Spring training last season was a special one for Robin Ventura.
Spring training officially begins for the Chicago White Sox on Feb. 12, when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Unlike spring training last season, though, White Sox manager Robin Ventura will not have as many questions to answer.
Many of the questions that faced the White Sox during spring training in 2012 have been answered. The pitching staff, for instance, was an area of great concern.
Pitching is now considered a strength, thanks to surprising rookie performances in 2012—notably Nate Jones and Addison Reed—along with moves made during the offseason. Picking up the option on Gavin Floyd and bringing back Jake Peavy are two examples.
Ventura also answered the question of whether he was going to be up to the task of managing a big-league ball club. After all, he had no managing experience before the White Sox made him the surprise choice to replace Ozzie Guillen last year.
While spring training may not be as exciting as it was last year for the White Sox, there are storylines to follow.
Here are four of the more intriguing questions that will be answered.
There are two big questions concerning the starting rotation.
First, will John Danks open the season with the team or on the disabled list? Remember that last August, Danks underwent surgery to repair his throwing shoulder.
The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales noted on Friday that Danks is making great progress. Gonzales wrote, according to an unnamed source, “Danks threw breaking pitches this week for the first time with 'excellent' results.”
That is good news. If Danks is healthy enough to open the season as the No. 3 starter, the White Sox can be a bit more selective with their answer for the next question.
Who will be the fifth starter?
If Danks is healthy—still a big if—the battle for the No. 5 starter likely comes down to Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago. If not, guys like Charlie Leesman, Andre Rienzo and Dylan Axelrod become a larger part of the conversation.
If one of those guys wins the job, the entire dynamic of the pitching staff will be altered. It could force Danks to the bullpen when he returns. It may also provide general manager Rick Hahn with the motivation he needs to move Gavin Floyd.
Adam Dunn looks like he will be playing a bit more first base in 2013.
When the White Sox signed Jeff Keppinger to a 3-year, $12-million contract, they addressed the glaring hole at third base.
What will happen with the rest of the infield is still unclear.
Ventura has indicated he intends to play Adam Dunn at first base more often, and Paul Konerko will take over more of the designated-hitting duties. How the playing time balances out, however, will be a work in progress.
Also, for the first time in a few years, there is a legitimate option to play Gordon Beckham at second base. Minor league sensation Carlos Sanchez will, undoubtedly, be given every opportunity to show the White Sox what he can do.
If Sanchez can build on last season’s remarkable run, he may force Beckham into a reserve role—or worse. It will be interesting to see how strong of a case he makes to take playing time away from the current second baseman.
This may not be welcome news to many Sox fans, but don’t overlook the possibility of Brent Morel making a bid for playing time at third base if his back can hold up.
New bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen said (via ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla) the White Sox's bullpen has the potential to be the “best in baseball.”
He is absolutely right. It could be one of baseball’s elite group of relievers. It all depends on how their roles are defined, though.
For example, will the newly acquired Matt Lindstrom be the primary right-handed set-up man, or will Nate Jones step into that role following his superb 2012 season?
If Jones is given the flexibility to pitch more than one inning, the Sox may be better off. After all, he had 15 appearances last year when he pitched at least two innings and excelled in almost every one.
Giving Lindstrom the seventh or eighth inning may actually make the most sense.
The long-relief role is another area that may be in question. Dylan Axelrod appears as though the job is his to lose—but he may be challenged by a minor-league pitcher or find himself in the mix for a spot in the starting rotation.
In fact, the uncertainty of the rotation is a cause of great concern for the bullpen.
If Hector Santiago, for example, is called upon to become a starter, his spot as one of the left-handed relievers needs to be filled by someone like Scott Snodgress.
No offense to Leyson Septimo, but he did not take advantage of the opportunity he was given last season.
More will be revealed as the health of John Danks is determined. Until then, the bullpen is in a state of flux.
With only two left-handed hitters—Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza—currently slated to be in the everyday lineup, changes need to be made to the batting order.
What changes are made will be sorted out during spring training and will determine how effective the lineup is at producing runs.
For instance, Dunn batted third for most of the season, but he should be moved for a few reasons.
First, he had 222 strikeouts in 2012. Second, if the White Sox want to have a balanced lineup, they cannot have their only two lefties at the top of the order. Finally, he was really bad with runners in scoring position (.212).
So, at Sox Fest, Robin Ventura addressed the situation. He mentioned (via Mark Gonzales of The Chicago Tribune) that Jeff Keppinger could become the No. 3 hitter, while acknowledging Dunn was hitting in the wrong spot.
Adding a guy like Jeff Keppinger, he's more of a contact hitter, [hits over] .300. That's more or less what you would like to see in the three [spot]. That's why certain things were addressed. Adam is not the prototype No. 3 hitter, but he was last year for us.
Days prior to that, however, Ventura said Alex Rios could end up batting third.
Regardless of who ends up in the No. 3 hole, the top of the order is sure to look a lot different.
Finally, how will he structure the lineup in order to minimize the offensive weaknesses at the bottom of the order?
If Tyler Flowers and Gordon Beckham are both in the starting lineup, should Ventura split them up, or bite the bit and bat them eighth and ninth?
It is both confusing and concerning, and is but one of the things Sox fans will be following during spring training.