With little apparent interest in retaining Orlando Cabrera, the White Sox decided early on during the offseason to shift Alexei Ramirez from the keystone to the shortstop position. The “Cuban Missile” is lauded for his athleticism, though most defensive metrics rated him as below average in his rookie campaign. Ramirez’s move opened up a three-way competition at second base, with an ’08 first-rounder making his presence felt as well.
The front-runner for the job at this juncture is Christopher Getz. Profiled by Marc Hulet back in February, Getz is a University of Michigan product with a line-drive swing and ability to work the count. The left-handed hitter posted a .407 OBP at Low-A Kannapolis back in 2005, but his full-season debut in 2006 (.256/.326/.321 at AA Birmingham) did not inspire great hopes of everyday deployment at the highest level. The ’05 fourth-round selection rebounded in a return engagement to Birmingham, controlling the zone (11.5 BB%, 10.8 K%) on his way to a .299/.382/.381 line in 319 PA. Unfortunately, Getz’s year was cut short by a stress fracture in his left leg.
Promoted to AAA Charlotte in ’08, Getz seemingly displayed more pop. He smacked 11 home runs, far surpassing his previous career high in a single season of three, and compiled a .302/.366/.448 slash line with a .146 ISO. However, that relative power display could be explained by the hospitable environs of Charlotte: with a three-year HR park factor of 1.32 (32% above average), it’s hard to find more inviting home digs for a batter. Getz’s AAA work translates to a .258/.311/.359 showing in the majors, per Minor League Splits. There’s no star potential here- Getz is 25 and is just cracking the big leagues- but he could be worth a look in deep leagues or AL-only leagues. The former Wolverine (seemingly healed from a broken wrist suffered in August) straddles the line between useful utility man and stretched regular.
Jayson Nix, 26, is a former Rockies farmhand who stays employed based on the merits of his leather. The 2001 supplemental first-round pick earns accolades for his defensive work, but his bat just hasn’t materialized: he’s a career .260/.330/.415 minor league hitter. He did mash at AAA Colorado Springs in 2008 (.303/.373/.591), but that was his third go-around the Pacific Coast League, so skepticism is warranted.
Speaking of middle infield prospects who haven’t quite panned out, Brent Lillibridge went from sought-after youngster in the Adam LaRoche/Mike Gonzalez deal a few years back to a throw-in as part of the Javier Vazquez swap this offseason. Drafted in the 4th round by the Pirates out of the University of Washington in 2005, Lillibridge was an on-base fiend during his full-season debut in 2006. Splitting the year between Low-A Hickory (.299/.414/.522) and High-A Lynchburg (.313/.426/.423), the rangy shortstop drew an ample amount of walks and wreaked havoc on the base paths, stealing 53 bags in 66 attempts (80%).
Following that stellar showing, Baseball America ranked Lillibridge as the 93rd-best prospect in the game, and PECOTA’s bells and whistles were whirring as well, forecasting a .276/.349/.429 major league line based on his ’06 work. Sent to AA to begin the 2007 season, Lillibridge held his own (.275/.355/.387), but his K rate jumped to nearly 30% and his walk rate was pared down to 8.9% from nearly 15% the previous year. His plate discipline further eroded at AAA Richmond, as he drew a free pass just 5.9% of the time on his way to a .284/.329/.435 line.
The wheels fell off the Lillibridge prospect wagon in 2008, as he was downright brutal back at AAA (.220/.294/.344). He walked a little more frequently (8.5%), but the high whiff rate (25.4 K%) and minimal power (.124 ISO) felled him. His short time with the Braves did not engender any lasting memories, as he swung at 36.8% of pitches thrown out of the zone on his way to a .257 wOBA. Perhaps there’s still hope for the 25 year-old in terms of becoming an everyday player, but his eroding patience at the plate might put him down a Nixian path to utility infielderdom.
The most interesting player (and the one with basically no shot of winning the job) is Gordon Beckham, a 2008 first-rounder selected out of Georgia. The 22 year-old rated as Chicago’s #1 prospect and is considered a highly-polished offensive player. Even with an admittedly mild cast of characters vying for the second base position, Beckham should return to the minors and hone his craft for a year. There’s no sense in rushing a guy with 58 official at-bats to the majors at the expense of his long-term development.
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