Doug Padilla previews the White Sox by position in the days leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training on Feb. 12.
If the Chicago White Sox's pitching staff is supposed to drive the team to success in 2013, consider the starting rotation the engine. There is a Cy Young Award winner in the mix and another potential winner to head the list. There is a veteran who has shown stretches of dominance and a young up-and-comer with youth and savvy on his side. Add to that a former Opening Day starter who is returning from injury and that could make this one of the better groups in the game, as long as he reaches peak performance quickly.
1. Chris Sale, LHP: The lean lefty has star potential written all over him thanks to a blazing fastball and a wicked slider. Not a lock to be the Opening Day starter, but picking him would make sense. The only change in his offseason regimen to combat a late-season fade in 2012 is to increase his cardio work. The chief concern will be how his young arm bounces back after a huge bump in innings from 71 in 2011 to 192 last season.
2. Jake Peavy, RHP: All heart and guts, Peavy's mental side is everything you want from a starting pitcher. Common sense says that he will be even better another year away from surgery, but he actually continues into uncharted waters with his unique latissimus dorsi reattachment procedure in 2010. His new two-year deal, that will pay him $14.5 million each of the next two seasons, looks to be a smart White Sox buy and is comparable to what free agents Ryan Dempster, Dan Haren and Hiroki Kuroda will make in 2013.
3. Gavin Floyd, RHP: Everybody has witnessed a dominating Floyd before, the trick is to get it out of him again. The right-hander's 12-start stretch in 2010 where he posted a 1.19 ERA and a .203 opponents' batting average will forever be mentioned as his maximum potential. What's to make of his 12-11 record and 4.29 ERA in 2012 that was strikingly similar to his 12-13 mark and 4.37 ERA in 2011? He threw 25 2/3 less innings last season and his WHIP went from 1.16 in 2011 to 1.36 last year.
4. Jose Quintana, LHP: Hard to knock the biggest revelation of 2012 for his fade down the stretch. His 4.20 ERA in August was followed by a 6.75 mark in September while he allowed a tick under two walks/hits per inning in that final month. Overall, though, his 3.76 ERA over 25 outings (22 starts) was far better than could have been expected from somebody with just nine games of experience above the Single-A level before he was called up last May.
5. John Danks, LHP: The White Sox won't put a timetable for Danks' return from shoulder surgery, although it seems clear that if he isn't back by May 1 a setback will have occurred. To the lefty's credit, he fully intends to take his first turn in the rotation when the season begins. Shorter outings are expected immediately after he returns, which has the potential to put a strain on the bullpen. If he rounds into top form by the All-Star break, the club could be in business.
With Danks' uncertain status, there will be a mad dash in spring training for what could be one or two available starts in April. Dylan Axelrod and Hector Santiago will be out to impress, with even Zach Stewart getting a shot after he recently returned to the organization via a waiver claim.
The most interesting battle of the spring, though, could be Sale vs. Peavy for the Opening Day assignment on April 1 against the Kansas City Royals. Based on his career track record and his new White Sox contract, Peavy could get the nod. But Sale not only had the numbers last season to earn the role, he represents a young talent that could be in the front of the club's rotation for a long time.
OUTLOOK: With a young guy at the front of the rotation and a pitcher returning from injury at the back of it, Floyd could play a big role in the staff's success. He doesn't have to turn into a 20-game winner all of a sudden, but he had better give more than 168 innings. The expectation on Peavy isn't to return to a Cy Young winner again, except maybe from Peavy. But his 2.85 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in the first half of 2012 shows he has plenty left in the tank. Not to say that the White Sox have a shaky offense, but neutralizing opposing teams' run production, especially Detroit's, will be the club's best chance of success in a division they won't be favored to win. This team was built on pitching. The starters are on the spot.