Younger Danks eyeing Major Leagues
White Sox prospect turning heads in AFL with bat, speed
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Pregame batting practice and infield drills have come to a close for the Peoria Javelinas on this warm November evening. But Jordan Danks' early work at Scottsdale Stadium is not quite finished.
Danks stops for a pair of interviews, and then before retreating back to the clubhouse in preparation for that night's game, he signs a handful of autographs for about five minutes. Both the media and Arizona Fall League fans know a good thing when they see one.
"I feel the same about him as I felt about Gordon Beckham at this stage last year," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said with a smile. "That's pretty good. Jordan Danks is making it interesting."
There's strong statistical evidence to back Williams' comparison to Beckham, who quite possibly could be named the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year on Monday afternoon. Some in the White Sox organization believe Danks, the 23-year-old outfielder, was defensively ready for the Major Leagues in 2009, just his second year of professional baseball.
Now, Danks' swing seems to be catching up to his glove work. Through 21 AFL contests, Danks sported a .329 average with two home runs and 17 RBIs. His on-base percentage checked in at a robust .457.
During 30 games this past season with Class A Winston-Salem, Danks hit .322 with three home runs, 21 RBIs and a .409 on-base percentage. But there's still a great deal for Danks to learn, and nobody understands that room for growth more than this confident and laid-back young man.
For example, after Danks' 2009 jump to Double-A Birmingham, his average dipped to .243 and his on-base percentage fell to .337. Much of these struggles can be blamed on a minor cartilage problem in his right wrist that did not require surgery and a jammed thumb on his left hand caused by diving after a fly ball.
Those nagging maladies threw Danks off track. He also admitted as to how his first season over 100 games wore him down.
"I can't lie. It really got to me," Danks told MLB.com before knocking out a single and driving in a run against the Scorpions. "My bat speed slowed down at the end.
"Having two weeks off and coming back here ... getting my strength back was really big. It's going to be 160-some games in the Majors, and I'm training and getting ready for next year. There's nothing you can do to save energy. Just whenever you feel like you have about 50 percent, you still have to give everything you got."
Talk of a 2010 Major League arrival for Danks certainly is not out of the question. In fact, with Williams reinforcing the point concerning the White Sox being without a great deal of money to dip into the free-agent pool, Danks would serve as a talented internal option to complete the outfield with Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin at pretty much any of the three slots defensively.
If the White Sox still need a leadoff hitter when the Hot Stove period runs out in February, Danks has experience with that particular lineup spot. In fact, a number of scouts watching Danks during AFL action raved about the surprising speed shown by the lanky 6-foot-5 Texan.
"Some people will look over and say, 'Oh, it's a 6-foot-5 guy on base. He's not too fast. He won't take off,'" said Danks with a wry smile. "But I'm able to get good leads and when I do, they definitely keep me close the next time."
"If anyone notices anything the last couple of years, we are not afraid to put young guys into the equation once they can handle it physically and mentally," Williams said.
One of those young guys thrown into the White Sox mix was John Danks, a 24-year-old left-handed starter who has won 25 games over the past two seasons and just happens to be Jordan's older brother. They are part of a close-knit family, which also includes younger sister, Emily, a volleyball player for Ohio State University and maybe the best athlete of the group.
When the Danks brothers talk baseball, it's more about game-related matters such as John encouraging Jordan to drive the ball more and take advantage of his untapped power, as opposed to a timetable for his Chicago arrival. Jordan agrees with John's power assessment, but has been focusing more on making contact when hitting leadoff at the University of Texas and in the Minors, at times.
"He's a strong kid with leverage," said John Danks of his brother. "He gets on base and is quick and can drive the ball. I'm not really comparing him to anyone, but he's like an Alex Rios -- same build, lots of power and lots of speed."
"My power is more gap-to-gap, where I get doubles," Jordan Danks said. "The home runs come every now and then, but I will say I had more power in high school."
Round Rock High School marks the last time the Danks brothers were together on the same team. John was a senior, Jordan was a sophomore and at one point, their squad was ranked No. 1 in the country.
As for playing together with the White Sox, that moment would be memorable for the entire Danks family. And it could come as soon as the 2010 season, even if it arrives in the form of a June callup for the organization's top prospect, just like Beckham in 2009.
"Obviously, he has to earn it and work his way to that point," John Danks said. "If it does get to that point playing together, it's a big deal for us. We've been dreaming of that day."
"To be on the same Major League team," Jordan Danks said, "it would be absolutely insane."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.