Major League Baseball spring training camps are well under way, and games are only a couple days away. In light of that, it is time to take a look at three key factors to watch as the Chicago White Sox begin spring training.

1. John Danks’ health

Left-handed starter, John Danks, underwent surgery on his pitching shoulder on August 6th of last year. Although shoulder surgeries are hard to predict, Danks appears to be recovering at a good enough pace that he could be ready to start by Opening Day. As Danks begins to pitch in spring games, look to see how his velocity improves with each start. When recovering from a shoulder surgery, building up arm strength is the key. It will be interesting to see how Danks responds to increased workloads and pitch counts this spring, as well as taking the mound every fifth day. The White Sox already have a strong starting rotation with Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, and Gavin Floyd all returning. Assuming those three stay healthy all year, having a healthy and effective Danks could make the White Sox rotation one of the strongest in the American League.

2. Battle for fifth starter

Peavy, Sale, Danks, and Floyd should lead the White Sox starting rotation, but a fifth member is needed to round out the staff. Last year, lefty Jose Quintana came out of nowhere to secure a starting rotation spot throughout most of last season. Quintana pitched extremely well over his first two months of action, but leveled off in the 2nd half of the season. Considering he was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees, I would expect Quintana to be closer to the average pitcher we saw late in 2012, as opposed to the all-star caliber starter we saw early. Either way, Quintana still can be effective enough to be a fifth starter in the American League. In 2012, lefty Hector Santiago was a closer, set-up man, long reliever, and a starter. This season, Santiago will have a chance to win the fifth starter’s spot. Santiago made a few starts down the stretch in 2012, and was able to strike out 26 batters in 19.1 innings as a starter. Santiago throws a little harder than Quintana, and in my opinion he also has better off-speed pitches. With Santiago’s ability to throw in the low to mid 90s, an above average change-up, and a nasty screwball (that acts as a right-handed pitchers’ slider), he appears to be better suited to put away hitters from both sides of the plate than Quintana. It will be interesting to see how both southpaws perform in the spring, and who ends up winning the job.

3. Tyler Flowers as an everyday catcher

Much to the dismay of many White Sox fans, veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski is gone after 8 years of being the everyday catcher. His replacement will be Tyler Flowers. Flowers was acquired from the Atlanta Braves a few years ago to be the eventual replacement to Pierzynski. During the last two seasons, Flowers has spent most of his time on the bench. In limited action, Flowers has showed tremendous raw power as a hitter, and proved to have a much better throwing arm than Pierzynski. The main question mark for Flowers will be his ability to call a game every day and how he handles the pitching staff. If he can show signs of working well with the pitchers in spring games, then the White Sox should be in pretty good shape during the regular season. Pierzynski won’t be easy to replace, but Flowers should prove to be an adequate catcher.

-Eric Tichelbaut

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