White Sox

13 things we've learned about the White Sox

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13 things we've learned about the White Sox

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 1:02 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
Ten times this season, Poetry in Pros will submit a Chicago White Sox report card of sorts for your approval. At 7-9, after the Tampa Bay Rays exacted some revenge on the Chisox for taking three of four from them in Chicago, the White Sox have played the first 10 of their seasonand the results have been mixed, and not in the way youd expect from an "All-In" team deflating into a sub-.500 record after a 4-6 homestand.Put another waythe Rays started out the season a franchise-worst 0-6, and just a week and change later, they are sporting an identical 7-9 record.Why a list of 13? Well, the White Sox go how Ozzie goes, so heres your bakers dozen roundup.

1. Adam Dunns brain power is just as strong as his healing power.

All plaudits are due to Dunn for his quick recovery from an appendectomy, missing only six games. But hes proven to have just as much mental strength as he does healing powerand not in a good way. See, the affable first sacker was convinced way back in spring training that traditionally he was a slow starter. In fact, that applied only last season, when he was miserable in April (.823 OPS). For his career, Dunns strongest month in an OPS sense, was Aprilhes at .971 right now, but that is influenced by his .735 in 41 plate appearances so far this season. Brain is succeeding over brawn so far this season.

2. Juan Pierre has disproved the adage that speed doesnt slump.

The fact that Pierre has been a slow starter for the Chisox is nothing new. Pierre was horrible last April, when he put up just a .454 OPS out of the gate, dropping down out of the leadoff spot. However, even as he struggled, he still stole bagsnine of 12 in April, 10 of 11 in Mayen route to a league-leading 68. This year, Pierre like many of his cohorts got off to a blistering start, but has sputtered to a .648 OPS off identical an .324 OBA and SLG, which trails even his merely adequate .657 OPS of 2010. However, hes just four of nine in stolen bases. In an April that has found Pierre losing his defensive touchwhile oft-criticized in every aspect of his game, there wasnt a ball the speedster couldnt get to in 2010losing the other value aspect of his game, baserunning, will leave the White Sox with little use for him if the trend continues.

3. The White Sox outfield is wafer-thin.

Of course, that presumes the White Sox have someone more useful to play left field. Think back just three weeks ago, when the White Sox outfield was considered enough of a strength that the team broke camp with just four (exclusive) outfielders (and with Carlos Quentins prior defensive miscues, that total should be whittled to three), and the groups collective under-performance is daunting. Pierre is not the only subpar member, as Alex Rios and his gimpy big toe has also gotten off to a slow start (a .558 OPS with two steals and just four RBI after a three-homer, nine-RBI, nine-steal, .796 OPS start last year), indicating that perhaps his bounce-back in 2010 was a mirage. Quentin has been a monster (mashing his way to a .974 OPS), but hes just one slow step on a flyball away from stumbling into five games in the trainers roomthe Michelin Man wraps on his tousled and torn body have already started to appear.

Otherwise, the White Sox are in dire straits in the outfield: Lastings Milledge, the fourth pure outfielder breaking camp with the club, was dropped to AAA Charlotte after the first series of the season, Brent Lillibridge is a light hitter and Mark Teahen a light, ahem, fielder. Down on the farm? Dayan Viciedo (recovering from a broken thumb) and Jordan Danks broke slowly from the gate, and the White Sox just sold their top power prospect, corner outfielder Stefan Gartrell, to the Atlanta Braves. Reinforcements in sight? You better be using a helluva zoom lens.

4. Alexei Ramirez has Silver Slugger on the brain.

This isnt entirely a bad thing, because Ramirez is looking less and less like an accidental or incidental Silver Slugger winner by getting out of the box with an .827 OPSin his weakest month, battling the Ides of April, no less. However, defensively hes been slipshod, fielding at just a .946 clip, with his range factor slipping downward. Expect both his explosive offense and flaccid defense to settle back more toward his career means, but Ramirez has done his share of sieving on defense, along with the rest of the White Sox, and hes not a player you figured on suffering such a slump.

5. Omar needs to be activated.

OK, Omar Vizquel is technically active, and has been all season long, at least to the tune of four games and 15 plate appearances. And Guillen has been fond of sayinghas been since SoxFest, in factthat if Vizquel is shouldering a heavy innings load, the White Sox are in trouble. Well, what level of apathy and free-fall must the White Sox reach before they are in trouble? Vizquel is near a .900 OPS out of the gate and is a strong defender throughout the infield. Brent Morel has done about as well as expected, but both offensively and defensively he needs to be spelled more often. As the White Sox have seen with players like Brian Anderson in CF in 2006, its impossible to let a modestly-talented rookie learn on the job and be all-in at the same time.

6. The rotation is in desperate need of a Peavy.

Whether it embarrasses the rest of the starters or not, the best pitcher the White Sox have had this seasonextending back to the Cactus Leaguehas been Jake Peavy. His low ERA and apparent readiness for a first White Sox start later next week is just what a floundering White Sox team needs.

Broader picture, Peavys setback on Mondayleaving his supposed second-to-last rehab start after throwing 15 pitchescould have devastating implications for a rotation thats barely scraping by in his absence.

7. There is no ace.

Last week, the rotation put together a nice run of exquisite starts, and overall they havent been as horrid out of the gate as in 2010, when their under-performance did much to scuttle the clubs chances at a playoff berth. But no Chicago starter has stitched together consecutive outstanding strong starts in the early going, and on a team that had every reason to boast of five possible aces heading into the season, thats just not good enough.

8. Rebirth of Cool Ken Williams wont last long.

Williams down-lowed the fray as his Chisox started hot, as he has of late when his Pale Hose have sagged. His most telling comments on the team: Let em play, and stay out of the way. If the White Sox continue their on-again, off-again play under the weight of a club-record payroll, calm Ken will leave the building and the firestarter will return.

9. Fast starts can end fast.

The White Sox got to six wins this season some two weeks faster than in 2010, which was thought to be a telling sign that "All-In" had taken root. Well, the White Sox have lost six of seven since then, which hasnt only sagged the club in the standings, but threatens to water down attendance for a team that desperately needs a swell of 2.6 million fannies to reach break-even.

10. Matty Ice has melted.

It goes without saying that the closer role has been a bit much for Matt Thornton to take on, blowing all four of his save opportunities this season and letting in 10 runs (four earned) in that span. But theres no doubt that Thornton has been the White Soxs best reliever for two years running, without needing to be the closer to do so. Guillenalready edgy about moving Thornton out of his comfort zone (matchup lefties, eighth-inning entry, throwing an inning-plus)needs to restore the fireman to his prior role and give credence to the mantra that the entire Chicago bullpen parrots, that every short reliever is a closer at the juncture they enter the game.

11. The closer? ItsSergio!

if only for the first month. Sergio Santos has been a pitcher in the majors for just a season and change, but he has never allowed a run in Aprila span of 15 games and 17 13 innings. The young righthander has been steady for sure, but its important to remember that hes faced pressure as a player before. Sure, it was as a superstar shortstop entering professional ball for the first time, but thats pressure nonetheless. All things being equal, give the lions share of save opps to Sergio for a stretch and see what happens.

12. Ozzies expectations are highest of anyone.

The club jefe often gets written off as more jokester than strategist, or an apologistteammate rather than an administrator. And while Guillen is as playful as anyone and boasts a bark worse than his bite when it comes to throwing players under the bus, hes already bristled this season, as the bullpen implosion gained traction. You would have expected Guillen to protect rookie Chris Sale after the 22-year-old was completely ineffective leading to Thorntons last blown save, on April 13 vs. the Oakland As. But the manager didnt hesitate to point out that Salepresumed to be inactive for the game after throwing a career-high 34 pitches the previous game some 16 hours earliertold pitching coach Don Cooper he could go. Shame on the staff for trusting bluster from the mouth of babes, sure, but Guillen was the one who made the calland surprisingly, evaded blame after the fact. Guillen clearly is feeling the pressure of the weighty payroll, thus is less tolerant of slips and stumbles than hes been in the recent past.

13. Everything right is wrong again.

The best news of the flaccid start and this negative report is that the presumed main competition for the White Sox in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins, are faltering equally or worse than Chicago. Minnesota is in early free fall at 6-10 and stands without a closer (fragile Joe Nathan), 20 million catcher (Joe Mauer, sidelined with a knee, or the flu, or some mystical combination of the two), or ace Japanese import (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, whose leg was broken from merry prankster Nick Swisher) while also under fire from a fan base who feels the club did little or nothing to bolster the club in the offseason. Detroit has had no such injury miseries, they simply havent played very well (8-9)justifying their bolstered payroll as little or less than the White Sox have so far.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

When will Nick Madrigal reach the majors?

