Sox have questions to be answered this spring

Sox have questions to be answered this spring

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Following a great deal of offseason conversations and educated guesses concerning Robin Ventura's particular managerial style, his actions finally will be on display, with White Sox pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch for physicals and Thursday's first workout.

Ventura serving as not only a first-year manager but a first-time-at-any-level manager is far from the only uncertainty facing the South Siders as they open Spring Training 2012.

Strong bounceback efforts are needed from designated hitter Adam Dunn, outfielder Alex Rios, second baseman Gordon Beckham and right-handed starter Jake Peavy. The team cut payroll, not adding a Major League free agent until bringing in Kosuke Fukudome last week, while the Tigers seemingly strengthened their hold on the American League Central's top spot by adding Prince Fielder to help offset the loss of an injured Victor Martinez and then some.

On paper it looks like an uphill climb to the break-even mark, let alone playoff contention. But the White Sox are extremely eager to begin that climb.

"We're ready to get going," said assistant general manager Rick Hahn during the Valentine's Day conference call to discuss the Fukudome signing. "It's starting a little bit later for us than in years past, but I think there's this natural anxiousness to get on the field and get the mild distaste from last year out of our mouth and get going on this year.

"There's certainly optimism, and I think there's reason for optimism. The fact of the matter is, we won't have tangible evidence that things are going to work out how we hoped until we are out there playing. We want to get to camp, get the games started and play meaningful baseball."

Personnel losses were the discussion points over the past few months, with the departures of Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin and Jason Frasor. Now all eyes will be on the players still with the White Sox as they try to rebuild while once again returning to a postseason factor.

Position players report on Tuesday, Feb. 28, which is when Ventura will make his inaugural formal address to the full team. Just don't expect it to be quite as colorful as those made by previous manager Ozzie Guillen.

Three spots stand open in the bullpen behind Addison Reed, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman. One bench vacancy needs to be filled, with either Eduardo Escobar or Ozzie Martinez taking over the responsibilities of utility infielder or a non-roster invitee such as Dan Johnson or Jim Gallagher being kept on as a backup first baseman and Brent Lillibridge getting more work in the infield along with his backup outfield time.

Other interesting storylines to follow are Chris Sale's move from the bullpen into the rotation and the attempt of non-roster invitee Jared Mitchell, the team's top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, to take a big step forward. Ultimately, though, it will be Ventura and a roster filled with ifs trying to answer those questions early.

"That Tigers team definitely is the team to beat," said Peavy, whose squad opens Cactus League action at home on March 5, against the Dodgers. "I'm not taking away from them. At the same time, there's nobody in this clubhouse or in this room that thinks we can't play with them."

"We've got a lot of guys we had last year from a team that everybody said was going to win the division," said Beckham in a recent interview. "We can put it together if we do what we are capable of doing, which is not a really far-out concept if we play the way we are capable. We are excited about it."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.