White Sox

Seven burning spring training questions for the White Sox

frazier-lawrie-sox-insider-1217.png

Seven burning spring training questions for the White Sox

Starting Friday, the White Sox have six weeks to get it all together before the 2016 season begins.

With another group of new players, the White Sox have plenty of unresolved questions to which they’d like answers before Opening Day April 4 in Oakland, Calif.

Pitchers and catchers will report to camp and hold their first workout on Friday at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.. The rest of the team joins them on Tuesday.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest issues facing the White Sox during spring training. 

How long will the new infield take to get on the same page?

Todd Frazier appears set to take over at third, Tyler Saladino looks like the favorite to man shortstop and Brett Lawrie is earmarked for second base. While each player has spent enough time at their designated position to be comfortable, they first must find comfort with each other. Following last season’s slow start, manager Robin Ventura wants to combat another poor April and has suggested he may keep players in games longer during spring in order for them to get a feel for each other.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Five key players who could impact the White Sox season]

Who’s the fifth starter?

What once seemed like an easy answer now is uncertain. Mat Latos is in the mix, meaning the White Sox potentially have seven pitchers competing for five spots. With the four left-handed pitchers all but shoe-ins, Latos is likely the favorite for a spot in a competition with fellow right-handers Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner.

Can Avisail Garcia get comfortable with his new stance?

It’s make-or-break time for the young outfielder, who will employ a new stance this spring. The idea is to help Garcia’s pitch selection. Though they’ve added other bats, the White Sox definitely are in need of better offensive production from Garcia. Outfielders are the one position the White Sox heavily pursued in the offseason and they could still look for a trade throughout the spring if they believe it would improve the club.

How far away from the majors is Tim Anderson?

The expectation is that the team’s top prospect — the guy everyone asked about this winter — starts the season at Triple-A Charlotte with Saladino in the bigs. But general manager Rick Hahn has also made it sound as if the opportunity for advancement is there. Were Anderson to make another strong impression in spring and follow it up with a strong start at Charlotte, he could be in the majors sooner rather than later.

Can they stay healthy?

The White Sox once again had the fewest disabled list days in the majors last season. But the team was hit with several injuries in spring training, including the loss of Chris Sale for all but 10 days at the end. An injury-free spring could play a big role in helping the White Sox get out to the quick start they believe is critical to their success.

[SHOP: Get your White Sox gear here]

What can they expect from Adam LaRoche?

The veteran first baseman/designated hitter needs to rebound from the worst season of his career in order to give the club a left-handed power bat for the middle of the lineup. Never one to get off to a quick start, Ventura said he hopes to see positive signs from LaRoche, who will have to earn his job. LaRoche hit .196 last spring and followed with a .191 in April. For his career, LaRoche is a .222 hitter in April.

Who fits in the bullpen?

With Matt Albers back, Tommy Kahnle acquired and the rest of the stable healthy, the White Sox have a plethora of relievers for what is likely a seven-man bullpen. David Robertson and Zach Duke are locks, as are Albers and Nate Jones. That leaves Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, Kahnle, Dan Jennings, Turner, Daniel Webb and Scott Carroll competing for three spots. 

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

hahn-pod.jpg
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: