CHICAGO (AP) This time last year, the Chicago White Sox welcomed the start of spring training with visions of a playoff run after a busy offseason they thought would vault them toward the top of the AL Central.
Instead, they fizzled. Now, they vow to make it happen.
With pitchers and catchers set to begin working out this week, they believe they are in a better position than they were a year ago.
Back then, optimism among fans was soaring after the White Sox traded for pitcher Jeff Samardzija and signed several big-ticket free agents. But the only team in Chicago to make a playoff run was the one on the North Side. While the Cubs emerged as one of the best in baseball, the White Sox posted their third straight losing record and finished fourth in their division at 76-86.
What's changed since then?
The White Sox addressed a major issue at third base by trading for All-Star and Home Run Derby winner Todd Frazier. They brought in an athletic infielder with some pop in Brett Lawrie. They upgraded behind the plate with catchers Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila, and added pitching depth with Mat Latos.
If they and the big additions from a year ago deliver as expected, the White Sox believe they can contend with ace Chris Sale and slugger Jose Abreu leading the way.
''There's no doubt in my mind we're a better team than we were even a year ago as we sat in this room and throughout baseball there was a consensus that we had a good offseason in terms of addressing our needs and putting ourselves in position to contend in 2015,'' general manager Rick Hahn said.
The problem last season was slugger Adam LaRoche struggled in a big way. So did Samardzija, who signed with San Francisco in December, as did outfielder Melky Cabrera early on when the season basically slipped away from Chicago. The only big addition who performed about as expected was closer David Robertson, and even he blew seven saves.
With four-time All-Star Sale at the top of the rotation, the White Sox believe they have the pitching to compete. One thing: Their rotation is heavy on left-handers, with Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and John Danks. The only righty is Latos.
Here are some other things to look for as camp opens in Glendale, Arizona:
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: The scrutiny on manager Robin Ventura figures to intensify if the White Sox continue to struggle. He has an expiring contract and it has been nothing but losing records since leading Chicago to 85 wins in his first year in 2012.
CHANGING VIBE: A clubhouse that was more reserved last season might have a little kick to it.
Frazier and Avila are expected to add some leadership that was missing, whether it was because of the language barrier for Jose Abreu, LaRoche's poor season or Cabrera's difficulties early on. Lawrie and Latos bring an edge, too.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: The White Sox might not wait `til next year to bring up shortstop Tim Anderson and right-hander Carson Fulmer. The organization's top position and pitching prospects, they won't be rushed. But they might wind up in the majors at some point this season.
ON THE REBOUND: The White Sox are counting on Frazier to add some pop to a team that ranked 28th in the majors in runs despite the presence of Abreu. That means he needs to produce the way he did before his second-half slump last season. Frazier hit .255 with 35 homers and 89 RBIs last season. But he batted just .220 with 10 homers and drove in 32 runs after the All-Star break.
IN THE MIDDLE: Lawrie and shortstop Tyler Saladino figure to spend a good chunk of spring training getting acquainted up the middle. Saladino, a solid fielder who hit .225 in 68 games as a rookie, takes over at shortstop at least for now with Alexei Ramirez in San Diego.