White Sox

Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

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Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 1:20 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
The Chicago White Sox, All-In yet wheezing toward another pallid month of training wheels baseball, have just a week to turn cans into can-do.

Over the course of this prickly Cactus League season, in which the White Sox have clinched the distinction of being the final spring training team to reach double-digit wins, several worries have come and gone.

Mark Buehrles batting-practice fastballs melded with awful location to find the crafty lefty bruised and battered midway through spring, yet hes bounced back from four figures to hold a not-unbearable ERA of 5.54 heading into his final spring start.

Carlos Quentin was looking as lost in the batters box as he did in right field, taking enough sideline BP to slowly corkscrew himself into Glendales crusty earth, when hellfire met hulk-mania and he embarked on a 12-17 tear that included four doubles, three homers, and seven RBI.

Paul Konerko took an extra warm-up lap out of spring training, shooting for team honors in strikeouts, Mendoza Line tripping, and accidental standup triples, before regaining his stroke last week and easing his OPS to a more plausible .823.

Even young gun Chris Sale, sporting an ERA this spring (5.23) that would find him falling freely out of Rookie of the Year contention, nonetheless has maintained a future closerace rate of 6.5 strikeouts per walk.

But Adam Dunn, the Big Donkey turned Brawny lumberjack courtesy of a beard borne of boredom, has yet to give a slip to his spring training yips, slogging through a .616 OPS spring and a batting average still short of spitting distance of Mendoza (.190). While hes pocketed eight walks, hes whiffed an astounding 25 times in 18 games, with very modest run production numbers (one jack, three RBI).

Worry about Dunn is twofold. First, its that K-.431 this spring compared with an already-healthy .328 in his career. Second, its come with a power outage; in Dunns career, hes tapped out a round-tripper once every 14.1 at-bats, while this spring hes stuck at one per 58, and counting.

And yet, is anyone on the White Sox worried? Not really.

The great thing about Dunn is that, unlike Sale or even Quentin, hes a veteran whos been through countless slow starts in his career, so hes well inoculated against over thinking the process.

If I stressed out about it, Id have been out of this game years ago, Dunn said. The beginning of the season is always toughwell, I say always, Im going to try this year to change that, gol-lyIm not going to set myself up and say Im going to start slow, but whispers good chance.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is a bit jumpier in nature than Dunn, but is likewise unworried.

He reminds me a little bit of Jim Thome, Guillen said. This guy strikes out 100-plus, walks 100-plus, thats 250 times up without putting the ball in play, and still puts up a lot
of numbers. How they do it, I dont know.

Fans eyes pop out over home runs, but ask Dunn, and he could care less about the long ball.

Its not so much the homers; getting on base is No. 1 with me, Dunn says. If I can keep my on-base average .380-plus, thats my No. 1 goal of the year. Getting on base is going to equal runs. If I get on 40 of the time, were going to score some runs.

Thats exactly the way Guillen says it, although the manager has penned a quiet wish for 50 homers from Dunn this season.

I dont expect anything different from Adam, Guillen said. You get on base, youre going to give the team a chance to win. Thats why Im putting him at the top of the order, to give him more at bats and get him on base.

Dunn admits that last year, the Washington Nationals anemic offense forced him to change up his strategy. Tired of being stranded at second base, the slugger turned on his aggressivenessand wasnt much pleased with the results.

Last year was the first year I tried to swing a lot, and everything was about the same except my on-base, Dunn said. I feel like I wasnt on base last year. We needed to score runs in Washington. I dont know whats going to happen this year, but Im just going to let it freaking rip.

The numbers bear that out. Dunn isnt a slow starter, historically (his .982 OPS in 214 career MarchApril games is his highest of any month), but last year, the bookends of his season were miserable. In MarchApril he put up an .823 OPS, and wheezed to a .765 in SeptemberOctober. In 49 games over those two month, the Nats masher pushed across just 24 RBI.

It was locker mate Matt Thornton who offered an explanation for Dunns poor finish.

Its called being 25 games out in July, Thornton said. I went through it in 2007. Youre that far out that early, and its hard to keep your mind from drifting to the offseason. Theres nothing worse than struggling to find something to play for.

Clearly, Dunn wants results, and his inability to get untracked this March indicates some similar pressing. A cool customer who was granted automatic respect from teammates the minute he walked through the clubhouse door, the slugger is no different from any player on the fieldhe wants to fit in and not disappoint.

