White Sox

Five questions for the White Sox second half

815988.png

Five questions for the White Sox second half

KANSAS CITY --- The White Sox surprised baseball analysts, most of whom predicted a sub .500 finish, when they raced out to a 47-38 start and ended the first half with a three-game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central.
Whether its been the resurgences of Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, the Most Valuable Player leadership provided by Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, or the outstanding contributions from youngsters Chris Sale, Addison Reed and Jose Quintana, the White Sox have received key contributions from throughout the roster.
Here are five keys for the rest of the White Sox season.
1. Will John Danks and Philip Humber return from the disabled list to solidify the rotation?
This is perhaps general manager Kenny Williams biggest area of concern because of the teams reliance on first-year starters Sale and Quintana and Peavys recent injury history.
Humber should return to the rotation early next week after he allowed one run and two hits in six innings in a start at Double-A Birmingham on Thursday. Humber is much closer than Danks, who pitching coach Don Cooper said in a radio interview on Thursday isnt on his radar right now. If Humber and Danks cant provide valuable innings in the pennant race, Williams will likely need to make at least one move to bolster the teams rotation.
2. Can the rookies in the bullpen survive a pennant race?
Aside from Matt Grandpa Thornton, the White Sox are light on experience in the bullpen. Of the teams seven relievers, six are rookies, including closer Addison Reed. The White Sox expect veteran Jesse Crain to return to the bullpen soon, but he has already had two stints on the DL this season and battled an injury in spring. Aside from Hector Santiagos 5 13 innings in the majors last season, neither he nor Nate Jones has pitched above Double-A prior to 2012. Look for Williams to solidify the bullpen with a veteran arm.
3. Can Adam Dunn maintain his first half play?
The All-Star leads the White Sox with 25 homers and 61 RBIs this season, which crush last years production when Dunn hit .159 with 11 homers. He also leads the majors in walks...and strikeouts.
Dunn is only hitting .174 with nine homers since June 1. The veteran slugger didnt play in Tuesdays All-Star Game in order to get four full days of rest, and hinted he needed the break to rejuvenate his body. Will Dunns batteries be recharged enough to help keep the middle of a potent lineup afloat?
4. Will Detroit live up to its lofty expectations?
With Justin Verlander out front and Miguel Cabrera and free agent acquisition Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup, the Tigers were expected to run away with the Central. Detroit has finally warmed up with wins in eight of its last 11 before the break, but has not received consistent contributions from its rotation aside from Verlander while catcher Alex Avila is off to a slow start at the plate. The two teams meet 10 times over the White Sox final 77 games.
5. What kind of impact can Kevin Youkilis make the rest of the way?
On June 24, Konerko assessed the Youkilis trade as a potential steal. Konerko might not have given Williams move enough credit, as thus far the deal looks the crime of the century. Since Boston gave him away, Youkilis has hit .347 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 49 at-bats and energized the White Sox with several key hits. Can he ride the wave through the end of the season in an attempt to prove Red Sox decision makers were incorrect when they said they believed his best days were behind him?

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

hahn-pod.jpg
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: