White Sox

Matt Albers continues to excel in tight spots for White Sox

Matt Albers continues to excel in tight spots for White Sox

MINNEAPOLIS — After he played for five teams in five seasons, Matt Albers has become a trusted member of the White Sox bullpen. He’s done so even though he has only pitched in 34 games for the club.

Albers — who in February signed a one-year deal worth $2.25 million with a club option for 2017 — said familiarity with the White Sox was a key factor in his decision to return. And that relationship is a big reason — along with Albers throwing the ball extremely well — as to why the veteran has already begun to in key spots for the 5-2 White Sox.

“There’s something he’s got, about being in there when stuff is burning down around him,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He can calm it down and throw some stuff that guys can’t hit.”

The White Sox have acted accordingly when it comes to Albers’ performance. He’s in the midst of a scoreless streak that has extended 27 1/3 innings and over 24 games. The last time he allowed a run was July 31st.

And these aren’t just throwaway appearances; Albers has appeared in high-leverage situations in 11 of 30 games (36.7 percent) since he returned from the disabled list last July. Before he pitched for the White Sox, Albers only appeared in high-leverage spots in 91 of 364 games (25 percent) in his career.

[SHOP: Get your White Sox gear right here]

“It’s great to come back,” Albers said. “I really enjoyed it here last year. I knew in the beginning of the offseason that it’s definitely a place I’d like to come back to and they showed interest and we were able to get a deal done. Just the familiarity with all the guys. Now that we’re putting it all together and winning games and it’s a lot of fun.”

A big reason Albers, 33, has had early success is an increase in his fastball velocity. Albers’ two-seam fastball is averaging 93.3 mph in 2016, up from 90 mph last season, according to brooksbaseball.net.

Through five innings this season, opponents are hitting .176 against Albers. They hit .228 in 2015 and he has allowed a .262 average against for his career.

Albers attributes his success to improved pitch location and the ability to effectively mix in his slider and changeup. He also credits the knowledge of Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila and their books on opposing hitters.

“Just locating, just being able to mix slider and changeup in,” Albers said. “Really just fine tuning those pitches and throwing them for strikes early in the count and move the ball in and out and really go off my catchers. It’s nice to have a couple of guys who have been around the league. I can really lean on those guys. …

“That just makes it easy for me. Lean on those guys and putting that all together.”

[MORE: White Sox offer Jose Quintana enough support in win over Twins]

Pitching coach Don Cooper also thinks Albers’ experience is a big portion of the equation. Earlier in his career Albers was a long reliever. But as he’s grown older, Albers has figured out how to slow the game down in the midst of chaos.

He’s a calming presence in the clubhouse, the elder statesmen of the bullpen along with fellow Texan Zach Duke. Whereas Albers might get emotional on the field (see: Monday’s reaction after catching a bunt and turning a double play), he’s as composed as can be in the clubhouse. Cooper likes that along with the stuff Albers brings to the mound.

“He's a veteran guy, he's got movement, he keeps the ball down, he's got a good changeup,” Cooper said. “His velocity has come back a little more, which means he's even more dangerous, too. I like the veteran presence that he has.

“Because of his experience, now we feel very comfortable with him handling any situation.”

That security goes along way for Albers. He definitely considered leaving the White Sox if the right deal came along this offseason. But at the same time, Albers knew he had a good thing going if the White Sox made a competitive offer.

“It’s a place I feel comfortable with the coaching staff and obviously I had success last year,” Albers said. “So I think it’s a pretty easy decision to come back.”

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

0225-mike-moustakas-carlos-gonzalez.jpg
USA TODAY

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

The 2017-18 baseball offseason continues to be, well, the 2017-18 baseball offseason, even with spring training games being played in Arizona and Florida.

A bunch of names remain on the free-agent market, including All-Star players who thought they would be in for big multi-year contracts. But as teams continue to deny the wishes of guys who expected to get big deals, the suggestion that those players might end up needing to take one-year offers if they want to play during the 2018 season is becoming a more common talking point.

So with potential bargains to be had for some pretty big-name players, do the White Sox jump into the waters and try to lock up a potential future piece on the cheap? Though they aren’t expected to contend this season, the White Sox have been mentioned in a pair of recent reports surrounding a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez.

MLB.com's Jon Morosi wrote last week that the White Sox are a potential fit for Moustakas, who has sat and watched as former Kansas City Royals teammate Eric Hosmer received a huge contract from the San Diego Padres. Moustakas set a new Royals record last season with 38 home runs but has yet to find a team.

The White Sox, connected to Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado earlier this offseason, seem to have a current big leaguer or highly ranked prospect locked into almost every position on the diamond for the foreseeable future, but third base isn't necessarily one of them. Jake Burger was last year’s top draft pick, though there’s speculation he could slide over to first base. The team still envisions him as a big league third baseman, for what it’s worth.

Moustakas is 29 and already has seven big league seasons under his belt, including a pair of All-Star appearances and a pair of trips to the World Series, including the Crowns’ championship back in 2015. His 38 homers and 85 RBIs in 2017 were both career highs. He slashed .272/.314/.521, the final of those three numbers the best mark of his career.

Moustakas has rarely hit for average or reached base at too high a clip, though those recent power numbers would be intriguing at a hitter-friendly park like Guaranteed Rate Field, where he has 10 career dingers, 26 career RBIs and a .249/.308/.456 career slash line as a visitor.

Certainly Moustakas would be a buzz-worthy addition, and if the White Sox could get him for a good value thanks to this slow-moving market, that adds incentive to bring him aboard. A short contract would have even more incentive for the rebuilding White Sox, who would have the option to either sign him to a long-term deal or deal him away in a deadline deal depending on his immediate production levels.

But for fans hoping the White Sox will spend big on a third baseman in one of the next two offseasons — Machado is a free agent next winter, and Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado is set to hit the market the winter after next — slotting in an outside addition at the hot corner now could impact those plans.

Gonzalez is a completely different story, a three-time All Star during his 10-year big league career who is just three seasons removed from a 40-homer campaign in 2015. The 32-year-old Gonzalez also has a trio of Gold Gloves to go along with his 215 career home runs. FanRag’s Jon Heyman listed the White Sox as a possible landing spot for CarGo this weekend.

But his walk year in Colorado was not a very good one by his standards. In 136 games for a Rockies team that ended up in the playoffs, he slashed .262/.339/.423, all those averages way down from his usual level of production. And his power numbers plummeted to 14 homers and 57 RBIs after he combined for 65 homers and 197 RBIs in 2015 and 2016.

The good news for the White Sox is that down year makes Gonzalez far more affordable. Should he command only a one-year contract, the White Sox could take a flier, stick him in the outfield — which still has an unresolved spot with few strong offensive options for center field — and trade him should he bounce back in a big way. Or, at 32, perhaps he’s a guy the White Sox could opt to keep around should he prove valuable and the rebuild continues to move along ahead of schedule.

Gonzalez seems the less risky move at this point, as Moustakas could still be looking for a multi-year contract. But the White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility and flexibility in their decision-making should they add either guy and he proves worthy of a midseason deal or a long-term look.

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

mickeradolfo.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.