White Sox

Back in the big leagues: Emergency bullpen catcher Chris O'Dowd's second MLB experience is more authentic

Back in the big leagues: Emergency bullpen catcher Chris O'Dowd's second MLB experience is more authentic

CLEVELAND — Chris O’Dowd is experiencing a major league clubhouse for the second time in his life. This round feels more authentic and makes him realize he’s not all that far away at Double-A Birmingham.

The White Sox minor leaguer joined the team on Tuesday to fill in as the big league club’s emergency bullpen catcher after Adam Ricks left the team to deal with a sore knee.

It’s the second time in O’Dowd’s life he’s had access to a major league clubhouse. He routinely visited the Colorado Rockies clubhouse from 1999-2014 when his father, Dan O’Dowd, was the team’s general manager. Whereas before he was a teen who tried to go unnoticed, this time O’Dowd, 26, is more at ease because of his playing experience.

“I tried to be a fly on the wall,” O’Dowd said. “Part of it as a kid too — everyone has grinded and done everything they can their whole life to be here today. I always wanted it to be that I attained it by me going through the same thing everyone else has to be in this situation. I was very cautious with how much time and how immersed I was into the clubhouse side of things growing up.”

O’Dowd has been heavily immersed in the White Sox since he joined the team in Tampa Bay to fill in for Ricks. He’s spent most of his pregame sessions in the bullpen, takes batting practice, sits in on advanced meetings and has been on the run all week, soaking up the major league atmosphere. And he isn’t asking any questions about how long he may stay with the White Sox (he’s currently on the seven-day DL at Double-A with a sore hamstring).

A 23rd-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2012, O’Dowd has also played in the Atlanta Braves and Rockies organizations. A Dartmouth College grad who double majored in Economics and English with a Psychology minor, O’Dowd is grateful to be in the big leagues.

He’s been very impressed with how prepared the coaches are as well as the willingness of players to use the information provided. He also realizes that his level of preparation is similar to his peers.

“Being here on a daily basis puts me in the middle of the good, the bad, the grind of it and what it takes to come to the ballpark every day and piece together a good day to help the team win,” O’Dowd said. “It’s just good to see how everyone does it a little differently, but how everyone has the conviction and intent to show up every day and do what they need to do to be ready.

"When you take a guy like me that’s been in Double-A for four years now and Triple-A, you do feel like you’re far away from the big leagues and what’s it going to take to get over the hump? And you see guys attack each day the same way that we do and that there’s not really that much of a divide. So it’s more motivation than anything to know that you’re closer than you probably ever thought. The right circumstances, the right spot, it could happen and you could be here in the clubhouse.”

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And if he never does make his way here as a player, O’Dowd knows how lucky he is to have this experience. O’Dowd said he’s grateful to everyone who has helped him reach this point — “so many people that have helped me, been a part of this journey and believed in me and continue to believe in me in the moments that you face a lot of adversity,” he said.

Given how much time he’s spent around baseball, his unique view into the front office and playing experience, it’s only natural to think O’Dowd has a future beyond baseball. O’Dowd isn’t yet ready to consider his next step. He’d still like to get here as a player. But if that doesn’t materialize, O’Dowd realizes this experience could be critical for his future.

“As a player you don’t want to have a Plan B and I’ve been all in trying to be the best I can at this,” O’Dowd said. “At some point in time you’ll have to think about that. But what I’m trying to do is continue to get the most out of my playing ability. If that leads to something else, this experience is invaluable and continues to shape my perspective, how I see the game and hopefully makes a transition easier.

“Any time you can be around a big league team and observe, I think there’s a value to it. It’s hard to quantify.”

White Sox name James Shields as Opening Day starter

White Sox name James Shields as Opening Day starter

The White Sox have announced who will toe the rubber when the season begins later this month.

As expected, James Shields will be the team's Opening Day starting pitcher when the White Sox kick off the 2018 campaign against the Kansas City Royals on March 29 at Kauffman Stadium.

The starting rotation's elder statesman at 36, Shields seemed the logical pick for the first start of the season.

It's been a rough go for the one-time All Star since he came to the South Side in a trade with the San Diego Padres in the summer of 2016. In two seasons with the White Sox, he's got a 5.99 ERA with 181 strikeouts and 58 home runs allowed in 231.1 innings. Last season, he made 21 starts, finishing with a 5.23 ERA and 103 strikeouts and 27 home runs allowed in 117 innings.

