White Sox

Robin Ventura: Lots of discussion involved in White Sox lineup construction

Robin Ventura: Lots of discussion involved in White Sox lineup construction

When it comes to constructing the White Sox lineup, Robin Ventura uses a number of resources at his disposal, including analytics.

The White Sox manager was asked before Thursday’s game how he determines what order to write on the lineup card on a daily basis. The short answer -- there’s a lot of conversation is involved in the process.

On Thursday, Ventura sat Brett Lawrie for the first time in 41 games this season and dropped Jimmy Rollins from the second spot to sixth in the order. Carlos Sanchez is batting second and starting at second base.

“I have the last call, but we talk about it a lot,” Ventura said. “If you see something that maybe I don't, I think that's part of having a staff. You're talking with Rickey (Renteria), you're talking with Joe (McEwing), you're talking with Trick (Todd Steverson), everybody. Even (Don Cooper), why not?”

With Lawrie out, Ventura said he batted Rollins sixth Thursday to give the lineup more veteran presence in the middle. In dropping Rollins down from the No. 2 spot, Ventura likely satisfied a number of fans who prefer to see another hitter in that position. The team’s No. 2 hitters have combined for a .677 OPS this season, which ranks only ahead of the eighth and ninth spots in the White Sox lineup in OPS-plus, according to baseball-reference.com.

The White Sox, who are 24-16, have averaged 4.4 runs per game this season, including 5.5 a contest over their last 20. Last season, the White Sox averaged 3.84 runs per game.

Ventura has previously stated that he prefers to have Jose Abreu in the third spot because he likes how it extends the team’s lineup. He can’t bat Melky Cabrera second because he’s the only left-handed bat suitable for the middle of the team’s lineup, which would be loaded with right-handers were Cabrera not there to break it up.

One player often suggested by fans is Lawrie, who still has a .777 OPS despite a recent slow down. Ventura was asked what the lineup might look like if Lawrie hit second. While it has been considered, Ventura hasn’t felt the urge to yet try it out.

“You always look at lineup changes and what would happen with guys in different spots,” Ventura said. “When they're going good it always looks good to move guys up. You've seen it in the past where we move guys into that two-hole and it doesn't necessarily work. It changes maybe their approach or what the guys doing. It doesn't always work like, ‘If the guy's hot you just throw him there and it continues.’ But yeah, we play with it all the time.”

That includes occasional input from Cooper -- “Absolutely, with how he'd pitch somebody, just different things like that, maybe an approach another team would have that he would see,” Ventura said -- as well as analytical data. Ventura recently cited illness and numbers as reasons Rollins was out of the lineup -- “the computer got him,” he said.

“It's in our lives every day, with how you deal with who's playing, where you position guys, all those things,” Ventura said. “There is a little bit of everything that you put into it so we do adjust if we see it. If a guy's swinging a certain way, we're able to adjust to it.”

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.