White Sox

Jerry Sands wants to show White Sox what he's got

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Jerry Sands wants to show White Sox what he's got

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- While he knows his prospects have improved with Adam LaRoche’s departure, Jerry Sands said it won’t change how he operates.

The outfielder/first baseman is one of several candidates vying for the final two spots on the White Sox 25-man roster.

His bid to make the team has recently improved after the sudden retirement of LaRoche a week ago. But Sands already knew he’d have to prove to the White Sox he’s worthy of a roster spot after he they claimed him off waivers on Dec. 23.

Sands has hit .242/.257/.545 with three homers and eight RBIs in 33 at-bats this spring. He’s one of five players in competition for the final two spots on the roster along with Matt Davidson, Travis Ishikawa, Carlos Sanchez and J.B. Shuck.

“It doesn’t change what I’ve been doing,” Sands said. “Getting claimed off waivers, coming to a new team like I’ve been doing the last few years, just coming to camp, show them what I have regardless of the LaRoche situation.”

Sands said he wanted to work on several aspects of his game in camp --- “things that I’ve struggled with,” he said.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

One is to remember how to hit the fastball again. Hitting coach Todd Steverson said that skill can get dulled playing at Triple-A as Sands has for much of the past few seasons.

“You can kind of get off your game,” Steverson said. “Sadly enough, I used to say it all the time: the hardest thing you need to do coming from Triple-A back to the big leagues is to re-remember how to hit a fastball because they don’t throw a whole lot of them down there.”

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the fastball hasn’t been an issue for Sands this spring. The bigger task in Ventura’s mind is for Sands -- who would be an option at first base and in the outfield -- to show improvement against right-handed pitching. Sands has an .846 career OPS against southpaws but only a .569 against righties.

“He hasn’t seen too many righties in the big leagues the last few years, so you’d like to see him do that and get an idea about that,” Ventura said. “As far as swinging the bat and playing the game, he has been great.”

Sands said he feels comfortable in the outfield and at first base. He felt like he got off to a slow start, but likes how he has swung the bat lately. Even though his chances to make the team have improved, Sands wants to continue to make strides and convince the White Sox.

“(LaRoche retiring) helps me out a little bit, obviously, for a situation like that, for somebody to benefit from it,” Sands said. “But at the same point in time, the team is still going to have to go on and play without him. It hasn’t changed for me -- if he was here or not, I’d still try to do the same thing and show these guys what I got.”

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: