A fresh start for Van Benschoten
Righty sheds label, expectations in move to Chicago
LAS VEGAS -- After eight seasons filled with struggles and doubt as part of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, John Van Benschoten finally has the comma removed from after his name.
"You know, like John Van Benschoten, first-round pick," said the well-spoken right-hander, explaining the Pittsburgh comma philosophy from his new spring home in Glendale, Ariz.
"Now, it's just my name and right-handed pitcher," Van Benschoten said. "It's a clean slate, and I really haven't had one in eight years. All I want to do is make an impression."
Simply getting himself noticed was never enough in Pittsburgh for Van Benschoten. As the eighth pick overall in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, greatness was expected of the hurler and greatness was expected immediately.
Instead, it was a series of disasters for Van Benschoten that resulted in a dismal 2-13 career record with a 9.20 ERA over 26 games and 19 starts at the Major League level. He had three separate stints with the Pirates, finishing 1-3 with a 6.91 ERA in 2004, 1-3 with a 10.48 ERA in 2008 and 0-7 with a 10.15 ERA over 39 innings in 2007.
"Just a roller-coaster ride," said Van Benschoten, 28, providing an honest description of his time spent in Pittsburgh. "Early in my career, I was up and coming, this and that, with high expectations. Then, I don't cash in on those and it fell apart from there, putting so much pressure on myself to try to exceed those expectations.
"I was trying to be an absolute master or superstar, and it was tough for me to back off those expectations. I put so much pressure on myself every year, and then when I started off shaky, the confidence went downhill from there.
"Yeah, it was definitely a discrepancy in numbers. It got in my head," Van Benschoten said. "Mostly it was my confidence just crashed when I was up there and didn't pitch well. I didn't take advantage of that great opportunity I had."
The opportunity certainly isn't as high-profile for Van Benschoten as part of the White Sox. He signed as a free agent on Dec. 8, 2008, along with a non-roster invite to Spring Training, hoping to join the list of former first-round picks who have breathed life into their careers on the South Side of Chicago. That list presently includes Gavin Floyd, Carlos Quentin, and to some extent, John Danks.
A slight adjustment already has been made in Van Benschoten's delivery, going a little more upright. The change helped him get on top of his pitches a little more and basically find a bit more consistency down in the zone.
With Bartolo Colon and Jose Contreras working their way back from injured status to rotation consideration, Van Benschoten's best chance to make the team comes via long relief. There's no doubt Van Benschoten will get numerous chances to prove himself and stretch out his innings, along with other candidates such as D.J. Carrasco, Jack Egbert and Lance Broadway, assuming Clayton Richard and Jeff Marquez would break camp with the team.
"Whoever winds up in our bullpen, other than [Octavio] Dotel, [Bobby] Jenks, [Scott] Linebrink and [Matt] Thornton, will be ready to go multiple innings, and that's what that role calls for," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "The extra time we have here really will help anyone coming in and looking to get a shot. They will get out there and pitch."
"I'm working with new faces, new coaches and new opinions," Van Benschoten said. "That could work to my advantage."
Van Benschoten actually had 21 career at-bats for the Pirates, producing one home run in 2004. He holds the Kent State and Mid American Conference single-season record with 99 hits, 31 home runs, 84 RBIs, 55 walks and 221 total bases.
Make no mistake, though, Van Benschoten is all about pitching.
"Once 2001 hit and I was drafted and they said, 'You are a pitcher,' it was over for me," said Van Benschoten of his days with the bat. "But everybody kept it around. It was so overblown and always a question everyone would fall back to, the papers or the fans."
Two innings of work against the Cubs on Wednesday weren't exactly kind to Van Benschoten, who was touched up for four runs on six hits over 2 1/3 innings. But one rough outing won't dampen the right-hander's spirits.
New team. New chance. New attitude. No comma.
"Before, I was so worried about every stupid pitch I threw," Van Benschoten said. "It was make or break for me. Now, it's build and build, and that's the difference between here and there. I'm enjoying it right now. I just want to fly on the radar somewhere, not under or over."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.