With two-thirds of the White Sox starting outfield gone for more than three weeks, as Alejandro De Aza started for the champion Dominican Republic and Alex Rios did the same for Puerto Rico, young players such as Danks received more playing time than they normally would during Spring Training. Danks took the opportunity to show that he has more in his repertoire than simply the best outfield glove in the organization.
Before being optioned to Triple-A Charlotte following Thursday's victory over the Brewers, Danks had knocked out 12 hits in his last 19 Cactus League at-bats.
"The confidence is still there," said the younger of the two Danks brothers (LHP John, 27) on the White Sox 40-man roster, speaking before he was sent to Charlotte. "I know I can play at this level. I know I am good enough to make this team."
"What's more impressive with him is he's starting to have game awareness, when to pull and when to look the other way or when to bunt," said White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto. "It's really becoming evident that he knows what he's doing."
Danks was slowed by a right elbow strain at the outset of camp, but took off at the plate once he got healthy. He employed a wider base in his stance, as recommended by the team, which paid dividends to the tune of a .351 average with two homers and nine RBIs in Arizona.
"It's a combination of being in a good position to hit and seeing the ball a little bit better," Danks said. "I got my legs under me a little bit. [Manto] was saying, 'You are tall and thin and a lot of things can happen when you are narrow.' He said, 'Get a little bit more base under you and get yourself in a better position to hit.' That's been helping a lot."
"We talked to him about some things, and he's certainly responded," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "He's had a real nice spring so far."
Danks wasn't the only young player helped by the extended absence of De Aza and Rios.
Blake Tekotte, a left-handed-hitting outfielder who was acquired from San Diego in November as part of Hahn's first official trade, played in 19 Cactus League games before joining Danks on the trip to Charlotte. While Tekotte's numbers weren't as strong as Danks', he showed a versatility in his game with the ability to drive the ball as well as flash a little speed or lay down a well-placed bunt.
Top young prospects such as Jared Mitchell, who had a phenomenal overall camp, Trayce Thompson and Keenyn Walker also got extra work because of the extended outfield void.
"In a normal spring, they wouldn't get that kind of playing time, so it's good for them," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It's good for their development, and it's good for us to see them. You never know how it's going to shake out when the season starts."
"For some of the hand wringing that goes on by not having your club playing together," said Hahn of the World Baseball Classic situation. "you also get the opportunity for young guys like Danks and Tekotte to be able to show a little bit on a more regular basis what they can do with regular playing time."
Before the arrival of the aforementioned top outfield prospects, including Courtney Hawkins, the team's first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2012 Draft who was not part of big league camp, Danks was considered one of the next big things in the outfield. He drove in 65 with Charlotte during the 2011 season, but 306 strikeouts combined in the '10 and '11 campaigns pointed up some of the offensive shortcomings for the seventh-round selection in the 2008 Draft.
When given the Major League chance off the bench in 2012, Danks fit in well and even came up with a game-ending homer off of Oakland's Pat Neshek on Aug. 10. Having this friendly battle among the young outfielders could end up as the best thing for both the players and the organization.
"You see it all the time in sports," Manto said. "Competition brings out the best in everybody.
"Maybe he heard the names and it has upset him a little bit. Maybe he wants to get mentioned in the same sentence, and that's the way he should be. Maybe it's lighting some fire under him. That's great."
Analyzing Spring Training offense becomes a tricky proposition. The quality of the opposition as well as the Arizona climate has to be figured into the equation. Those factors can't wipe away the fact that Danks still might thought of as a defender first, but took full advantage in regard to his development offensively during this extended Cactus League run.
"Part of the reason he gets typecast is because he's such a fine defensive outfielder," said Hahn. "So that part is more of a tribute to his ability, but we do view him as a guy who can also run and offensively given some of the corrections, adjustments he's made mechanically, we think he has a nice opportunity to contribute at the plate, too.
"Having [Dayan] Viciedo, De Aza and Rios as guys who play fairly regularly, maybe that's part of the reason he gets viewed strictly as an extra guy. But I don't know if that's how he's viewed throughout baseball. He's got a higher ceiling than just a defensive replacement type."