As it stands, the White Sox starting outfield has Nick Swisher penciled in left, Jermaine Dye in right, and rookie Jerry Owens in center field. Two of those slots are locks, while one is the variable that has given Sox management headaches the past three offseasons.
Brian Anderson (above left) used to be the next center fielder for the ChiSox, but he lost the job after a full season of offensive inconsistencies in 2006. While GM Kenny Williams tried to fill the CF void with a veteran presence last year, and after being snubbed by the free agent market this year, Owens has been the leading candidate to take the starting center field job in 2008 mainly due to his qualities as a lead-off hitter. Plus he’s put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, and his attitude has reassured the Sox about having him patrol center.
But a slight tweak in his groin, as well as newcomer Carlos Quentin’s persistent soreness in his surgically repaired shoulder, has given Anderson a second chance at regaining what was once his.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Anderson has been on a tear:
Not only is Anderson batting .381 in the Cactus League, he leads the Sox in home runs (3) and on-base percentage (.480), and he also has played the best defense of any outfielder.
Based solely on performance, Anderson deserves a spot on the White Sox’ 25-man roster, maybe even as a starter.
Too bad this resurgence comes two years too late. Both manager Ozzie Guillen and Williams expect Owens to be the starting Center Fielder, but Anderson is making them think real hard about their expectations.
“The first spring we gave the job to him and he didn’t take advantage of it,” Guillen said in recounting the past. “I think this year he’s making big, big strides. He’s making a lot of people open their eyes.
“That’s what we expected from him the last three years.”
“Anyone can have a good week,” said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker of Anderson. “We need someone to have a good year.
“During the past week, this is the best I’ve seen BA. But he has to maintain it. We are looking for consistency.”
UmpBump readers know that center field has been a weak spot for the Sox; more so due to the negative impact on the lineup while Williams has tried to find a suitable candidate. So it’s an intriguing dilemma that Anderson, a player highly touted for his defense, but that fell short with his bat when given the role, is making a push with his offensive numbers to get the job one more time.
It’d be interesting to see if Anderson makes the 25-man roster as a backup to Owens, or as a starter. The thing is, Owens fits with what Guillen wants to do this season and it would take more than Owens’ groin to make Ozzie change his mind about center field.
And yet, with a little less than two weeks before the regular season, it’s all in Anderson’s hands to make that happen. So far, he’s on pace to give the Sox a tough time finalizing the outfield.