03/24/10 8:10 PM ET
Few, but good, spring surprises for GM
Santos, Jones among those turning heads in camp
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
You figure enough attention has been paid to off-the-field issues over the past couple of weeks, and it's time to take a closer look at what appears to be an American League Central title contender. Well, White Sox general manager Ken Williams wholeheartedly seconds those particular thoughts.
"I'll bear down the last 10 days, and before Opening Day, I'll give you an assessment," Williams told MLB.com, with a wry smile. "I guess I have to start being more attentive."
Williams' above comment drips with sarcasm. He has paid close attention to every single detail, every piece of White Sox baseball minutiae, since his pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 21. The same can be said for everyone in the front office, joining the ever-vigilant manager Ozzie Guillen and his coaching staff.
To quote a memorable, if not exactly favorable, line from Chicago sports lore, delivered by one-time Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, all the pieces pretty much were in place when the White Sox arrived at Camelback Ranch - Glendale. Deciding who would fill the final utility infielder slot and who would be the seventh reliever pretty much were the only major calls left to make.
Even with this carefully assembled roster being fairly secure, there were still a few eye-opening spring occurrences noticed by the White Sox leader. And Sergio Santos, a converted infielder who looks as if he'll break camp as a Major League reliever in just one year's transformation time, stands at the forefront of this group.
"I've been surprised how Santos, for a position change guy, can locate his fastball and throw a slider for strikes and a changeup behind in the count," Williams said. "It just doesn't happen."
Santos, 26, entered camp with the reputation of possessing a high-octane fastball in the 98-mph range. But his pitchability, for lack of a better word, has been off the charts.
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With nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 scoreless innings heading into his next scheduled outing Thursday against San Diego, the right-hander has put himself as the prime contender for that 12th spot on the pitching staff. Santos is out of Minor League options, so through this great spring, he also has made himself attractive to other teams with thin bullpens.
On the defensive side, Williams pointed out that left fielder Juan Pierre is "throwing the ball better than I've seen him in a while." As for a surprise among position players, Andruw Jones fits that description, although Williams would not label him as such.
Jones signed on as a $500,000 low-level risk, with another $1 million in performance incentives possible, and the perennial All-Star brought with him a reputation of being heavier and unproductive over the past three years. It quickly became obvious how Jones aimed to prove 32 was not over the hill, joining the White Sox following a 30-pound offseason weight drop, and showing during Cactus League action he can still play center field as well as hit.
"Clearly, he came to work," said William of Jones, one of the best center fielders in the game from 1998-2006 with the Braves. "I didn't know what to expect from Andruw. His swing path is in a much better place and his approach is in a much better place than it has been in the last couple of years.
"We know he can be a dangerous guy. If he stays like he is right now, he can be dangerous. If he goes back to the sit and spin and trying to lift everything, he's not going to help us much."
A fair share of preseason concerns always exists for Williams, in the best or worst of times, and this spring's list includes third baseman Mark Teahen's swing and Bobby Jenks' sore right calf. Jenks assured Williams there was nothing to worry about in regard to the injury limiting his Cactus League work over the past few weeks, and followed up that promise with an eight-pitch, scoreless frame on Monday in Surprise and another scoreless inning Wednesday at home against the D-backs.
Before Jenks' on-field evidence, Williams already had written him off as an issue. He trusted the confident words delivered by his closer.
"I have too many things to worry about," Williams said. "Whenever I can cross one off of my list, it is a plus."
Teahen explained Tuesday how spending two days in Minor League camp simply focusing on the mechanics of his swing, through at-bats every inning, helped him get the feel at the plate back again. Then, Teahen went out and hit the ball hard three times during Tuesday's loss to the Giants and did the same over three more at-bats in Wednesday's victory, including his first spring home run.
Featuring a Cactus League average less than Alexei Ramirez's weight wouldn't exactly qualify Teahen to be projected as the team's 2010 breakout star. But while we're on the topic of surprises, Williams won't be stunned if fortunes change quickly once the regular season begins.
"Sometimes the coldest guy in Spring Training comes out and he's the hottest guy to start the season," Williams said. "Sometimes the hottest guy is the coldest guy. I don't know. The only thing I know is the more time I spend in the game, the less things I know."
On April 5, when Mark Buehrle throws the first pitch at U.S. Cellular Field against Cleveland, Williams will start to know a little bit more. It will be all about the White Sox push for the 2010 postseason, and that topic is a personal favorite for the White Sox general manager.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.