While White Sox pitchers and catchers don't report until Thursday, Mark Gonzales let us open one present early with a sunny spring story about Jordan Danks.
Danks is in need of a good spring as much as anybody. Therefore, Danks is more ready than ever, and he has his reasons to believe he finally deserves a spot on the 40-man roster.
The strikeouts have kept him down, and he's taken steps to address it. He took extensive video courses to break down his swing, and he has worked on his two-strike approach. He also enlisted John Danks to pitch to him and share his secrets on getting his younger brother out.
That's all well and good. But this part...
When Jordan Danks arrives Tuesday at Camelback Ranch, he hopes the White Sox's coaching staff takes notice of the additional 15 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-5 frame that could help result in a major league roster spot in the near future.
... is not good.
"Pounds of muscle" is one of those spring training phrases that signifies a player making public his dedication to improving. The problem is, in most cases, a player who has outwardly dedicated himself to improving is the same player who is in dire need of improvement.
I searched through 10 years' worth of archives for the exact phrase "pounds of muscle," and I found seven other references to White Sox who bulked up during the offseason. In every case, a worse year followed. In some cases, disaster ensued.
Gordon Beckham, 2011
While Beckham was preparing to take batting practice at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., last week, Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf strolled by.
Reinsdorf marveled at the 20 pounds of muscle Beckham packed on over the winter, and the 24-year-old infielder explained how the added strength is only going to help in 2011.
-- Daily Herald, March 4, 2011
The result: Beckham's OPS continued its decline, from .695 to .633. In December, he told Scott Merkin that he felt "a little heavy and puffy" coming into spring training, which might be revisionist history. It doesn't really matter whether he knew it, though, because his problems are mechanical and mental in nature.
John Danks, 2009
In shape, or else: Danks added 15 pounds of muscle, pushing his 6-foot-1-inch frame to 220 pounds in the off-season.
The result: Danks had a good year in 2009, but it was a step down from his 2008. His ERA, home run rate, walk rate, WHIP and strikeout rate all went the wrong way. He did pitch 200 regular-season innings for the first time, at least.
Jerry Owens, 2008
Owens led off the bottom of the first with a perfectly executed bunt in the first-base hole, then scored on a hit-and-run by Orlando Cabrera. Owens singled in his second at-bat before a tweaked groin ended his afternoon.
That didn't end the hype that has surrounded Owens since he checked into camp with 10 pounds of muscle added to his frame.
-- Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 26, 2008
The result: Owens came into camp set on staking his claim to center field and stealing 65 bases for the White Sox, but that tweaked groin was actually a tear in his right adductor. His career still hasn't recovered from that setback.
Mike MacDougal, 2008
Feeling that he was "too thin and not as strong as I need to be," MacDougal also put on 10 pounds of muscle through offseason work with a personal trainer. Those changes already have caught Guillen's eye, with the manager praising MacDougal following Sunday's bullpen session.
The result: MacDougal walked seven batters and hit another over eight innings before he was demoted at the end of April. He didn't resurface until rosters expanded, but his control problems persisted and he was outrighted at the end of the season. He threw only 17 innings, which remains his lowest single-season total since 2005.
Brandon McCarthy, 2006
McCarthy recently purchased a residence in the Phoenix area and has added 10 pounds of muscle under the supervision of physical therapist Brett Fischer, whose clients include Randy Johnson and Joe Nathan.
-- Chicago Tribune, Dec. 5, 2006
The result: McCarthy was traded to the Texas Rangers two weeks after this story, and he would soon endure the first of four injury-ravaged years. This one involved a stress fracture in his right scapula.
Paul Konerko, 2003
Konerko was in the top five in all three triple-crown categories at the All-Star break with a .328 batting average (third), 20 home runs (tied for fifth) and 71 RBI (second). But he batted just .215 with two home runs and nine RBI in July.
Konerko admitted that he ran out of gas in the second half and hit the weight room this winter to combat that. He estimates he put on 8 or 9 pounds of muscle.
-- Sun-Times, Feb. 2, 2003
The result: Konerko had the worst season of his life, hitting .234/.305/.399. And it could have been worse, because he was at .185/.260/.265 at the end of June.
Mark L. Johnson, 2002
Flying start: In his annual race against Josh Paul for the White Sox ' backup catchers job, Mark Johnson is off and running.
Carrying 15 extra pounds of muscle this spring, Johnson has 3 hits and 2 RBI in his first 5 at-bats.
-- Daily Herald, March 6, 2002
The result: Johnson did win the backup job. But he also hit .209/.297/.293 (57 OPS+), setting career lows in those categories. That's saying something, considering he was always a defense-first catcher.
BONUS: Tim Hulett, 1986
Hulett took steps to remedy that problem this year. He stayed in Chicago over the winter to participate in a rigorous weight program set up by Sox fitness director Al Vermeil. The workouts gave him eight additional pounds of muscle and improved his agility and balance.
The result: Well, part of it worked. Hulett hit 17 homers in 1986, which was by far the highest total of his career (next-best: seven). Then again, it was the highest total of his career because he somehow got 552 plate appearances despite hitting .231/.260/.379 (69 OPS+). That was a major decline from his decent rookie season, and he was a bench player for the rest of his career, although occasionally a good one.
For what it's worth, I thought Alexei Ramirez also added "pounds of muscle" over the offseason last year, but he resisted putting a number on it:
Ramirez has put on muscle - he's sure of it - but ask him how much weight he's gained and he can't tell you, since he hasn't stepped on a scale this winter.