White Sox

White Sox prospect Alec Hansen thinks 2018 season could be even better than breakout season

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White Sox prospect Alec Hansen thinks 2018 season could be even better than breakout season

Look out for Alec Hansen.

The White Sox prospect thinks 2018 could be even better with all that he’s learned about managing himself in his first full season. That's pretty scary when you consider that Hansen, who finished at Double-A Birmingham, led the minors in strikeouts and earned two promotions in 2017.

The No. 6 White Sox prospect (No. 95 overall according to MLBPipeline.com) is even more optimistic about his second full season.

“(The first full season) was great that it taught me about my arm and how my arm is going feel in between every start and how my body is going to feel throughout the season,” Hansen said on a conference call. “I can go into this offseason and work out and get my body the way I want it to going into spring training and be able to maintain that throughout the season next year.”

“I'll have a lot more confidence and experience. By the end of next year that experience and confidence in my body will be where it needs to be to be in the major leagues for good.”

Hansen has plenty of reason to feel confidence. The No. 49 pick of the 2016 draft followed a stellar pro debut with an outstanding 2017 campaign in which he struck out 191 batters in 141 1/3 innings. Believed to have No. 1-starter type stuff, Hansen put it all together and carved a niche for himself in an organization loaded with pitching prospects.

Hansen said the final two starts of the season at Double-A Birmingham, in which he struck out 17 batters in 10 1/3 innings, further convinced him how his stuff would play at higher levels.

"That’s something I'll remember for the rest of my life that I led the minor leagues in strikeouts this year, which is pretty cool,” Hansen said. “You got to think, it was at the lower levels, it was in A-ball where guys swing a lot and are pretty aggressive at the plate. But it was nice to see I went up to Double-A and still had quite a few strikeouts. That was kind of reassuring.”

So, too, were the promotions.

Hansen started the season at Single-A Kannapolis and made 13 starts before he was sent to Single-A Winston-Salem after striking out 92 batters in 72 2/3 innings. He also excelled for the Dash, striking out 82 batters in 58 1/3 innings. Right before the season ended, Hansen got the call one last time. He went 11-8 with a 2.80 ERA and struck out 191 batters in 141 1/3 innings over 26 starts.

“Honestly, I had no idea what was going to happen to me this year,” Hansen said. “If you asked me at the beginning of the season where do I expect to end up, I wouldn’t have said Double-A. But if you asked me toward after the All-Star break and after a couple of starts at Winston-Salem where I started to pick it up a little bit, then I was kind of hoping I was going to finish at Double-A.”

Volstad, Santiago show capability as rotation alternatives, but White Sox still have starting-pitching mystery this weekend

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USA TODAY

Volstad, Santiago show capability as rotation alternatives, but White Sox still have starting-pitching mystery this weekend

Chris Volstad and Hector Santiago combined for one of the best outings by a White Sox starting pitcher this season.

These weren’t the names anyone expected to fit that description when the season began. But with struggles all around from James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, here the White Sox sit as they approach the one-month mark of the 2018 campaign.

Reynaldo Lopez has been excellent, no doubt about it, and Fulmer has turned in a couple nice outings, including in Monday’s win over the visiting Seattle Mariners. But against that same M’s lineup Tuesday afternoon, Volstad — who lasted 4.1 innings in a 1-0 loss — became the first White Sox starter this season not to issue a walk.

It was an important outing for Volstad, as well as for Santiago, who followed him up with 3.1 shutout innings of his own. The duo showed they’re both capable of serving as reliable fill-ins in a White Sox rotation that got a hole punched in it Monday, when Gonzalez went to the disabled list.

Shields, Giolito, Lopez, Fulmer. Those guys aren’t going anywhere. But should Gonzalez remain on the DL for an extended period of time, it doesn’t seem as if the White Sox need to be searching for options.

“Volstad and Hector both did a nice job. I thought they gave us plenty of outs, they gave us plenty of opportunity,” manager Rick Renteria said after Tuesday’s game.

But that doesn’t mean the South Siders are out of the starting-pitching woods for the remainder of this week. Shields will go in Wednesday’s finale with the Mariners. Giolito and Lopez are set to pitch in the first two games of a five-game road series against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

But Saturday presents a mystery, one that doesn’t seem to have an easy answer.

Thanks to that opening-weekend snow-out, there’s a doubleheader Saturday, and while Fulmer is in line to start one of those games, who will start the other? The White Sox will get a 26th man for that day, and that spot is typically given to a spot starter brought up from Triple-A. But given the White Sox current situation on the 40-man roster, there aren’t many options, meaning a player might need to be outrighted in order to make room for a spot starter.

Let’s get this out of the way first: It seems unlikely that Michael Kopech will make his major league debut in a spot start during an April doubleheader in Kansas City. Yes, Kopech has been good in his three starts with Charlotte, sporting a 2.40 ERA with 21 strikeouts. But he’s got just six total starts at the Triple-A level, and the White Sox have made it abundantly clear throughout the last several months that the necessities of the big league team during this rebuilding season and Kopech’s readiness for the majors are independent of one another.

It makes no sense to potentially cut short Kopech’s development at the Triple-A level because the big league rotation needs a spot starter.

The options, however, are limited.

Of the seven players who have started games for the Knights this season, two are on the big league roster right now (Volstad and Chris Beck), one is Kopech and one has a 9.75 ERA (T.J. House). One is on the 40-man roster, Ricardo Pinto, who made his first start at Charlotte on Tuesday. Pinto, though, would be on short rest Saturday.

The other two are Dylan Covey, who turned in a 7.71 ERA with the White Sox last season, and Donn Roach, who has made two career major league starts, most recently giving up four runs in 3.1 innings in a spot start for the Cubs in 2015. Covey and Roach have 2.95 and 1.88 ERAs at Charlotte, respectively. But the White Sox would need to make room on the 40-man roster to bring either up, even just for a day.

While it would be on “short rest,” perhaps the most logical option is just to start Volstad or Santiago on Saturday and start the other on Sunday. Tuesday, Volstad threw 66 pitches and Santiago threw 59 pitches, neither total approaching the qualification of a heavy workload, especially considering both veterans have plenty of starting experience under their belts.

Renteria talked about how well it worked using both guys in tandem Tuesday, but he might have to split them up to staff his rotation this weekend. It would also eliminate the need to remove someone from the 40-man roster. The White Sox could just bring up another bullpen arm as the 26th man, someone like Juan Minaya, who was on the Opening Day roster.

Renteria has already shown willingness to use his pitchers outside of the traditional “every fifth day” strategy. Shields and Fulmer both pitched in back-to-back games just last week. And Fulmer’s turn was moved up when Gonzalez went on the DL, pressing him into his third appearance in six days Monday.

The mystery likely won’t be solved, at least publicly, anytime soon. We’ll likely have to wait a few days to know for sure. Until then, it’s a guessing game.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Trayce Thompson - 'This is home'

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Trayce Thompson - 'This is home'

Drafted by the White Sox in 2009, Trayce Thompson never wanted to play for another team but the White Sox. 

All that changed in 2015 when he was dealt to the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier trade. Now back with the White Sox, Thompson talks with Chuck Garfien about the trials and tribulations of the last few years, the whirlwind of being on 4 teams in the last 4 weeks, how the White Sox threw him a lifeline bringing him back, how he wants to make the best of this new opportunity and more. 

Take a listen here or in the embedded player below.