White Sox

Ventura, Matheny share first-year manager connection

783730.png

Ventura, Matheny share first-year manager connection

The White Sox hired Robin Ventura on Oct. 6, much to the surprise of pundits, fans, players -- pretty much everyone around baseball except the White Sox brass. Ventura had never managed a game at any professional level before, and even he wasn't sold on the opportunity when it was offered. There was plenty of head-scratching on that fall day -- this is the guy who's going to replace Ozzie Guillen?

It's June 12 and the White Sox are in first place, albeit by just a half-game heading into Tuesday's action. But first place is first place, and it's somewhere few expected the White Sox to be at any point this year.

The Cardinals hired Mike Matheny, who similarly had never managed at any professional level, on Nov. 14. While Ventura's hire was met with questions and confusion, Matheny's hire was met with a lesser level of head-scratching and more praise.

"So I told Mike when the White Sox hired me everyone was like, 'Oh my gosh, you've got to be kidding me,'" Ventura told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of a text exchange with Matheny. "I took all the arrows for him. When Mike got hired it was like, 'Oh, that's a smart move. Ex-catcher. He's been in the organization.' Sheesh."

St. Louis got off to a roaring start, winning 20 of their first 31 games. But since hitting that high water mark of nine games over .500 on May 9, the Cardinals are 11-19 with their only series wins coming against San Diego and Houston.

Losing Lance Berkman has been a major blow, although the Cardinals' lineup only has one regular (Tyler GreenDaniel Descalso) with a below-average OPS. It's been St. Louis' pitching that has failed them -- the Cardinals' offense has scored five or more runs in eight of their last 19 losses.

The good news for Matheny and the Cardinals is that the NL Central is weak this year, as evidenced by Pittsburgh waking up on Tuesday in first place. Baseball Prospectus still gives the Cardinals a 63 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

The White Sox have a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs by the same measure. If both make it, it'd represent a pretty incredible success story for two true first-time managers.

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

capture.png

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

The Cubs made the Jose Quintana deal knowing it would have been more difficult to give up Dylan Cease if he was already performing at the Double-A level, and that the White Sox organization would be a good place to continue his education as a young pitcher.

While Eloy Jimenez keeps drawing ridiculous comparisons – the running total now includes Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz – Cease is more than just the other name prospect from the deal that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break.

“We still project him as a starter,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “He certainly has the stuff where it’s easy to envision him as a potential dominant reliever. But to this point – for the foreseeable future – we deal with the starting and continue to develop him as a potential front-end arm.”

The Theo Epstein regime still hasn’t developed an impact homegrown pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from winning 292 games, six playoff rounds and a World Series title across the last three seasons, while still being in a strong position to win the National League Central again in 2018.

Without Quintana and his affordable contact that can run through 2020, Epstein’s front office might have been looking at the daunting possibility of trying acquire three starting pitchers this winter.

While surveying a farm system in the middle of a natural downturn, Baseball America ranked seven pitchers on its top-10 list of prospects from the Cubs organization: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Oscar De La Cruz, Brendon Little, Thomas Hatch and Jen-Ho Tseng.

So far, only Alzolay, an Arizona Fall League Fall Star with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee on his resume, and Tseng, who made his big-league in debut in September, have pitched above the A-ball level.

Cease – who went 0-8 with a 3.89 ERA for Class-A Kannapolis in his first nine starts in the White Sox system – has a 100-mph fastball and a big curveball and won’t turn 22 until next month. That stuff allowed Cease to pile up 126 strikeouts against 44 walks in 93.1 innings this year, putting him in the wave that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

“Ideally, we have a lot of guys we project to be part of the future, very good, championship-caliber rotation,” Hahn said. “In an ideal world, there’s not going to be room at the inn for all of them. You only have five in that rotation and some of these guys will wind up in the bullpen. In reality, as players develop, you’re going to see some attrition.”

One spot after the White Sox grabbed Carlos Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Cubs did Kyle Schwarber’s below-slot deal, using part of the savings to buy out Cease’s commitment to Vanderbilt University ($1.5 million bonus for a sixth-rounder) and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Cease was never going to be on the fast track to Wrigley Field, and now the White Sox hope he can be part of the foundation on the South Side, where it’s easier to sell a rebuild after watching the Cubs and Houston Astros become World Series champions.

“It doesn’t change really for us internally in terms of our commitment or focus or our plan or our timeline or anything along those lines,” Hahn said. “I do think, perhaps, it helps the fan base understand a little bit about what the process looks like, where other teams have been and how long the path they took to get to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series (was). In Chicago, many fans saw it firsthand with the Cubs.

“There are certainly more and more examples in the game over the last several years to help sort of show fans the path and justification for what we’re (doing).”

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

thyago_vieira_white_sox_trade_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

The White Sox continued their rebuild Thursday by trading for an intriguing young right-handed pitcher.

The South Siders acquired Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.

The 24-year-old Vieira is a Brazilian native and has only made one appearance in the big leagues, striking out a batter in one perfect inning of work in 2017.

While his career minor-league numbers don't jump off the page — 14-19 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 13 saves and 7.4 K/9 in 290.2 innings \— Vieira has been reportedly clocked at 104 mph with his fastball and was ranked as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect at the time of the deal. He also held righties to .194 batting average in 2017.

Here's video of Vieira throwing gas:

And this may explain why Vieira was even available:

Control has been an issue throughout his career, as he's walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has improved in that regard over the last few seasons, however, walking only 22 batters in 54 innings across three levels in 2017 and he doled out only one free pass in 5.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

What does this deal mean in the big picture for baseball? How did the Sox pull off a move like this while not having to give up a player in return? 

This may help shed light on the situation from Baseball America's Kyle Glaser:

Either way, the White Sox may have just acquired a guy who could potentially throw his name in the hat for "future closer." Or at the very least, throw his name in the hat for "best name."