With Rick Hahn's reshaping of the White Sox, many organizational holes have been filled with what are expected to be long-term solutions. Because of this, some guys at the minor league level are now far less crucial to the future of the ball club, while focus has shifted to others.
Here's an updated look at the situation playing out with the relief pitchers throughout the minor leagues.
Jones hurling during the 2012 season. Credit: John Smierciak, AP Photo
Whenever you're talking about the future of a bullpen, you're mostly picking at straws. Teams definitely like to have young and cheap options in place that they'll be able to rely on for awhile, but more than anything else the bullpen is dealt with on a year-to-year basis. Nonetheless, here's a whack at it.
You've got to figure we'll see Nate Jones for awhile. He's about to turn 27, though ages aren't quite as important when dealing with relievers. They just last much longer than other players do. Even if the likely experiment with Jones as the team's closer doesn't go well, he'll probably slot back in as a set-up man.
He's under club control until 2018, so regardless we should be getting at least solid value out of him for awhile.
Daniel Webb, who looks to fit pretty naturally into a bullpen role is the '1b' righty for the future of the 'pen, but still has to prove himself in 2014. He did impress in limited action last year. He's a hard thrower and at 24 years old, could too have a long future ahead of him. He struck out 10 guys in 11.1 innings last September.
After him is Jacob Petricka, who has not been a reliever for long but also dominated the minors and looked decent in his brief stint with the big league club last year. So I guess you could consider him the '1c' guy.
They were all discussed in greater detail when we looked at the closer position after Addison Reed was dealt to Arizona for Matt Davidson.
They will all likely all start off the season in the major league bullpen barring some big-time struggles in spring training. Matt Lindstrom will be the other main righty though at 34, there's a decent shot he's dealt during the season to get something for, or at least save some money from him and his contract that expires after the season.
Finding righties after these guys is when you have to really start digging. Nestor Molina is a guy with a lot of talent that just never seemed to figure it out on a consistent basis as a starter, so he's now going to get an extended look as a reliever. I could easily see him finding success in this role.
Molina just completed a successful stint as a reliever in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 29.1 IP (20 appearances), posting a 2.43 ERA while fanning 20 hitters and only walking five.
After that, you've got to look to AA, where there have been some pretty successful relievers. Cody Winiarski dominated in eight appearances after posting very good numbers for high-A Winston Salem. Taylor Thompson was great for Birmingham but then struggled for AAA Charlotte, and Ryan Kussmaul also lit up AA, plus he was solid in the Venezuela this offseason. So they're three guys to keep an eye on this year in case guys in front of them falter.
In the lower levels of the organization, predicting relievers is near impossible.
The only guy worth pointing out right now is Tyler Danish, a second round pick from last year. Like we discussed here, the team wants to see if he can perform as a starter first and foremost. And at the young age of 19, why not? But if that doesn't work out for him, he could fly through the organization and into the major leagues much like Drew Storen did for the Washington Nationals. He's ultra-talented and has a 3/4 release … so he looks to have all the makings of a high-end big league reliever, at the very least.
Recent free agent signee Scott Downs has been about as consistent as they come over the past several years. It's great that he's aboard for the next couple seasons because, to put it simply, it means the team only has to scratch and claw to find one lefty specialist from within the organization for the foreseeable future.
I've said many times that I think Charlie Leesman could and should handle this role, but we all know what Donnie Veal is capable of (both the good and the bad). Eric Surkamp may join that competition in spring training (as we recently discussed), while Frank De Los Santos is another dark horse name on the 40-man roster to keep an eye on.
Beyond these guys, I think it'd be pretty silly to try to analyze who will be the team's lefty specialist(s) come 2015, '16, and beyond. Hopefully Leesman or Surkamp, who have been extremely consistent starters in the minors, can figure out the bullpen thing and help out the White Sox for a while.
It's not that the organization is thin here, it's just that like we mentioned, bullpens are dealt with on a year-to-year basis nowadays, and done so with a great deal of success. It's a large reason why Addison Reed was dealt.
If the Sox are contending any time soon, Rick Hahn will do what he has to and go out and sign some proven relievers. It's just as simple as that. But in the meantime, let's hope Jones, Petricka, Webb & co. pave the way for what could be a young, talented, and successful 'pen.
And with Don Cooper on your side, you've got to feel pretty good about those chances.