White Sox open '14 with key spots up for grabs
Battles for positions at catcher, closer begin with start of Spring Training
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It did not take long for the few White Sox position battles to begin playing out once pitchers and catchers reported Saturday morning at Camelback Ranch.
Catching stands as a point of primary White Sox interest, with Tyler Flowers, Josh Phegley and Adrian Nieto battling for two spots. Flowers and Phegley are coming back via second chances, as described by general manager Rick Hahn at SoxFest in late January, while Nieto is a Rule 5 selection newcomer from the Nationals who has never played above the Carolina League.
Flowers' subpar '13 season was injury-plagued, ending in September with shoulder surgery, while Phegley was getting his first taste of big league life. They both seemed confident Saturday that results would be different this season.
In fact, a 100 percent healthy Flowers seemed to be brimming with bravado on Day 1 of camp. He understands the value of his skillset even through last year's woes at the plate.
"Even with how bad I did last year offensively, I still bring a value to the team and our pitching staff, which I've always put as a priority," Flowers said. "That priority on the defensive side, and catching and working with the pitchers, that's going to keep me in this game if somehow I end up hitting .200 every year.
"Somehow, I think I will still have a job. Hopefully in this organization, but I feel like I will have a job with somebody."
Flowers began physical therapy just three days after the season-ending shoulder procedure on Sept. 5. He enters Spring Training without limitations and commented that he was ready to play a game if one was on the schedule for Saturday.
"I'm ready to go," Flowers said. "I don't think we're going to do anything stupid like throwing to bases every day in the first week."
"It's good to hear Tyler saying that, because last year I think the communication was not great early in camp or early in the season with Tyler," Hahn said. "He was trying to muscle through, so to speak, some of those issues, because this was his opportunity. Ever since he came forward with the issue, the communication has been great. [White Sox head athletic trainer] Herm [Schneider] was in regular contact throughout the offseason, and he seems without restriction now and feeling good, which is great."
Similar questions exist at closer, with Addison Reed and his 69 saves from 2012-13 having been shipped off to the D-backs during the offseason in exchange for third-base prospect Matt Davidson. This case, though, is different from the catching situation, with the quandary being not as much about the White Sox having a player to handle the job, but more about which pitcher steps up and takes the job.
Matt Lindstrom has past closing experience. Nate Jones has the 100-mph fastball, and he appeared to be the early favorite before being sidelined Saturday and at least until the middle of next week with a glute strain. But keep an eye on rookie Daniel Webb as well.
"Just make the 25-man roster and get on the team, and then they can do whatever they want with you to fill it out," Webb said. "I'm not showing up like, 'I want to get the closer role.' I just want to make the team, and whatever they want to do with me would be great because I'd be up there playing."
"We have the candidates in house here," Lindstrom said. "There are a bunch of great arms here in this clubhouse. I think the right decision will be made at the end of Spring Training."
Position players officially follow into Camelback on Thursday, although players like Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Davidson, Trayce Thompson, Marcus Semien, Jordan Danks and Keenyn Walker already made an appearance Saturday. The White Sox open Cactus League action Feb. 28 against the Dodgers, and they host their first of two Spring Training games against the rival Cubs on March 21.
The return of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, who will lead the White Sox rotation as a key factor in the team's push to 2014 contention, came Saturday. They hope it is the first day of a climb from worst to first, which right now seems a bit far-fetched, though not out of the question for the players.
"Anything is possible; that's just how sports and life is in general," Sale said. "The Red Sox were the worst team [in '12], and then they win it [in '13]. Like I said before, the best team on paper doesn't always finish on top, and the worst team doesn't always finish on the bottom."
"This is a fresh start, and we all understand that it didn't go nearly as well as we would like, but we get to try again," White Sox starter John Danks said. "We like the group they are putting together, and we are going to be fun. It can't be any worse than last year."