That, now that Luis Robert's path to an Opening Day roster spot has been cleared by a big-money contract extension, is the most pressing of the prospect-related queries facing the 2020 White Sox, a team that, it should be noted, will be turning its focus away from the minors and toward playing big league baseball in October for the first time in more than a decade.

Not unlike Robert, Madrigal shredded minor league pitching in 2019, playing at three levels and showing just how successful his elite bat-to-ball skills can make him as an offensive producer. He stepped to the plate 532 times and struck out only 16 times.

There's a reason even Rick Renteria is already calling the 22-year-old "Magic."

The general feeling seems to be that Madrigal will start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, though with the waiting game apparently over on the South Side and the intent to win as many games as possible, perhaps a strong showing at spring training will see Madrigal starting at second base in the March 26 opener.

That's a question better answered after the White Sox have been in Glendale for a few weeks.

But Madrigal's goal is clear.

"I definitely want to be in Chicago as soon as I can," Madrigal said earlier this week at the team's hitters' camp out in the desert. "I know they have a plan for me one way or another, but I think that’s the ultimate goal: being in Chicago and winning with that team.

"I know this offseason there’s been a lot of moves, and I’m excited to be a part of that, hopefully, in the near future. The ultimate goal is winning. There’s nothing else at this point."

Madrigal might not have blown the doors off the minors like Robert, who finished with a 30-30 season, but he wasn't fazed by climbing through the system. Madrigal put up good-not-great numbers in nearly 50 games at Class A Winston-Salem but exploded for a .341 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage in 42 games at Double-A Birmingham before batting .331 and reaching base at a .398 clip in 29 games at Charlotte.

That he didn't even reach 30 games in a Knights uniform could signal that the White Sox might prefer a little more seasoning, but he didn't see any problems facing the pitching at Triple-A.

“Honestly, it wasn’t too different at all. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before," he said. "There were some older guys in the league, more consistent arms. I thought it wasn’t anything too different.”

Madrigal's earning high praise all over the place, rated among the best prospects in the game. He's earned rave reviews for his ability on both sides of the ball, picked by team executives (in an MLB Pipeline poll) as having one of the best hit tools and gloves of any player in the minor leagues.

There still might be some skepticism, or perhaps mere curiosity, as to how Madrigal's skill set will translate to the major leagues. Players like him, who focus on making contact and putting the ball in play, are becoming rarer in today's game, which sees a focus on power and launch angle and an acceptance of strikeouts. His manager, one of "Magic's" biggest fans, isn't too concerned about Madrigal finding success once he finally makes the jump to the bigs.

"Watching him swing the bat yesterday, I'm amazed at his bat-to-ball skills. It's incredible," Renteria said Wednesday from Arizona. "He's actually filling out a little bit more. All these guys, we've seen them for the last four years, they're growing up. And even though Magic just joined us last year, you can see a difference in him, physically speaking.

"I think his skill set, in terms of his bat-to-ball skills, as he continues to develop, you may see a ball leave the ballpark here and there. But the fact he can put the bat on the ball and manage the barrel as well as he does, he'll be able to find holes. Continuing to improve upon and cleaning his swing path, staying through the ball a little bit more and still being able to use all parts of the field, his skill set will play. He'll find a way to get on base at a high rate through probably contact and eye recognition, pitch recognition."

Rick Hahn has said that he expects Madrigal to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign, so even if he doesn't make the 26-man roster out of spring training, keep your eyes peeled for a Madrigal sighting not too deep into the baseball calendar.

This is a matter of when, not if. So the walk-up music folks at Guaranteed Rate Field better start getting ready. Will it be "Magic Man" by Heart? Or "Strange Magic" by Electric Light Orchestra? "Do You Believe in Magic" by The Lovin' Spoonful is, of course, also acceptable.

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Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

White Sox fans suddenly have reason to stop focusing on the minor leagues.

Rick Hahn's front office has done an incredible amount of work this winter adding impact veterans to the team's young core, and because of it, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side. The summer figures to be spent focusing on what Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are doing at the major league level rather than what the potential stars of the future are doing in the minors.

In other words, the future is here.

But it's worth noting that the White Sox still have some of the best prospects in the game. It's true that a few of the biggest names among that group won't be prospects for much longer. Luis Robert just got a high-priced contract extension that clears the way for him to be in the lineup on Opening Day. While Michael Kopech will be limited in some fashion as the White Sox manage his workload in his return from Tommy John surgery, it's hardly out of the question that he could be a part of the 26-man group that leaves Glendale at the end of March. And Nick Madrigal, Hahn has said, figures to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign after he reached the doorstep of the majors last year.

The point is, however, that the White Sox core is not done growing. Moncada, Giolito, Anderson and Jimenez all broke out in big ways in 2019, and the veterans added to that group could push the team into contention mode as soon as this season. But Robert, Kopech, Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn are set to join that core, too, expanding it to one the White Sox hope will power championship contenders for years to come.

The Athletic's Jim Bowden ranked Robert as his No. 1 prospect in baseball, picking the 22-year-old center fielder to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And that's no stretch after the way Robert lit the minor leagues on fire in 2019. Playing at three different levels, he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 31 doubles, 108 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He's a true five-tool threat who receives rave reviews that peg him as potentially the best of all the White Sox young talent. MLB Pipeline is in the middle of rolling out their rankings ahead of the 2020 season, and we'll learn where Robert ranks on the site's updated list next weekend during SoxFest. But most recently, Robert was the site's No. 3 prospect in the game.

Kopech still has prospect status despite the fact that he made his big league debut in August 2018. That Tommy John surgery limited his major league experience to this point to just four games, wiping out his 2019 season. Whether he'll be the same elite pitcher that was promised prior to his surgery is one of several important questions facing the 2020 White Sox, but it doesn't seem to be deterring the rankers. Bowden has Kopech as the No. 11 prospect in baseball, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 4 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Kopech is said to still be capable of unleashing the blazing fastball that made him such a tantalizing prospect in the first place. The big question now is how often he'll be able to use it, with the White Sox planning to limit him in some capacity. We'll have to wait until spring to find out exactly what those limitations look like.

Madrigal might not spend a long time at Triple-A Charlotte, expected to be manning second base for the big league White Sox for the majority of the 2020 season. But like they did with Moncada, Jimenez and Robert before him, the White Sox have no plans to rush Madrigal to the majors. Bowden has him ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the game, and we'll find out soon where MLB Pipeline has him among second basemen. We already know they think the world of his glove — which was touted as Gold Glove caliber by the White Sox the night they drafted him in 2018 — naming him the second baseman on their all-defense team (he won a minor league Gold Glove for his work last season, too). MLB Pipeline also polled general managers, scouting directors and executives across all 30 teams, and Madrigal's name popped up often, voted to possess the third best hit tool, the third best glove and the highest baseball IQ among all of the game's prospects. The guy struck out just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate last season, so he's obviously doing something right.

Vaughn is receiving similarly rave reviews this winter. Bowden ranked him as the game's No. 35 prospect, and MLB Pipeline might end up putting the White Sox most recent first-round pick even higher, naming him the top first-base prospect in baseball. A slugger whose bat earned high praise when he came out of Cal last summer, Vaughn might not reach the South Side in 2020 like the rest of the guys discussed here. But he does figure to have a similar impact when he finally does. He played just 52 games between Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem after joining the organization, hitting a combined five homers at those stops. He's still swinging the bat that launched 50 homers and drove in 163 runs over three seasons in college. That aforementioned MLB Pipeline executive poll? In it, Vaughn was picked as having the second best hit tool in the game. The White Sox just gave Abreu a three-year contract extension that will keep him on the South Side through at least the 2022 campaign, but the 37-year-old Encarnacion could be here as briefly as one year (his contract has an option for 2021), potentially opening up a spot for Vaughn should everything go right in the minors.

And this is without even mentioning guys like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who could all wind up playing important roles on the pitching staff.

So while there is plenty of reason for your minor league interest to wane — because meaningful baseball is expected to be happening at the major league level in 2020 — know that the White Sox farm system (at least the tippy top of it) is still worth salivating over. These guys should be on the South Side soon, only adding fuel to the fire Hahn has built this winter.

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