According to editorpublisher Sean Duncan of Chicago-based Prep Baseball Report, Carmel pitcher Alex Young "has jumped up and is high interest now" among major league scouts. "The pros are on him," Duncan said.Young, a 6-foot-3 lefty with a 92 mph fastball and a knee-buckling knuckle curve, caught the scouts' attention for the first time last summer and has kept them coming back to see more, especially after he struck out eight of nine batters he faced in the spring season opener against Warren."His fate will be sealed in the next month," said Duncan, predicting more and more scouts will be evaluating him. Young has been told he could be picked as high as the third round in the major league draft on June 4 while others claim he won't be selected among the first 300 picks."It is intimidating to see (the scouts) behind the plate, 25 radar guns going off with every pitch," Young said. "But I don't pay attention. I just focus on the catcher's mitt and waiting for the pitch call. I feel calm."For now, I'm off to college. But if I get drafted high and the money is there, I won't pass it up. My parents want me to get my education. I'm set on college at the moment."Young, who is committed to Texas Christian, attracted 25 scouts for his start against Libertyville and likely will command a similar audience when he starts Wednesday against Joliet Catholic. He thinks he is as good a prospect as Mundelein pitcher Ryan Borucki and he wants to prove it.A year ago, however, nobody knew who he was and nobody with a bat in his hand dared to find out. "Last year, he didn't have control. You didn't want to be anywhere near home plate when he was pitching. He was wild," said Carmel coach Joe May."I had a mentality where I wanted to strike everyone out and it didn't work," Young said. "I've overthrow everything. In my first game, I walked six batters in one inning."Young also had health issues. "Coming into the season, I was known as the 'Big Horse.' But I struggled in my first game. Then I had elbow pains. I sat out a month with tendonitis. Then the coach found one or two other pitchers and I was out of the loop. I didn't have a chance to pitch, only five innings. I played outfield and designated hitter. It was a down year for me. You don't think about it and you move forward," he said.But he was eager to bounce back as a senior. His comeback began last winter with daily drills at a local training facility. He pitched bullpen once a week, engaged in long toss with Carmel teammate and close friend J.C. Pawlak and did J-bands, a series of aerobic exercises designed to add strength and flexibility to the arm."My goal was to have command of all of my pitches in the strike zone," said Young, who also worked with Carmel pitching coach Mike Miller. "He said to me: 'This is the year for you. We're riding on you.' He got me pumped up."During the summer, he began to attract college coaches to his games. They informed major league scouts that they should evaluate him. In July, he was among the 50 top pitchers in the Midwest invited by the Midwest Scouting Association to participate in a showcase event in Kansas City. TCU saw him and offered a scholarship in October. He accepted."Whenever you hit 90 on a radar gun and you're a lefty, it will turn heads. And he did," May said. "What we love about him is he will throw his curve in any pitch count. It's a big-time curve, 10 to 5. I'm not surprised he is doing this well. I knew he had it in him."In three games, Young has allowed only two hits and only one earned run while averaging two strikeouts per inning. While his fastball catches the eyes and radar guns of the scouts--he was timed at a personal-best 93 mph against Warren--he insists his go-to pitch is his knuckle curve."I started throwing it in seventh grade," he said. "For some reason, I couldn't throw a curve. But I could throw a knuckle curve. Not too many high school kids throw it. So batters haven't seen it before. People don't know whether to call it a curve or a slurve. It breaks with a 10-to-5 action, a really sharp break."It figures that Young's role model is Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, another lefty who struggled early in his career before he found a way to control his overpowering fastball and curve."He struggled early. Then he proved people wrong, said 'I can do whatever I want," became the best lefty in major league baseball and got to the Hall of Fame," Young said. "Thats the perception that people have of lefties, that they are sometimes out of control. I want to prove them wrong, too."Young has a more immediate goal. Because he competes in the same town as Mundelein lefty Ryan Borucki, who is judged by Prep Baseball Report as the No. 1 prospect in Illinois, Young is determined to demonstrate that he is as good as Borucki."I think I'm equally as good," Young said. "Both of us have command of our pitches. I've seen him pitch personally. I feel my curve has more break than his does. But his changeup is nasty. I was in Marion when he threw his no-hitter against Cary-Grove. I got there in the sixth inning and he was sitting guys down. No one could touch him. But I think I'm just as good."Time will tell, of course. "Borucki is a bit more of a pitcher than a thrower. Alex can throw the heck out of it. He is becoming more of a pitcher. What I like is he has developed into a leader on our team," said May, a 1978 graduate of Carmel who once played for Eddie Stanky at South Alabama."My fastball has been climbing. I'm still getting up there on the radar gun," Young said. "But that's not what it is all about. It's about getting first-pitch strikes. I walked the first batter in my first game, then struck out eight of the next nine. I'm keeping my walks down. That's a huge factor for me."
