White Sox

Zack Collins has been training with Yasmani Grandal since high school, and it's paying off for the White Sox prospect

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USA TODAY

Zack Collins has been training with Yasmani Grandal since high school, and it's paying off for the White Sox prospect

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Since he started catching, Zack Collins has always had a major league mentor he’s counted upon in Dodgers backstop Yasmani Grandal.

Early in his high school career, Collins — who was promoted to Double-A Birmingham from Single-A Winston-Salem on Tuesday — knew he wanted to catch. He sought help from Grandal, who had just been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds after catching at the University of Miami, and convinced him to train together.

They’ve remained close ever since.

That bond has been extremely helpful at every step for Collins, who has an experienced friend who understands the complexities of developing into a catcher. Even though Collins is very pleased with his 2017 campaign, he has his doubts like any other player. At times, the White Sox 2016 first-rounder has been frustrated by his batting average this season. But same as always, Grandal has been a perfecting sounding board.

“I was like Yaz what do I do?” Collins said. “He’s like, ‘You’re there to catch, hit home runs and have a good on-base percentage.’ He pretty much told me all he cares about is making his pitchers feel good, having a good slugging percentage and a good on-base percentage. That’s pretty much it.

“We all have things to work on, but I’m happy with how my season has gone.”

Grandal likes what he has seen from Collins since the outset. He liked how much effort Collins, who was 15 at the time, put into training sessions as he attempted to match the pace of Grandal’s rigorous offseason conditioning program. Collins could only manage to do part of the training and said he always felt like he had run a marathon afterward.

“I put him through a lot of hard work,” Grandal said. “I had a vision for him, and I needed to get him to where I see him (being) in a short period of time. He needed to put the work in. I think we made lots of strides toward that goal.”

Since then Grandal has been a guide for Collins on a matter of subjects. When the Reds selected Collins in the 27th round of the 2013 draft, Grandal suggested he think about playing in college, and Collins ended up playing at Miami. Grandal had made the same decision in 2007, and he went from a 27th-rounder to a first-round pick in 2010.

The two have also discussed how Pilates help strengthen core muscles and how much it can help catchers. Collins began doing Pilates last offseason and on Monday said he feels strong and in great shape despite having played in a career-high 101 games, including 76 starts at catcher.

“I’ve spoke to him a lot, pretty much guiding him through little things here and there,” Grandal said.

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It’s no surprise to find that Collins recently brought up his batting average in a conversation with Grandal. Collins has heard the questions and at the Futures Game last month said he’s not as concerned about his average. After all, he still carried a high on-base percentage and had 18 doubles and 17 home runs. Behind the plate, Collins had thrown out 41 percent of the stolen-base attempts against him this season, up from 3-of-21 last year.

But naturally, Collins had some doubts.

He’s open to working on his swing — “You can say hitch, you can say bat movement, but the key is to get in a good position at an early time and just be able to see the pitch and hit it,” Collins said.

Collins just prefers to work on the swing change in the offseason. After trying to adjust recently during the season, Collins found it difficult to compete while making the switch and requested a stoppage until instructional camp, which begins in Glendale, Arizona, next month. Collins said on Monday he’s headed to the one-month camp for minor leaguers.

“It wasn’t really working in the middle of the season,” Collins said. “It’s tough to think about swing changes, but right now I’m just going out there and hitting and having fun the way I’ve always done. We’ll worry about that in the offseason.

“When you’re trying something and you have one bad game it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe I should do something different.’ We’re going to work on everything in the offseason.”

After talking to Grandal, Collins had confidence that the rest of what he has accomplished shouldn’t be overshadowed internally by his strikeout total and average. He instead wanted to focus on finishing the season strong at Winston-Salem. In August, Collins hit .343/.500/.686 with four doubles, a triple, two home runs and seven RBIs in 48 plate appearances before his promotion.

While he’s the one who has done the work, Collins knows have a sounding board like Grandal continues to be a big help.

“I had just started catching, I was raw back there,” Collins said. “I think it was more important to work with him just to see how he carries himself and he works rather than learning stuff. I would go watch him play and to see how he carries himself on the field and the way he did things helped me out a lot.”

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."