White Sox pitching depth could be relevant issue

White Sox pitching depth could be relevant issue
March 22, 2014, 1:00 pm
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Given the health of John Danks and Felipe Paulino this spring the White Sox are optimistic about their starting rotation.

The team also likes its pitching depth, but several scouts aren’t certain how the White Sox would fare in the case of an injury.

Few organizations in the majors are prepared to handle significant injuries to their rotations. But the White Sox might be in a more precarious spot given Danks and Paulino have had three surgeries in the past 18 months and Erik Johnson is in his first full season.

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Were any of the starting five to suffer an injury the White Sox would turn to Andre Rienzo, Eric Surkamp, Dylan Axelrod and Chris Beck.

Last season, the group projected as the White Sox original five -- Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jake Peavy, Danks and Gavin Floyd -- combined to make 103 starts.

Whereas the White Sox got a season’s worth of good starts from Hector Santiago in 2013 and two months from Axelrod, outside observers don’t know if they could handle a similar situation as well this season.

“I’m not a big fan of the depth group there,” one American League scout said.

Rienzo is likely the first pitcher in line for a promotion if the White Sox needed a starter.

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The right-hander has a solid mix of pitches but needs to show better command to succeed in the majors. Last season, Rienzo went 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA in 56 innings over 10 starts. The right-hander walked 28 batters and struck out 38. After a strong start this spring, Rienzo walked six in eight innings before he was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday.

“He could really tax a bullpen as a starter,” one AL scout said.

A waiver claim in December from San Francisco, Surkamp has a 33-14 record with a 2.84 ERA in 87 games (83 starts) in the minors. Still, two scouts assigned to the White Sox this spring don’t see him as a viable long-term option.

Working with pitching coach Don Cooper, Surkamp has tried to throw his sinker more often this spring while adding a cut fastball. How those additions go won’t be seen until Surkamp stretches out more as he was used almost entirely in relief before heading to Charlotte earlier this week. But Surkamp is one of the reasons general manager Rick Hahn cited when he said he feels good about the team’s depth.

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“He has the athleticism and aptitude that we think it’s going to come fairly quickly, these adjustments,” Hahn said. “He still has to do it, but we feel good about that upside.”

Then there’s Beck, who Hahn believes is on an “Erik Johnson-type path” to the majors. Until he lost velocity in his junior year at Georgia Southern, Beck was on his way to possibly becoming a top-10 pick in the 2012 amateur draft. He instead slipped and the White Sox grabbed him at No. 76.

The White Sox are high on Beck’s big-game demeanor and believe he has three pitches that could be successful at the major league level. But Beck could also use extra seasoning in the minors.

“He needs some time but could see him making an impact by midseason if they go get him,” a scout said.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura doesn’t seem concerned about the prospect of bringing a young pitcher to the majors. He has seen Jose Quintana’s progression between spring and his May 2012 promotion and has no fear.

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So even though Beck is 23, Ventura might not hesitate to promote him or another inexperienced pitcher if needed.

“We’re not afraid to bring up young guys,” Ventura said. “We’ve done that the past couple of years. ... If we feel he’s up and ready for it then you go with it.”

For now, Cooper isn’t focused on the depth.

He’s thinking about working with rookie Erik Johnson to maintain consistency and on helping Danks and Paulino regain form. Cooper is upbeat as Danks has better life on his cutter than he had at any point in 2013. And scouts say Paulino has the same stuff he had prior to reconstructive elbow surgery in 2012 and just needs to refine it.

“I feel like we’re going to give the team a chance to win like we do every year, way more often than not,” Cooper said.

Hahn is also optimistic about the major league group. He’s probably a little uneasy when it comes to backing up that group, but he contends most GMs would be too.

“We do have the depth,” Hahn said. ” You can never have too much pitching. It’s sort of the main thing that keeps general managers up at night is the concern over injuries to pitching and no one is going to feel comfortable ever. But we do like some of the options.”