Paul Konerko is the only active player left from the White Sox’ 2005 World Series championship team.
He often is asked about the run to the elusive ring, and Konerko still points to the obvious strength of the ‘05 Sox — the starting rotation.
The memories are starting to get a little fuzzy seven-plus years later, but Konerko also remembers the impact Scott Podsednik made from the leadoff spot.
“He came ready to play every day, and it seems like he always set the tone,” Konerko said. “He battled, got on base and you can’t overlook the pressure he put on the (opposing) pitchers.”
Podsednik is approaching his 37th birthday and still looking for a major-league job this spring after playing in 63 games with the Boston Red Sox last season and batting .302.
The White Sox are still looking for a leadoff man with Podsednik’s all-around skill, and Alejandro De Aza might be the answer.
“No offense to any other guys that I’ve played with, but I think he’s the best pure leadoff hitter that I’ve ever played with,” Adam Dunn said of De Aza late last season. “It seems like he gives you a great at-bat, whatever the result. He’s going to give you a great at-bat and he gets on and obviously he’s a threat to run and he can steal bases.”
After playing sparingly with the Marlins in 2007 and ‘09 and the Sox in 2011, De Aza finally got his shot to play every day last year at the age of 28.
“There are hundreds of guys down there (minor leagues) just waiting for a chance,” said Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto. “If you’re patient enough and you’re ready to go when your number’s called, things like this happen. He was just fortunate enough to get the opportunity, and he capitalized on it.”
De Aza emerged out of spring training as the White Sox’ starting center fielder, and he delivered a solid hitting line from the top of the order: .281/.349/.410.
Defensively, De Aza used his speed to cover sufficient ground for a center fielder, but his throwing arm was below average and contributed to his -2.4 UZR rating.
Offensively, De Aza was batting .308 in mid-June before a combination of injuries and fatigue came into play.
While not quite as reckless as former White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand, De Aza always seemed to come up slow after each of his 26 stolen bases, and he missed the final two weeks in August with bruised ribs.
In 2007, he missed most of the season with a fractured right ankle, and De Aza sat out the entire ‘08 season with a left ankle injury. Wrist and knee injuries also delayed his shot at a starting job in the majors.
“Injuries held me back for a long time,” De Aza said late last season. “There were so many times I couldn’t play, I couldn’t do anything. Sometimes my mind was so negative, but every day I was hurt, I would wake up and tell myself I was going to get better and I’m going to go play baseball again.”
De Aza is back in the leadoff spot this year, and he’ll also be patrolling center field.
But two of the White Sox’ top prospects are ready to start pushing him for playing time.
Jared Mitchell is the best athlete in the organization, and the former LSU football/baseball standout is getting closer to the majors after combining to hit .237 with 24 doubles, 13 triples, 11 home runs, 67 RBI and 21 stolen bases with Class AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte last season.
Keenyn Walker still needs some minor-league seasoning, but the switch-hitter showed why he was the 47th overall pick in the 2011 draft last year while batting .267 and stealing 56 bases with Class A Kannapolis and A Winston-Salem.
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