Notes: Mackowiak fights lost opportunity
Utility player looks ahead after subpar defensive showing
TUCSON, Ariz. -- For Rob Mackowiak to punish himself over last year's rough defensive play in center field or even spend a minute dwelling on the plays that weren't made would be a complete waste of time for the affable utility player.
But as Mackowiak prepares for the 2007 season, he can't help but think about the opportunity that passed him by during the 2006 campaign. With rookie center fielder Brian Anderson struggling offensively, some form of a starting job was in play for a player such as Mackowiak, who has primarily been a part-time player over his six years in the Majors.
Mackowiak's defense in center, though, turned out to be as inconsistent as Anderson with the bat.
"It frustrates you more than anything," said Mackowiak of his troubles with the glove in center. "I've been more of a role player, a bench player, and I get an opportunity to be out there.
"Then, I don't do as well as I would like, and it leaves a bad taste going into the winter. I'm not saying I had a chance to be an everyday player, but I had a chance to earn more playing time and I didn't take advantage of it."
Manager Ozzie Guillen already has said that Mackowiak will return to center only in an emergency in the upcoming season, and with Darin Erstad's presence, Mackowiak understands his 255 at-bats from last season could drop. But Mackowiak refuses to grouse or take a "woe-is-me" attitude.
Instead, Mackowiak prepared himself during this past offseason to play across the infield, aside from at shortstop, and both corner outfield spots. The hard-working Mackowiak already has made 252 career appearances in right, 173 at third base, 74 in left, 59 at second and five at first and stands as a valuable pinch-hitter from the left side.
There also are 173 career appearances in center on Mackowiak's resume. He's set for more starts in center in 2007, even after last year's issues, when he played in center more frequently than what was originally planned.
"That's not an excuse," Mackowiak said. "I won't use that as an excuse. I was put out there and you have to catch the ball. I didn't do a good enough job.
"Obviously, you didn't do well, so you don't deserve to be put out there. It's not news," added Mackowiak of Guillen's decision to take him out of center. "I'm a very realistic person. I realize I didn't do well, so you continue to work. I want to work to get better in the outfield as a whole."
Center of attention: Taking Mackowiak out of the center field equation doesn't necessarily affect the battle for the starting job in the middle of the outfield. According to Guillen, the position is wide open, but it's wide open with a few provisions attached.
As an example, Ryan Sweeney impressed Guillen with his smooth stroke and defensive play during 18 games in September last season. But as Guillen and general manager Ken Williams both mentioned at SoxFest, Sweeney won't be staying with the team unless he's playing every day.
"Sweeney's in the picture, but he's not," Guillen said. "I think this kid, when he makes it to the big leagues, it's to stay in the big leagues. He's got a great talent, but right now we have to see people a little bit more than we're going to see him.
"He will be here, but I don't know about this year. I don't know if I want to hear this from my manager, but if we have Sweeney on the team, it's bad news. It's good news for him. I think this kid's still young and I think he still has maybe one more year to develop. He will be playing in the big leagues soon."
Sweeney, 22, understands he has some convincing to do in order to stick with the White Sox.
"I want to come in and get better every year," Sweeney said. "Hopefully I can do what I've done the last few Spring Trainings and see what happens. If I'm not going to be starting, they want to see me get more at-bats at Triple-A because I am still young. I kind of expected that."
If Scott Podsednik is healthy to start the 2007 season and the White Sox break with 12 pitchers, there's a possibility neither Sweeney, Josh Fields, Jerry Owens nor even Anderson would stick with the team. It's a possibility that hasn't entered Anderson's mind.
"Dwelling on something on like that will get you cut," Anderson said. "They will give me an opportunity this spring. There are questions in people's minds but I brought that about myself."
Around the horn: The White Sox have scheduled "B" games with the Rockies on March 5 and March 8 and with Arizona on March 13. The team's lone intrasquad game will take place Monday morning. ... If there's any doubt that pitchers have the early edge over hitters, Guillen's following quote makes the point quite clear. "It's painful to see the hitters facing those guys right now," said Guillen with a smile. "It's fun when you have people with that kind of arm, and it will be a great battle all spring."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.