While that trade still smarts considering the player the White Sox gave up, Fernando Tatis Jr., is currently ranked as the No. 8 prospect in baseball, Shields brings plenty of value to the 2018 rotation as a veteran mentor for young major leaguers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as pitchers making their way to the big leagues like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dylan Cease.

If Shields could rediscover some of the magic that made him a great pitcher during his best years with the Tampa Bay Rays and the aforementioned Royals, with whom he made World Series trips in 2008 and 2014, respectively, and have a strong couple months out of the chute, he could provide Rick Hahn's front office with a midseason trade piece, someone who could potentially fetch a prospect or two that could help advance the franchise's rebuilding efforts.

The Royals have announced that it will be Danny Duffy opposing Shields on Opening Day.

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?


White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?

What’s there to know about the Houston Astros?

They’re the best, that’s what there is to know.

The Astros are the defending world champions for a multitude of reasons, and it’s all those and more that will have them as a favorite to repeat in 2018. Yes, the Cubs and New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians will all have something to say about that. But right now, no team is better on paper than the team the just won the big enchilada not five months ago.

The best 1-2 starting-pitching in combo in baseball? It belongs to the Astros. Justin Verlander was sensational for them after coming over in a late-summer trade with the Detroit Tigers. All he did was post a 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts and a 2.21 ERA in six postseason outings. Justin Verlander. Again. And then there’s his running mate Dallas Keuchel — who doesn’t like the Cubs very much, apparently — has been just as good. He had a 2.90 ERA last year and won the American League Cy Young in 2015 with a 2.48 ERA and 20 wins.

Get past those guys and you’ll have to face the new guy. Gerrit Cole is now an Astro, as well, the reigning champs bolstering their already excellent rotation by importing one of the National League’s best pitchers. Cole saw his numbers jump last year (4.26 ERA) but still almost had 200 strikeouts and now has a much better roster around him than the one he left in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Morton? He threw four one-run innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Lance McCullers? He had 2.1 shutout innings in Game 7 of the World Series. This rotation is a force that could mow down the AL. There are questions, sure, but this five is entering 2018 as the best collection of arms in the Junior Circuit.

And we haven’t even gotten to the hitting. Oh, the hitting! The Astros scored 34 runs in seven World Series games. They banged out 56 hits. They hit 15 home runs. This after they were baseball’s best offense during the regular season.

The names are obvious to anyone who watched the postseason. Jose Altuve, surely tired of all the short jokes, is arguably the best player in baseball, and he won the AL MVP last season with a ridiculous .346/.410/.547 slash line. Carlos Correa, perhaps baseball’s best young shortstop, had a .315/.391/.550 slash line. George Springer, your World Series MVP, hit 34 regular-season home runs and got on base at a .367 clip before hitting five homers and slashing .379/.471/.1.000 in the Fall Classic.

Then there’s Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez, who were all very good to great in 2017. They shouldn’t all be expected to do what they did last season — you need look no further than the Cubs to see what a deep World Series run can do to a team, especially early. But is there a better lineup than this in the AL? Anyone? Bueller?

It’s hard to repeat, and “hard” is becoming one heck of an understatement considering no one’s repeated in almost two decades. The Yankees last did it when they beat the broken-bat-throwing Mike Piazza and the New York Mets in the 2000 World Series. Since then, no one’s done it twice in a row.

Last year, most of us looked at the Cubs and said, “They have the best team, they are favorites to do it again.” And then they were not even in first place in the NL Central at the All-Star break. A similar fate could await the Astros. But right now, they look like the best team the AL has to offer.

Houston, you are clear for takeoff ... again.

2017 record: 101-61, first place in AL West, World Series champions

Offseason additions: Gerrit Cole, , Joe Smith, Hector Rondon

Offseason departures: Carlos Beltran, Cameron Maybin, Mike Fiers, Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson, Francisco Liriano

X-factor: The Astros now count one-time Cubs closer Hector Rondon among their relievers now, but the X-factor pick here is Bregman. After a fine but nothing special first half, he was one of baseball's best after the All-Star break last year, slashing .315/.367/.536 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 71 games in the second half.

Projected lineup:

1. George Springer, CF
2. Alex Bregman, 3B
3. Jose Altuve, 2B
4. Carlos Correa, SS
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
7. Brian McCann, C
8. Evan Gattis, DH
9. Derek Fisher, LF

Projected rotation:

1. Justin Verlander
2. Dallas Keuchel
3. Gerrit Cole
4. Lance McCullers
5. Charlie Morton

Prediction: First place in AL West

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants