White Sox

What can White Sox make of Avisail Garcia's strong spring?

avisailgarciastrongspring.png

What can White Sox make of Avisail Garcia's strong spring?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Is Avisail Garcia’s torrid start to spring training a sign of things to come or a desert mirage?

That’s one of the more pressing questions to be answered not only over the remainder of spring training, but once the White Sox regular season begins in just under three weeks. 

Garcia bashed his way to a .435 batting average and 1.393 OPS with two home runs over his first eight Cactus League games entering Tuesday. The 24-year-old right fielder tweaked his batting stance to bring his hands lower and closer to the strike zone, which he said has allowed him to identify and react to pitches better. Coaches and scouts are seeing his bat stay in the strike zone longer and be on a better plane, too. 

All of it adds up to an encouraging narrative surrounding a guy who limped his way to a .675 OPS and -1.4 WAR in 2015. 

“You work for something,” Garcia said. “I think if you want to get better you have to adjust and try to be focused when you do it. I think that’s the case.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: All systems go for ace Chris Sale]

Hitting coach Todd Steverson is less concerned about the results and more focused on how the hulking Garcia approaches each swing, at-bat and game. It’s still early in the process — eight games does not mean a change will work — but Steverson is looking for consistency in Garcia’s approach to see if the tweaks to his stance will stick long-term. 

But getting results, even in the laid-back atmosphere of spring training games, can help prove to Garcia that the changes and suggestions thrown at him by the coaching staff are worth it. 

“I think for him, he’s encouraged by that and I think the numbers and what he’s done in the spring back it up,” manager Robin Ventura said. “To me, he looks different. There is something there that is a tangible change that his swing’s different.” 

If anyone needed a change from his 2015 results, it was Garcia. His approach was often dreadful — he swung at the third-highest percentage of pitches among qualified hitters last year (60.2 percent) but had the eighth-worst contact rate (70.6 percent). Those offensive issues, plus some defensive headaches, meant by WAR Garcia was rated as the third-worst everyday player in baseball. 

Taking a laissez-faire approach, then, wasn’t an option for the White Sox toward Garica’s development. By having his hands closer to the strike zone — “last year was too far,” Garcia said — he feels like he’s far more comfortable at the plate. It’s shown through both of Garcia’s spring home runs being to left field, and that’s he’s not just swinging to make contact, but swinging to make hard contact. 

“I think he’s changed his approach in the right way,” third baseman Todd Frazier observed. “He’s calm, he’s nice and smooth at the plate. It looks like he’s stretched free. I don’t know how pitchers feel when you see a guy who’s nice and relaxed. It’s kind of tough. 

“He looks great up there at the plate, he’s determined, he wants to bounce back and have a great year. I can see it in his eyes. It’s a lot of fun to watch so far.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox finding transition to new catchers a smooth one]

But the positivity surrounding Garcia often hits a roadblock when the “it’s just spring” realization hits. In 1,098 major league plate appearances, Garcia has a .264 batting average and .696 OPS; his minor league line is only a little better (.291 batting average, .736 OPS in 2,407 plate appearances). 

Garcia’s 24 spring plate appearances would represent 2 percent of his major league total and .05 percent of his plate appearances as a professional. 

Garcia’s defense remains insufficient, too; both defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating have him costing his team more than 20 runs over his four seasons in the major leagues. 

“I think he’s always going to be a big kid out in the outfield,” Ventura said. “That part, you can’t just make him a track star out there, so there’s going to be some that he doesn’t get to. But if he can catch the ones that he gets to he’s going to be all right.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

The one positive to go in the face of Garcia’s history is one echoed by both Steverson and Ventura: Sometimes, things just click, and it’s not necessarily easy to know when they will. Garcia turns 25 in June and has been praised for his raw potential for years. Somewhere in that 6-foot-4, 240 pound frame that could be mistaken for an NFL linebacker might be a consistent, productive hitter. 

At least, that’s what the White Sox are hoping for. 

“It’s probably too early but I like the mechanical changes that he’s made,” Ventura said. “Part of that becomes his confidence and how he feels. I think he’s starting to understand what we’re talking about, and he can see it, feel it, and I think the numbers are there to back it up. Spring’s always, to me, if a guy has a good spring, it’s nice, but it doesn’t really mean anything. 

“I think for him, making noticeable changes that we know he’s making, he’s receptive to it. That’s part of going through this. I think you’re encouraged by all that.” 

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

0218-dylan-covey.jpg
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

0218-jose-abreu.jpg
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.