Honel leads arms race to big leagues

When Jon Garland was Kris Honel's age, he was in the big leagues. No one is more aware of that than the 20-year-old Honel, who hopes to convince the White Sox to accelerate a step-by-step progression that could find him pitching in Class A this season.

"They compare me a lot to Jon, stuff-wise and in terms of body type," Honel said. "I look at him and I know he struggled a little bit when he got to the big leagues, but he's starting to come into his own."

Like Garland, Honel was a first-round draft pick. He has a chance to be not only an effective major-league starter but also a homegrown star; he's a native of Kankakee who pitched at Providence High School in New Lenox.

When the Sox took Honel with the 16th pick overall in the 2001 draft, it marked the highest an Illinois high school pitcher had been selected since Aurora's Bob Kipper went eighth in 1982. Honel's knuckle-curve was advertised as a dominating pitch, and he since has gained some velocity to go with it.

Unlike pitchers from warm-weather parts of the country, Honel brought a fresh arm into pro ball. He never had pitched more than he did in 2002, when he went 9-8 with a 2.78 earned-run average in 1582/3 innings, almost all of them with the Kannapolis Warthogs in the South Atlantic League, the lower of the Sox's two Class A affiliates. Baseball America rated him as the seventh-best prospect in the league.

Honel started spring training in the big-league camp for the second year in a row.

"It was awesome," Honel said. "Being around those guys was awesome. I just kept my eyes and ears open, didn't speak much. I was just trying to learn as much as possible."

Garland had worked 435 minor-league innings before the White Sox promoted him from Triple-A Charlotte when Cal Eldred and James Baldwin were sidelined during the run to a Central Division title in 2000.

"We were very aggressive in moving pitchers during that time," Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "The results were mixed. I think we are probably more conservative at this point in time."

Honel believes he is ready to advance quickly but has worked only 214 minor-league innings. With a strong 2003 he might be able to put himself into the picture for 2004.

That would be his third full season as a pro, which 2000 was for Garland, who was only 17 when he was drafted.

Honel joined Class A Winston-Salem when he left big-league camp but hopes to show enough to work in the Double-A Southern League this season.

"Do I think I can do like Jon Garland?" Honel asked. "Of course I think I can. It's up to the people above me, the higher-ups. I just have to do my job, pitch well wherever I am."

Other Sox starters

to keep an eye on

Corwin Malone: The 22-year-old left-hander from Alabama is throwing well again after a disappointing 2002, when he won 10 games at Double-A Birmingham but walked 89 in 1241/3 innings.

Good health and a mechanical adjustment has Malone back on track. He tried to pitch through pain in his elbow before being shut down for the season in early August.

"It started bothering me about two months into the season," Malone said. "I tried to keep pitching because I didn't want to give in. I blame myself for not saying anything earlier."

Malone, who throws in the low 90s with a sharp curveball, hopes to land a spot in the Triple-A rotation, but he could start the season back at Birmingham.

Josh Stewart: After a breakthrough season at Double-A Birmingham, the 24-year-old lefty opened eyes with a strong showing in the big-league camp, including five scoreless innings against Anaheim on March 21.

Stewart's collection of pitches is similar to the ones with which Mike Sirotka won 40 games in 1998-2000. With Dan Wright on the disabled list, Stewart will start the season on the big-league roster.

Felix Diaz: At 22, the right-hander helped Birmingham win a Southern League title after being acquired from San Francisco in the Kenny Lofton trade last July.

Diaz was considered the jewel of the Giants' recent efforts in Latin America but was deemed expendable because of fellow prospects Kurt Ainsworth, Jesse Foppert and Jerome Williams.

Diaz pitched well in big-league camp and figures to receive consideration for a trip to Chicago before the season is over. It could be as a reliever or a starter.

Jon Rauch: A poor spring training raised questions about the 24-year-old right-hander, who was rushed back from shoulder surgery last season.

Rauch will go to Charlotte and attempt to get back on a roll. He has had a 4.93 ERA in 166 innings above Double A but pitched well for the Sox last September, making two strong starts against Minnesota and holding hitters to a .196 average.

Neal Cotts: The 23-year-old left-hander was acquired from Oakland in the Billy Koch-Keith Foulke trade. He used finesse pitches to strike out 11.3 per nine innings in Class A last season and will be in the rotation at Birmingham.

Royce Ring: The 22-year-old left-hander has nasty stuff and could come quickly. But the 2002 first-round draft choice has worked only 125 innings as a pro, so this will be strictly a developmental season.

Jason Stumm: The Sox's first-round pick in the 1999 draft turns 22 in April but has worked only 173 innings in four pro seasons.

Stumm has had two elbow surgeries and one shoulder surgery but is optimistic that he can begin making progress in 2003. He was throwing 97 m.p.h. before shoulder problems last season.