White Sox

Thome confident Dunn will rebound

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Thome confident Dunn will rebound

For the last nine months, Adam Dunns name has been surrounded by a black cloud of smoke, a player whose stellar 11-year baseball career suddenly crashed to bits in 2011 following one of the worst hitting seasons in baseball history.

And now with spring training a little over a month away, the question being asked is, Can Dunn turn it around and have a comeback year in 2012? A successful White Sox season likely hinges on it.

However, after Dunn hit .159 with 177 strikeouts in his first full go-around in the American League, youll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to jump on the Dunn bandwagon believing that a major revival could be ahead for the Sox dubious designated hitter. Some might be inclined to dip their toes in the water with a half-hearted endorsement, but to go waist-deep in the lagoon, see through the mud and muck that has plastered itself around his image, and predict a possible monster season for the lefty slugger?

That, I had not heard until Saturday night.

And leave it to another bulky left-hander, the last man to hold Dunns job on a regular basis: Jim Thome.

Im a very similar player as him. If you look at the way both of our styles are, we are very similar, Thome said of Dunn in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. And I will say this, the guy might come out this year and hit 60 home runs. Hes got that potential. And one thing I would think, because hes very driven, whenever you challenge an athlete, the good ones rise, and hes very good, so well see.

When it comes to being a designated hitter, Thome is the current expert among active players, having logged 781 games at that position throughout his career. His first season with the White Sox in 2006 was also his first as a full-time DH, something Dunn had to adapt to in 2011.

How big of an adjustment is it?

Its huge, Thome said. I think the one thing you have to have in your mindset is that this is what I want to do. If theres any hesitation, if theres any doubt in your mind, Well, am I going to play in the field, am I not, am I full-time? And I think what helped me, and I credit Ozzie Guillen for doing this, he told me that I was going to be the DH, and thats what I prepared to do, and I tried to do it the best I could.

Thome quickly adapted to his new role, and batted .288 with 42 homers and 109 RBIs in 2006. Dunn never found a rhythm or comfort zone, and his season quickly slid into the abyss.

As a guy who swings and misses youre going to go through those down times, and I think getting into that routine is the most important thing for sure, Thome said.

After finishing his 21st season in Cleveland, ironically where it all began in 1991, Thome went home accepting the realization that he might have played his final game in a major league uniform.

How close was he to retirement?

Very, very, he said. Ill be honest, I got home and Andrea Jims wife and I talked about it, and I pretty much made my mind up that if I was out there in January, this time of year, unsigned that I would probably just go ahead and retire.

But just two hours after the free agency period began, Thomes agent received a phone call from the Phillies, who signed him to a 1-year, 1.25 million contract.

Theyve put themselves in a position to win a World Series, and lets face it, thats where Im at. I feel like for me, thats the unfinished thing in my career, and I wanted to give that at least another year and try to do that, said Thome, who will mainly be used as a late-inning pinch-hitter, but will also play some first base until Ryan Howard is recovered from his Achilles tendon injury. Easier said than done, but Thome is determined to be physically ready for the challenge.

When the All-in White Sox won only 79 games last season, no one was more surprised than Thome who, while playing in the AL Central with the Twins and Indians, had a front-row seat for many of their struggles.

Ill never forget it. We were in Minnesota, and we watched their Opening Day game. It was in Cleveland, and they scored like 15 or 18 runs.

(For the record it, was 15. The Sox won 15-10. Dunn hit a homer that ricocheted off a satellite.)

And I remember our guys saying, It looks like Chicago is going to be tough to handle. And then as baseball goes, you just never know. I think with their team last year, its hard to predict or say what went wrong. I think its just a part of baseball.

Saturday, Thome was back in his hometown of Peoria hosting the 17th annual Joyce Thome Benefit, in honor of his late mother. The evening raised over 270,000 for Childrens Hospital of Illinois. It was a record turnout, which this year celebrated Thomes 600th home run, which he belted out in Detroit back in August.

After hitting No. 500 with the White Sox in 2007, Jim and his father Chuck brought the ball to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He plans on doing the same with No. 600 after the season, but this time hell bring along his wife and two kids.

It will be yet another chapter in Thomes memory bank of incredible moments. Like Saturday night.

How do you imagine starting out in the big leagues, growing up in Peoria, getting an opportunity to fulfill a dream, and then you get a call from a hospital back in 1994. And Ill never forget my mom said, The hospital called. Lets go visit the kids. And on that day, day one, it touched me.

In his three-plus seasons with the White Sox, Thome touched the lives of many White Sox fans, some of whom were in attendance at the Thome gala.

Jim foresees a possible renaissance for Dunn in 2012. How about the entire White Sox team?

I do. I think Robin is a great man. I think hes going to do great things. Hes a great baseball guy. I think a guy like Gordon Beckham is going to have a great year.

Then Thome paused and smiled.

And then, who knows, maybe well see you in Chicago in the World Series. That would be fun.

Or unlikely, depending on your point-of-view.

But like Thome said, with baseball, you just never know.

Anyone who says they do know doesnt. Ask the St. Louis Cardinals.

Or ask the heavens. Somewhere theres a ball that Dunn hit there once upon a time. Itll eventually come back.

What happens if his swing does too?

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: