Jon Garland is the youngest pitcher on the White Sox. At 23 he has already started to validate the hype that has surrounded his young career. Garland, who stands at 6'6, was drafted out of high school by the Cubs with the 10th overall pick in the 1997 draft. A year later, the Cubs traded Garland to the White Sox for reliever Matt Karchner. Garland worked his way through the Sox system, posting an impressive 3.33 ERA in 1999 at Winston Salem, and continued on to Birmingham. Already considered a top prospect, White Sox fans began comparing Garland's heavy sinker to Kevin Brown's 100 million dollar sinker. The question was no longer if he would make it to the majors, it was when.
Garland made his debut at age 20 on July 4, 2000. Garland may have been rushed to the majors in 2000, shown by his 4-8 record and 6.46 ERA. To Garland's credit, he made himself hard to pass up as a replacement for the injured Cal Eldred. In 2000, before his call up to the majors, Garland was 9-2 with a 2.26 ERA in 16 starts, was awarded the International League's MVP, and was a member of the International League's All Star team. Despite his rocky major league start it was obvious that Garland had the stuff to become a mainstay in the Sox rotation down the road.
In 2001, the Sox used Garland as a starter and reliever. This variety gave Garland a chance to polish his arsenal while working shorter outings. Garland lowered his ERA by almost 3 points knocking it down to 3.69 in 35 games, 16 of which were starts. Following the 2001 season, Garland was almost sent to Anaheim along with Chris Singleton for Darin Erstad. We now know that this move would have crippled the Sox rotation in 2002.
2002 turned out to be Garland's breakthrough year. After being handed the fourth spot in the rotation Garland turned into a work horse for the White Sox. Garland pitched 192+ innings in 33 starts and was also the second youngest pitcher with double digit victories in 2002. Garland showed his ultimate potential in the months of August and September, where he worked 68 innings, giving up 56 hits while recording a 3.31 ERA. He struck out 48 over the stretch. Part of this late season breakthrough has been credited to the arrival of new pitching coach, Don Cooper, who preaches going after hitters. Garland's finished the season with a record of 12-12 and a 4.58 ERA. These are decent numbers considering Garland's age and lack of experience as a full-time starter.
Starting behind Garland this season will be 26-year-old right-hander Dan Wright. Wright, who stands at 6'5, is another tall pitcher who will appear on the South Side this summer. The White Sox drafted Wright out of Arkansas in the second round (64th overall) of the 1999 draft. Wright has the tools to be a top young pitcher in the American League. Wright's 95-mph fastball is the hardest of all those in the Sox starting rotation, with the exception of Bartolo Colon.
Wright was extremely effective in 2000, his first full season in the Sox organization. Wright posted a 9-8 record with a 3.74 ERA at Winston-Salem. When he was called up to Birmingham for the end of the 2000 season Wright posted a 2.49 ERA over 43 innings. Wright showed his potential in the minors by mixing up his mid-90 mph fastball, two-seam sinker, and knuckle-curve.
Wright made the ultimate jump in 2001. After posting a 2.82 ERA and fanning 128 batters in 134 innings at Birmingham the White Sox brought Wright up to the majors. Though the transition didn't go as smoothly as hoped, Wright still managed to put up a winning record of 5-3. The blaring statistics of Wright's 2001 rookie season were his 5.70 ERA, and his 39 walks compared to 36 strikeouts in 66+ innings.
The White Sox gave Wright the third spot in the rotation going into the 2002 season. Like Garland, Wright did his best to make the most of it. Wright also had to overcome some early struggles. In the first half of the season Wright posted a record of 5 and 8 with a 5.72 ERA, and opponents hit .275 off of Wright. In the second half, primarily coached by Cooper, Wright was 9-4 and averaged over 7 strikeouts per nine innings. Wright lowered his opponent's batting average to .249. In September, Wright was especially dominating finishing the month 4-1 with a 3.41 ERA. By season's end Wright had the second highest win total on the team, 14.
As Garland and Wright continue their growth under the eye of Don Cooper, look for these two rising young pitchers to help carry the Sox down the stretch in 2003. If Garland and Wright continue to make the enormous strides as they did in the second half of last year, they just may end up being the best 3-4 punch of any rotation in the league.