Juan Minaya

What acquisitions of Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan do for White Sox in 2018 and beyond


What acquisitions of Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan do for White Sox in 2018 and beyond

Rick Hahn is at it again.

After trading away a large chunk of the bullpen in midseason deals last summer, the White Sox general manager continued to reshape his relief corps for the 2018 season, acquiring veteran relievers Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan in a three-team trade Thursday night.

Like most of the other moves Hahn has made over the past year-plus, this trade keeps the White Sox flexible and gives them options, helping to bolster the bullpen for the upcoming campaign and to keep the door open for rebuild-advancing moves later on this year.

Adding Soria and Avila — coming over from the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively — brings some veteran experience to a bullpen short on it following last year's trades that shipped David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings away from the South Side. It will help a 'pen that by last season's end boasted Juan Minaya as its closer and saw perhaps its best closing option, Nate Jones, on the disabled list. There's a lot of youth in the returning names — Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Gregory Infante — and the two guys added earlier this offseason, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira.

While the relief unit found its footing by season's end with a 3.96 ERA over the final month of the campaign, it posted a 6.03 ERA in August, the month following those midseason trades, which ranked as the worst in baseball.

So Soria and Avilan provide track records of success. The 33-year-old Soria's been pitching in the big leagues since 2007, a two-time All Star and a familiar face to White Sox fans who saw him star with the division-rival Royals for many years. Last season, Soria posted a 3.70 ERA in 56 innings. With his 64 strikeouts, his 10.3 K/9 was his highest in a single season since 2013. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Avilan was real good for the Dodgers, turning in a 2.93 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 in 46 innings.

But it's what these two guys could provide as the calendar turns to July and August that might end up being of more value in a season where the rebuilding White Sox aren't expected to compete. Should Soria and Avilan continue the solid performances they had in 2017, Hahn could go down the same road he did last summer and deal his relievers away for pieces that could help deepen the farm system and further the rebuild.

Hahn acquired three prospects, including Blake Rutherford and Ian Clarkin, in the trade that sent Robertson and Kahnle — along with third baseman Todd Frazier — to the New York Yankees. He acquired outfield prospect Ryan Cordell in the trade that sent Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers. He acquired first base prospect Casey Gillaspie in the trade that sent Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays. That's a lot of talent added to the farm system midseason, even if it isn't quite the highly rated, uber-flashy kind acquired in deals featuring Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana.

Who knows what those kinds of players could end up being? No one would assume that the likes of Soria or Avilan would command a huge return package at any time of year. But acquiring any sort of talent that could pay off down the road is a big deal for a rebuilding team, and Hahn is keeping his options open — chiefly the option to improve his club for the long haul — by acquiring a pair of relievers who will also help his bullpen right now.

'Improved' Juan Minaya adds split-fingered fastball to repertoire


'Improved' Juan Minaya adds split-fingered fastball to repertoire

The White Sox wanted Juan Minaya to add another pitch when he casually mentioned a few weeks back he throws a split-fingered fastball.

The hope is to another pitch could help the rookie reliever improve against left-handed hitters. Minaya -- who has converted seven of eight saves with 49 strikeouts and a 4.75 ERA in 41 2/3 innings -- threw a split-finger fastball when he pitched in the Houston Astros farm system. But Minaya said the Astros thought he threw it too hard and discouraged its use. The White Sox are more than happy to have Minaya be able to attack another quadrant.

“The (changeup/split-fingered fastball) has been a nice addition,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “We’re also trying to get him better and more consistent with his breaking stuff.

“Minaya has probably been one of the most improved guys, from the moment we picked him up from Houston, getting his delivery better. He’s throwing more strikes than he ever has with all of his pitches and the delivery enables that.”

Minaya, 27, hasn’t been scored upon in his last five appearances, though Avisail Garcia bailed him out with an assist on a wild game-ending play on Friday night.

