White Sox

Avisail Garcia's All-Star teammates are impressed with White Sox outfielder's breakout season

Avisail Garcia's All-Star teammates are impressed with White Sox outfielder's breakout season

MIAMI -- Andrew Miller actively roots for players like White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia.

Now one of baseball’s most dominant relievers, the Cleveland Indians pitcher didn’t experience true, consistent success until he’d been in the major leagues for five years.

Similar to Garcia, Miller has experienced the ups and downs of the big leagues. He remembers that feeling of wondering whether or not he belonged in the fraternity and the doubts it created.

So even though they may be divisional rivals, Miller said he’s elated to share the same American League All-Star clubhouse with the once highly-touted Garcia, who is in the midst of a breakout season after several years of struggling with the White Sox.  

“It kind of feels like a roller coaster,” Miller said. “You have a good inning or a good at-bat or a good day and feel like you have it all figured out and the next time doesn’t go so well and you’re ready to quit. As much physical ability as this game takes, the mental side of it is probably even more important. For most guys it takes time. A lot of times expectations are a little out of whack.”

The baseball world first heard about Garcia when he was dubbed Mini Miggy because of the similarities to then Detroit Tigers-teammate Miguel Cabrera. Garcia then made a name for himself in the 2012 AL championship series when he had five hits and three RBIs against the New York Yankees.

When he arrived on the South Side in 2013, Garcia was touted as a five-tool player with great speed and next-level power. He immediately excelled with the White Sox, hitting .304/.327/.447 in his first 168 plate appearances.

But the next step didn’t arrive until this season and only after several trying years. An April shoulder surgery effectively wiped out Garcia’s 2014 campaign and he produced subpar offensive seasons in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s always great when players experience success right at the beginning because that’s everything you want and you dream about when you come up here,” Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Vargas said. “But in all reality there’s only a few guys that sustain that. We know who they are for the most part. The rest of us have to figure out how to battle and grind it out. That’s part of the beauty of the game.”

“It’s really nice to see guys get comfortable with that and blossom the way he is and tapping into all that talent that everybody can see.”

[MORE: AVISAIL GARCIA 'GONNA PLAY FOR SURE' IN ALL-STAR GAME]

When Corey Kluber prepares to face Garcia he now sees fewer ways to get him out. The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner said Garcia’s talent has always been evident. But now he’s brought more consistency to his plate appearances.

“Each year you can see improvements,” Kluber said. “Guys like him who are a big prospect, there’s a reason why most of the time. Now it’s kind of culminating into having a really good year.

“He may have had a few more holes early on than he has now, but I think there’s always that talent that’s been there.”

Miller agrees -- “we’ve always seen the swing and the ability is there.”

But the Indians reliever thinks the confidence and belief have helped to transform Garcia, who has consistently showed a better plan at the plate. Vargas said Garcia “just wore out” Kansas City’s pitchers earlier this season.

Miller has seen the same from Garcia, too. Even though they’ll be back on the opposite sides of the field soon, Miller will continue to appreciate Garcia from afar for the similarities in their career paths.

“His approach has been really refined this year, whether it’s pitch recognition or laying off a pitch here or there,” Miller said. “He’s been really good.

“He’s shown he can still be the player that maybe people were talking about a couple of years ago. It’s certainly not a knock that it took him a couple years. He’s been holding his own in the major leagues.

“Based on what we’ve seen I would assume he’s going the right direction and is going to be here for a while.”

White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

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USA TODAY

White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

Who will be the White Sox version of Justin Verlander? Their version of Jon Lester?

The big-name veteran brought in from outside the organization to be the cherry on top of a rebuilding effort and push things into contention mode. Who will Rick Hahn & Co. bring in to play that role on the South Side?

The White Sox got a firsthand lesson in why such a player is a necessity, dominated in every sense by Verlander on Tuesday night in Houston. Verlander, who long tormented the White Sox when he played for the division-rival Tigers, took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and finished with one run, one hit and one walk allowed in eight dazzling frames. Jose Abreu's solo homer that broke up the no-hitter in the seventh was the one moment on the evening in which Verlander looked human.

