White Sox

Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

SEATTLE -- Though he has never been hotter at the plate for a longer period than right now, Avisail Garcia strives to remain level-headed.

Acquired in July 2013 from the Detroit Tigers, Garcia has easily been the best White Sox hitter throughout the seven-week old 2017 campaign.

Not only has his production been outstanding, Garcia -- hitting .352/.397/.566 in 155 plate appearances -- has had few off nights through the team’s first 39 games. He went 2-for-4 in a 5-4 White Sox loss at the Seattle Mariners, his 15th multi-hit effort of the season.

But through his experience and discussions with peers and coaches, Garcia has determined the way he operates best is if he can stay right down the middle. He wants to avoid getting too high or low and just focus. Garcia hopes his mental approach can help him sustain what could be a breakthrough season.

“You’ve got to forget everything quick,” Garcia said. “To stay in this game, forget about everything quick. Doing good, forget about it. Doing bad, forget about it because tomorrow’s another game. You’re doing good today, but maybe not tomorrow.”

Garcia has dealt with several ups and many downs to reach this point. His two full seasons in the majors have been marred by bursts of hot stretches followed by lengthy cold spells.

In that period, Garcia hit .252/.308/.374 with 25 home runs and 110 RBIs in 1,054 plate appearances -- good for a wRC+ of 85, according to fangraphs.com. The league average baseline for wRC+ is 100.

But Garcia has found something this season. He’s staying focused in each plate appearance and trying to carry over the approach he used with runners in scoring position in 2016 when he hit .355.

The mental shift has helped lead to a four percent reduction in strikeout-rate and a strong run through nearly two months of play. Garcia entered Thursday third in the American League in average and seventh in OPS (.948), slugging percentage (.553) and RBIs (28). He’s also second on the team with six home runs.

“He has been giving us really good at-bats, just trying to focus on getting pitches he can handle and not giving at-bats away,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been doing a very nice job.

“His at-bats in general overall have been much better, more consistent. His approaches have been solid. I think he’s taking the idea of what he wants to do at the plate and maintaining a consistent approach. That’s as easily as I can explain. It’s been very consistent.”

Hitting coach Todd Steverson has had a lively, ongoing discussion with Garcia dating back to 2014.

He’s more the psychologist than the fix-it guy. Most hitting coaches are mental gurus rather than technicians. Steverson’s role is to be the “little guy that sits on (Garcia’s) shoulder” and ask if what he’s doing is the right thing.

What Steverson has seen from Garcia this season is a significant boost in confidence. But that belief isn’t only based on all the success Garcia has experienced, Steverson said. It’s just as critical that Garcia understands his failures. His understanding of the down times has helped Garcia make quicker fixes when failure has returned and he hopes they can help him avoid a lengthy slump.

“The only way to be sustainable is to learn both sides and how that applies to you,” Steverson said. “I think that’s where we are with him. You can’t control what a guy throws, but you can control your brain and what you do when you’re in there. What do I want to do? Is he controlling my at-bat or am I controlling my at-bat?

“It’s necessary. If you don’t learn from it, you can’t move forward. You take this game for granted or the good times for granted, and you don’t understand what you’re doing during that time, or even when you’re not going well, then that’s where the game will bring you back to your knees and say, ‘You need to work on you again.’ It’s all a process of who you are. To change something, you have to know what you’re changing.”

Garcia thinks his ability to handle the ups and downs is the key to his consistency. He knows that even former teammate Miguel Cabrera has days with rough at-bats. Though his previous seasons have been a struggle, Garcia looks at it all as a positive because of the knowledge he has gained. Garcia has learned to take or leave all the different advice he’s gathered over the years and stick with what’s best for his individual game.

He thinks that experience has helped him stay more focused. He’s pleased with how he battles during each plate appearance and how even the outs are hard right now. And that has helped him stay as grounded as he’s been in his career.

“Always when you have tough situations, like those years, you’re learning,” Garcia said. “You’ve just got to be the same. Don’t try to be too high or try to be down, try to be in the middle. This game is like that. You go up and down, up and down, up and down. You’ve got to stay in the middle and never change.

“Think about it a little bit and then throw it away.”

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

The White Sox just spent $123 million in two days. But there's still a lot of work left to do.

Even after adding Yasmani Grandal on a four-year contract (the richest deal in team history) and giving face of the franchise Jose Abreu a three-year extension, Rick Hahn's front office still has problems to solve in the starting rotation and in right field. The South Siders aren't closing the door on adding a more "everyday" style DH, either.

But those long-term contracts do cement a pair of middle-of-the-order hitters on the White Sox roster for the foreseeable future, growing a core that looks rather formidable after breakout seasons for Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jimenez in 2019.

So while the 2020 picture still has some holes in it, let's gaze into the future and try to figure out what the White Sox lineup will look like in the coming years.

2020

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Tim Anderson, SS
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. RF
8. DH
9. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Two big question marks still exist when it comes to forecasting the White Sox lineup for the upcoming 2020 season: Who will play right field, and what will the team do at DH?

The first is a total mystery, as Hahn will almost certainly search the free-agent and trade markets for a new right fielder. Nicholas Castellanos is the best available free-agent outfielder — though some prefer Marcell Ozuna — but comes with questions about his defense and will surely cost a pretty penny. If the White Sox are hell bent on adding a left-handed hitter in that spot, the most discussed options are Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson. The trade market has countless options, depending on what the White Sox are willing to give away in prospect capital. Don't expect them to deal away any of their highest rated prospects in a trade for a player with just one year of control remaining like Mookie Betts. Whether the White Sox go after a long-term or short-term fix in right field also is an unknown. The former is preferred, but the latter could be an option depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out.

The second of the question marks, DH, at least has comes with an in-house option now that Grandal is in the fold. If the White Sox can't find a better external option, they could be comfortable with a rotation of Abreu, Grandal, Zack Collins and James McCann at DH. But as Hahn said Thursday, there's "a lot of offseason left." Abreu, it should be noted, is expected to contribute as a DH on as regular basis as he did in 2019. Even though he has expressed a dislike for the position, he played 34 games there this past season.

It might not be realistic to expect Robert and Madrigal to be installed at their respective positions on Opening Day, but both project to be everyday players for much of the 2020 season, Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. Jimenez isn't going to a new position for now, with Rick Renteria saying over the summer, "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." Moncada has a lot of athleticism and versatility, allowing the White Sox to at least consider a potential pursuit of star free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. But Hahn said last week the team has no desire to switch Moncada's position for the second consecutive year.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. new SP
3. new SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. Reynaldo Lopez/Michael Kopech

The White Sox are going to add two starting pitchers this offseason. They're already rumored to be in pursuit of Zack Wheeler, who would slot in nicely alongside or just behind Giolito at the top of the rotation. His arriving on the South Side is no lock at the moment, so I won't ink him into the long-term projection just yet. But he's a kind of pitcher who would line up with the team's planned contention window. Hahn could look for two pitchers who fit that description, or he could go long-term with one and short-term with another. He's got options, and there's no knowing which options will end up the final results right now.

Hahn said in September that Giolito, Cease and Lopez have rotation spots for 2020. Kopech, meanwhile, will be on some kind of innings limit next season in his return from Tommy John surgery. After missing the entirety of the 2019 campaign, the White Sox could limit his big league usage in a number of ways: starting him in the minor leagues, skipping some starts or having him throw out of the bullpen. Bottom line: Kopech will not make a full 30-plus starts in 2020. Lopez is an interesting case, as he struggled mightily to find consistency in 2019. How long will he be allowed to keep searching for it if the White Sox are intent on contending for a playoff spot in 2020?

2021

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

It's impossible to say right now what kind of position the White Sox will be in after the 2020 season, but it's perfectly fair to assume that even if the contention window doesn't open in 2020, it should be fully open by 2021 — if everything goes according to plan, of course.

There are so many things that are difficult to predict, such as whether someone takes a step backward and the team needs to address a position they didn't think they'd have to, or if a breakout season from someone I've placed further down in the batting order necessitates them being the new cleanup hitter. If Hahn takes a short-term approach to right field or DH this winter, does he search for a long-term solution next offseason? Does one of the myriad outfield prospects who were plagued by injuries and under-performance in 2019 explode for a huge season in the minor leagues in 2020, forcing himself into the long-term forecast?

What we do know if that all the guys currently projected to play everyday roles in 2020 are under contract for 2021, too. Robert, Madrigal, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Anderson. They're not going anywhere. (I flip-flopped Anderson and Madrigal in the batting order just because Madrigal's elite bat-to-ball skills, should they stay that way once he reaches the big leagues, would figure to make him a valuable hitter near the top of the order behind Robert and ahead of the big boppers. And Anderson could fill that "second leadoff hitter" role that has been used by teams in the past. Renteria and the White Sox could certainly have different ideas.)

The big change, though, could come in the form of Vaughn's arrival at the major league level. The White Sox made him the No. 3 pick in June's draft, and as an advanced college bat, he could be on a similar path to Madrigal, who went from No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft to the doorstep of the majors by the end of his first full season as a pro. If that's the case, a 2021 arrival date for Vaughn is not at all out of the question. Maybe he arrives even earlier, at the tail end of the 2020 season, if he has a monster campaign in the minors and the White Sox could use some late-season thump in the middle of a playoff push. But that would go against how the White Sox have patiently handled their prospects during this rebuilding process.

As for where Vaughn is forecasted to play, don't think that the Abreu extension is a bad sign for him. He's a first baseman, like Abreu, but both have questions about their defense there. Abreu is a diligent worker when it comes to his defense, even if the defensive metrics don't show entirely positive results. Abreu doesn't like to DH but will. Vaughn was drafted with questions about his defense, and some speculated he'd end up a DH down the road. The White Sox don't like talking about youngsters as full-time DHs — see the comments on Jimenez — so maybe they can finally pull off the first base/DH platoon with Abreu and Vaughn they tried with Abreu and Yonder Alonso at the outset of 2019. Or maybe Abreu is convinced by 2021, his age-34 season, that he's best suited as a regular DH and hands the first-base reins over to Vaughn.

There's still that mystery in right field, only because we don't know who will be there in 2020. Prospects like Micker Adolfo or Luis Basabe or Blake Rutherford could prove themselves major league ready by the time spring training 2021 rolls around, and if this winter's addition is a short-term one, the door will be open for one of those guys. Or maybe a short-term addition simply yields to the search for another free-agent replacement a winter from now. Or maybe Hahn adds a right fielder on a multi-year deal this offseason, and that guy is in the plans beyond 2020, as well.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. 2020 SP
3. Michael Kopech
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Carlos Rodon/Reynaldo Lopez

I would not be at all surprised if the two starting pitchers Hahn adds this offseason are on multi-year deals and the rotation doesn't require any additions next winter. In fact, we might be debating who the White Sox have to exclude from the big league rotation, as Dunning and Lambert will be fully recovered from their Tommy John surgeries by then. Don't forget, too, that Rodon will be in his final season of team control come 2021. It's difficult to figure out what to expect from any of those three Tommy John recipients in 2020, but even if none of them makes an impact then, they'll all be options for 2021.

Giolito, Kopech and Cease all figure to be the owners of secure big league rotation spots by then. Lopez could be, too, though he's the biggest long-term question mark after his rough 2019 season. At least one of this winter's additions should be a long-term one, so he'd take that No. 2 spot, or perhaps lower if Kopech or Cease really break out in 2020 the way Giolito did in 2019. Should the White Sox make a short-term move with their second starting-pitching addition this winter, they might be on the hunt for another free-agent or trade acquisition next winter.

If everything goes right, it points to Hahn finally having that "good problem" he's always referencing of too many quality starting pitchers. That could make the White Sox able to upgrade their roster with trades involving the guys who don't make the cut, though depth would remain important, as the parade of ineffective fifth starters showed in 2019.

2022

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Yoan Moncada, 3B
4. Eloy Jimenez, LF
5. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
6. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
7. Yasmani Grandal, C
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

Again, same situation as the 2021 forecast. Robert, Anderson, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Madrigal and Vaughn will all still be under club control. There could be plenty of variation in the way the batting order shakes out depending on who's not and who's not by then. Vaughn, in particular, would figure to be placed in a spot that takes advantage of his power should he meet the expectations that accompanied him when he was drafted. Abreu, in his age-35 season, might be surpassed by Moncada and Jimenez as the primary offensive threats in this lineup, though Abreu has been so consistent in his major league career so far, that minimal regression wouldn't be a shock.

The right-field question can't be answered until we know the plans for 2020 and what kind of bounce-back seasons might occur among the prospect group over the next two years. There's a possibility Hahn could be going back to the free-agent or trade drawing board, even two offseasons in the future. Who knows?

The 2022 season should be the thick of the White Sox contention window, and they figure to be a team with realistic championship aspirations by this point. Teams like that tend to make big upgrades every winter (not to mention at the trade deadline), so it's quite possible there's a huge future piece that we're not accounting for just because this is what we're projecting in the present. And that could shake things up dramatically.

But thanks to the contracts announced in the last two days, we know that Abreu and Grandal will be part of these lineups.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. Michael Kopech
3. 2020 SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/2021 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Reynaldo Lopez

Again, there's too much mystery to make a true projection. Maybe that free-agent pitcher signed this winter eclipses Giolito and is the staff ace. Maybe Kopech rises to that No. 1 spot. Maybe Lopez or Dunning or Lambert or, heck, even Jonathan Stiever become a rotation lock. Maybe there's a future free agent in an offseason to come who the White Sox can't pass up the opportunity to sign. (Rodon is set to hit free agency after the 2021 season, which is why he's not on this list.)

I'll put Giolito and Kopech and Cease in there now. But there are so many possibilities, which is both a good thing and a potentially precarious thing for the White Sox. Best-case scenario: They have too many good starting pitchers and are able to trade one or more of them away to upgrade the roster elsewhere. Worst-case scenario: They have to repeatedly return to the free-agent and trade markets to find new solutions.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Three more years for Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Three more years for Jose Abreu

The White Sox ripped up their qualifying offer for Jose Abreu and instead reached a 3-year contract with their All-Star first baseman.

-Why did they do it and what does it mean? (1:30)

-What can the White Sox expect offensively from Abreu during the contract? (5:50)

-Tweets from White Sox fans (13:00)

-Does this affect Andrew Vaughn? (17:50)

-The Zack Wheeler rumors (24:00) and more.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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