A new rotation and stressing defense: A look back at Chicago White Sox camp — and ahead to the regular season

Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Spring training began for the Chicago White Sox with Garrett Crochet hoping to move from the bullpen to the rotation and Dylan Cease in line to start opening day.

The Sox head home with Crochet set to start Thursday’s season opener against the Detroit Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field and Cease part of the San Diego Padres pitching staff.

A lot has changed since camp opened on Feb. 14. Spring training wrapped up Monday with an exhibition game against Triple-A Charlotte at Camelback Ranch.

“This is a work in progress, something we’re going to have to navigate through every single day,” manager Pedro Grifol said before Sunday’s final Cactus League game of the spring against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields. “You’re going to hear me say that a ton, but I like the way they’ve come together. The talent — I liked coming in without seeing them jell. And the way they’ve come together (this spring), I’m excited about it.”

There are plenty of new faces for a team coming off a 101-loss season. And with 42 players still listed on the final day of camp, the Sox have plenty of decisions left to get to a 26-man roster ahead of Thursday’s opener.

“Teams are still trying to fill needs,” Sox general manager Chris Getz said Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We continue to have conversations with other clubs, too. Everyone is trying to put their best foot forward to start the season.”

Here’s a look back at spring training — and ahead to the start of the season.

1. A new rotation highlights the changes to the pitching staff.

Crochet opened eyes from his first Cactus League outing when he retired Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman for a 1-2-3 inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Feb. 27.

It was the beginning of a standout spring for the left-hander, who had a 2.13 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. And when the Sox found a trade partner to deal Cease, Crochet became the choice for Thursday’s opener.

Crochet headlines a completely different rotation from a year ago.

“I’ve been very pleased with our pitching — Mike Soroka, Erick Fedde, Garrett Crochet and (Chris) Flexen and the progress they have made in terms of their preparation for this season,” Getz said.

“I’m proud of our pitching process in general, whether it be (senior advisor to pitching) Brian Bannister, (pitching coach) Ethan Katz, (bullpen coach) Matt Wise and of course the players that have taken to the feedback we’ve shared with them and I feel like we are in a good position on the pitching front.”

After strong springs, reliever Jordan Leasure and starter Nick Nastrini — both acquired in a trade with the Dodgers in 2023 — should be in line to make an impact for the Sox at some point this season.

Getz said he’s been encouraged with the bullpen.

“We brought in (Steven) Wilson (from the Padres),” Getz said. “Deivi García has been really impressive throughout spring training. Michael Kopechnow transitioning to the bullpen — everyone who has watched his transition has seen him more comfortable. We’ve seen a rise in his velocity and just how he’s attacking. I feel like he’s in a good spot.”

2. The Sox stressed defense this offseason. How will it pay off?

The new double-play combination has a local flavor.

Second baseman Nicky Lopez is from Naperville and shortstop Paul DeJong attended Antioch High School.

The Sox also brought in a pair of experienced catchers, signing Martín Maldonado and acquiring Max Stassi in a trade.

Stassi won’t be ready for the regular season after the Sox placed him on the 10-day injured list Monday with left hip inflammation. He is eligible to be reinstated from the IL on April 4. Korey Lee, recalled from Triple-A Charlotte, will step in. Lee made adjustments with his swing — and tied DeJong and Gavin Sheets for the team lead this spring with three home runs.

“He came in focused, hungry and made a ton of improvements everywhere, every single part of the game,” Grifol said of Lee on Monday.

Right-field options Dominic Fletcher and Kevin Pillar also have the versatility to play center or left if Luis Robert Jr. or Andrew Benintendi need a day off.

The Sox didn’t do themselves many favors defensively in 2023, finishing 10th in the American League with 95 errors. It’s an area the team knows it must improve.

“Obviously we have prioritized our defense,” Getz said. “I feel like we are much stronger up the middle whether it be the catching or our middle infielders and certainly Luis Robert (in center field).”

3. Can the core stay on the field?

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It was a relatively healthy spring for the Sox position players ahead of the Stassi news.

After injuries sidelined third baseman Yoán Moncada (back) and designated hitter Eloy Jiménez (appendectomy) for portions of 2023, the Sox know they need to have their core together to jumpstart the offense.

“You look at our lineup, whether it be Benintendi, the at-bats he has had and the strength he has added with his body and his athleticism is really encouraging,” Getz said. “Eloy Jiménez looks very good (hitting .333 this spring). Moncada looks like he’s in a good place. Obviously Luis Robert is Luis Robert. (first baseman Andrew) Vaughn has turned it on (finishing tied with Jiménez for a team-leading 17 hits). That’s the core of our lineup right there.

“We feel good about that and then we’ve got some players to finalize the lineup that have complementary skill sets, can scrap and add runs for us.”

The first opportunity comes Thursday.

“Expectations — improve every single day,” Grifol said. “Our expectation is to get better every single day we take the field and play as hard as we can.”