White Sox

White Sox address another question with addition of Jimmy Rollins

jimmyrollinsinsider022216.png

White Sox address another question with addition of Jimmy Rollins

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jimmy Rollins could provide the answer to one of the White Sox biggest questions this season.

With unproven youngster Tyler Saladino penciled in as the starter, and top prospect Tim Anderson perhaps still a step or two away from the majors, the White Sox gave themselves a nice insurance policy when they signed Rollins to a minor-league deal on Monday. The veteran infielder and former National League Most Valuable Player would earn $2 million if he makes the major league roster. He’s expected to arrive at big league camp on Thursday and could win the starting job or become a utility man, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Last season, the only of a 16-year career not played with the Philadelphia Phillies, Rollins hit .224/.285/.358 with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs in 563 plate appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The move is appealing to us on a number of levels,” Hahn said. “First and foremost, it provides us with another quality option for our infield. It provides us with some veteran depth in that area where we previously did not have it. And again, it adds to what we feel is a quality mix in the clubhouse as far as a leader, he brings energy and a competitive edge each day.”

Heading into camp, Saladino, Carlos Sanchez and Anderson were expected to battle to take over as the team’s next starting shortstop after the departure of Alexei Ramirez. The team’s shortstop the previous eight seasons, Ramirez signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Padres in January.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Both Hahn and manager Robin Ventura think Saladino’s glove at short is major league caliber, which has led to the view that he’s the leader in the clubhouse to start. Despite Monday’s signing, Saladino is still considered a strong candidate.

But were he to struggle in the field or at the plate, or Rollins produces as he has throughout his career (49.3 Wins Above Replacement), he could supplant everyone.

“We are going to come in here and see how this plays out,” Ventura said. “I’m not throwing around guarantees for anybody.

“We’ll see how he’s feeling when he goes out there. We are willing to give him that opportunity to find out.”

At the very least, the White Sox are excited to have their young shortstops work alongside Rollins, a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. Rollins has 229 home runs and 465 stolen bases in a career that began in 2000.

“We want them to do a little research on what Jimmy Rollins has done in his career, because it’s impressive,” Ventura said. “He has always carried himself with class and played well as well. He has definitely been a guy that people look up to and he has been a leader, a hustler, anything you want to put on it that’s positive, he’s done.”

The move is the latest in yet another strong offseason for the White Sox that previously included trades for Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier. The White Sox also added to their starting rotation depth with a one-year deal for Mat Latos, maintained their bullpen strength by bringing back reliever Matt Albers and provided veteran depth at catcher with deals for Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila. Catcher Hector Sanchez also was signed on a minor-league deal earlier this offseason.

[MORE: Brett Lawrie believes White Sox roster is 'World Series caliber']

They could still be in line for more, too.

“We certainly haven't stopped looking and haven't stopped having conversations with other clubs and available players,” Hahn said. “We'll see how things play out.”

Hahn is pleased with how negotiations for Rollins went. The White Sox initially reached out to Rollins’ agent in December and again in January. Discussions began again several days ago, Hahn said.

Even though the White Sox believe in Saladino, given their inexperience at short, Hahn likes what possibilities the signing may bring.

“I know (Rollins) feels great, he had to play through some injuries last year, he has a long history of doing that and perhaps some of those weighed on him a little bit last season,” Hahn said. “2014 was a very quality year, consistent with what he did the bulk of his career. We’ll find out together exactly where he’s at.

“I think it takes pressure off (Saladino). It provides Robin with a chance to acclimate him into the full-time role and just having a guy who has been that guy before that both Saladino, Tim and our other young players can see how he goes about his business, keeps his body in shape for a full season, how he prepares for games will be beneficial.”

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: