White Sox

White Sox: Erik Johnson earns Triple-A All-Star Game start

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White Sox: Erik Johnson earns Triple-A All-Star Game start

Erik Johnson is back on the map and he’s set to start the Triple-A All-Star game next week, too.

A strong season highlighted by a dominant six-game stretch earned Johnson the nod for the International League in next Wednesday’s exhibition.

It also has helped the Triple-A Charlotte pitcher -- once the No. 2 prospect in the White Sox farm system who was sent back to the minors after five starts in 2014 -- reemerge in the organization’s plans after a disastrous 2014 season.

Johnson is 7-5 with a 2.86 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 85 innings at Triple-A Charlotte this season. Over his last six games, Johnson has a 1.07 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 42 innings.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

“He’s having a great year,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “On one level, you’re really happy for the kid because obviously he struggled and it sort of got away from him a little bit in ’14. And now not only has it come back, but arguably it’s come back at a level beyond even where he was in ’12 and ’13.

“It obviously puts us in a nice position going forward of having some pitching depth who can also play a role here in the second half if need be.”

The White Sox recently slowed Johnson down in an effort to monitor his workload. He last pitched on June 26, though the right-hander will pitch a few innings on Friday before he pitches in the All-Star Game next Wednesday. Johnson is then expected to return to Charlotte’s rotation on a normal schedule.

[MORE: Javy Guerra suspended 50 games for failed drug test]

Johnson rose to prominence in 2013 as he went12-3 with a 1.96 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He also pitched well infive big league starts with the White Sox that September and was rated the No. 63 prospect by Baseball America heading into 2014.

Without much competition, Johnson was handed a spot in the 2014 starting rotation and struggled immediately, going 1-1 with a 6.46 ERA in 23 2/3 innings. His velocity declined as did his command and Johnson was sent back to Charlotte, where he had a 6.73 ERA in 20 starts.

But this spring, Johnson regained his velocity and wanted to show the White Sox he was still a viable option in the future.

“I am optimistic,” Johnson said in March. “I feel good. I’m throwing the ball well from what I can see. I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying every day. I’m really thankful to be here and be part of this organization. I’m not here to just go through camp, I’m here to make some moves.”

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.