Part of that success has come from the addition of the split-fingered fastball, which Minaya has thrown 16 times this month. Before September, Minaya had thrown the pitch only 11 times at the big-league level.

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Minaya already throws a four-seam fastball, curve and a slider. But the split gives him a secondary pitch for lefties, who have an .829 OPS against Minaya this season.

“You can see he has confidence in it because he’s shaking to it a lot, which I love,” said catcher Kevan Smith. “He needed to throw that off his fastball. He has more than above average breaking stuff, but he broke it out a few weeks ago and we were like, ‘You’ve been holding out on us all season with that.’ That’s just going to bring more value to him, make more effective. A little more confident and successful.”

With the team’s entire original bullpen cast either traded or injured, Minaya has temporarily been thrust into the closer’s role. The mild-mannered righty has handled the ninth as well as could be expected and has shown the White Sox he has the stuff to potentially help out in the bullpen moving forward. Minaya would like to improve his fastball command but is pleased with how he’s handled a tricky situation. He’s also glad to have the White Sox supporting him throwing the split-fingered fastball.

“The other day I was talking with Coop and he said you need to get another pitch for lefties,” Minaya said. “I said I can throw the split, but I throw it hard. He said OK and I started throwing.

“The ninth inning is a tough inning, but you have to go out and compete.”

Chris Volstad earns first MLB victory in five seasons as White Sox top Astros

Chris Volstad earns first MLB victory in five seasons as White Sox top Astros

HOUSTON -- Two weeks ago Chris Volstad was focused on Hurricane Irma prep when the White Sox called to invite him to the majors. On Thursday night, he earned his first major league victory in more than five years as the White Sox defeated the Houston Astros 3-1 at Minute Maid Park.

Volstad, who had only made 10 big league appearances the previous four-plus seasons and spent all of 2017 at Triple-A Charlotte, allowed a run in 4 1/3 innings to pick up his first win since Sept. 10, 2012.

He hadn’t just shut it down after the Triple-A season ended, Volstad was actually shuttering his Jupiter, Fla. home and business the day the short-handed White Sox called.

“I was probably a little mentally shut down,” Volstad said. “But yeah, it’s kind of crazy how things can change. I guess it’s been about two weeks now. At home getting ready for a hurricane and then getting called back up to the big leagues.”

Volstad received word he might pitch early in Thursday’s game when a blister on Carson Fulmer’s right index finger worsened. Fulmer felt some discomfort after his Friday start at Detroit.

The White Sox let Fulmer try to go but yanked him after 20 pitches, including two walks. That brought out Volstad, who along with Al Alburquerque was promoted Sept. 10 after the White Sox lost several pitchers to injury.

The White Sox actually had to track Volstad down two weeks ago as he’d already been home for a week. He spent part of the time prepping for Irma, including boarding up his brewery.

He escaped a first-inning jam with a double play ball of the bat of Carlos Correa and ended a threat in the second with a pickoff at second base of Alex Bregman. After he surrendered a solo homer to Brian McCann in the third, Volstad retired the final eight men he faced.

[MORE: Why the White Sox are optimistic about their middle infielders' potential

He was awarded his first victory since he defeated Thursday’s Astros starter Dallas Keuchel 1,836 days ago here. Volstad remembered the win because Houston was still in the National League and he had a base hit in the five-inning start for the Cubs. He went 3-12 for the Cubs that season.

“You’re able to lock it in pretty quickly and get focused at the big-league level, you have to,” Volstad said. “But being home in Triple-A for the last few years, just getting called up about 10 days ago, I’ve got people following it, but it’s kind of unknown I guess. It’s a little surprising, but I’m glad to be a part of a team for sure.”

Fulmer, Volstad, Jace Fry, Mike Pelfrey, Gregory Infante, Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar and Juan Minaya combined on a three-hitter for the White Sox. Tim Anderson extended his hit streak to 12 games with a ninth-inning solo homer, his 17th.