White Sox

Motivated Youkilis ready to prove he can still play

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Motivated Youkilis ready to prove he can still play

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Youkilis said before Mondays game he has moved on from the Red Sox, who traded him to the White Sox after nine seasons in Boston a day earlier.

No matter how politically correct he manages to be, Youkilis -- who didnt comment when asked about his relationship with Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine -- is motivated by the idea baseball observers doubt he still has the ability to play.

Youkilis said those questions offer more motivation than his sour ending with the Red Sox. His trade to the White Sox comes a little more than two months after Valentine, who is in his first season with the Red Sox, questioned the veteran third basemans desire to play baseball.

Youkilis is hitting .233 with four homers and 14 RBIs this season.

I dont think it has to do with (the end there), just that there was a lot of talk and saying You cant play baseball anymore, and I think I can, Youkilis said. I think I can play at a high level and go out there. But talk is one thing and I have to go out and prove it by my actions.

During Sundays press conference to announce the trade, general manager Kenny Williams said Youkilis has an edge and wants to prove his doubters incorrect. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski said Monday he believes the addition of a motivated Youkilis can only be a positive.

Its never bad when a guy has something to prove to himself and other people, Pierzynski said. I think Kevin is a proud guy. He has done a lot of good things in this game and wants to prove that hes not done and that he can still play.

Youkilis said he now feels healthy after he spent much of the early part of the season battling a lower-back injury. Youkilis has been limited to 42 games because of injury and after he lost playing time to Red Sox rookie Will Middlebrooks, who on Monday was named the American League player of the week.

The combination of poor play, injuries and lost playing time led to frustration for Youkilis.

I started out really cold and hadnt played up to my capability and it was very frustrating, Youkilis said. I wasnt very happy with how I was producing. I wasnt playing good baseball and it wasnt consistent playing time moving back and forth. It wasnt the way I was accustomed to playing. Im just excited to come to Chicago.

The White Sox are pleased to bring Youkilis on board. Manager Robin Ventura said acquiring Youkilis is a good message for the front office to send the clubhouse.

You know they care, Ventura said. They see the need and they understand and youre trying to get the best guy you can get. Hes the best guy we can get. Thats what guys feel. Theyre going out and getting somebody thats going to fit in and be a pro and has a history of being a good player.

As for how Youkilis fits in the clubhouse appears to be of little concern. Players greeted Youkilis with open arms in the visiting clubhouse at Target Field, including Adam Dunn, who wore and dirtied up Youkilis old Red Sox jersey before batting practice.

Were a pretty easygoing bunch and theres no reason why he shouldnt fit right in, second baseman Gordon Beckham said.

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: