White Sox

Early evidence suggests Avisail Garcia seeing pitches better

Early evidence suggests Avisail Garcia seeing pitches better

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — One of the main goals of the White Sox work with Avisail Garcia is improving the outfielder’s pitch recognition.

While the offensive numbers have been slow to come so far, Garcia has made progress in swinging at better pitches. He still has ground to gain, but Garcia has swung at 7 percent fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this season, according to fangraphs.com. While Garcia is only hitting .207/.281/.448 with two home runs and four RBIs in his first 32 plate appearances, the White Sox believe his improved selectivity will ultimately benefit him at the plate.  

“If he continues that way you would expect the production to come,” manager Robin Ventura said. “This is a kid that’s still young and learning.

“His recognition is better. Where he’s at in his legs also makes it better. The adjustments he made in spring training is part of the reason. He had more time to see it as well. It’s an adjustment that has paid off for him.”

Garcia has plenty of room for improvement.

Out of 141 qualified hitters in 2015, Garcia ranked 138th in PITCHf/x Plate Discipline as he chased 44.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. Garcia has reduced that figure to 37.9 percent this season, which currently ranks 181st out of 209.

Part of the reduction comes from Garcia standing taller at the plate, which allows him to see the ball better. Hitting coach Todd Steverson can see a difference, even if it's subtle.

Garcia has extended more at-bats where he has fallen behind in the count. Perhaps his best was Thursday when Garcia fell behind Ervin Santana 1-2 and made the pitcher throw nine pitches. While the at-bat resulted in a strikeout, Garcia had seen everything Santana would attack him with, and he later homered and doubled, big keys in a 3-1 victory.

“Some very good at-bats,” Steverson said. “Been down 1-2 and not chased a few pitches that maybe he did in the past. My thing in kind of evaluating his approach and thought process is really that. Everybody got on him for all the chase pitches, all the early swings and all of the out-of-the-zone stuff.

“The scrutiny was his recognition and his ability to put strikes in play consistently, and I think he’s done that pretty well up to this point. He’s chased a few pitches here and there, and everybody has on this team. But he was documented on it. I think he’s doing a hell of a job making the adjustment.”

Garcia said his goal is mostly to stay focused and fight in every at-bat, not give any away. He and Steverson have worked to stay away from outside pitches, too.  

“You’ve got to get better,” Garcia said. “Every year. Work to get better. That’s what we work on.

“You try to lay that pitch off and leave the outside corner alone and try to swing to something close to you.”

Pretty simple stuff — but if Garcia can stay with it, there’s no reason he can’t tap into his powerful frame. Now that the results count, the trick is getting Garcia to trust an approach he has worked on since January. While the results haven’t been overwhelming so far, Garcia has a 107 wRC+ (Weights Runs Created Plus) — above league average — in 32 plate appearances entering Friday.

“Everybody wants the result because we have to win ballgames,” Steverson said. “But the process of it becomes a result. And if you get more result-oriented than you are process-oriented than you are more subject to change and not having anything definitive going forward. He’s stayed pretty true to what we’ve been doing.”

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


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: