White Sox

Why teaching phase of White Sox rebuild has Don Cooper excited

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USA TODAY

Why teaching phase of White Sox rebuild has Don Cooper excited

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Don Cooper has been waiting for this portion of the season to begin after watching the dismantling of the pitching staff piece by piece.

As difficult as the departures of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and many others has been, the White Sox pitching coach agreed with the organization’s decision to head in this new direction all along. This spring, Cooper said he was excited for the learning environment the team had begun to create for its young prospects and the future they brought with them.

Now that many of the franchise’s young pitchers have graduated to the majors, Cooper is enthralled to have reached the teaching phase. He’s found working with Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Tuesday’s starter Reynaldo Lopez to be rejuvenating after a trying process in which eight pitchers were traded since December, including seven since mid-July.

“The rebuild is underway,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t underway prior to them getting here. It was still the gutting of the team that was happening. And it’s been fun seeing where they’re at and what we might do to improve and how we improve in those areas.”

Giolito doesn’t mind it, either.

He’s comfortable knowing he’ll be with the White Sox for some time in this final stage of development. Rick Hahn said last December the team intended to first let Giolito work things out at Triple-A Charlotte before he would be promoted. They wouldn’t start Giolito in the majors and send him back for more development if he struggled.

Last season, Giolito bounced around the Washington Nationals organization. The Nationals were in a pennant race and needed the rookie to contribute and he struggled. Giolito liked the motivation offered by the challenge, but also appreciates the comfort he has with the White Sox. He and Cooper like working together to determine how Giolito can improve.

This week they’ve focused again on getting ahead in the count early after Giolito walked four batters in Friday’s loss. Giolito wasn’t pleased with the strike zone (Pitch Tracker made it appear that at least 10 low strikes were called balls) and was ejected. But on Monday, Giolito said he thought he was erratic on the edges and at the top of the zone, which can result in missed strike calls. If he faces that situation again, Giolito plans to attack hitters more often with his fastball.

“The learning experience to take from that is when you’re getting squeezed a little bit you just have to pound the zone to the best of your ability,” Giolito said. “Challenge hitters. Take those opportunities to challenge yourself -- I’m going to throw my fastball in there and see what happens.

“Just to have that comfort of I’m going to go out there and give my 100 percent and whatever happens happens. But I know that I’ll be able to continue to work on things at this level and I’ll get another opportunity.”

As Cooper noted, no bad game or even a rough stretch is going to cost Giolito or Lopez or Fulmer. They’re all a big part of the franchise’s plans and the White Sox will exhaust every effort with each.

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It’s the teaching phase and Cooper is relishing it.

“All of the kids that are coming up, there’s nothing they can do negatively that’s going to get us off of them and stop what we’re trying to do and stop where we’re trying to head because they’re part of the future,” Cooper said.

“It’s refreshing.”

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

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Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

The Cubs made the Jose Quintana deal knowing it would have been more difficult to give up Dylan Cease if he was already performing at the Double-A level, and that the White Sox organization would be a good place to continue his education as a young pitcher.

While Eloy Jimenez keeps drawing ridiculous comparisons – the running total now includes Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz – Cease is more than just the other name prospect from the deal that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break.

“We still project him as a starter,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “He certainly has the stuff where it’s easy to envision him as a potential dominant reliever. But to this point – for the foreseeable future – we deal with the starting and continue to develop him as a potential front-end arm.”

The Theo Epstein regime still hasn’t developed an impact homegrown pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from winning 292 games, six playoff rounds and a World Series title across the last three seasons, while still being in a strong position to win the National League Central again in 2018.

Without Quintana and his affordable contract that can run through 2020, Epstein’s front office might have been looking at the daunting possibility of trying to acquire three starting pitchers this winter.

While surveying a farm system in the middle of a natural downturn, Baseball America ranked seven pitchers on its top-10 list of prospects from the Cubs organization: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Oscar De La Cruz, Brendon Little, Thomas Hatch and Jen-Ho Tseng.

So far, only Alzolay, an Arizona Fall League Fall Star with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee on his resume, and Tseng, who made his big-league debut in September, have pitched above the A-ball level.

Cease – who went 0-8 with a 3.89 ERA for Class-A Kannapolis in his first nine starts in the White Sox system – has a 100-mph fastball and a big curveball and won’t turn 22 until next month. That stuff allowed Cease to pile up 126 strikeouts against 44 walks in 93.1 innings this year, putting him in the wave that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

“Ideally, we have a lot of guys we project to be part of the future, very good, championship-caliber rotation,” Hahn said. “In an ideal world, there’s not going to be room at the inn for all of them. You only have five in that rotation and some of these guys will wind up in the bullpen. In reality, as players develop, you’re going to see some attrition.”

One spot after the White Sox grabbed Carlos Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Cubs did Kyle Schwarber’s below-slot deal, using part of the savings to buy out Cease’s commitment to Vanderbilt University ($1.5 million bonus for a sixth-rounder) and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Cease was never going to be on the fast track to Wrigley Field, and now the White Sox hope he can be part of the foundation on the South Side, where it’s easier to sell a rebuild after watching the Cubs and Houston Astros become World Series champions.

“It doesn’t change really for us internally in terms of our commitment or focus or our plan or our timeline or anything along those lines,” Hahn said. “I do think, perhaps, it helps the fan base understand a little bit about what the process looks like, where other teams have been and how long the path they took to get to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series (was). In Chicago, many fans saw it firsthand with the Cubs.

“There are certainly more and more examples in the game over the last several years to help sort of show fans the path and justification for what we’re (doing).”

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

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USA TODAY

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

The White Sox continued their rebuild Thursday by trading for an intriguing young right-handed pitcher.

The South Siders acquired Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.

The 24-year-old Vieira is a Brazilian native and has only made one appearance in the big leagues, striking out a batter in one perfect inning of work in 2017.

While his career minor-league numbers don't jump off the page — 14-19 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 13 saves and 7.4 K/9 in 290.2 innings \— Vieira has been reportedly clocked at 104 mph with his fastball and was ranked as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect at the time of the deal. He also held righties to .194 batting average in 2017.

Here's video of Vieira throwing gas:

And this may explain why Vieira was even available:

Control has been an issue throughout his career, as he's walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has improved in that regard over the last few seasons, however, walking only 22 batters in 54 innings across three levels in 2017 and he doled out only one free pass in 5.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

What does this deal mean in the big picture for baseball? How did the Sox pull off a move like this while not having to give up a player in return? 

This may help shed light on the situation from Baseball America's Kyle Glaser:

Either way, the White Sox may have just acquired a guy who could potentially throw his name in the hat for "future closer." Or at the very least, throw his name in the hat for "best name."