White Sox pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Glendale, Ariz., on Tuesday, with position players due in on Feb. 17.
It’s going to be a longer camp than usual this year, thanks to the World Baseball Classic, which seems to be popular everywhere but the United States.
The Sox have plenty of time to prepare before opening the regular season on April 1 against the Kansas City Royals at home, but hitting coach Jeff Manto got an early jump.
A few days before SoxFest in late January, Manto got a first-hand look at Gordon Beckham, Tyler Flowers and Brent Morel. The trio all took swings in front of Manto, new assistant hitting coach Harold Baines and manager Robin Ventura at the indoor cages at U.S. Cellular Field.
Beckham still has plenty to prove with the bat as he heads into his fifth season with the White Sox.
Last year, the second baseman batted .234 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. Beckham also posted a subpar .296 on-base percentage for the second straight season.
An adjustment late in the season left Beckham and the Sox encouraged, and Manto thinks the No. 8 overall pick in the 2008 draft can still salvage his career.
“It was the same Beckham we saw in September and October,” Manto said of the January hitting session. “He looks good. He’s on his feet; he’s on his legs. He’s confident.”
As for Flowers, he spent most of the past four years watching A.J. Pierzynski catch for the White Sox.
Now that Pierzynski has moved on — the free agent signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers — Flowers is finally getting his chance.
“With Flowers, it went great,” Manto said. “Bainsey and I had a chance to spend some time with him to make sure he was aware of his backside. That’s what we’re most concerned with, with his collapsing.
“He did a great job making the adjustments all winter long. Tyler had sent me some video with his workouts and when we got to Chicago we were pleasantly surprised with the progress that he’s made.”
In 108 games with the Sox from 2009-12, Flowers has a hitting line of .205/.307/.388. That’s not too good, but the 27-year-old catcher should only get better with increased at-bats.
At SoxFest, Flowers said he’s well aware of the huge shoes he’s being asked to fill. Manto hopes the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder doesn’t try doing too much too soon.
“Yes, there is a concern,” Manto said. “We anticipate that and expect it. I think it’s a competitive thing that players have. He is going to try to do well; he’s going to try to win over the fans, if you will, and make an immediate impact.
“That’ll be the challenge, just to keep him focused on what he can do and make sure he realizes that he’s a young player. There will be mistakes that he makes and we’ll just have to move quickly from them.”
As for Morel, a back injury appeared to end his career in 2012 after he opened the season as the White Sox’ starting third baseman.
Jeff Keppinger is the new regular at third, but Manto said Morel is going to be heard from in spring training.
“I thought he looked great, he had no reservations about swinging the bat,” Manto said of Morel’s January hitting session. “It was the same bat speed I saw when he was in the lower minor leagues. You can see there’s something different in his eye, which was nice to see. He’s coming in ready to compete for a job, that’s for sure.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.