White Sox

Chris Beck encouraged by gains after frustrating end to last season

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Chris Beck encouraged by gains after frustrating end to last season

GLENDALE, Ariz. — After all the uncertainty he faced last year in regard to his ulnar collateral ligament, Chris Beck couldn’t have expected to be in this position.

He’s less than four months removed from surgery, yet the White Sox pitching prospect feels strong enough to think about mechanics and adjustments before his next throwing session.

On Friday, Beck, who had surgery Nov. 4, received positive feedback from some of the White Sox heaviest hitters during a live batting practice session.

Given all he experienced from June to November, worrying he might need Tommy John surgery and the ensuing rehab, Beck is fortunate to be where he is. If continues on the same path, Beck — who made his major league debut last season — should begin the season at Triple-A Charlotte.

“Today was great,” Beck said. “Felt good. Still feeling some things out.

“But to see that I was competing already, it says a lot.”

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He knows it's crazy that he’s here, what with the whirlwind of events he experienced.

Shortly before he suffered the injury that has led to a frustrating nine months, Beck was in a great place. The former second-round draft pick (2012) had thrown the ball better than ever, with a 3.30 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte. Then on May 28, the White Sox temporarily promoted and started Beck in the second game of a doubleheader at the Baltimore Orioles — the “pinnacle” of his career, he said.

But in his next start on June 3, Beck delivered a pitch and immediately knew something was wrong. He left the game after four scoreless innings.

“I just had like this jolt like a super muscle cramp run through my arm, and I knew it didn’t feel right,” Beck said.

Beck pitched for Charlotte again June 13 but left after only four innings. It was his last game of the season.

From there, Beck tried two different throwing programs and both failed.

He left Camelback Ranch where he’d been rehabbing and went home to rest on Aug. 25.

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Still experiencing pain in his forearm and numbness in his hand several months later, Beck called the White Sox. He traveled to Chicago on Nov. 3 and had an ulnar nerve transposition the next day.

“The good news was it wasn’t Tommy John,” Beck said. “It looked like it because there was fluid between the nerve and ligament. It had all the signs of me going under the knife and missing a year of baseball.”

Because it was a transposition and not Tommy John, Beck quickly regained range of motion and was back in action three weeks later.

He has worked overtime since to return to baseball shape. Beck arrived in Phoenix on Jan. 1 to work with the White Sox training staff. Not only did he start his throwing program at the same time he normally does, he had begun to play catch earlier than normal. He’s currently on a normal schedule for spring training.

“Chris was communicating with our medical coordinator and they lined out a plan, and he’s followed it to a T,” said Del Matthews, assistant director of player development. “He’s been great. He’s actually been ahead of schedule. That’s all good and exciting for him, and you just hope he doesn’t have any setbacks and he’s able to go out and compete and showcase his best stuff.”

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Jose Abreu, Brett Lawrie, Todd Frazier and Adam LaRoche got a look at what Beck had on Friday and came away impressed. Catcher Kevan Smith, who was behind the plate at Charlotte when Beck got hurt, received solid reviews from the hitters as they stood in to hit.

Smith relayed those thoughts to Beck in between innings.

“Granted, it’s early and a lot of those guys are tracking right now,” Smith said. “But to have that caliber of hitter to say, ‘Hey, this guy’s got some stuff, he’s got a little bit of life.’ That’s good for Chris and for me to hear so I can relay to him and just give him that confidence his arm is coming back and it’s coming back strong.”

Beck is pleased with the input from hitters so far. He didn’t feel as good about his previous live batting practice, which was the first time he had faced a hitter since June 13. Nerves, adrenaline and rustiness might have gotten in the way.

But the second-round improvement has Beck encouraged about his next time out.

“Just talking to some hitters about the right-on-right changeup and hearing feedback,” Beck said. “Now I get a couple of days off and I can get on a schedule and try to make some big strides forward.”

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: