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White Sox confident after offseason moves

White Sox confident after offseason moves

CHICAGO -- Based on a perceived lack of major offseason moves, White Sox fans are approaching the upcoming season with less than 100 percent confidence that the team can unseat Detroit in the American League Central.

In his first year as White Sox general manager, after being promoted from assistant general manager, Rick Hahn respectfully disagrees. One of the main reasons for his confidence will be on display when White Sox pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., this Tuesday.

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"We view the pitching staff as a strength," said Hahn during a recent SoxFest interview. "With the addition of [Matt] Lindstrom, not only do we feel good about one through five with John Danks, but really one through 12, including the bullpen.

"We're not really that inclined to make ourselves weaker in that area, given the ballpark we play in. The differences between a good offensive club and bad offensive club blur a little bit in a hitter's park, but you can really get beat when you have a bad pitching staff or a subpar pitching staff.

"You need an elite pitching staff to survive in the American League and to survive in our ballpark," Hahn said. "We feel we've put that together -- that one through 12 can compete with anybody."

Sitting at the top of that elite pitching staff is Jake Peavy, who bypassed free agency and returned to the White Sox via a two-year, $29 million deal. Gavin Floyd also came back to strengthen the starting five; the White Sox picked up his $9.5 million option for 2013.

Add in the arrival of free agent Jeff Keppinger at third base, and it's clear that the White Sox have addressed a number of their needs this offseason. In '13, they have a major fight in store against an even tougher AL Central from top to bottom, and will miss the likes of A.J. Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis and Brett Myers. That said, the team believes Tuesday marks the beginning of both Spring Training and a run to the postseason in Robin Ventura's second year as manager.

"I think Rick [Hahn] has done his work," Ventura said. "I don't think you go and just spend money to spend. You have to make moves that you hope you can make to make a difference. That's where we are at right now. I'm excited to get everybody healthy and back on the field."

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 12

Full squad reports

Feb. 17

First Spring Training game

Away vs. Dodgers, Feb. 23 at 2:05 p.m. CT

Opening Day

Home vs. Royals, April 1 at 3:10 p.m. CT

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Will Flowers bloom behind the plate?
Tyler Flowers' 136 at-bats in 2012 represented his single-season Major League high as Pierzynski's understudy. But the right-handed slugger, who knocked out seven homers, will now become the star of the show. White Sox pitchers like throwing to Flowers, who will certainly get every opportunity to make this job his own. But Flowers must produce at a higher level than his .213 average from last season to keep the job.

2. Can John Danks bounce back to '12 Opening Day form?
If Peavy's healthy return was a key question heading into 2012, then the southpaw Danks takes over that precarious spot moving into 2013. Danks had arthroscopic shoulder surgery performed on Aug. 6, and has hit every milestone of his rehab program thus far. The White Sox will be careful with last year's Opening Day starter, which means that Hector Santiago could begin in the rotation and Danks could find himself on the disabled list. The team needs Danks to be successful and healthy all season.

3. Is having two left-handed hitters all right?
Left-handed options exist off the bench in Jordan Danks, Dewayne Wise, newly acquired Lars Anderson, if he makes the team, and switch-hitting backup catcher Hector Gimenez. As far as the starting lineup goes, it's just Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn. The White Sox have to tackle a tough lineup of right-handed pitchers in the AL Central with this right-handed heavy lineup.

2012 record
85-77, second place in the AL Central

Projected batting order
1. CF Alejandro De Aza:
  .281 BA, .349 OBP, .410 SLG, 9 HR, 50 RBIs in 2012
2. 3B Jeff Keppinger:
  .325 BA, .367 OBP, .439 SLG, 9 HR, 40 RBIs in 2012
3. DH Adam Dunn:
  .204 BA, .333 OBP, .468 SLG, 41 HR, 96 RBIs in 2012
4. 1B Paul Konerko:
  .298 BA, .371 OBP, .486 SLG, 26 HR, 75 RBIs in 2012
5. RF Alex Rios:
  .304 BA, .334 OBP, .516 SLG, 25 HR, 91 RBIs in 2012
6. LF Dayan Viciedo:
  .255 BA, .300 OBP, .444 SLG, 25 HR, 78 RBIs in 2012
7. SS Alexei Ramirez:
  .265 BA, .287 OBP, .364 SLG, 9 HR, 73 RBIs in 2012
8. C Tyler Flowers:
  .213 BA, .296 OBP, .412 SLG, 7 HR, 13 RBIs in 2012
9. 2B Gordon Beckham:
  .234 BA, .296 OBP, .371 SLG, 16 HR, 60 RBIs in 2012

Projected rotation
1. LHP Chris Sale, 17-8, 3.05 ERA in 2012
2. RHP Jake Peavy, 11-12, 3.37 ERA in 2012
3. RHP Gavin Floyd, 12-11, 4.29 ERA in 2012
4. LHP John Danks, 3-4, 5.70 ERA in 2012
5. LHP Jose Quintana, 6-6, 3.76 ERA in 2012

Projected bullpen
Closer: Addison Reed, 29/33 saves, 4.75 ERA in 2012
RH setup man: Jesse Crain, 2.44 ERA in 2012
LH setup man: Matt Thornton, 3.46 ERA in 2012

The new guys
INF Keppinger: In a lineup stacked with the necessary sluggers for a team playing 81 games at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, Keppinger represents a welcome burst of versatility. The free agent came aboard via a three-year, $12 million deal and figures to be the team's primary third baseman. He also possesses adept bat-handling skills that give Ventura some flexibility as he designs his lineup; Keppinger could hit anywhere from second to seventh.

RHP Lindstrom: At SoxFest, someone asked Lindstrom why it took him so long to find a team this offseason, and he responded that he was waiting for the White Sox to call. While the 100-mph fastball he once possessed isn't quite there, Lindstrom has developed his secondary pitches, and keeps the baseball in the ballpark. Between Lindstrom, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton, the White Sox now have several veterans in the bullpen that they can utilize in different roles.

INF Angel Sanchez: Hahn said that the White Sox won't keep this Rule 5 selection on the active roster unless he's the best fit to be a utility infielder. Nonetheless, Sanchez clearly has the edge for this spot, although Minor League phenom Carlos Sanchez will get a serious look.

1B Anderson: The team doesn't appear to have too many questions to answer among its 13 position players, but at least one involves Anderson, a left-handed hitter, and Jordan Danks. Anderson could spell Paul Konerko and Dunn at first base, but has also played 20 games in the outfield during his professional career. Danks holds the edge if the White Sox go for speed and defense.

Prospects to watch
OF Courtney Hawkins: As far as Minor League prospects go, Hawkins, the White Sox top pick overall in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, is pretty close to being a sure thing. In '12, he hit .284 with eight homers, 33 RBIs and 11 stolen bases over stops with Bristol, Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem for the Carolina League playoffs. The 19-year-old also has a big league aura about him, and he was ranked No. 68 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list.

OF Trayce Thompson: Only Dan Johnson knocked out more homers than Thompson's 25 over his stops at Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte last season. In '12, the fleet-footed outfielder swiped 21 bases and looks to be a solid run producer with a system-best 96 RBIs (tied with Dunn). Now, Thompson needs to work on reducing his number of strikeouts.

OF Keenyn Walker: Some in the organization consider the White Sox top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as the most improved player in the system. Walker topped all White Sox Minor Leaguers with 56 stolen bases between stops at Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, while mixing in six triples and 74 walks.

RHP Erik Johnson: When it comes to starting pitching in the White Sox system, the names of Andre Rienzo, Simon Castro, Charlie Leesman and Nestor Molina quickly get mentioned. But assistant general manager Buddy Bell recently labeled the team's second-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as a potential No. 2 starter at the big league level.

OF Jared Mitchell: Don't call the 2013 season a make-or-break run for the five-tool athlete, who split time between football and baseball at LSU, and lost the entire 2010 season to an ankle injury. Like Thompson, Mitchell has worked on cutting down his strikeouts. He also received rave reviews from Bell for his offense, after leading the organization with 13 triples in the instructional league last year.

IF Carlos Sanchez: If the 20-year-old Venezuelan had more experience than 172 plate appearances at or above the Double-A level,  he would be a viable option to break camp with the big league team. Instead, the switch-hitting middle infielder will build on his organization-best .323 average and 169 hits in Winston-Salem, Birmingham and Charlotte last year. He could play a significant role in the big leagues sooner rather than later for the White Sox.

LHP Scott Snodgress: Much like Johnson, Snodgress has developed faster than the White Sox expected. He topped the organization with 128 strikeouts for Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, and finished with a 3.00 ERA in 141 innings pitched.

On the rebound
LHP Danks: Danks has been throwing off a mound and working to improve his offspeed pitches in his quest to return at the season's outset after his Aug. 6 arthroscopic surgery. Ideally, he wants to pitch at least 200 innings and make at least 30 starts after back-to-back subpar seasons. The White Sox will be careful with the 27-year-old in the second of his five-year, $65-million extension.

SS Alexei Ramirez: In '12, Ramirez's numbers weren't actually much different from his previous four years with the White Sox, aside from a slight dip in average and a noticeable drop in home run power. Ramirez termed it a down year, partially hampered by a sore left wrist suffered in a collision with De Aza, but he is dedicated to avoiding the same struggles in '13.

3B Brent Morel: It took just six months for Morel to go from the team's third baseman on-the-rise at the end of 2011, to an injury risk during Spring Training in '12. Morel will have a hard time breaking camp with the White Sox, because he needs to prove that his back can handle the daily wear and tear of a season. During the offseason, Morel told MLB.com that his back feels as good as it has in the past year.

Classic departures
OF Alex Rios: The right fielder, who was arguably the team's Most Valuable Player in 2012 with his best single-season overall performance, will be taking his skills to Puerto Rico during Spring Training. This appearance marks Rios' third in the World Baseball Classic.

RHP Crain: Make it three appearances for Crain in The Classic, all for Canada's team. The reliever made the decision to participate after factoring in Canada's training, and the fact that Pool D competition takes place in Arizona.

RHP Andre Rienzo: The young hurler would be a long shot to break camp with the team, but would be one of the first starters in the Minors to get a look in case of injury. He'll split time between Glendale with the White Sox and Japan with Brazil's team, managed by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.

Long gone
C Pierzynski: No White Sox move carried more controversy than their decision to let Pierzynski walk after eight years as a fan favorite and major contributor on the South Side. Pierzynski agreed to a one-year deal with the Rangers, coming off a '12 season with a career-high 27 homers. The White Sox decided to allocate their funds toward Peavy and Keppinger; they also felt it was time to see what Flowers could do in a starting role.

3B Youkilis: Youkilis came in from Boston on June 24 and gave the White Sox a major spark offensively as the team's third baseman. After hitting 16 homers and driving in 46 runs with the White Sox, there didn't seem to be a fit for him on either side. Youkilis ended up with the Yankees on a one-year deal.

LHP Francisco Liriano: Near the end of the season, while sitting at his locker at Progressive Field, Liriano admitted to MLB.com that he failed in his chance to help the White Sox after being acquired from the Twins. The White Sox rotation already goes six deep if Danks is healthy, so Liriano didn't fit into the pitching formula.

RHP Brett Myers: Myers gave the White Sox quality innings out of the bullpen in everything from a setup role to finishing off games. Myers was looking to start once again after his bullpen foray, and ended up as part of the Indians rotation.

INF Orlando Hudson: The switch-hitter became the first third-base replacement for Morel, taking on a position he had not previously played at the big league level. The Gold Glove second baseman didn't succeed in that endeavor, nor did he put up huge offensive numbers, but he did provide a solid veteran presence in the clubhouse.

RHP Philip Humber: Humber arguably had one of the strangest seasons for a starting pitcher in the last decade. He hurled a perfect game on April 21 at Safeco Field in Seattle, but was an afterthought out of the bullpen by the time September arrived, courtesy of a 6.44 ERA over 16 starts. Humber was claimed off of waivers by the Astros and will be returning home to Houston.

1B Dan Johnson: Many White Sox supporters wanted the team to give the left-handed hitter a chance earlier in the '12 season. He had  28 homers and 85 RBIs at Charlotte, but only ended up with 22 big league at-bats and was non-tendered by the team. He did exit on a high note, recording the 15th three-homer game in franchise history during the team's final contest of the season.

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.

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