White Sox

Adam Eaton's improved glove shines on White Sox triple play

Adam Eaton's improved glove shines on White Sox triple play

Only 70 of the 703 triple plays turned in major league history began in the outfield. The one the White Sox completed Friday night is one of those, and wouldn’t have happened without some crisp defense from right fielder Adam Eaton.

Eaton’s play wasn’t flashy, which is hardly a criticism of it. He got a good read and jump on Mitch Moreland’s screaming line drive and was able to snag it in a full sprint, then slammed on the brakes and got the ball back into the infield, where Jose Abreu was waiting to begin a chaotic sequence that ended with the first 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play in major league history

Triple play theatrics aside, Eaton’s play in right field has been excellent this season. Friday night’s wild highlight-reel play was just another example of it. 

“Any time you’re playing defense at the clip he is, it gives you a boost,” manager Robin Ventura said. 

Eaton entered Saturday with the highest Defensive Runs Saved (+7) of any outfielder in baseball and has the third-highest Ultimate Zone Rating (+3.4). A year ago, as a center fielder, both DRS and UZR rated Eaton as baseball’s fifth-worst outfielder (-14 DRS, -10.2 UZR). 

Whether or not you completely trust those numbers, they’re the best statistical baseline available for fielding evaluations. And while Eaton rates well in both categories now, it’s only April 23, so it comes with the caveat of a small sample size. 

But Eaton passes the eye test in right field, too. He’s getting good jumps on balls and doing everything fundamentally right, all while looking comfortable in his new defensive perch.

“I think it’s been utilized better there,” Ventura said. “He just seems like he gets a better angle at things and comes up throwing and has better aim with it too.”

It’s worth noting that Eaton’s transition to right field had to happen quickly, given an offseason shoulder procedure limited him to designated hitter duties until about halfway through spring training.

Eaton’s success is one of the key reasons why the White Sox defense as a whole has, so far, done a complete turnaround from 2015. One of baseball’s worst defenses is now among baseball’s best, providing a major boost to a pitching staff that entered Saturday with an American League-best 2.34 ERA. 

While the White Sox were leading by five runs at the time of Friday’s triple play, Texas was threatening to break things open against Quintana in the top of the seventh. The bases were loaded, and Moreland’s line drive rocketed off his bat. 

But Eaton was there, as he has been most of this season. And what resulted was one of the more memorable plays in recent White Sox memory. 

“It took me back to my childhood days where we would dream of having a triple play in the backyard,” Eaton said. “So it was a lot of fun.”

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: