Cooper ready to judge bullpen battle

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Competition for the open three bullpen spots will officially begin this weekend, when the Chicago White Sox play some intrasquad games before opening their Cactus League schedule on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The fast-talking, straight-to-the-point Don Cooper, who has been with the team since 1988 and has served as pitching coach since 2002, is looking forward to seeing who’s ready to start the season in the bullpen.

“Listen, for the first time in a long time we’ve got three spots open and that’s going to be an interesting thing for the coaches and everybody else to watch and see how that goes,” Cooper said. “It’s also going to be interesting to see these new younger guys who probably won’t be on the team -- some of them -- but to see how they handle major league camp and to have an idea to plot out a course for them so maybe some time later in the year, as well as next year, they’re in Chicago helping us win.”

With so many youngsters to choose from, Cooper said the first nine days of spring training has been about working on each pitcher’s mechanics and pitch command. Come the weekend, the evaluation begins.

“Right now, there’s nobody ahead of anybody else,” Cooper said, “there’s nobody behind anybody else.”

The White Sox have a handful of lefties who are likely vying for one bullpen spot. In the few minutes he spared on Thursday, Cooper spoke about a few young arms who White Sox fans will see within the first few Cactus League games.

Cooper can say a lot in a short amount of time. Here’s a few pitchers who Cooper spoke about, unprompted:

  • Hector Santiago: Cooper thinks Santiago, a lefty who pitched pitched 5 1/2 innings of relief last season, is ready to compete. According to WhiteSox.com, Santiago spent a majority of the offseason working on his screwball.

    Santiago is slated to face the Dodgers on Monday along with starter Phil Humber and relievers Will Ohman, Jesse Crain, Addison Reed, Pedro Hernandez, Charlie Leesman and Nestor Molina.

  • Jose Quintana: Another lefty, Quintana will start Monday’s ‘B’ game against the Cleveland Indians. The White Sox signed him as a free agent after the 23-year-old Columbian native spent the last four seasons in the Yankees organization. A 50-game suspension for violating terms of Minor League Baseball’s Drug Prevention Program kept Quintana out of action in 2007. He played last season at Class A-Tampa, where he made 12 starts in 30 appearances and struck out 88 batters in 102 innings. Said Cooper: “The kid’s got a really good delivery. He knows how to spin a curveball. His changeup is pretty good. My thought is, ‘Can we add a cutter?’”

  • Pedro Hernandez and Simon Castro: Hernandez, a lefty, and Castro, a right-hander, were both acquired from San Diego in the Carlos Quentin trade. Hernandez made his way through the Padres’ organization last season, going from Single-A Lake Elsinore to Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A Tucson.

    Hernandez combined to go 10-3 with 94 strikeouts in 116 innings in 28 games (18 starts) last season, including a 2-1 mark with a 6.00 ERA at Tucson. Castro, meanwhile, enters the season as the No. 3 prospect in the White Sox organization according to Baseball America. He combined to go 7-8 with a 5.63 ERA and 94 strikeouts between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson.

    “(Hernandez) looks like he’s got some pitchability,” Cooper said. “I thought, ‘I want to check out his breaking ball. See how that breaking ball looks against left-handed hitters.’ Castro, he’s a big, strong kid. We’ve already made what we’d call a couple of mechanical adjustments and they’re still going (through adjustments). It’s not just going to happen in one day.”

  • Nestor Molina:: Molina, who was acquired from Toronto in exchange for closer Sergio Santos, has already generated a considerable amount of buzz this spring, and Cooper said he likes the way he’s been throwing.

    “He’s got a nice looking split-finger,” Cooper said. “His breaking ball is something that we’re looking at and watching closer. But he’s got a good changeup and it compliments his fastball. So there you have it.”