Of the 438.1 relief innings by White Sox pitchers in 2011, the pitchers throwing 212 of those innings will no longer be in the bullpen. The bulk of those innings were from Sergio Santos and Chris Sale, meaning the White Sox will need to replace a significant amount of high leverage innings.
Of the 2011 stalwarts, Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton and Will Ohman all appear to be returning. Addison Reed was considered a near sure bet to be in the 2012 opening day bullpen and Jason Frasor's departure only bolsters his chances. That leaves an open competition for as many as three spots (assuming a seven man bullpen).
And that competition has already begun. A number of the primary candidates, as well as the dark horses, have been pitching in various Winter Leagues. And while Spring Training performance will likely be the primary driver of roster decisions, past performance usually dictates the opportunities a player gets in Arizona. So how have the bullpen hopefuls done in their most recent past performances?Hector Santiago is Exhibit A for how a successful offseason can alter a player's path. Last offseason, he added a screwball during his Puerto Rican Winter League (PWL) campaign and transformed from organizational afterthought to possible rotation material. This offseason, he didn't change the formula and returned to the island. He's had good success: 16 G, 19.1 IP, 15 H, 8 BB, 19 K. If the White Sox do intend him to be a starter long-term, continuing to build up his innings in Charlotte may be the best path for him. However, the lefty has the stuff to be an effective option for the bullpen in 2012.
Charles Leesman also pitched in the PWL, spending his November there. After a less than impressive return to Birmingham in 2011 as a starter, it may now be the time to shift him to the bullpen, where his long-term home will surely be. The lefty took advantage of his month: 10 G, 11.2 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 13 K. Control has always been the issue for Leesman and continuing to limit the walks in Spring Training will be the key for him.
Deunte Heath got himself added to the 40 man roster this offseason. In his two seasons in the White Sox organization, the righty has produced some impressive strikeout rates and some unimpressive walk rates. He spent a month in the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL) where he worked as a starter: 7 GS, 35.1 IP, 15 BB, 34 K. He'll also need to throw strikes if he wants to have a chance.
After getting a September call-up in 2010, Gregory Infante hasn't done himself many favors by - you guessed it - not throwing strikes. More troubling, though, was that his strikeouts also disappeared in 2011. The righty didn't correct either of those issues in the VWL: 19 G, 15.2 IP, 16 H, 12 BB, 9 K. He appears to be trying to become a non-prospect.
Jhan Marinez also didn't do much of anything differently in the Dominican Winter League than he'd done during the regular season: 10 G, 8.1 IP, 5 H, 6 BB, 10 K. He's going to be a project for the White Sox.
Once upon a time, Brian Omogrosso was a member of the 40 man roster. Injury derailed him and he's never quite gotten back. Kenny Williams has talked about the righty as possible bullpen material for 2012 and his VWL stint won't hurt his dark horse candidacy: 6 G, 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 6 K.
Nathan Jones has always had great promise but has never put it together. No apparent progress in the PWL: 16 G, 14.2 IP, 13 BB, 16 K.
Dan Remenowsky hit the wall in AAA last season and he didn't right himself in the PWL: 11 G, 11.1 IP, 15 H, 8 BB, 8 K. [Edit: Four of the walks were apparently intentional walks. That is an inordinate amount for just 11.1 innings and certainly makes his line more palatable.]
All of these guys will be joined by a gaggle of others - Dylan Axelrod, Zach Stewart, Donnie Veal, Simon Castro, Brandon Kloess, Brian Bruney, Anthony Carter, Pedro Hernandez, Leyson Septimo, Eric Stults and surely some players to be named - in one of the openest bullpen competitions in recent memory.