White Sox

White Sox sign reliever Nate Jones to multi-year extension

natejoneswhitesox.png

White Sox sign reliever Nate Jones to multi-year extension

Healthy after two seasons, Nate Jones showed the White Sox enough in 2015 to earn a lengthy contract extension on Friday.

The team announced it signed the right-handed reliever -- who had reconstructive elbow surgery in July 2014 -- to a three-year, $8-million deal that includes three options. Jones, who could have filed for free agency after only two more seasons, potentially could stay with the White Sox through 2021.

After he returned from Tommy John surgery last season, Jones went 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 innings. With improved velocity from two seasons ago, Jones averaged 12.79 strikeouts per nine innings.

“It was a long road,” Jones said. “But this definitely makes it worth it. That’s for sure.

“I’m glad they think of me that way, enough of me to offer me this. I want to be a White Sox for a long time. They are doing things right and building their team to win. I want to be a part of that winning.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

The deal calls for Jones to earn $900,000 this season, the same amount he was projected to earn in arbitration, according to mlbtraderumors.com. The right-hander receives raises to $1.9 million in 2017 and $3.95 million in 2018, which would have been his first year of free agency. The club holds options for 2019 ($4.65 million) and 2020 ($5.15 million) and the deal includes a $6 million mutual option for 2021. The contract has a $1.25 million buyout if any option is decline.

With closer David Robertson under contract for three more seasons, Jones is slotted as one of the team’s top setup men along with Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and Zach Duke. Given how abysmal the team’s bullpen was in 2014, when Jones was only available for the first three games, general manager Rick Hahn has opted to mostly keep last year’s group intact. Of the key performers in 2015, only Matt Albers, a free agent, is unlikely to return.

“We view Nate as a key component in the back end of our bullpen,” Hahn said in a press release. “Nate is a homegrown pitcher with a power arm and tremendous work ethic, so we are excited to be able to reward him for what he has accomplished thus far in his career and potentially keep him in a White Sox uniform for the next six seasons.”

[MORE: White Sox didn't empty cupboard for Lawrie, Frazier]

Jones made a nice comeback in 2015 following a series of injuries that limited him to two games in 2014. What began as a strained gluteal muscle in spring training 2014 ultimately led to surgery, a micro discectomy to take pressure off his nerves and relieve back pain. Later that summer, Jones tore his ulnar collateral ligament while rehabbing and had elbow surgery on July 29.

The White Sox encouraged Jones to go slow in his recovery, pushing back the start of the throwing portion of his rehab by a more than a month and into the start of the new year. Jones flourished in the process, making all of his side sessions once he did hit the mound and throwing harder than he did before the procedure. His fastball averaged 97.6 mph this season, according to fangraphs.com, up two miles per hour from the early part of 2014. He also averaged 89.4 mph with his slider, up nearly two miles per hour from 2013.

Jones said the lengthy rehab process allowed him to repair his mechanics, including taking a straighter path to home.

“I was very pleased,” Jones said. “The rehab gave me an opportunity to clean things up, make sure my direction was going towards the plate and not towards first base.

“They very well could have gave up on me at any point. But they didn’t. They stuck with me and they saw enough of results from last year when I came back and they like what they saw. They know what kind of work ethic I have and they know I’m going to give it everything I got all the time.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

0219_alec_hansen.jpg
AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

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.