Danks thrilled for opportunity to don Sox

Danks thrilled for opportunity to don Sox

TUCSON, Ariz. -- If pitching as part of the Texas Rangers' system rightfully seemed like playing at home for John Danks, then joining the White Sox organization this past offseason could be considered as working with a close friend of the family.

For starters, the White Sox scouted Danks during parts of the past two years, identifying the soon-to-be 22-year-old as a person of serious interest in any possible deals. But there's also a previous connection between the South Siders and the Danks family.

With the 575th pick of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, the White Sox selected Jordan Danks. The outfielder already had made it clear that he intended to attend the University of Texas, accounting for a player of his stature and talent slipping far below his value in the 19th round. But the White Sox thought they would take a chance and try to pick up a draft steal in the process.

Jordan Danks kept his commitment to the Longhorns, but his family left the process with a very good feeling about the White Sox organization. Two years later, Jordan's older brother is competing for the fifth starter's spot in the club's rotation after coming over from Texas with Nick Masset and Jacob Rasner in a Christmas deal for Brandon McCarthy.

Wednesday's Cactus League opener marked Danks' first White Sox appearance, and manager Ozzie Guillen classified his two-inning effort as one of the few bright spots in a 12-4 loss. Danks yielded one run, although it was produced by a misplayed ball in the outfield, and struck out two.

The talented southpaw also followed ace left-hander Mark Buehrle to the mound Wednesday. It represented a mix of the team's successful past and present, along with its very optimistic future on the mound.

"John is kind of, sort of, like Buehrle," said pitching Don Cooper. "But before I say that, we have to see more from Danks.

"You draw comparisons immediately because they are both left-handed. John enters with a better curve than Buehrle, but Buehrle had a better sinker, a better cutter and a better changeup."

Differences between the two don't stop there. Buehrle was a 38th-round selection in the 1998 Draft. Meanwhile, Danks had the pedigree of a star -- and a homegrown golden boy, at that. Danks attended Round Rock High School in Texas, but he grew up exactly halfway between the Rangers and the Astros, by his own estimation.

With a fair and equal choice to be made for team support between the two, Danks always stood behind the Rangers. So, when the Rangers made Danks the ninth selection overall of the 2003 Draft, it was a dream come true for the young man and his family.

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Actually, the dream was temporarily delayed, as Danks explains it.

"The Internet went out because there were so many people on there at that time," said Danks with a laugh, speaking of following the Draft with his family online. "I didn't hear my name called.

"We got the [site] up and running again, and by the time it was going, they were on the 12th or 13th pick and I saw my name on the list. I saw it, told my mom and she let out a big scream.

"I had no idea the Rangers were interested," Danks added. "The area scouts didn't talk to me until two weeks before the Draft. To see my named called by the Rangers, it was icing on the cake."

As if the hometown team's selection wasn't excitement enough for Danks, a little meeting at an Astros game involving his family and a Hall of Fame pitcher shortly after the Draft topped this particular moment. What more could define baseball in Texas than getting a lesson about your craft from Nolan Ryan, not only one of the greatest baseball players produced from the state, but also an outright Texas legend?

"After I got drafted, right before I was going to sign with Texas, he invited me down to Houston and we sat at an Astros game, two rows behind home plate, and watched Greg Maddux pitch for Atlanta," said Danks with a wry smile. "It doesn't get much better than that for a pitcher.

"For four hours straight, I did nothing but pick his brain. He was my hero. He was great. He had nothing but great advice for me coming in as a new guy, and I appreciate all he has done for me. He told me two main things that I still remember.

"If you want to develop arm strength and throw better, you have to throw often," Danks added. "There are too many times where you think, 'I don't want to throw today,' because your arm is a little sore. But he said keep throwing -- obviously not to the point of blowing it out. He also said that being a first-round guy, the team was going to give me every opportunity to make a good impression and make the club, so be ready."

Ryan's advice still should ring true for Danks, only in a new home. Some observers believe Danks needs a bit more experience with Charlotte in the International League, after appearing in 14 games and making 13 starts for Triple-A Oklahoma in 2006. Danks also moved closer to the top level by posting a 2.32 ERA over his last six starts

General manager Ken Williams listed Danks as one of the three viable fifth starter candidates, along with Gavin Floyd and Charlie Haeger. Masset also could move himself into the picture, if the hard-throwing right-hander is not tabbed for the bullpen.

Leaving Texas could have been an adjustment for Danks, but knowing the White Sox family in advance certainly helped create an immediate comfort zone. Yet, thoughts of returning home and starting at Ameriquest Field still stand firm in the young man's psyche.

"That will be the most exciting day," Danks said of returning to pitch in Texas. "I'll have tons of people there. Now, I just have to get to that point.

"You can only imagine how great it was to pitch for Texas, going to the hometown team and having people right there who can follow your career. They don't have to go search for it. It's right there in the newspaper. I really appreciate them giving me the opportunity to play ball.

"You know what? [The trade] was a little surprising at first, because it was the first time I had been traded," Danks added. "But I couldn't be happier with where I'm at. The more I think about it, the more excited I get. I feel like I'm getting the best opportunity this year in my career, and the ball really is in my court."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.