Notes: Much for Valido to prove
White Sox infield prospect out to forget 2006 'speed bump'
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The setting of SoxFest 2007, when the franchise's marquee names come out to mingle with the fans and speak with high optimism about the upcoming season, seemed like a strange time for Robert Valido's name to be invoked.
But before the first SoxFest to take place at the Palmer House Hilton even commenced, manager Ozzie Guillen was talking about how anxious he was to see Valido during Spring Training. Unfortunately for the talented Minor Leaguer, the conversation didn't exactly paint him in a favorable light.
Valido earned high praise for his work at shortstop last spring, and according to general manager Ken Williams, he was projected to compete for a roster spot in 2007 and a starting job in 2008. A disastrous 2006, in which the fleet-footed Valido hit .206 with eight stolen bases for Double-A Birmingham and .222 with three stolen bases for Class A Winston-Salem, altered that outlook.
Those struggles are presently a piece of past history for Valido, who blamed a freak injury to his left hand suffered while swinging the bat for a good portion of his offensive troubles. Valido also met with Guillen to clear the air almost immediately upon arrival in Tucson, as he begins a quest to prove that impressive initial Spring Training effort certainly was no fluke.
"Last year, I see it as a speed bump," said the 21-year-old Valido of his struggles. "I've had a couple along the way, but it makes you want to work hard and get up here and do the right thing."
After being selected in the fourth round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Coral Park High School in Miami, Valido swiped 97 bases over his first three seasons -- including a Carolina League-best 52 for the Warthogs in 2005. But one of those "speed bumps" came from April 20-30 during that same season, when he was suspended for violating Major League Baseball's Drug Treatment and Prevention Policy.
That positive test turned out to be an honest mistake on Valido's part, something far out of sight and out of mind. He hopes the same soon will be said about his 2006 performance.
With second baseman Tadahito Iguchi possibly becoming a free agent after the 2007 season and the White Sox thin in young middle infielders, Valido could take an important step forward during upcoming Cactus League games. He's ready to play third, second or shortstop -- anywhere to get him a quicker call to the Majors.
It's a point he made to Guillen during their opening discussion.
"He called me in, and we spoke," said Valido, who took cortisone shots to correct his problem in-season and was cleared for baseball work on Dec. 5. "We are trying to get eye-to-eye. I actually started hitting early and came out here to open some eyes. It's almost like starting over, and I'm ready to go."
"I told Valido this year is going to be really important for him, no matter where he plays," Guillen added.
Narrowing the field? It took Williams more than a few seconds to respond when asked Sunday to list the pitchers with a viable shot to win the fifth starter's job, as the competition moves into high gear beginning with Monday's intrasquad game. But the GM came up with three names.
"[Gavin] Floyd, [John] Danks and [Charlie] Haeger," Williams said. "[Nick] Masset could be slipped right in there easily.
"But the thing we wanted to accomplish when we acquired Masset, we felt very confident in the Floyd-Haeger combination and Danks if he stepped up. We felt Masset was the last piece of our bullpen to be rock-solid. So, we'd better not veer too much away from the plan, unless someone else can go into the bullpen in that spot and give us the same feeling."
Other young hurlers such as Gio Gonzalez and Lance Broadway, who have been impressive during the early stages of Spring Training, will be given an opportunity to surprise a few people and win the fifth starter's battle. It's the front-runners mentioned by Williams, though, who have the biggest upside in the present and will get the greatest opportunity to prove they belong.
"You have three guys going for one spot, so you don't want to muddy it too much and throw five or six guys in there," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of the fifth starter choices. "There aren't enough innings to go around. Three guys is about right."
Sticking at third: Look for Josh Fields, the team's 2004 first-round pick and rising star, to get only 20 percent of his playing time in the outfield during Cactus League action.
"I don't want to try and play with this kid's mind on where he's going to be," said Guillen of Fields. "Right now, I want him to back up Joe Crede, because he's going to get more playing time there.
"Maybe [Fields] will get a couple of innings in a 'B' game. He'll be there, but right now, we have a lot of outfielders to see."
Guillen proceeded to list off five White Sox outfielders and joked that he was having a tough time making the first Cactus League lineup and figuring out where they all would get playing time. With this outfield glut and Crede in place at third, Fields appears destined to start the 2007 campaign with Triple-A Charlotte.
"If this kid makes the team, he has to play every day," Guillen said. "I don't see him sitting on the bench and [us] using him maybe once a week."
Around the horn: Team Paul Konerko for Monday's intrasquad game features a batting order of Pablo Ozuna in left, Ryan Sweeney in right, Konerko at first, Pierzynski catching, Crede at third, Alex Cintron at shortstop, Eduardo Perez as the designated hitter, Brian Anderson in center and Junior Spivey at second. Haeger, Floyd and Masset will face that lineup. Team Jim Thome features Darin Erstad in center, Iguchi at second, Thome as the DH, Jermaine Dye in right, Rob Mackowiak in left, Fields at third, Juan Uribe at shortstop, Toby Hall behind the plate and Casey Rogowski at first. Jose Contreras will get the start. ... "Wonderboy," the bat from the movie "The Natural," made its way around White Sox practice on Sunday. Thome took part in an interview in conjunction with Major League Baseball productions filming a special concerning the re-release of the classic movie starring Robert Redford. ... Although Guillen said Sunday he thinks Freddy Garcia will win 20 games for the Phillies in 2007, he still likes both offseason trades made by Williams. "I love what we have," Guillen said. "They have a great chance to help us right now and in the future."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.