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Sox GM Rick Hahn looking for young, speedy, energetic players

Updated: August 12, 2013 10:44PM

The youth movement the White Sox are embarking on makes economic sense. They’re mired in last place with an aging lineup, so getting younger and building for the future is as obvious to see as Avisail Garcia’s high socks.

Getting younger can also make good baseball sense. Getting better means getting faster. Speed translates into outfielders running down balls that fall in front of average or slow-footed outfielders, in the gaps and near the foul lines. Speed means more stolen bases, “leg” doubles, going from first to third on base hits and beating throws to home instead of getting called out on close plays. Speed adds runs on offense and prevents runs on defense.

Speed, youth and athleticism also make for an entertaining product. This Sox team, as drab as its road-uniform grays on too many nights this season, can use some appeal.

By trading 30-somethings Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain, general manager Rick Hahn not only unloaded huge sums of salary, he added youth and speed to the farm system and the major-league roster. Garcia, 22, acquired from the Tigers in the Peavy trade, showed his speed in beating out an infield grounder Sunday. Leury Garcia, the Class AAA shortstop received for Rios, was cited by Baseball America as the fastest baserunner in the Rangers’ system after the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He stole 51 bases in the minors in 2010.

The Garcias can also catch the ball and throw it exceptionally well, according to scouting reports, and their acquisitions show what direction Hahn, who wants to build around a pretty good — and young — pitching staff, would like to go. How to do that? With defense and speed.

“In the post-steroid era, little guys are not going to hit home runs,’’ a National League scout said. “The game is going to be built on doubles and defense, back to the ’60s. Big guys are going to hit home runs; little guys are not.’’

Hahn wants to field a team that excels in on-base percentage and plate discipline as well as the long ball. The Sox rank last in the American League in on-base percentage.

“In addition to shoring up the defense, we want to diversify our offensive attack,’’ Hahn said Monday. “Given that we play in U.S. Cellular Field, power is always going to be an important component of any successful offense. But we also want to improve — among other things — our ability to get on base and to put pressure on the defense with athletic players who ideally can beat you with their bat as well as their legs.’’

The legs in the Sox’ lineup are slowing down with age. It’s time to get younger. By most statistical analyses, the average peak age for a major-league hitter is 28 or 29. About half the Sox’ lineup during the first half of the season included players at or past the peak age, including Paul Konerko (37), Adam Dunn (33), Jeff Keppinger (33), Rios (32), Alexei Ramirez (31) and Alejandro De Aza (29). Before Avisail Garcia’s call-up, the only young player in their order was Dayan Viciedo, 24. Gordon Beckham will be 27 next year.

By contrast, the Sox’ pitching staff, the backbone of the team and its building block, includes Chris Sale (24), Jose Quintana (24), Addison Reed (24), Andre Rienzo (24), Hector Santiago (25), Nate Jones (27) and John Danks (28).

It’s time to add some energy and athleticism behind them. Manager Robin Ventura said Monday he’d welcome more versatile players who can play multiple positions. And players with more speed.

“Just because I wasn’t fast doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy having guys who are fast and athletic,’’ he said.


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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