If healthy, Jones could grow into closer's role
As far as priorities go on the heels of a 99-loss season, closer is not an urgent issue for the White Sox.
Adding some firepower to the American League's worst offense was No. 1 on the Sox' list, and they took big steps toward resolving the problem by acquiring Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson in trades while signing Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract.
Davidson, a 22-year-old third baseman, was added in a Dec. 16 trade that sent former closer Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Finding third basemen with pop is difficult, and the White Sox are confident a new closer will eventually emerge to replace Reed, who finished fifth in the American League last season with 40 saves.
"As far as the closer this year, listen, I can go back to Shingo (Takatsu), (Dustin) Hermanson, Bobby (Jenks) and all the years after that," said Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, initially referencing the 2005 World Series championship season. "We never had, 'Hey, we just acquired a closer.' We always figured out who was the best guy to close. The big thing for me is they will show us who is throwing the ball great and who gives us the best chance to close the game out."
Based on his live fastball and experience setting up Reed the past two seasons, Nate Jones is the leading candidate to take over in the ninth inning.
Jones has been slowed in spring training with a strained left gluteal muscle, but he reported no pain after throwing a bullpen session Wednesday and is on track to make his Cactus League debut Saturday.
"Nate has grown," Cooper said. "Nate has grown a couple of years now."
While Jones has 154 strikeouts in 149⅔ innings over the past two seasons, the 28-year-old right-hander has also walked 58. That number will have to come down, or the Sox will likely turn to Matt Lindstrom or Daniel Webb as closer.
Lindstrom is currently sidelined with a strained left oblique, and Webb has been absent from camp since late last week because of a death in the family.
Lindstrom saved 15 games for the Marlins in 2009 and 23 for the Astros the following year, so he has an experience closing out games.
The veteran right-hander said Jones has a bright future in the role.
"He's a pretty smart kid," Lindstrom said. "He's got a tremendous amount of talent. If he does jump into that closer role and something doesn't go his way that night, I'm just going to tell him, 'Dude, we've got a game tomorrow.' I think he knows that. He saw Addison handle it; Addison was good at brushing it off. I think Nate can do that, too."
Webb, 24, was a combined 2-1 with a 1.87 ERA and 10 saves with Class A Winston-Salem, AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte last season before joining the White Sox in September.
Webb held his own during his first crack in the majors, posting a 3.18 ERA in 9 appearances.
Mitchell Boggs is another closer candidate.
Signed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract a week before spring training opened, Boggs was 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA and 2 saves with the Cardinals and Rockies last season.
The right-hander is hoping to return to his 2012 form, when he was 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA with St. Louis.