White Sox

Cabrera, White Sox not hitting panic button on season-long slump

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Cabrera, White Sox not hitting panic button on season-long slump

ARLINGTON, Texas — The White Sox aren’t panicking as the guy they signed to a three-year, $42 million deal in the offseason continues to work through his early-season offensive malaise.

Entering Wednesday night’s game in Texas, outfielder Melky Cabrera has a .546 OPS, nearly 200 points below his career average and good for third-worst among qualified players this season. He’s hitting just .236 and hasn’t produced much power, only collecting five extra-base hits (four doubles, one home run) in 219 plate appearances.

Cabrera, though, is avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to his slow start and said he’s not trying anything different to reverse his fortune.

“I don’t change anything in my game,” Cabrera said through a translator. “I just try to keep my focus, try to keep my approach at the plate. Baseball is a hard sport. … You have to try to have confidence in your game and confidence in your work. That’s the only way that you can, sooner rather than later, get out of the slump.”

Cabrera’s poor production can still be partly chalked up to a small sample size, though a handful of other stats have passed that point of early-season dismissal. The good news is that those numbers that have stabilized aren’t far off from what Cabrera had in 2014, when he hit .301/.351/.458 for Toronto.

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Cabrera is swinging at slightly more pitches and is making slightly more contact, while his walk rate and his line drive rate have dropped a bit — but none of those percentages have swung by more than two percent. The biggest difference is, according to FanGraphs, he’s making hard contact on about 10 percent fewer balls in play (30.5 percent in 2014, 19.8 percent in 2015) and his batting average on balls in play is down from .316 to .254.

So it’s been some nefarious combination of bad luck and being slightly off at the plate that’s been the impetus behind Cabrera’s lack of success at the plate. But regardless of why it's happened, he hasn’t provided the two-hole salvation the White Sox thought they were getting when they stretched their budget this winter — with Cabrera mostly hitting second, White Sox No. 2 hitters have a .541 OPS through 50 games, 93 points below 2014’s mark.

“He’s had some days where he’s hit it hard and not gotten anything out of it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That still messes with your mind somewhat. You always want to get something out of it. (As) a veteran guy, he still has confidence in what he’s doing and we do too in where he’s going to end up.”

It’s a viewpoint that shows neither Cabrera nor Ventura see the 30-year-old as having an on-base percentage well below .300 or being rated by WAR as the worst player on the team (-0.8) for much longer. Part of that thought is because Ventura hasn’t dropped Cabrera out his No. 2 perch in the order, outside of a few games in which he’s hit third or fourth.

[MORE: White Sox searching for answers after being throttled by Texas]

Cabrera said having a manager who believes in in him has helped him pull out of slumps in the past, and Ventura’s willingness to let him work through his offensive issues without moving him lower in the order has helped keep his confidence high this year.

“It’s key when the manager gives you the confidence to keep playing every day just because that makes you feel like you have all the confidence and you’re able to keep working and do what you have to do to get better,” Cabrera said. “… I feel very confident right now that things are going to change soon and we, as a team, are going to start playing much better.”

A return to form from Cabrera would certainly be a boost to the run-producing numbers of Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche and Avisail Garcia behind him if he’s able to get on base more and hit for a little more power. But Cabrera’s big picture approach to his offensive struggles means he’s not close to hitting the panic button with 112 games left to be played.

“It’s a long season,” Cabrera said. “You know there are going to be ups and downs and you just have to keep the consistency and your mind tough.”

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”