SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Quintana was 22. He had five years of pro ball experience. His stats were impressive, but he still had not advanced past the Class A level.
The Yankees were interested in re-signing Quintana, but not to a big-league contract. With the Yanks' win-now mandate, they were reluctant to tie up a big league roster spot with such an unproven pitcher, even if he was left-handed.
The White Sox, however, had room, particularly for a pitcher with a live left arm and the ability to throw strikes.
Chicago was looking to rebuild its system with strong arms. The organization had some room on the 40-man roster, and at the urging of several organizational scouts who had seen Quintana, they made that big league commitment.
It has paid off.
Fast forward three years. Quintana, only the 14th Colombian-born player to appear in the Majors, has spent the bulk of the last three seasons in Chicago's big league rotation.
Quintana has done a good enough job that a year ago, he was given a five-year, $26.5 million contract with team options for 2019 and '20.
And this spring, with Chris Sale headed to the disabled list to open the season, Quintana is very much a candidate for the Opening Day assignment against the Royals in Kansas City. The decision will come down to Quintana and offseason addition Jeff Samardzija.
Quintana does not make an issue out of the possibility.
"I will be happy with where they put me," Quintana said when asked how special an Opening Day assignment would be. "I am ready to go. I want to help the team. ...
"Every pitcher wants to throw Opening Day. I don't have control over that. I will be ready for any spot in the rotation."
Samardzija would be a popular choice. The former Notre Dame pitcher/receiver who grew up in Indiana a White Sox fan is a former Draft pick of the Cubs, and he was a key part of the White Sox offseason. They acquired Samardzija in a December deal with the A's that sent shortstop Marcus Semien to Oakland.
Samardzija did, after all, start the opener for the Cubs the past two seasons, and he is a potential free agent in the fall. How much good will would an Opening Day assignment bring?
Quintana, who has worked 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, has done his best to make a case for himself so far this spring.
He worked 2 2/3 scoreless innings against the Rockies on Friday -- limited to 45 pitches because he was moved up a day and worked on three days of rest -- and the only hit he was charged with was a ground ball bobbled by second baseman Gordon Beckham. With a hard sinker, Quintana did not allow a ball to be hit out of the infield.
The Sox moved Quintana up one day in their spring pitching plans and pushed Samardzija back a day so he will pitch a simulated game at the White Sox Minor League complex on Saturday.
"I don't know the reason," Quintana said, "but the next start will be regular [rest]."
Manager Robin Ventura is not making any pronouncements, but he admits that the organization has a plan.
The fact the White Sox put Quintana ahead of Samardzija in the rotation would seem to be a signal. If Samardzija was going to start in the opener and Quintana in Game 2, they could have easily left them in their previous alignment, instead of moving Quintana up a day and Samardzija back.
And there is the lefty factor. The White Sox open with three games against the Royals. They could start Quintana and fellow lefty John Danks in Games 1 and 3 with the right-handed Samardzija in between. They may prefer that so that they don't have the lefties starting back to back.
The White Sox are definitely inclined to start two left-handers against the Royals, who have shown better offensive efforts against right-handed pitchers, and lost their top two hitters against left-handed pitchers in the offseason -- Billy Butler to the A's and Nori Aoki to the Giants.
There also is the sentimental factor.
Quintana may have originally signed with the Mets and spent four years at the low levels of the Yankees' farm system, but he came to the big leagues with the White Sox, which is significant to both Quintana and the organization.
"My focus is on the White Sox, my first organization in the big leagues," he said. "I want to play for this team. That's all I care about."
And each year he is playing a bigger role in the White Sox plans.
Tracy Ringolsby is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.