I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I know I have struggled early in the past, so I dont panic and say holy expletive, Im hitting .150 in April. It sucks, but that only means theres some damage coming in May, June, July, and August. Its hard to be patient when everybodys panicking, but it just takes five good months, so you can have a bad one.

Dunns forgetfulness about his past prowess out of the gate could just be a smart strategy against overreacting to the deep freeze slump that seems to plague every one of the Chicago 9 on a yearly basis. Theres a fair chance that in spite of some insipid spring numbers, Dunn will pile some of the smaller Hose on his shoulders early and slug the Chisox to some wins all on his own. Not that the Big Donkey is braying on it.

If I start out on fire, Ill freak, said the genial slugger. I dont know whatll happen--.400, here I come.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Robinson Cano sees superstar potential in Yoan Moncada

Robinson Cano sees superstar potential in Yoan Moncada

The greats know greatness.

Looking across the field this week at Yoan Moncada, 8-time All-Star Robinson Cano not only saw a lot of himself in the White Sox second baseman, he believes he was witnessing a future baseball star. 

“I can see a guy who’s going to be a superstar in this game,” Cano said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He can field, he can throw, he can hit. In the first game against us, he was a hit away from the cycle. He can hit right now. Imagine when he’s in the league two or three years and is facing the same guys for the last couple years. Then you have a different approach. The guy that I see, you just got to give it time and keep working hard because I think he’ll be a superstar.”

Cano had heard the comparisons between himself and Moncada, but until this week, he had never seen his protege play baseball in person.

The two of them hadn’t even met until Monday when they encountered each other at of all places—second base. Moncada had just doubled for his second hit of the night. That gave Cano a close look at the swing that happens to be identical to his.

“I was watching that the other day on second base and I was like, ‘Wow, it’s the same swing,’” Cano said.

Growing up in Cuba, Moncada idolized Cano. He didn’t just play the same position and copy his swing, he wore Cano’s jersey number and even named his son after him.

“It’s something you can’t describe because as a player it’s the first time that’s happened where you see a player name their kid after you,” Cano said.

Despite their similarities, Cano admits there are some differences that favor the young Moncada.

Who hits the ball harder?

“I would say him. He’s stronger.”

And speed?

“He’s got something I never have. He can run. I was slow, always.”

Moncada’s biggest problem right now is strikeouts. He has 38 this season, second most in baseball. Cano, who has only 14, provided some advice for Moncada.

“The only thing I can give him for that is making the game simple and try not to swing so hard,” Cano explained. "The thing is when we swing too hard and try to hit a homer, we chase pitches. When you try to stay simple, try to make contact and use the whole field that’s when you can minimize the strikeout.”

Cano was 22 in his rookie season. Moncada is currently 23. A player’s first few seasons in the majors is mainly about learning and maturing, which Moncada is essentially doing every time he comes to the plate. Often times his talent just takes over like it did on Wednesday when he homered in the first pitch he saw against Felix Hernandez. After that, he struck out three times.

Moncada’s offensive game has so far been quite boom or bust. Over time that should level out. When it does, look out. 

In the meantime, more wisdom from Cano:

“Sometimes as a kid, you want to go out and all you think is about putting out numbers compared to playing the game that you know how to play. You need to let the numbers come to themselves, not try to get a hit every time, or I’ve got to hit a homer or want to swing hard. Just go out and try to win a game.”

Cano didn’t learn this on his own. It helped having former Yankees teammates like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield show him not just how to play, but how to win.

“When you have someone who can help you in this game, that’s the best thing to happen to a player,” Cano said. “When someone can be there for you and say, “In this situation I think you’re wrong.’ Someone who can tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

For Moncada, one of those players right now is Jose Abreu.

“Having a guy like (Abreu) who can help is good especially since they’re from the same country.”

At one point during Wednesday’s game, Moncada and Cano crossed paths between innings. They smiled at each other before going their separate ways. Cano to second base where the 35 year-old is in the twilight of his career. Moncada to the White Sox dugout where most of his career awaits.

“He’s going to be great in this game,” Cano said about Moncada. “He just needs to stay healthy and keep working hard. People don’t realize that this game is more about time.”

That was Cano's way of saying: be patient White Sox fans. A "superstar" is here. His time will come.

White Sox record isn't pretty, but Yoan Moncada has provided a shiny silver lining of late

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USA TODAY

White Sox record isn't pretty, but Yoan Moncada has provided a shiny silver lining of late

The silver linings aren’t always a joy to find during this rebuilding season. “Well, at least …” can become a somewhat tired refrain as the White Sox sit at 5-16.

