeles Dodgers? Any of your loyal fans made the trek so far? Has Soxman ever done the spring training experience? Flying out to take in the exhibition season is supposed to become more popular and exciting in the future as more teams move to Arizona and share facilities, making the locations more concentrated these next couple years. This will give the fan more opportunities to see more teams without having to travel much.

(SM)  I have made the trek as Bruce Parker but never as Soxman…yet.  It is a great experience as the players tend to be a lot more friendly with the fans and you do get to see a great deal of talent in a concentrated location.

The only drawback as spring training becomes more popular is that prices are beginning to creep up and in the early pre-season games most of the stars don’t see much more than an inning or two of action.
Everything I have heard about the facility has been extremely positive thus far.

There is more than 118,000 square feet of Major and Minor League clubhouse space, 13 full baseball fields and three half-fields.

The shared stadium, where most games will be played, is the largest in the Cactus League with a capacity of 13,000 which includes 3,000 lawn seats, 12 luxury suites and a party deck

(PMB) Finally, we know the Sox invited President Barack Obama to throw out the first ball on Opening Day. The Sox AAA affiliate, the Charlotte Knights have also sent out the same invitation to our nation’s 44th Chief Executive. You and I both have our seats for Opening Day, what are the odds change-we-can-believe in occurs on the pitchers’ mound April 6th? Will the world’s most powerful man stop by?

(SM)  So long as there is not a scheduling conflict with a pressing issue of national security, my gut tells me that the nation’s first fan will be there to throw out the first pitch.

President Bush did it during his first term for the Rangers.  He also threw out the first pitch at the Nationals’ new park last season.  I’ll never forget how he did an inning of color commentary for ESPN Baseball tonight after the pitch and when Joe Morgan said “we won’t keep you any longer, we know you are a busy man,”

Bush replied, “I don’t have nothing else to do right now. I can stay for another inning.”
Of course they accommodated him.

I look forward to it as it might provide an inspirational stimulus for the Sox.

(PMB) Exactly. He had important brush to clear and mountain-biking to do back in Texas.

Spring Training Sox Exchange

By Paul M. Banks and Soxman

(PMB) Last weekend included St. Valentine’s Day, a time of year that more women than men look forward to quite frankly. But once it’s over, Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training, which is to most guys what chocolate, jewelry and flowers are to women.  Speaking of love, I consulted Soxman, the person who loves the White Sox more than any other individual on this Earth about what occurred in the offices on 35th and Shields this winter. You might recognize Soxman from, well pretty much anywhere local media may roam. We began this exchange by discussing the biggest move of the offseason, the Javier Vazquez trade:

(SM) After his miserable play-off performance, almost every Sox fan would agree that Javy wore out his welcome on the Southside, The trade was crucial in rebuilding our anemic farm system as it yielded two of the top 20 prospects overall in the Braves system.

2B/SS Brent Lillibridge is the player to watch in 2009.  He’s expected to battle Chris Getz and Jason Nix for the starting job at second base.  Kenny Williams believes he’s capable of stealing 40 bases if he gets 500 Abs.

Tyler Flowers could develop into the Sox next big slugger and 3B prospect Jon Gilmore has drawn comparisons to Scott Rolen.

(PMB) The Southside Dark Knight also opined on the signings of the so-called “Cuban Babe Ruth” Dayan Viciciedo and Bartolo Colon.

(SM) Sox fans should not expect Viciedo to immediately perform like Alexei as he’s only 19. There’s a ton to be excited about however.  He slugged over .500 in two of the past three seasons in Cuba and was an All-Star in Cuba’s top league at age 16.   Colon is exactly the type of pitcher I expected Williams to sign.  The once awesome, now aging pitcher plagued by injuries trying to revive his career…at an ultra cheap price.  In limited action with the Red Sox last season, he looked very good.

(PMB) In the case of Bobby Abreu and Jermaine Dye, we spent weeks listening about trade deals and prospective signings only to see no moves made. It kind of felt being stood up on a date. So what does the love interest of female Sox fans everywhere think of the non-deals- the trades that didn’t happen.

(SM) I was surprised the Sox did not go after Orlando Hudson as he still has not signed with a team, Soxman saidI think that the deals Kenny was interested in just didn’t materialize. With the economy it is pretty much a buyers market right now. I think Kenny will see how the 2-3 position battles pan out and if any bargains fall his way, he’ll pounce.

(PMB) Last week Baseball Prospectus predicted the Chicago White Sox to win just 74 games and finish dead last in the AL Central. Although the formulae and prognostications of these sabermetrician geeks sounds bleak, we must remember that almost no one predicted the Sox to win the AL Central last season. In the World Series year of 2005, most people predicted the pale hose to finish third! Also, lots of people forecasted the Sox to win the division in ’06 and ’07, yet they controlled the division for just 36 combined days in those two seasons. In summation, it’s all wide open

One guy with White Sox knowledge second place to no one is Soxman who sprang into action with his take on the Sox spring prospectus.

(SM) There are a ton of question marks going into 2009 that should make for an exciting spring. I can’t remember a time where there were so many position battles.

CF will be fun to watch, where Jerry Owens is expected to battle Brian Anderson.  The early favorite to win the job is Owens as we also expect him to assume lead-off duties.  However, Getz and Lillibridge could also factor in as Ozzie claims that speed alone does not entitle Owens to bat atop the lineup.

3B is Josh Fields to lose, but if he does, Wilson Betemit could slip right in.  The Cuban Babe Ruth, Dayan Viciedo may need some minor league seasoning before being considered a serious threat to assume full-time 3B duties.

There is also a back-up catcher position open and 1-2 spots in the bullpen.

If that’s not enough, it will be interesting to see how Alexei Ramirez handles fulltime SS duties, how healthy Bartolo Colon is, and how well Scott Linebrink’s shoulder has healed.

Soxman sees the White Sox lineup shaking up this way:

The everyday line-up will truly reveal itself during the final days of spring training, I’m really hoping that Ozzie does not decide to hit Thome, Konerko, and AJ back-to-back.”

This is the projected line-up as of today:

Owens- CF
Ramirez- SS
Quentin- LF
Thome- DH
Dye- RF
Konerko- 1B
AJ-C
Fields- 3B
Getz/Lillibridge- 2B

(PMB) With the Cuban Missile Alexi Ramirez moving over to shortstop, second base will be see a wide-open and heated competition for playing time.

(SM) It’ll be a wide-open between battle Chris Getz, Jayson Nix, and Brent Lillibridge.  All three players combined have 61 games of MLB experience and just 143 Abs.  While none of the candidates are proven, this is one of two open positions where the Sox should get a speed boost.  While Getz has the early edge, this is truly anyone’s job to win.

(PMB) Another issue on all the minds of Sox Nation is the battle for the fifth starter. Although Jose Contreras is now supposed to be way ahead of schedule, the Sox will still need major innings from one of the prospects such as Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard or the man with the most alternative lifestyle sounding name in White Sox history, Lance Broadway.

(SM) After his heroic performance in September, Clayton Richard is the early favorite to win the 5th spot but will likely be challenged by Aaron Poreda and Jeff Marquez.  Broadway will likely battle the losers of the rotation competition for the long relief spot in the bullpen.  Poreda likely has the most long-term upside, but is likely to start the season in AAA.

Editor’s note: a version of this story ran on NBC 5’s webpage, that you can read here and here.