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Chicago Blackhawks Ready for Season
Fan Interest Up But Expectations Low

by Caitlen Sullivan
Chicago Tribune Sports
June 1, 2016


The Blackhawks are under new management, and fan interest seems up a bit. But expectations remain pretty low even though the team produced an unexpected 13-11 record during Spring Training. Here’s a look at the team for Opening Day, position by position:

First Base
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Alfredo Rodriguez (pictured) is the only player on the team that could be ranked as a superstar. Bucky has never missed a Blackhawk game, and he won the Triple Crown back in the league’s inaugural season (2013). But he’s coming off a subpar year that saw his average drop to .253 and his homer count to 17. Still, he’s the face of the franchise, and a rebound is essential if this team is to exceed muted expectations. He recently signed a three year extension with a fourth team option year. Bucky’s backup will be John Dingle who joins the team as a free agent. He couldn’t hit with Ottawa back in 2011 and did poorly with New York last year.

Second Base
Pat Wagner joins the team for the first time with a two-year guaranteed contract and a team option third year. He played well for Detroit in 2014 but spent most of last season in the minor leagues. If he can match his .290 average from 2014, he’ll be a key to the offense. He has good speed on the bases, and he is a fine fielder at 2B, 3B and SS. He lacks home run power. Holdover Chris Brewer slumped badly last year after a decent 2014. Wagner won the starting job with an outstanding Spring, so Brewer will probably become the team’s prime utility infielder. He can play 2B, 3B, and SS with equal skill. He will be eligible for arbitration ay year-end.

Third Base
Erwin Hurst has been with the Hawks since day one. He’s a superb infielder at all four sports. After two years hitting over .300, his average mysteriously dropped to .242 last season, so again a rebound is crucial to team success. He too lacks home run power. He just signed a two-year extension.

Shortstop
Bob King has been the Blackhawk shortstop since Opening Day 2013, missing only two games in three seasons. He’s a solid hitter and excellent defensive player. Unfortunately he too lacks home run power. He has just signed on for three more seasons as a Blackhawk.

Left Field
Earl Waller is another holdover from last season. He improved dramatically last year over the previous season, and the club is hopeful he will once again show improvement at the plate. If he does, he could become a solid major league outfielder. Management loves his defensive skill in left field. Ron Robinson is around to backup. He’s a decent defender, good baser runner, and has done OK at the plate in limited big league action.

Center Field
At age 34 Jean Sanchez decided to try the free agent market after three years in Chicago. Like catcher Campbell, the offers weren’t flowing in and eventually he decided to re-up as a Blackhawk for this year and next. He’s a good base stealer and a decent enough corner outfielder, but he’ll be playing out of position in center field. Roy Parrish lacks offensive skills but is a talented outfielder who will spend significant time in center as a late inning defensive replacement.

Right Field
Eric Richardson may hit .300 as he did the last two years with Los Angeles, but he lacks defensive skill and he’s getting up there in age (35). If he performs well, the team has an option to keep him in uniform next year. He lacks power at a position where the team desperately needs it. Glenn Lahoda is highly (over)paid and has excellent power, a skill the team lacks, but failing contact skills may see his career come to a premature close.

Catcher
Alex Campbell was a Blackhawk for the last three years before becoming a free agent after last season. After considering limited other options, he and Chicago management agreed to a new contract good through next season. He’s solid enough defensively, but he lacks good contact skills at the plate. Tom Symons was released by Boston at the end of last year and eventually agreed to a minor league deal with the Blackhawks for this year. He played well enough during the Spring to win the backup job at a position where the Blackhawks seem to seriously next an upgrade. Elroy Corkum will be the mergency call-up from Rockford is someone gets hurt.

Rotation

  • John Wilson was acquired in a trade to shore up a weak starting staff. He’s 35 with a significant contract, buit he has already agreed to a two-year extension at half of his present salary. He’ll be the ace assuming he returns to his form of two years back.
  • Luciano Henriques is back after 14 starts last year. He needs to significantly improve to be a positive factor.
  • Tim Ricks was a discouraging 0-9 last season, but at age 24 he is still improving. He needs to step up big time to make Chicago successful this year.
  • Pepe Valenzuela is only 21 and has definite control problems, but he has electric stuff and a bright future if he can get the ball over the plate.
  • António Rodríguez pitched very well in AAA over the second half of last season. He’ll be a spot starter for the time being while also providing some long relief.

 

Bullpen

  • Mike Stewart is 37 years old, but he still managed 17 saves last season with Vancouver after two good middle relief seasons with Edmonton. He’ll be the closer.
  • Mathieu Lefranc came over in the Wilson trade to shore up the bullpen. He did reasonably well two years back but struggled last season.
  • Francisco Huerta begins his fourth season with the Blackhawks and is usually dependable in middle relief.
  • Patrick Reid has struggled for three years in the major leagues, but Chicago is hoping he can provide some adequate middle inning relief.
  • Bill Henneberry is 36 now, starting his fourth year as a Blackhawk. He has gotten better each year and provided quality innings last season.

 

SUMMARY

  • Good contact hitters with little power other than from Rodriguez.
  • Pitching looks to be a major problem.
  • Small ball offense is going to have to deliver a lot of runs to make this team successful.
  • Base running and overall defense look to be strong points.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2014 09:26