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CF and relief pitching focus of camp battles

Veterans look to stave off wave of youth in center and bullpen
MLB.com @scottmerkin

As the White Sox begin Cactus League action at Camelback Ranch on Friday against the Dodgers at 2:05 p.m. CT on MLB.TV, roster spots will begin to materialize. Here are a few true long-shot candidates to break camp with the White Sox when Spring Training comes to a close on March 25: right-hander Michael Kopech and outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

Anyone who has paid attention to the rebuilding White Sox over the past two years has noticed that these three all fall on the MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. Even through perfect Cactus League performances, their big league time is months, if not a year or more away.

As the White Sox begin Cactus League action at Camelback Ranch on Friday against the Dodgers at 2:05 p.m. CT on MLB.TV, roster spots will begin to materialize. Here are a few true long-shot candidates to break camp with the White Sox when Spring Training comes to a close on March 25: right-hander Michael Kopech and outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

Anyone who has paid attention to the rebuilding White Sox over the past two years has noticed that these three all fall on the MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. Even through perfect Cactus League performances, their big league time is months, if not a year or more away.

White Sox Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

So let's look at a few realistic candidates who have a legitimate chance to make the White Sox 25-man roster over the next month.

Video: Rick Renteria discusses the return of Charlie Tilson

Charlie Tilson: The left-handed-hitting center fielder went through a season to forget in 2017 due to injury issues with his right ankle and foot. The 25-year-old Illinois native never played a game.

In fact, Tilson has not played in a game -- outside of 2017 Arizona Fall League action -- since tearing his left hamstring during his lone 2016 contest on Aug. 2 in Detroit. The prevailing school of thought leans toward Tilson logging innings for Triple-A Charlotte, at least at the start of 2018, but the team's center-field spot remains uncertain. Adam Engel comes off of a Gold Glove-caliber defensive effort but needs to greatly improve offensively, while Leury Garcia seems to be viewed more as a versatile player across the diamond.

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Tilson has told reporters he feels healthy, so the opportunity will be there to make a strong impression. If Tilson gets a bench spot, he would need to earn the job over a player such as Tyler Saladino, or an eighth reliever.

Hector Santiago: Santiago wasn't even part of the picture until White Sox pitchers and catchers reported and he was brought in via a Minor League deal. Luis Avilan appears set as the team's top southpaw reliever, and other left-handed options such as Aaron Bummer, Jace Fry and fellow non-roster invite Xavier Cedeno exist alongside the 30-year-old Santiago.

There's a sense of familiarity with Santiago, who did a little bit of everything on the mound for the White Sox during parts of three seasons from 2011-13. Adding Santiago could signify the team's preference of seven relievers over eight, thanks to his ability to pitch in every capacity from spot-start to closer, although he has thrown just 131 2/3 innings total over the past two seasons for the Twins.

Video: Hector Santiago on being back with the White Sox

Thyago Vieira or Jeanmar Gomez: Vieira is known for his 100 mph fastball, but he recently told MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez about his work on secondary pitches in Brazil during the offseason, and other wrinkles in his game to keep hitters off balance. Gomez saved 37 games for the Phillies in '16, but has struggled since the second half of that season.

Video: The White Sox acquire Thyago Vieira from Mariners

Nate Jones, Joakim Soria, Avilan, Juan Minaya, Danny Farquhar and a second lefty reliever look set for the bullpen. That would leave one or two spots open for a group including Gregory Infante, who posted a 3.13 ERA over 51 games in '17.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox, Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Hector Santiago, Charlie Tilson, Thyago Vieira