White Sox

Carlos Rodon shows just how good he can be for White Sox

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Carlos Rodon shows just how good he can be for White Sox

PEORIA, Ariz. — Dioner Navarro and Carlos Rodon are still getting acquainted with each other, but the veteran White Sox catcher already knows how good a slider second-year left-hander’s slider possesses. 

“It’s pretty good,” Navarro grinned. “It’s pretty good.” 

Navarro, though, called for exactly zero sliders during Rodon’s start against the San Diego Padres on Friday. He caught him before in bullpen sessions and saw the slider then, but for the pair’s first time working together in a game setting, he wanted to see what Rodon could do just throwing fastballs and changeups. 

The result: Rodon struck out three, didn’t issue a walk and scattered two hits over four shutout innings. The 23-year-old displayed exemplary fastball command, using it to keep the ball on the ground (six groundouts, including a double play) and cruise through his second Cactus League start. 

So when was the last time Rodon made it through a start without throwing his trusty slider?

“That was the first time in a while,” he said. ‘Maybe since, like, middle school.”

Rodon’s fastball command escaped him at times last season, leading to 2014’s No. 3 overall pick averaging 4.59 walks per nine innings. But as he started to throw his fastball for more strikes and, more importantly, place the pitch better in the strike zone, his results improved. He finished the season with a 1.81 ERA in his final eight starts, providing him with some good momentum heading into the offseason and now spring training. 

“Yeah, for sure,” Rodon said when asked if he has more confidence in his fastball command. “Building off the end of that run last year kind of helped moving into this season, I just had that mindset to pitch the same way.” 

Rodon heavily relied on his slider last year, throwing it about 31 percent of the time. It’s certainly his out-pitch — nearly one in every five generated a swing and a miss — but as Rodon enters his first full year as a major league starter, he knows he’ll have to do better to set up that biting slider with better-placed fastballs and changeups.  

“Being able to go fastball-changeup and be able to succeed and compete with (the Padres) was pretty awesome,” Rodon said. (It) gave me a little more confidence.”

[MORE: Carson Fulmer gaining confidence in White Sox camp]

Rodon’s ability to dial his fastball up into the upper 90’s, combined with the action on it, make it a difficult pitch for opposing hitters to do much with when it’s located well. That’s what happened Friday, with Padres hitters only able to meekly manage two hits and a bunch of ground balls. 

The slider will be back — probably in Rodon's next start, and certainly by the start of the 2016 season. But if it’s back with a consistently-effective fastball, the N.C. State product will be in good position to continue the success with which he ended last year. 

“I knew slider was one of (his) better pitches,” Navarro said. “I wanted to see how far he can go without it, and he did a great job. He was spotting really well his fastballs, and he threw a couple of good changeups. I guess (it’s) a good sign for us.”

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.”