Another day, another quality start for James Shields.
The White Sox once more didn’t win a Shields start. Despite an increasingly good-looking season stat line, Shields can’t seem to rack up many wins, with just two to his name on the season. But of course, wins are not exactly the most important barometer in this rebuilding campaign.
Speaking of the rebuild, the White Sox are getting closer to the trade deadline, it’s about a month and a half away. And Shields’ continued success could have Rick Hahn’s phone ringing as July 31 creeps closer. After six innings and three runs in Sunday’s loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers, Shields has seven quality starts in his last 10 outings,
After last season’s struggles that ended in a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs surrendered, getting anything for Shields might’ve seemed a bit of a fantasy. But Shields has delivered, especially since the end of a rocky April.
“It’s very important to try to eat as many innings as you possibly can,” Shields said of his consistent efforts of late. “Early on in the season, we were ruining our bullpen by not going deep into games. My main focus is to go as deep as I possibly can. … Consistency’s the name of the game.”
Does it make him one of the most attractive names on the market? No, probably not. Is it going to fetch a highly ranked prospect? No, probably not. But it might fetch something, and in a season where guys believed to be afterthoughts like Dylan Covey and Daniel Palka are working their way into the conversation about the White Sox future, who wouldn’t want something added to this rebuilding effort?
And Shields isn’t the only White Sox player who could bring something back.
The bullpen was stocked with potential sign-and-flip guys over the offseason, and a few of those veteran arms have had good runs that could earn them a similar fate to the bulk of last year’s relief corps. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard were all dealt away last summer. Could Hahn employ a similar strategy this season?
The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which made all of those players attractive additions for contending teams around the league. But veterans like Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno — guys who hoped to rediscover some old magic — could still draw interest.
Soria owns a 3.12 ERA. Avilan’s is at 3.10. Cedeno hasn’t given up a run in his six relief appearances. Rondon has shown blow-em-away stuff at times. It’s been a nice recovery for some of these sign-and-flip veterans.
“They’ve had an opportunity to get their chances to work on different things and become really effective performers,” manager Rick Renteria said of some of his veteran relievers prior to Sunday’s game. “I think Joakim has risen his level of game back what he was pre last couple years, I think he’s reinvented himself a little bit. He has an up-down breaking ball now, he’s continuing to attack the strike zone, he’s throwing 93 miles an hour with his fastball, he’s commanding the zone. He’s doing everything he can to be as good a closer as he was in the past. His history and his experience also allow him some confidence to be put in situations to close out ballgames.”
Soria could perhaps draw the most interest because closers are often in demand in July. But last year’s trade-a-thon showed that teams are willing to trade prospects away for relief help of any kind. Many of the return pieces in those deals might not get rebuild-loving prospect followers thrilled. Casey Gillaspie and Ryan Cordell haven’t exactly put their names at the forefront of the discussion about 2020 and beyond. But remember that Blake Rutherford came over in the deal that sent Robertson and Kahnle out of town (Todd Frazier went to the New York Yankees in that trade, too). So an acquisition that could improve the rebuild can most definitely happen, even with middle relievers.
There’s no guarantee that any of these guys, be it Shields in the rotation or any of the arms out in the bullpen, will get traded or even draw significant interest. But for a team in the White Sox position, you’d have to assume they’d be open to making a deal and getting something to add to this rebuilding process.
