Vinnie Duber

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Avisail Garcia's extended time on DL adding new wrinkle to discussion over his place in White Sox long-term future

Avisail Garcia's extended time on DL adding new wrinkle to discussion over his place in White Sox long-term future

After a career year in 2017 and his first All-Star appearance, maybe Avisail Garcia has done enough to keep himself in the White Sox long-term plans.

But there was plenty of mystery over whether Garcia, who finally broke out after four mostly middling seasons on the South Side, could do it again this season. That question doesn’t have an answer right now, even nearly two months into the 2018 campaign, as Garcia begins his fifth week on the disabled list. His hamstring strain is serious enough that the White Sox announced over the weekend that he likely won’t be back in action until late June.

“No one likes to be injured, especially position players (who are used to) playing every day,” Garcia said Tuesday. “I don’t like to watch the game. I mean, I like it, but I like it when I’m playing. So it is what it is. I’m just watching, learning more because we’re learning every single day.

“It felt like it was going to be two weeks, but it’s taking longer. No one likes that, you know? No people like injuries. It is what it is, and I won’t try to take it too hard, just work hard and put everything together to come back to the field.”

This season figured to be an important one for Garcia, who is under team control through the 2019 season, slated to hit the free-agent market ahead of the 2020 campaign, the year many are looking at as the one where the White Sox ongoing rebuilding process will yield to contention. Will Garcia be around for that contention?

His 2018 production was supposed to go a long way toward answering that question. Perhaps a strong season could’ve earned him a new contract and locked him into place as the team’s future right fielder. Perhaps a fast start could’ve made him a potential midseason trade candidate and fetched a prospect or two that would’ve helped advance the rebuild.

Instead, Garcia started slow, as he’ll readily admit. His numbers aren’t at all good through his first 18 games of the season. He owns a .233/.250/.315 slash line, nowhere close to the .330/.380/.506 line he posted last year, when he was statistically one of the American League’s best hitters.

“Slow start, slow start,” he said. “I was feeling better a couple games before I got the injury. I was seeing the ball better, but baseball is like that. Sometimes you start good, sometimes you start slow, so it is what it is. We’ve gotta make adjustments as a team and try to get better every single day.

“But you know, that happens, I’ve just got to come back now and make adjustments and help my team win.”

A starting spot in the White Sox outfield of the future is anything but assured for any player these days. In addition to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert owning some of the highest prospect rankings in the game, guys like Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford and Luis Alexander Basabe have put up some impressive minor league numbers so far this season.

With all those youngsters doing what they’re doing, is there a place for Garcia? Or even if he were to produce well over the next two seasons, would the White Sox want to spend money to bring back a veteran when they have so many high-ceiling, low-cost players waiting in the wings?

It’s hard to answer those questions right now. Not only is it still early enough for Garcia’s fortune at the plate to change dramatically between now and the offseason, but his injury status throws a new wrinkle in the mix. Maybe it ends up making the White Sox decision easier than it would have been had Garcia’s performance been the lone factor here.

But for Garcia, 2018 remains about showing that he can replicate what he did a year ago. If he can’t — for whatever reason — maybe the keys to the outfield of the future get completely placed in the hands of those current minor leaguers. Until he returns from this injury, though, it's all a waiting game.