Cactus League preview: Chicago White Sox

Left-hander Chris Sale, who finished fifth in AL Cy Young Award voting last season despite an 11-14 record, returns to anchor Chicago's starting rotation.

Mike Dinovo/Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

It might be hard to find a team more ready to start another spring training and move on from 2013 than the Chicago White Sox, who finished one loss shy of 100 last season to whiff on expectations set by a second-place finish in 2012.

But with a few lineup tweaks and a commitment at the top, the White Sox return to Glendale for the Cactus League optimistic that 2014 will yield much different results.

The changes on Chicago’s south side started midway through last season, as first-year general manager Rick Hahn began retooling the roster via the trade market. The dealing continued into the offseason, and the White Sox could have as many as four new starters in the lineup on Opening Day.

The White Sox also have a commitment to third-year manager Robin Ventura, who shed the "lame duck" tag in January when he signed a three-year contract extension that eliminates one non-baseball talking point this spring.

Amid the fresh start, however, are myriad questions that come with any 99-loss team. Here’s a look at what’s in store for the White Sox this spring and what to watch for during Cactus League play.

The White Sox are counting on Cuban defectee Jose Abreu to punch up a lineup that scored the fewest runs in the American League.

After a promising 2012 campaign, 2013 was about as forgettable of a season as they come, with the White Sox going 63-99 — including 7-21 in September — to finish last in the AL Central. Among the few bright spots were starter Chris Sale’s strong followup to a breakout 2012 season, a solid year from No. 2 starter Jose Quintana and dominant relief from Jesse Crain. By September, the White Sox looked noticeably different, with Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Crain and Matt Thornton all dealt before the trade deadline.

Arrivals: 1B Jose Abreu (international free agent), RP Ronald Bellisario (free agent), RP Mitchell Boggs (free agent), 3B Matt Davidson (trade with Arizona), RP Scott Downs (free agent), OF Adam Eaton (trade with Arizona).

Departures: SP Gavin Floyd (free agent), RP Addison Reed (traded), SP Hector Santiago (traded).

How deep is the pitching staff?

Cactus League previews

Pitching was the strength of the White Sox in 2013, albeit not enough of one to avoid a fifth-place finish in the AL Central. It started with ace Chris Sale, whose 11-14 record belied the success that led him to a fifth place finish in AL Cy Young voting. Sale was a hot name in offseason trade buzz, but the White Sox wouldn’t move him. Beyond Sale and No. 2 starter Jose Quintana, though, there are uncertainties. John Danks looks to regain his pre-August 2012 shoulder surgery form after a disappointing partial season in 2013. Touted prospect Erik Johnson will try to earn a rotation spot after five big league starts in 2013. The bullpen has been shuffled, with Addison Reed, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain gone from last year’s group.

Can Jose Abreu live up to expectations?

The White Sox landed one of the offseason’s big international prizes in 26-year-old Cuban Jose Abreu, who projects as the starting first baseman. But will the results match the expectations? One of the best hitters in Cuba’s top league the last few seasons, Abreu could add significant power to a lineup that ranked last in the AL in runs and 12th in home runs. Or he might need time to adjust to life and baseball in the U.S. The White Sox had success with a previous Cuban import, shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who defected in 2007.

Who’s on third?

The White Sox added Jeff Keppinger last season to take over at third base, but Keppinger turned in a subpar season amid injuries. The team is counting on a better 2014 from Keppinger, but the 33-year-old will have competition in camp. Matt Davidson, a 22-year-old acquired from the Diamondbacks for Reed, poses the biggest threat to win the job and could prove too great an offensive asset to sit in the minors. Marcus Semien, 23, should also compete for the job after appearing in 21 big league games last season. Left-handed hitter Conor Gillaspie, 26, could also be in the mix after seeing significant action last year.

In opting to return for the 2014 season, veteran team captain Paul Konerko agreed to a part-time role, assuming no major injuries at first base (Abreu) or designated hitter (Adam Dunn). It will be a big change for Konerko, who has totaled fewer than 500 plate appearances just once (495 in 2003) in 15 seasons with the White Sox. He’ll try to remain an offensive difference maker with fewer opportunities while also providing invaluable clubhouse leadership.

Adam Eaton. This time a year ago, Eaton was the D-backs’ untouchable center fielder of the future. An elbow injury and 66 mostly uneventful games later, he was gone in a three-team trade involving Mark Trumbo. In Chicago, Eaton gets a fresh start at proving himself the energizing sparkplug the D-backs once believed him to be.

Pitchers and catchers report Saturday, Feb. 15. Full squad reports Thursday, Feb. 20. Games begin Feb. 28 at Camelback Ranch – Glendale, 10710 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix. Visit Whitesox.com for full schedule and tickets.