White Sox: Five questions heading into spring training

White Sox: Five questions heading into spring training
February 12, 2014, 6:45 pm
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While the other Chicago team opens camp Thursday, White Sox catchers and pitchers don’t report until Saturday. The team’s position players arrive at their Glendale, Ariz. facility on Feb. 20.

[MORE: What are the big headlines for Cubs, White Sox in 2014?]

Since he started maneuvering last July, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has done a yeoman’s job in reconstructing the team’s 40-man roster. In an effort to re-energize the franchise, Hahn has overhauled his personnel and given his team a decidedly youthful feel.

Hahn has addressed many of the issues that plagued the White Sox during a dreadful 2013 campaign in which the team lost 99 games. But as happy as he is with the new foundation he has begun to lay, Hahn admits he has more work ahead. Here’s a look at five of the most pressing questions facing the White Sox as they get set to open camp.

[MORE: Cubs: Five questions heading into Spring Training]

 Is the franchise’s long-term catcher on the 40-man roster?

They tried, but the White Sox weren’t able to upgrade an area that needs vast improvement in 2014. Last season, White Sox catchers combined for a .560 OPS, which ranked 29th among 30 teams. Both Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley are back for another shot at becoming the long-term backstop. The White Sox believe both have far more upside but one or the other must prove it. Hahn did acquire catcher Adrian Nieto in the Rule 5 draft. Though a long shot to make the roster, Nieto could stick if he impresses the team.

 Who will replace Addison Reed in the ninth inning?

In order to acquire a potential cornerstone in third baseman Matt Davidson, Hahn had to part with Reed, who had established himself as a closer. The White Sox won’t name their new fireman before Opening Day but Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom and Daniel Webb are the strongest candidates to assume the role. Jones has the stuff but needs better consistency in 2014 while Lindstrom has handled the role before. As a rookie, Webb is a wild card, but pitching coach Don Cooper likes the right-hander’s arsenal.

[MORE: Nate Jones honored as White Sox of the year]

 Will Felipe Paulino be ready on time?

The free-agent pitcher had shoulder surgery in September but Cooper and Hahn believe he’s on track to start spring. Paulino, who also had reconstructive elbow surgery in 2013, is projected to be in the starting rotation and could be a great find if he’s able to stay healthy and get back on track.

 Can Davidson assume the everyday job at third?

The White Sox see Davidson as their third baseman of the future. They love his power and his approach and believe his defense can improve. But they want him to refine his game and, with Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie on the roster, may ask him to start the season in the minors. Still, both Hahn and Robin Ventura wouldn’t rule out Davidson from making the Opening Day roster.

[RELATED: What are realistic expectations for White Sox in 2014?]

— What can the White Sox expect from John Danks?

With nearly $43 million left on his contract, the White Sox are more than hopeful their veteran left-hander will continue to rebound and regain velocity. Danks returned to the team in 2013, less than a year after he had shoulder surgery and his velocity was down 2 miles per hour from the 2011 season. While Danks had better command — he issued one walk per nine, fewer than his career average — he needs to improve after allowing 28 home runs in 138 1/3 innings in 2013, a figure that would have to decrease for him to survive as a starter.