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updated: 2/8/2014 5:53 PM

White Sox are a tough bunch to predict

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  • The White Sox need John Danks to bounce back from his nightmare of a 2013 campaign in which he went 4-14 with a 4.75 ERA.

      The White Sox need John Danks to bounce back from his nightmare of a 2013 campaign in which he went 4-14 with a 4.75 ERA.
    Associated Press

 
 

How bad was the 2013 season for the White Sox?

Let's start with that 63-99 record, the third worst in the major leagues and the Sox' poorest showing since going 56-106 in 1970.

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Let's move to the offense. The White Sox ranked last in the American League in runs scored (598) and runs per game (3.69), second to last in on-base percentage (.302) and near the bottom in batting average (.249) and home runs (148).

The defense was equally grim as the Sox finished second to last in the majors in fielding percentage (.980) and errors (121), a year after they led the AL with a .988 fielding percentage while making the second fewest errors (70) in baseball.

The pitching staff was middle-of-the-pack good, but all in all it was a miserable season and very difficult to watch after the White Sox scratched their way back to the .500 mark on May 26 before losing eight straight and going into rebuild mode.

Give Sox general manager Rick Hahn credit for recognizing a plethora of problems and taking swift action.

Before last season's nonwaiver trade deadline, Hahn sent reliever Matt Thornton and starter Jake Peavy to the Red Sox in separate moves, the latter a three-way deal that brought right fielder Avisail Garcia over from the Tigers.

Hahn traded Alex Rios to the Rangers in August for utility infielder Leury Garcia, and he continued to revamp the roster in the off-season, signing Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, acquiring center fielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson in trades from the Diamondbacks and beefing up the bullpen with veterans Ronald Belisario, Scott Downs and Mitchell Boggs.

Have the flurry of moves positioned the White Sox for their first playoff appearance since 2008? You never know how a season is going to play out -- and Hahn said he's still trying to add another piece or two.

But as pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training in Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday, you'd have to think the Sox would be more than satisfied getting back to the .500 mark this season.

"We are not going to write off any season, especially one where we feel we have quality starting pitching and a solid bullpen, as is the case right now," Hahn said. "We're also realistic. We're coming off a 99-loss season. It's imperative that we show improvement. It's imperative that we show growth, especially on the position player side of things.

"We start 2014 with the goal like all other 30 clubs, to win the whole thing. And if we're in a position to do that, we'll find additions come the deadline as the needs arise. At the same time, we're trying to keep a longer-term focus. This is about an extended period of success, and in 2014 we want to see progress and steps toward making that extended period of success realistic."

If the White Sox hope to climb back to the .500 mark -- or even higher -- these five players are key:

Jose Abreu

Playing in Cuba's best league (Serie Nacional) Abreu batted .453 and hit 33 home runs in 66 games during the 2011-12 season. Over the last years, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound first baseman combined to hit .392 with 133 homers and 337 RBI in 346 games.

It's pretty safe to say Abreu is not going to put up those kinds of numbers against major-league pitching.

If he's able to make gradual adjustments through his first season with the Sox and finish with 20-25 HRs and 75-80 RBI, Hahn's vision of seeing progress for the longer term will be met.

Adam Eaton

The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder has been saying all the right things since being acquired from Arizona in a December trade that sent closer Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks.

"If I can hang my hat on a .300 (batting average), score 100 runs with an on-base percentage around .400, I think I'd have a heck of a year," Eaton said. "I think it's definitely doable. That's what I'm shooting for this coming year."

And ...

"Get on base at all costs," said the White Sox' new leadoff man. "I don't care if I get hit in the head, hit in the ankle. See 10-12 pitches, see as many pitches as I can and get on base anyway I can, it doesn't matter. As long as I get on base I'm successful, because I know the guys we have behind us, with (Paul) Konerko and (Adam) Dunn, (Gordon) Beckham and all those guys, I'm one pitch away from scoring."

If he even comes close to meeting those lofty expectations, Eaton should instantly evolve into a fan favorite on the South Side.

On the flip side, he has a grand total of 88 major-league games under his belt and a .254/.332/.373 hitting line. Eaton might not be positioned for a breakout season until 2015.

John Danks

Until inexperienced hitters like Abreu, Eaton and Davidson get comfortable and prove they can produce, the White Sox' pitching staff needs to pick up the slack.

Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are solid starters, and right-hander Erik Johnson is an emerging star. Now, Danks needs to bounce back 18 months after having shoulder surgery.

Danks never made excuses about last season's 4-14 record and 4.75 ERA, but the 28-year-old lefty was a shell of his former self.

If Danks gets the zip back on his fastball, his developing curve and changeup could get him back to his 2010 level (15-11, 3.72 ERA).

Nate Jones

Jones enters training camp as the Sox' new closer and says he's ready to take over the role Reed held the past two seasons.

The 28-year-old reliever has the power arm typically found in the ninth inning, and Jones ranked fourth among AL relievers with 89 strikeouts (in 78 innings) setting up Reed last year.

But the right-hander needs to improve his two off-speed pitches, the curveball and change, if he wants to hold down the job.

Josh Phegley/Tyler Flowers

We'll combine the two young catchers, who head into training camp with jobs on the White Sox' 25-man roster.

Considering Phegley had a .206/.223/.299 hitting line last season and Flowers was at .195/.247/.355, it's little wonder many Sox fans are still irritated about A.J. Pierzynski being shown the door following the 2012 season.

Hahn said there is still time for Phegley and Flowers to live up to loftier expectations, but he can't afford to wait much longer on either catcher.

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