But that’s the reality for the rebuilding White Sox, for whom brighter days surely lie ahead. The stocked farm system keeps delivering news of prospect achievements, and the young players at the major league level are providing their own positive signs for the years that are coming.

The South Siders wrapped a 1-5 homestand Wednesday afternoon with their second straight one-run defeat to the visiting Seattle Mariners. They only had one hit after the third and saw the last 13 hitters go down in order. James Shields walked four more guys to bring his season total to 17 in six appearances. The White Sox starting staff leads the majors with 65 free passes issued.

Well, at least … 

Wednesday, it was Yoan Moncada’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the first, a ball that was absolutely crushed into the right-field seats. The distance and power were strong signs for a player expected to be at the center of all that future success. But perhaps of greater note to those who have watched his still-nascent big league career was the fact that the homer came on the first pitch Felix Hernandez threw, a departure from the long at-bats Moncada has been famous for working in his first two seasons on the South Side.

But perhaps it’s just as strong a showing of his hitter’s eye that he was able to do what he did with that first pitch.

“I was trying to be aggressive in that at-bat, swing at the first pitch,” Moncada said. “It was a good pitch for me, and I put the barrel on the ball and made good contact. That was it.”

Moncada, to add luster to this silver lining, has been mashing of late. In the last nine games, Moncada is slashing .333/.421/.848 with eight extra-base hits, four home runs, eight RBIs and eight runs scored. His five home runs rank second on the team, behind only Jose Abreu. And he's just two days removed from coming a single short of the cycle in Monday's win. Yes, he’s also struck out 14 times in the nine-game span, a constant concern for a guy who’s right around the major league lead in punch outs. But he’s also drawn five walks and stolen four bases.

Yes, the White Sox went 1-8 in those contests. But if the 2018 campaign is about developing the players who will power future contenders, then this recent surge by Moncada, one of the rebuild’s biggest stars, ought to please the front office and fans alike who have bought in to the rebuild but remain eager for the strategy to translate into big league success.

“As experience and time give him more opportunity to gain more knowledge of himself and the opponent, and what he’s capable of doing, he’s barely scratching the surface of who he is,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There’s no way that any of us believe in any way, shape or form that he’s a finished product. He continues to develop his skill set, continues to learn, make adjustments as do most players, but one as young as he is, with the skill set he brings to the table, you hope that it ultimately winds up playing really big dividends, which I believe we expect that in the near future.”

“I agree with Ricky,” Moncada said. “I also think that I’m just in the learning process. It’s step by step. I think that I have a lot of talent and I can be a much better player overall. I agree with him. It’s just a process. I try to improve and get better every day.”

An interesting question might be how many leadoff home runs Moncada will have a chance to hit when the oft-projected 2020 lineup takes full shape. Moncada was seemingly entrenched in the leadoff spot when this season began, though Renteria has already moved him out of that spot against left-handers, opting instead to put Tim Anderson at the top of the lineup. Moncada’s got just one hit in only four at-bats outside the leadoff spot, more an indication of his struggles against lefties, against whom he’s batting .130 with 12 strikeouts in 23 at-bats.

Though with his increased power display in the last week and a half, it sparks curiosities of Moncada being more of a middle-of-the-order bat than one that is parked at the top for the remainder of his career.

“He has an extremely good eye,” Renteria said. “Right now, as you see, we’ve mixed and matched him with Timmy now the last two or three days maybe to give him the best chance to have the most positive outcomes possible. We know that right now against righties, he’s very, very good. And right now he’s working on improving his approaches against left-handed pitchers. Seems to me the last couple of days he’s shown some pretty good signs against lefties in his at-bats, contact, swings, approach, and so we’re going to try to continue to develop whatever we need to do in order to maximize the confidence he can gain and the opportunities he gets in any situation.

“And then at some point, I’m sure it will be defined as to what he is ultimately from both sides of the plate and if he’s going to be ultimately a leadoff hitter from both sides of the plate against anybody. His eye says to me that he’s capable of doing that. But sometimes you want to give him the best matchup and you also want to, within the construct of the lineup that you have and the guys that you have, maximize what those guys are capable of doing.”

Moncada and the White Sox both have a long way to go until they transform from 5-16 to the planned contender this rebuilding effort is supposed to yield. But if this season is about anything at the big league level, it’s about Moncada’s development. It’s a small sample size, yes, but of late, Moncada has shown some signs of a guy who could be one of the reasons the South Siders are contending one day.