White Sox

White Sox defense continues to benefit from Austin Jackson's presence

White Sox defense continues to benefit from Austin Jackson's presence

David Robertson’s expression Sunday afternoon said it all and the camera caught every second of it.

In the span of a few seconds, the White Sox closer’s emotions went from disgust to disbelief to joy as Austin Jackson raced back to take at least a double away from Oswaldo Arcia with no outs in the ninth inning.

Similar to Jose Quintana earlier in the game, Robertson parlayed a big effort from Jackson into a scoreless inning as he closed out a 3-1 White Sox victory over the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field. Robertson recorded his 10th save and the White Sox improved to 22-10. While you can point to many reasons why the White Sox already own a five-game lead in the American League Central, the team’s improved defense is certainly one of the biggest keys to its early success and Jackson is at the forefront.

“Austin covers a lot of ground and makes great reads,” Robertson said. “I couldn’t believe he got to that ball today.

“I was excited. It was a great catch. I didn’t think he was going to catch it. I wasn’t even sure if it was going to stay in the park.”

Jackson’s grab is only the latest installment in a season full of defensive highlights for the White Sox, particularly in the outfield. After they finished 26th of 30 in Defensive Runs Saved last season with minus-22, White Sox outfielders collectively entered Sunday atop the majors with 12.

Though much of the credit has been assigned to right fielder Adam Eaton, and rightfully so, you can’t overlook the contributions of Jackson, who signed a one-year deal with the club on March 6.

Defensive metrics aren’t as much of a fan of Jackson as they are Eaton. Eaton leads all players with 13 DRS while Jackson has produced minus-3, meaning three fewer runs than the average player at his position.

But what goes unaccounted for on a stat sheet is how Jackson has taken over as the captain of the outfield. Eaton said Jackson’s verbal skills and knowledge of hitters around the league has routinely had him in the correct spot, which allows him to just go out and play.

Jackson agreed that the back and forth between himself and Eaton has been a critical component.

“We’ve been doing a really good job of communicating out there,” Jackson said. “That’s the key to us being able to getting to a lot balls in the gap, cutting off balls, keeping guys at first base — just being able to talk to each other and make sure we’re on the same page and in the proper position when we’re out there.”

Back when Jackson signed, catcher Alex Avila said he’d never seen his former Detroit Tigers teammate dive to catch a ball because he sees it so well off the bat. Jackson displayed his technique in the first inning on Miguel Sano’s liner to center field as he raced over to catch it to the surprise of base runner Eddie Rosario, who had already rounded third base. Jackson easily fired the ball in for a double play.

“His defense is fantastic,” manager Robin Ventura said. “The play in the first inning and the play there in the last inning, it just solidifies everything in the outfield. He can cover a lot of ground, Adam can cover a lot of ground. It's important for us to play defense, but just the dynamic of all three of those guys out there, it's been great for us.

“He has great reads, great routes. I didn't think he was really going to get to the last one. Just a great route to get there and get your glove out.”

Robertson wasn’t the only one to celebrate the catch in center. According to MLB.com’s Statcast, Jackson raced 94 feet at 19.4 mph to rob Arcia of extra bases. His route efficiency was determined to be 96.0 percent.

Perhaps surprised himself, Jackson pounded his glove and later tipped his cap.

“It’s fun — I look at those guys and I see how pumped up they are and vice versa,” Jackson said. “We kind of feed off each other’s energy and like I said, that’s been a big key of what we’ve been able to be so good out there.”

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

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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

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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.