By JAY LeBLANC
John Danks of the Chicago White Sox emerged as one of the better left-handers in baseball last season and is off to a great start this year with a 2-0 record and 0.95 ERA in his first three starts. And while the White Sox are surely glad they acquired him from the Texas Rangers back in December 2006, Danks wasn’t even the first member of his family that the team coveted. That distinction would go to his younger brother, outfielder Jordan Danks, whom they selected in the 19th round of the 2005 draft out of Round Rock (Texas) High School.
The younger Danks elected to attend the University of Texas instead of turning pro out of high school and went on to hit .325 with 13 home runs, 105 RBI and 40 stolen bases in 161 games over three seasons. After his junior season, and with his older brother entrenched in their starting rotation, the White Sox again drafted Danks, this time in the seventh round. He accepted their well-above-slot $525,000 bonus and signed on the dotted line.
Because of his collegiate experience, the White Sox decided to have Danks skip short-season Class A and make his pro debut with the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators last summer. The 6-foot-5, 205 pounder responded by hitting .325 with a pair of home runs in 40 at bats and also showed good speed on the basepaths and solid range and a strong arm in center field. Baseball America was sufficiently impressed that they ranked him as the seventh-best prospect in the White Sox organization entering this season.
Danks was bumped up to the advanced Class A Winston-Salem Dash to begin the 2009 season and is off to a good start with a .286 average, two home runs, nine RBI and three stolen bases in his first 14 games. I had a chance to speak with the 22-year-old about his relationship with his brother and the progress he’s making as a ballplayer Tuesday afternoon after his team split a daytime doubleheader against the Washington Nationals-affiliated Potomac Nationals in Woodbridge, Va.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the same organization your brother was pitching for?
A: I was really excited. Not everybody gets the opportunity to be able to play with a sibling. It’s been a dream of mine since high school that we’d get to play together and we haven’t been able to since then. Really, I use it as extra motivation to get up there as quick as I can - that way, he and I can play together again.
Q: When you guys faced off in the driveway or the backyard growing up, who usually got the better of who?
A: Well, you know, he was always the pitcher and I was always the hitter. It could go both ways, I guess, when we were younger, but he was really into baseball a lot earlier than I was, so he got the better of me a lot.
Q: The 2008 draft actually marked the second time you’d been selected by the White Sox. Looking back, do you think going to the University of Texas instead of turning pro out of high school was the right move?
A: Absolutely. I think that, when I was in high school, I knew that I was making the decision to go to Texas first. I knew I wasn’t ready for professional baseball. I was lucky to have a sibling ahead of me, and I knew the ropes and knew what to expect and thought that it would be safer to go to college for a couple years and have an education to fall back on. You know, I got a little better over three years, I think, and a little more confident, and I’ll be able to start my professional career with three years of college education under my belt. So I think it was a good decision.
Q: What are some of your goals for your first full pro season?
A: Really just to improve in any category that I think needs improving. The pitching is going to get better every single level, so really just going up there and being confident and doing what I love doing - hitting the ball … just see it and hit it. That’s about it.
Q: When it’s all said and done, do you think you’ll be a table-setter or a middle-of-the-order guy?
A: I’m not real sure. They’ve got me in the leadoff spot right now and I think they’re hoping that I’m going to be pretty good there. I have a little bit of speed in the outfield and hopefully I can steal some bases - that’s another goal of mine this year, is to grab a couple more bases than I have in the last couple years. If they want me to be a leadoff hitter - if that’s what gets me to the show quicker - then that’s what I’ll do.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
A: No one in particular, really. I would say that my brother has been a real big role model in my life. Being able to watch him go through the minor leagues and all the struggles, and him telling me stories and what to expect, has really helped me with my career. So I’d say that my brother has been the biggest influence on me.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the White Sox?
A: I’m ready right now, but obviously they’re not ready yet and I definitely need to get better as an athlete and get better as a hitter. You know, there’s always something you can work on, and I definitely need to get better at a lot of things before I’m ready to go up to that level.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2008:Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.