Here’s a comp that’ll get White Sox fans really excited. It’s a Hall of Famer saying that the organization’s top-ranked prospect reminds him of another Hall of Famer.
“The kid Eloy (Jimenez), I’ve really watched him a lot. He’s a tremendous (player),” Frank Thomas said. “He reminds me of a young Vlad (Guerrero) that can cover the whole zone and use the whole field. I’m interested in seeing how he progresses.”
Eloy a young Vladdy, eh?
Don’t tell actual young Vladdy that — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ranked one spot ahead of Jimenez on MLB Pipeline’s list of the best prospects in baseball — but that’s one heck of a comp for a player that White Sox fans are already immeasurably excited about.
Thomas was back on the South Side on Sunday to join Hawk Harrelson in the broadcast booth for the latter’s sendoff season. He spoke a lot about what Harrelson meant to him and the White Sox, but he also answered questions about the team’s ongoing rebuild. Thomas has kept a close eye both in his roles as an analyst for FOX and someone who will always be invested in this team.
“It’s Chicago, and we’re used to winning,” Thomas said when he was asked if the White Sox needed to undergo such a process. “You normally get away with this in a smaller market, but you’ve got to understand they’ve taken their time with it. They wasted a lot of money for a five-year period trying to continue to be successful the way we were in the past and it wasn’t working.
“The game has changed. The game has totally changed. It’s a different ballgame now. It’s all about the youth. … The hardest part they’re going to have, though, is figuring out who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here because over the next couple years they’ve got so many young talented players in Double-A and Triple-A that someone could actually force some of these guys out. It’s going to be a hard decision what they’re going to have to do.”
That’s the good problem Rick Hahn and his front office would like to have.
While fan buy-in to the rebuilding effort has been tremendous, there are some who will continue to question the willing suffering through losing seasons at the major league level while the contending team of the future develops in the minor leagues. But if you look at the teams that have won and played in the World Series in recent seasons — and even seasons long past — the process almost seems mandatory if you want to reach that level.
“It is,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched it firsthand. I first saw it with Cleveland when I was playing. Cleveland did it. Then you saw the Royals do it. You saw Houston do it, and they’re tearing it up with that youth. There’s been some other teams that have had a lot of success with it, too. I think Billy Beane has been great with it in Oakland for many, many years. They just haven’t had the luxury of keeping it together and going for the World Series, but he continues to create young superstars and basically trading them off for whatever the organization needs.”
Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, was also asked about the greatest hitter on the White Sox right now, Jose Abreu. Abreu’s future is the topic of much conversation surrounding this team, what with his contract running out at the end of the 2019 season, just when the White Sox hope to be fielding a perennial contender.
Abreu has been remarkably consistent — and one of just three players ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons — but Thomas thinks there’s a side of Abreu we still have yet to see.
“I just don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,” Thomas said. “That’s because it’s a youth movement and the protection’s been up and down for him in that lineup. I’ve seen him be inconsistent at times, but I think he’s a much better player than that. But I understand when you’re not winning every day and it’s not as motivating because losing’s tough on everybody. But the guy’s an incredible player, an incredible hitter.
“I think the next couple of years we’ll see the best of him if he’s still here. I think this guy has a chance to be one of the great ones.”
With one last question about the modern-day White Sox, Thomas was asked about manager Rick Renteria, who he raved about. But with Renteria’s recent history with the Cubs, when he was replaced with Joe Maddon right before the North Siders started their phase of contention, he has yet to be the manager of a team with expectations. The plan is that he soon will be, and Thomas is interested to see what happens when that becomes the case.
“I think he’s done a hell of a job. I really like Ricky a lot,” Thomas said. “But who knows what they’re going to do in the future. When this team becomes what they think it’s going to be, either you get it done or you don’t. That’s just what it’s going to be. That’s the way Jerry’s handled it for many, many years.
“We’ve had some decisions that weren’t all happiness at times, but it’s about winning once they get their team here. I hope it’s Ricky because he’s done a hell of a rebuild job with the Cubs, he did a hell of a rebuild job here. It’s just time for him to get a good team out on the field and see what he really can do. I’m hoping he gets a chance of having a full team to put out there for 162 games and see what he can do.”