White Sox

Mat Latos: White Sox 'good fit' to get back on track

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Mat Latos: White Sox 'good fit' to get back on track

GLENDALE, Ariz. — An “interesting” offseason for Mat Latos has the starting pitcher in White Sox camp on a deal the club found to be too good to turn down.

The right-hander reported to spring training on Friday morning at Camelback Ranch, 10 days after he finalized a surprising contract with the White Sox. Many analysts and observers have described the one-year deal worth $3 million as a bargain for the first-time free agent.

One of many veteran free agents still on the market, Latos reportedly bypassed other teams’ offers and said he’s happy to be with the White Sox.

“It was interesting,” Latos said of the offseason. “We had conversations and talks, offers on the table, it was a matter of finding the right fit.

“Kind of figured everything out and decided it was a good fit.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Melky Cabrera: White Sox are ready for playoffs]

Latos didn’t get too in depth on what must have been a stressful offseason.

While he has been hurt the past two seasons, Latos has a strong track record. The 28-year-old went 51-35 with a 3.27 ERA from 2010-13. But same as many of his talented peers, Latos found himself without a home as the calendar flipped to February.

Given how many veterans are still available — Dexter Fowler, Yovani Gallardo and Ian Desmond, to name a few — Latos must feel lucky. General manager Rick Hahn does, noting in a statement last week that the opportunity to sign Latos was “too good” to pass up. Even though this year’s free agent class was loaded with talent, Hahn said the number of players still available is unexpected.

“I didn’t see it going this long,” Hahn said. “I don’t think anybody really predicted it to go this long. Every year there are a few guys who sign after camp start, or around Valentine’s Day or so, who wind up being quality contributors. But it does appear there are a fair amount more out there this year than in years past.”

Latos’ poor health the previous two seasons likely played a role in him still being available this late in the offseason.

He had bone chips removed from his right elbow two offseasons ago and then suffered a left knee injury in 2014 spring training. He didn’t make his 2014 debut until June, and his knee issues lingered into 2015, when he went 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA in 24 games (21 starts).

But Latos still managed to find a comfortable landing spot with the White Sox.

He cited working with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Robin Ventura as reasons to feel comfortable.

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Latos also wanted to reunite with catcher Dioner Navarro, who made quite an impression upon him even though he only caught Latos seven times near the end of the 2012 campaign with the Cincinnati Reds. He went 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA in his final five starts of the 2012 regular season, all caught by Navarro. The two — who shared a big hug Friday — worked well enough for the veteran to become the pitcher’s “hashtag — personal catcher,” Navarro said with a smile.

“We kind of clicked,” Navarro said. “He can be really good. I think he’s going through a rough patch right now. But he’s going to be out of it, and hopefully I’ll be part of this season.”

Latos hopes his offseason work with a physical trainer to strengthen the left knee helps him get past a time he described as “extremely frustrating.” Last spring, Latos had 90 CCs of fluid drained from his knee. Two months later he went on the disabled list. He threw a bullpen session on Friday and said he feels good.

Now, Latos wants to prove he can return to the form he displayed early in his career — which likely would make next offseason a little easier.

“I feel great,” Latos said. “I spent all winter in Miami working out with a physical therapist. ... We attacked some of the points that were weak during the year and fixed what was bothering me.

“I feel like I have to go out and pitch like I used to before the injury. I struggled with the injury, it was something I never had to deal with, having back-to-back surgeries. It was something to overcome, and I feel like the training program I was on during the offseason will help.”

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.