White Sox

All-Star Avi: Avisail Garcia's turnaround with White Sox earns him spot among baseball's best

All-Star Avi: Avisail Garcia's turnaround with White Sox earns him spot among baseball's best

Avisail Garcia is heading to Miami for the All-Star Game.

That’s not something many White Sox fans would’ve expected heading into this season after Garcia put up a few mediocre years since coming over from the Detroit Tigers in a 2013 trade. But after an offseason of hard work and a half-season of stellar offensive production, the team’s big bat of the future is finally its big bat of the present.

“I feel happy,” Garcia said Sunday. “It’s an honor to represent the White Sox in the All-Star Game. It’s an honor for me. It’s another blessing. I just have to keep working and can’t wait for that moment.

“I believe in myself. And you know, I know I work hard trying to improve myself, my career. Like I said it’s another blessing. When you work hard and believe in yourself, I think you got a really good chance to be where I am right now representing the White Sox in the All-Star Game. I feel blessed for that.”

Garcia flashed plenty of potential when he first came to the South Side in the three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to the Boston Red Sox and Jose Iglesias to the Tigers. In his first 42 games in a White Sox uniform during that 2013 season, he hit .304 with a .327 on-base percentage.

But in the three full seasons that followed, Garcia had plenty wondering why he was such a high-profile acquisition in the first place. In the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons, he combined to slash .250/.308/.380, striking out 300 times.

Then came the work.

This past offseason, Garcia explained, he got to work, hitting the gym and the cage to transform himself into the hitter the White Sox thought he could be.

“I lost weight first of all. I worked on my hitting. And all that stuff, wake up every day at like 5 a.m. to go to the gym and work hard. And then go back home in the afternoon and then go to hit like three times per week,” Garcia said. “All that work is coming together.”

The work has definitely paid off. Garcia is slashing .318/.362/.512 in 75 games this season with 11 homers and 51 RBIs. He’s one off his 120-game total in home runs from a season ago and has already matched the RBI number from 2016. His current OPS of .875 is more than 140 points above his previous career high.

“He played some winter ball last year and I spoke to him over the winter. He talked about wanting to improve himself as a player,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “There's never been a doubt this kid's driven to try to perform and excel. I hope it's something that's going to be here and he'll continue to move forward into the future in terms of the consistency. Maybe he's scratching the surface right now, finally starting to get to grips with who he is as a player and what he's doing.”

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Now all that work has earned Garcia a place on the American League All-Star team. Not that he was expecting that to happen.

“I just take one day at a time,” Garcia said. “I don't like to think what's going to happen. I just think right now. We have to be like that because we're focused for the game. Whatever happens outside happens. It's work. When you work hard and when you play hard, you don't have to think about it. It's going to come along. You just have to be focused and play hard every day, try to do your best and give 100 percent on the field.”

While the joy of being included among baseball’s best at the All-Star Game was apparent — Garcia sported a huge smile when he spoke about his All-Star jersey hanging in his locker — the biggest message Garcia’s selection sends is the change in his standing when it comes to the White Sox rebuild.

While the team always envisioned this type of production as a possibility, fans and observers — not known for their patience — weren’t sold on Garcia as a long-term piece through the last three middling seasons. With the rebuild underway, many were hesitant to include Garcia in their lineup projections for two or three seasons down the road.

This All-Star season has likely changed many minds. Garcia, just 26, can now easily be envisioned in a batting order alongside the likes of Yoan Moncada, Zack Collins and Luis Robert.

“It’s just maturation,” Renteria said. “All players, after a certain point in time, you start to feel comfortable at the big league level. We’re hoping that this is the beginning of something that he will continue to be able to push forward and maintain some consistency throughout the rest of his career. There’ll be some ups and downs, but for the most part I think he’s coming to understand who he is as a player and he’s trusting it. Hopefully that continues.”

“It’s big. I think a lot of people believe in me, like myself. I appreciate that,” Garcia said. “I thank god for those people that believe in me. I know who I am, what kind of person I am. I know what kind of player I am. I have to keep working and try to get better every day, every year, and try to improve.

“I want to have success here. I would like to stay here for a long time. That's why I'm trying to do my best every day, every year. I'm trying to improve, trying to do my best so I can be here for a long time.”

With All-Star validation, being on the South Side for a long time suddenly seems a lot more realistic.

“First time,” Garcia said, “hopefully there's many more to come.”

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

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USA TODAY

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

It might end up an ugly week for the White Sox in Houston. But try to find some beauty in what this Astros team looks like. Because it's what the White Sox hope to look like, eventually.

While White Sox fans were likely staring with a frown at Brad Peacock mowing down their team's lineup and at a couple home runs absolutely blasted out of Minute Maid Park in the first of this four-game series Monday night, know that the inverse of that feeling is what the White Sox front office is hoping to deliver in the coming seasons.

The Astros, along with the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago, are the template for what the White Sox are trying to do with their ongoing rebuilding process. Houston experienced some hideous seasons on the way to becoming a perennial contender and a World Series champion in 2017, losing a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, the Astros made their first postseason appearance in a decade. Two years later, they were the world champs, and they remain an annual title contender and are currently the best team in baseball two years after that.

The first part of that should sound familiar, as the White Sox have lost a combined 195 games in the two seasons since this rebuild officially began. Things are better now than they were during last year's 100-loss campaign, but it's expected to be another season of more losses than wins and another season without a playoff berth on the South Side, which would be the franchise's 11th straight to end without a trip to the postseason.

The second half of the Astros rags-to-riches story is yet to come for the White Sox, who are still waiting for young players to develop at both the major league and minor league levels, still waiting for the entire core to assemble in the big leagues. That includes, right now, waiting for certain players to recover from serious injuries. That includes watching growing pains up and down the organization. It's not unexpected for such things to happen in the middle of a rebuild. But when mired in the losing years, they become constant sources of frustration for fans.

Just like no one in Houston looks back fondly on the 100-loss seasons of 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's unlikely South Side baseball fans will look back fondly on these loss-heavy campaigns. But it's part of the process, as maddening as that might be to keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are examples of what the end of the tunnel looks like, and the White Sox are up against one of those examples this week. The Astros are dominating the competition so far this season, their young core of sluggers and a few overpowering starting pitchers fueling the best team in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve might have been out of the lineup Monday night, but Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were still on display. And none of those guys were the ones to blast home runs halfway to Oklahoma off the White Sox on Rick Renteria's otherwise successful bullpen day. Peacock was traded a few times before landing in Houston, and Justin Verlander and Geritt Cole were trade acquisitions, as well. All of those guys have made the Astros a formidable force once again.

The White Sox are likely going to have to make a few outside acquisitions, too, before they can finally reach baseball's mountaintop. General manager Rick Hahn says that's the plan. But the homegrown portion of those rosters of the future could resemble what the Astros have put together in recent seasons. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins. That's the planned core on the South Side. And Hahn has a number of young pitchers who could make up a fearsome rotation, too, in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. There are more names White Sox fans are familiar with who could play big roles, too.

That's a lot of talent, and while White Sox fans might remain skeptical until the wins start coming at an increased rate, the blueprint is there for those pieces to come together and create something special. The blueprint is what's across the field from the White Sox this week in Houston.

The Astros might cause some bad feelings for the White Sox and their fans over the next few nights. But if they look closely, they might catch a glimpse of the White Sox future if this rebuild goes where Hahn & Co. envision it going.

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Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Eloy Jimenez returns to White Sox a little more than three weeks after spraining ankle

Things looked grim when Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox top-ranked prospect and a centerpiece of the South Side rebuilding plans, was down in pain on the warning track.

But a little more than three weeks later, Jimenez is back in the lineup, returned from his stay on the injured list for the start of a four-game series against the Houston Astros.

Jimenez made a leaping attempt to catch a home-run ball in the April 26 game against the Detroit Tigers. In the process, his foot got stuck in the padding of the left-field wall, and the 22-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain. He limped off the field and needed help getting into the dugout and clubhouse. Thoughts of "here we go again" flashed through a fan base that's watched top prospects suffer one significant injury after another in recent seasons.

The White Sox said Jimenez would be reevaluated in a couple weeks, while cursory Google searches revealed recovery times of more than a month for this type of injury.

But Jimenez seems to have healed quickly. He went on a minor league rehab assignment last week, playing in five games with Triple-A Charlotte before being deemed ready to return Monday.

This is phenomenal news for the White Sox and their fans, of course, who in the time Jimenez has been sidelined have seen another key piece go down with Carlos Rodon's Tommy John surgery. Jimenez hasn't got off to the rip-roaring start some predicted — he's slashed .241/.294/.380 with a trio of home runs in his first 21 major league games — but all playing time for the youngster is good playing time as he continues his development in his first big league season. Throw in Jimenez's four-game stay on the bereavement list prior to that game against Detroit, and he's had just one at-bat since April 21.

So maybe expect some rust, and manager Rick Renteria said Jimenez could perhaps be eased back with a game at DH here and there as he continues to work on improving his defense in left field.

Jimenez did go 7-for-22 (a .318 batting average) with a homer and a double in his rehab stint in Charlotte. Now he's back in the major league outfield, a good thing for everyone following along with this rebuild.

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