Bullpen openings motivate Dylan Axelrod

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dylan Axelrod is among the handful of young Chicago White Sox looking to fill one of what looks to be three open bullpen spots this season.

With Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman and Addison Reed expected to fill four spots in the bullpen, Axelrod has spent the entire offseason preparing for this moment.

“It’s all I’ve been working for,” Axelrod said. “There’s a great opportunity here not just for myself, but for other guys as well. Three spots is pretty rare to find in the big leagues. I’m just going after it as hard as I can.”

Axelrod spent the offseason working on his changeup. He wants to be able to throw it to both sides of the plate and against both left- and right-handed hitters. He worked out back home in Santa Barbara, Calif. at the PEAK Performance Project along with several major leaguers, including former teammate Carlos Quentin.

A late-season call up, Axelrod appeared in four games last season, starting three and striking out 19 in 18 2/3 innings. His time with the White Sox was highlighted by his first major league win against Toronto on Sept. 26, when he allowed just three hits over six scoreless innings. While Axelrod started 15 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte last season, he’s not about to project whether he’ll one day end up as a starter or reliever. Right now, he just wants to break camp with the team.

“Out of the bullpen they want you to throw strikes and I feel like I can definitely do that,” said Axelrod, who Baseball America ranked as having the best control in the Sox organization. “And if the opportunity presents itself to move into a different role, then I think that will only help me as well, just being able to throw strikes and be accountable for going out there and making them hit the ball and keeping the defense ready.”

While exhibition games are still more than a week away, manager Robin Ventura said he’s already noticed a competitive spirit for those open bullpen spots.

“They know it,” Ventura said. “It’s tough to see it right now with guys just all lined up in the bullpen throwing but you can tell they know it’s there, and they’re trying probably a little bit harder than they normally would just playing toss. That’s fun to see. This is about competition, so it’s fun to go out there and watch them throw.”