White Sox

Baby brother all grown up: Yolmer Sanchez's confidence has spilled onto field

Baby brother all grown up: Yolmer Sanchez's confidence has spilled onto field

Yolmer Sanchez finally understands his limitations as a player. He has a better sense for what he can and can’t do on the field.

An improved grasp of his abilities seems to have made quite a difference. Both Sanchez and the White Sox think that development is key to the second baseman’s growth. Now in his fourth season, Sanchez has taken an important step forward in establishing himself as a major leaguer. With three games left before the All-Star break, Sanchez has produced a career-best 1.2 f-Wins Above Replacement in 2017.

“His confidence has really blossomed from last year to this year,” said third-base coach and former farm director Nick Capra. “He’s always had the talent and ability to play up here. But I’m not sure he was sure of himself at the time. He’s played with a lot more confidence and he looks like he’s sure of himself now.”

Sanchez, 25, has never been short on confidence, especially in the clubhouse. He’s upbeat, energetic and always joking with teammates.

The second baseman has no shame, either, which often leads to humorously awkward interactions with teammates during their media sessions.

There are the uncomfortable hugs he delivers. Those are usually accompanied by congratulations for accomplishments. And Sanchez always seems to have time to ask a fake interview question or two.

He’s like the kid brother who never leaves his sibling’s side.

“He’s always been like that,” outfielder Avisail Garcia said. “He’s always joking around.

“Wow. He’s never quiet though. It’s fine. It’s good. That’s something you want to have in the dugout and the clubhouse.”

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That persona has carried over to the field this season. Sanchez — who changed his name from Carlos to Yolmer (his real name and the one his wife yells when she’s angry — has had plenty of moments since he first arrived in the majors in the summer of 2014. This year those instances have been more consistent.

Sanchez is hitting .268/.331/.397 with 19 extra-base hits in 267 plate appearances. He also has accounted for 5 Defensive Runs Saved at second base, according to fangraphs.com, and has an Ultimate Zone Rating of 2.6. Sanchez thinks it’s a byproduct of experience and knowing how to stay collected.

“Be patient and when you get the opportunity to show what you can do, don’t try to do too much,” Sanchez said. “Don’t try to do things you can’t do. I just try to do my job. They know what type of player I am … when I got here I tried to hit a homer every time. Right now I know I can hit a homer, but I’m not going to hit 30 homers a year. I learned what kind of player I am and what I can do for my team, my teammates and what ways I can help most.”

Much like teammate Melky Cabrera, Sanchez thinks the enthusiasm he brings to the park every day is a good thing for the club. Sanchez looks up to Cabrera, who constantly has teammates laughing in an attempt to keep things loose. Sanchez said he never wants to allow himself to think he’s tired and tries to bring endless energy.

That’s why in years past you’ve seen him rocking Adam Eaton like a baby in the dugout. Or perhaps you’ve caught his faux-territorial arguments with Jose Abreu on easy pop ups (hint: the much larger first baseman wins every time).

“If you say ‘I’m tired,’ in your mind you’re going to be tired,” Sanchez said. “Just try to have fun every day and bring a lot of energy.

“Every day is like my first day. I enjoy every single day I come to the ballpark. When you work hard for something and you get it, you’re excited, you try to enjoy it. I have it every time when I get to the ballpark. I love coming here, playing with my teammates and having fun. Nothing has changed from Day One I got the big leagues.”

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

Right field, designated hitter and starting pitching.

The White Sox, despite handing out the richest contract in team history already this offseason, have yet to address any of their previously stated positional needs. (OK, maybe Yasmani Grandal ends up factoring into the solution at DH.)

That's not for lack of trying, though, with the team offering more money to Zack Wheeler than he took to stay on the East Coast and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. They've been linked to Madison Bumgarner since Wheeler made his decision Wednesday.

