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Ovah And Out

The White Sox got lucky Saturday night.

Sure, they lost again on the road to the awful Houston Astros. And the game's final play set a Sox 2013 "first" when it comes to unique and sad maneuvers to close out all hope in yet another one-run loss. Pinch runner Jordan Danks, representing the tying run, got himself picked off second base by closer Jose Veras to end the 4-3 game.

So what's lucky about that?

At least no one was watching.

Danks picked a fortuitous time to lose his concentration. Just as he was being called out, the Blackhawks and Bruins were heading toward overtime in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. So Danks and his mates were able to blow another one in virtual anonymity.

The team wasn't as fortunate on Friday night as Chris Sale hurled a complete game, fanned 14 without yielding an earned run, yet was tagged with the 2-1 loss. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, one of the more sure-handed performers on a woefully-weak defensive team, committed not one, but two, errors in the fatal fifth inning leading to both Houston runs.

Sadly the Hawks and Bruins were resting Friday so those masochists among us missed no hockey excitement if we were inclined to sneak a peek at the sinking USS White Sox. They now are a season-worst ten games below .500. They have won just one of their last 13 road games. Closer Addison Reed was one strike away from nailing down a 5-4 win last Tuesday - at home no less - against Toronto when Jose Bautista knocked a high, floating breaking pitch into the seats to tie the game which the Jays won in the tenth inning, 7-5.

Wednesday's game was postponed because of predictions - they turned out to be false - of dangerous weather heading toward the Cell. Rumors were the team threw a victory party in the clubhouse, although in all fairness, the guys might have been relieved that they could then watch the Stanley Cup opener without distraction.

While witnessing these distressing events, I noticed last week that the Seattle Mariners made a personnel move, calling up catcher Mike Zunino from Triple-A Tacoma. Zunino is a guy I saw play in the College World Series a year ago after the Mariners made him their top draft choice out of the University of Florida.

Talking to a Mariner scout at the time, he said, Zunino "has the skills offensively and defensively [and] a chance to hit home runs. He's a solid character guy, the type of guy you want to add to your organization especially when you're a last place team like we are."

Skip ahead one year, and here is Zunino is the big leagues where he enjoyed a productive first week with a few hits including his first home run.

Meanwhile, now it's the Sox who are a last-place team, and they clearly need help. But it's not going to happen.

Perusing their minor league rosters, the one guy who may be ready to join the big club could be Josh Phegley, a catcher at Charlotte, who's hitting .314 with 12 homers and 35 RBI. Even more promising is the fact that he strikes out about once every six at-bats.

However, Phegley, who played college ball at Indiana, is going nowhere. A first-round draft choice in 2009, he's now 25 years old, and the Sox are committed to Tyler Flowers, who waited patiently until the team could bid adieu to A.J. Pierzynski. After 66 games they're not about to give up on Flowers despite his .220 average, frequent strikeouts (about a third of his at-bats), seven passed balls, and difficulty blocking low pitches.

From 1987 to 1989, the White Sox's top draft choices were Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura and Frank Thomas. As Hawk would say, those days are "ovah."

So far Chris Sale (2010) is the one top draft pick to pan out since 2009, when the Sox picked both Phegley and LSU's Jared Mitchell in the first round. Mitchell has been a bust so far bouncing between AA and AAA. Right now he's hitting .132 at Charlotte.

Then there was Keenyn Walker in 2011. An outfielder out of Central Arizona Junior College, he's playing at Birmingham, where he's hitting .213 with a lone home run.

Last year, high-schooler Courtney Hawkins was the heralded first choice. Hawkins has raw power. At Single-A Winston-Salem this season, he's smacked 13 homers and driven home 33 runs. But he's also whiffed 75 times in only 141 at-bats and is hitting .199. Sound familiar?

So far this season, most of the help - or shall we say roster moves? - has focused on pitching, as guys like Brian Omogrosso, Donnie Veal and Deunte Heath have bounced between the minor leagues and the Sox, while Ramon Troncoso is presently on the South Side. The aforementioned baserunning specialist Jordan Danks has been up and down, while Blake Tekotte made a brief appearance and now is back in Charlotte where he's hitting .216.

So the cupboard appears to be strikingly bare, although every now and then a lower draft choice - Albert Pujols, for instance, went in the 13th round - pays unexpected dividends. The White Sox have a ninth-round choice from last year, Micah Johnson, a second baseman at Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League, who's hitting .339 with an OBP of .422. I daresay this will be the only paragraph in history where Johnson is mentioned with Albert Pujols.

However, even imagining a super-phenom arriving on the scene, how much of a difference would he make? Yasiel Puig is the present-day Natural, being recalled 13 games ago by the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers. His numbers are truly other-worldly: a .479 batting average, four homers including a grand slam, 10 RBI, and two outfield assists on throws that revive the memory of Roberto Clemente. The opposition already has shown great respect by pitching him inside and hitting him once.

And how have the Dodgers fared in those 13 games? Just six victories as the team limps along in last place, 5 1/2 games behind fourth-place San Diego.

So help is not on the horizon. As Sox fans, we are well aware of the cards in the deck. My eyes rolled last week when the team sent out an e-mail blast telling us to vote for a slew of Sox players for the All-Star team. Jesse Crain would be the only legitimate candidate, and we can't vote for pitchers.

However, right now things could be a lot worse. Just think if we couldn't watch the Blackhawks. Now that would be truly depressing.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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