White Sox

In adding relievers to 2018 bullpen, White Sox likely to try to 'find the next Anthony Swarzak'

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USA TODAY

In adding relievers to 2018 bullpen, White Sox likely to try to 'find the next Anthony Swarzak'

The White Sox have some work to do in reconstructing their bullpen for the 2018 season.

Last year saw an incredible amount of turnover in the relief corps, with David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard all shipped out of town in midseason trades.

That means a lot of arms to replace this offseason for Rick Hahn and his front office.

So where do the rebuilding White Sox go for relief help? Don't expect any big-name relievers to land on the South Side. Not only have a lot of them already been snapped up in one of the few areas of activity this winter, but it makes little sense for the White Sox to invest significant money in relief pitching while waiting for their prospects to develop and turn the team into a perennial contender.

Instead, look to the guys the White Sox traded away for a template of the plan of attack when it comes to rebuilding the 'pen: find a diamond in the rough and turn that into pieces for the future.

Swarzak officially signed with the New York Mets at the end of last week, getting a two-year deal to play in Queens after a strong and somewhat out-of-nowhere 2017 performance. The White Sox picked him up last offseason after he had posted a 4.52 ERA in his first six big league seasons, and in 41 appearances with the White Sox he turned in a 2.23 ERA and struck out 52 hitters in 48.1 innings of work. That allowed them to trade Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league outfielder Ryan Cordell, who could become a part of the team's future.

The White Sox worked similar magic with Kahnle, who was added ahead of the 2016 season. He had a 4.41 ERA in two seasons with the Colorado Rockies to start his career, and after joining the White Sox put up a 2.63 ERA in 2016 and a 2.50 ERA in 37 appearances in 2017, allowing the White Sox to include him in the seven-player swap with the New York Yankees that added three minor leaguers to the White Sox highly rated farm system.

It's templates like those that the White Sox will likely try to follow again this winter.

The White Sox have had a positive recent history in helping veteran pitchers find their stuff, a trend largely credited to longtime pitching coach Don Cooper. And with the proven capability to flip strong performers at the deadline in exchange for more rebuild-bolstering talent, there's no reason they shouldn't try to go to that well again.

"Anthony Swarzak is a great example, got himself a richly deserved, lucrative contract even though 10 months ago he was a non-roster invite with us," Hahn said last week during the Winter Meetings. "You see a couple of those in this market. If I'm not mistaken I think (new Phillies pitcher Tommy) Hunter was a non-roster invite, I think (new Cubs pitcher Brandon) Morrow might have been a non-roster invite. It shows you that guys can re-establish their value if they're quality contributors, it can really have a big impact on their original team and then it pays off for them in the next free-agent market.

"For us we're probably in a position as an organization right now to do our best to find the next Anthony Swarzak as opposed to going out and paying retail in the free-agent market for one right now, but we also know we've talked about once we get to the position where we're ready to contend, we too are going to have to be out in that market. It's becoming an expensive place to be but we know that's a good problem to have when you're looking to add those finishing touches to a competitive club."

Of course, the White Sox are capable of rebuilding their bullpen with what they've currently got on the roster. Bullpen options include the likes of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones and Juan Minaya. And the team traded for Thyago Vieira earlier this offseason.

But it would be kind of surprising to see them head into the 2018 campaign with that group exclusively. Even with strong performances for half a season from Swarzak, Kahnle and Robertson, the White Sox ranked just 11th in the American League in bullpen ERA in 2017.

"We've got no biases in favor of any player type, whether we drafted them or signed them as a minor league free agent," Hahn said when asked if he would go internally or externally to rebuild the bullpen. "We look for a certain type from our scouts, and certain players we feel we can get better through our player development system, but in the end we're going to break Glendale — well if Coop has his way, with the best 14. If sense prevails, the best 12 or 13 pitchers we can to help ourselves win a ballgame."

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”