White Sox

Avisail Garcia drives in four as White Sox top Rays in 10

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Avisail Garcia drives in four as White Sox top Rays in 10

Avisail Garcia has produced more good signs in the past three days than he did in the previous two months.

Only in the lineup Wednesday because of recent progress at the plate, the White Sox outfielder forced in the winning run with a bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning of a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at U.S. Cellular Field. Garcia -- who also blasted a three-run homer during a five-run first -- followed two intentional walks with a five-pitch walk against All-Star reliever Brad Boxberger and then was forced to dodge a mob of happy teammates in pursuit.

“That's why we're here,” Garcia said. “We've been fighting, fighting, fighting. Take that at-bat, I was looking for a good pitch and trying to bring pressure. Relax and throw my hands through the ball.

"Don't try to do too much because it's one out, the bases loaded. I just tried to be focused and be patient."

During a two-month slump, Garcia earned a reputation as a free swinger with poor pitch selection. The young outfielder has always been aggressive, but in between June 8 and Tuesday’s loss, Garcia struck out 28.8 percent of the time, up five percent from 2014.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

So with Adam Eaton on third base and one out and Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera due up, Rays manager Kevin Cash called for two free passes. Garcia fouled off Boxberger’s second pitch to even the count at 1-1 before he took three straight balls, including several close pitches.

“He has to be patient,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who started Garcia over rookie Trayce Thompson because he had begun to pull the ball in losses Monday and Tuesday. “You know (Boxberger) has a great split and throws 94 so it’s hard to lay off that.

“For (Garcia) to be able to do that and look comfortable doing it, not looking like he had a trigger finger going -- he needs to do that. That’s part of the rumor going around about him; he’s going to swing at everything. He’s got to be able to shorten up and be able to get it in the zone and do something with it.”

Losers in five of their previous six, the White Sox offense looked in the zone in the first inning against Tampa Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez.

Eaton walked and Saladino and Abreu singled, the latter bringing a run in when Kevin Kiermaier overran the ball in center. Cabrera’s ground-rule double made it 2-0 and Garcia pulled a three-run homer to give the White Sox a five-run lead. Garcia also homered on Tuesday, his first since June 8. Wednesday’s homer traveled 420 feet.

But Ramirez settled down and retired 16 of the last 18 he faced, which allowed Tampa Bay to rally from its 5-0 deficit. The Rays scored four off Carlos Rodon and got another in the eighth on a sloppy relay on Brandon Guyer’s two-out RBI double.

[MORE: Garcia taking steps in the right direction]

The White Sox didn’t rally again until the seventh inning when Geovany Soto and Carlos Sanchez started with consecutive singles. But Eaton struck out looking and Tyler Saladino grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Eaton led off the 10th inning with a single to center against Boxberger, stole second base and advanced to third when the throw glanced off Asdrubal Cabrera’s glove and hit him in the ear. Asdrubal Cabrera exited the game after the second intentional walk and was diagnosed with a bruise after he underwent tests for concussion-like symptoms.

Five pitches later, Garcia raced toward the middle of the diamond to escape the playful charge of Melky Cabrera and the rest of his teammates.

“Competitors -- especially Avisail -- kind of rally to that,” Eaton said. “When they pick the guy you want to face, you kind of take that as, ‘Hey, I need to do it here.’ You take a littlerival to that -- ‘Let’s hurt them here, make it hurt, right guy, right spot kind of mentality.’  And when he got down early, Avisail’s an aggressive hitter, but he stayed patient, which was great.”

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — All that was missing was a dinner bell.

From all over the White Sox spring training complex at Camelback Ranch they came, lined up in front of the third-base dugout and all around the cage to see a trio of future White Sox take batting practice.

This is all it was, batting practice. But everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo swinging the bat. And those three outfield prospects delivered, putting on quite a show and displaying exactly what gets people so darn excited about the White Sox rebuild.

How to sum it up if you weren’t there? Just be happy you weren’t parked behind the left-field fence.

Jimenez and Robert are two of the biggest stars of the White Sox rebuilding effort, with Adolfo flying a bit more under the radar, but all three have big dreams of delivering on the mission general manager Rick Hahn and his front office have undertaken over the past year and change: to turn the South Siders into perennial championship contenders. The offensive capabilities of all three guys have fans and the team alike giddy for the time they hit the big leagues.

And those three guys can’t wait for that day, either.

“Actually, just a few minutes ago when we were taking BP, we were talking about it,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “Micker and Luis said, ‘Can you imagine if we had the opportunity one day to play together in the majors: right, left and center field? The three of us together and having the opportunity to bring a championship to this team?’ I think that’s a dream for us, and we’re trying to work hard for that.”

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day all three of us be part of the same outfield,” Adolfo told NBC Sports Chicago. “We were talking about hitting behind each other in the order and just envisioning ourselves winning championships and stuff like that. It’s awesome. I really envision myself in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

How those three would eventually line up in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field remains to be seen. Adolfo’s highly touted arm would make him an attractive option in right field. Robert’s speed and range makes him the logical fit in center field. Jimenez will play whichever position allows his big bat to stay in the lineup every day.

Here in Arizona, the focus isn’t necessarily on some far off future but on the present. As intriguing as all three guys are and as anticipated their mere batting practice sessions seem to be, they all potentially have a long way to go to crack the big league roster. Jimenez is the furthest along, but even he has only 73 plate appearances above the Class A level. Adolfo spent his first full season above rookie ball last year. Robert has yet to play a minor league game in the United States.

The group could very well make its way through the minor leagues together, which would obviously be beneficial come the time when the three arrive on the South Side.

“We were talking about (playing in the big leagues), but also we were talking about just to have the first stage of the three of us together in the minor leagues first and then go to the majors all three of us together,” Robert said. “To have the opportunity to play there should be pretty special for us. We were dreaming about that.”

For months now, and likely for months moving forward, the question has been and will be: when?

Whether it’s Jimenez or top pitching prospect Michael Kopech or any other of the large number of prospects who have become household names, fans and observers are dying to see the stars of this rebuilding project hit the major leagues. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez made their respective jumps last season. Hahn, who has said repeatedly this offseason that the front office needs to practice patience as much as the fan base, has also mentioned that a good developmental season for these guys might involve no big league appearances at all.

And it’s worth remembering that could be the case considering the lack of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues for all three of these guys.

“In my mind, I don’t try to set a date for when I'm going to be in the majors,” Jimenez said. “That is something I can’t control. I always talk with my dad and we share opinions, and he says, ‘You know what? Just control the things that you can control. Work hard and do the things that you need to do to get better.’ And that’s my key. That’s probably why I stay patient.”

But staying patient is sometimes easier said than done. The big crowd watching Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo send baseballs into a to-this-point-in-camp rare cloudless Arizona sky proved that.

Dreaming of the future has now become the official pastime of the South Side. And that applies to fans and players all the same.

“I’m very, very excited,” Jimenez said, “because I know from the time we have here, that when the moment comes, when we can all be in the majors, the ones that can finally reach that level, we’re going to be good, we’re going to be terrific. I know that.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.