That's the kind of thing Verlander's been doing since the Astros traded for him during the 2017 season, which ended with them winning the World Series. They might do it again this year, the best team in baseball halfway through this four-game series against the White Sox. And he's a big reason they've stayed atop the list of championship contenders the last two years.

Verlander's acquisition was a little different than that of Lester on the North Side of Chicago. The Cubs needed to inject some legitimacy into their rebuilding project and got it by giving Lester, who knew Theo Epstein and his front office from the Boston days, a ton of money to top their rotation. The Astros needed a similar push from one of the game's best pitchers, and they got it by trading for Verlander in a waiver deal with the Tigers. But Verlander accomplished the same goal for the Astros that Lester did for the Cubs. Even in 2019, they're two of the more reliable arms around.

The White Sox might not be ready to vault into contention mode on Day 1 of the 2020 season. Michael Kopech's next start will be just his fifth as a big leaguer. Dylan Cease won't have much more than a month or two of big league experience. Eloy Jimenez has already missed a month of developmental time. Luis Robert will likely be getting his first taste of the majors.

But adding a Verlander type to that group could make a huge difference.

Now, Verlander is one of the best pitchers ever, plain and simple, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. To suggest that kind of pitcher will be available this offseason is perhaps unrealistic. Verlander was set to be among a loaded free-agent class before he signed an extension to stay with the Astros. He wasn't alone, and that thought-to-be-loaded free-agent class is now significantly less loaded. But there are still options, and perhaps more than ever a trade looks like it might be the way to go. If the White Sox do have a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher on their wish list, Verlander's teammate and Wednesday night's scheduled starter, Gerrit Cole, is on track to be among the available free agents.

So, too, is Madison Bumgarner, who more closely fits the mold of accomplished guys like Verlander and Lester. Bumgarner's got an unparalleled amount of postseason success, but he comes with plenty of questions, too. He pitched in just 38 combined games in 2017 and 2018, and while longevity hasn't been an issue this season — he's failed to go six innings in only one of his 10 starts — effectiveness has been an issue. He's got a 4.21 ERA through 62 innings. His highest single-season ERA prior to 2019 was 3.37 in 2012.

It doesn't have to be Bumgarner. And maybe it doesn't even have to be a pitcher. The White Sox have a list of potential starting-pitching options that includes Kopech, Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and others. The Cubs and Astros couldn't craft rotations of homegrown players. The White Sox might be able to, though considering the injuries that have plagued those young arms and the current lack of major league ready starting-pitching depth, a big-time starting-pitching addition would really fortify things.

It could also add that kind of legitimacy that Lester brought to the Cubs. Get one big name to come aboard a still-emerging group, and that could draw more talent that could really kick things into high gear.

There might be no one way to do a successful rebuild, but if the White Sox want to follow the template the Astros and Cubs have used to win championships in recent years, a Verlander type would be a good way to go about doing that. The opportunity has to exist, but you'd have to imagine it's an opportunity the front office will be looking for this winter.

Certainly they're already motivated to do just that. Watching Verlander cut through their lineup Tuesday night should back that motivation up.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: The White Sox are running out of starting pitchers. Should they bring up Dylan Cease now?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The White Sox are running out of starting pitchers. Should they bring up Dylan Cease now?

Connor McKnight, Kevin Fishbain and Jay Cohen join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel.

0:00- Ozzie Guillen joins the panel as the White Sox get ready to face the Astros. The guys discuss if there are any similarities between the Astros rebuild and the one the Sox are currently in.

4:00- The White Sox are running out of starting pitchers. Should they bring up Dylan Cease now?

7:00- Yu Darvish allowed 3 runs over six innings with 3 walks and 7 strikesouts. Is that considered a good start for him?

11:00- The Bears continue to unveil their top 100 players. Khalil Mack is 60th after just one season. The guys debate that and the fact that Jim McMahon is 32 spots ahead of Jay Cutler.

16:00- Scott Paddock joins Kap to talk about the fight in the NASCAR All-Star race and to preview a big few weeks at Chicagoland Speedway.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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