The White Sox will surely continue to pursue starting-pitching help, but what's going on in their search for a new right fielder? The need is arguably the most critical on the roster and is certainly pressing after a mixture of players combined for some of the worst production in the game there last season. There are options, and supposedly the White Sox are looking at a few of them.

Earlier this week, we heard the White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers were in "preliminary trade talks" surrounding Joc Pederson, who the South Siders reportedly tried to acquire last offseason. Pederson played more left field than right field last year for the NL West champs, but he had a career year at the plate, with new highs in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, hits and RBIs. There's only one year of team control remaining on the 27-year-old's contract, but the White Sox would be getting a big-time upgrade in their lineup — and a left-handed one, at that.

That same report, from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, also mentioned the White Sox expressed interest in Nicholas Castellanos, perhaps the best hitting outfielder on the free-agent market. Castellanos was stellar last season, leading the major leagues with 58 doubles. He was particularly good after being acquired by the Cubs in a midseason trade, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games for the North Siders. Castellanos long terrorized White Sox pitching while with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, and he's the kind of impact bat that would bolster the middle of the lineup. But he comes with defensive questions that Pederson does not — minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, compared to five for Pederson as a right fielder.

The White Sox were reportedly interested in the other top outfielder on the free-agent market, Marcell Ozuna, early in the offseason. A little older than Pederson and Castellanos, he's just a couple years removed from a dominant 2017 campaign, when he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs for the Miami Marlins. Since being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ozuna hit .263/.327/.452 with 52 homers and 177 RBIs in two seasons. He played left field exclusively in his time with the Redbirds.

Now, enter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who White Sox Talk Podcast aficionados will remember from a discussion in mid October. The Japanese import has been posted, and according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, the White Sox are among four interested teams. Tsutsugo was described by reporter Jim Allen as "a quality bat in Japan, but he’s really not the elite bat," which might raise concerns. A left fielder, Tsutsugo brings good on-base skills and slashed an incredible .322/.430/.680 with 44 homers during the 2016 season. But his defense seems to be an issue in left, with Morosi writing "scouts question whether Tsutsugo has the range to be an average defensive left fielder in the majors." If that's a concern at his actual position, might there be even further worries moving him to a different spot in the outfield? Perhaps the White Sox could be eyeing him for that aforementioned vacancy at DH. He's also a lefty, which would bring some balance to the lineup.

But it's a different nugget in Morosi's report on Tsutsugo that should catch White Sox fans' eyes. Morosi added that "the White Sox likely won’t attempt to sign Tsutsugo immediately, while waiting for decisions from free agents Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna."

Now, we already heard the White Sox connected to those two top-of-market players, but their potential interest in Tsutsugo hinging on what Castellanos and Ozuna have to say could illustrate just how seriously they're considering either of those heavy-hitting free agents. Or maybe all three are secondary targets should a trade with the Dodgers fail to materialize (again).

Whether talking about Ozuna or Tsutsugo, it's unlikely the White Sox would do any rearranging in their outfield to keep them in their current positions. They've discussed Eloy Jimenez as a long-term left fielder, talking multiple times about his improving defense out there (where he sparked more than a few grimaces with his play during his rookie season). For those who see what they consider an easy fix by just moving Jimenez to the DH spot and allowing someone else to play left, manager Rick Renteria went as far as saying this summer that "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." So don't expect Jimenez to move any time soon.

Like with everything these days, the White Sox seem to have plenty of options to consider. With offseason activity coming a bit faster than it did in recent years, perhaps the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego, will provide an answer as to which way they'll end up going.

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White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Stephen Strasburg, RH SP, Nationals

Age: 31

2019 salary: $38,333,333

2019 stats: 209 IP, 3.32 ERA, 251 K, 56 BB, 161 hits (24 HR)

What Strasburg would bring to the White Sox

Strasburg was one of the most hyped draft picks when the Nationals took him No. 1 overall in 2009. He has elite strikeout stuff, but endured a Tommy John surgery early in his MLB career in 2010. Since then, the Nationals have played it cautiously with Strasburg. He has only gone over 200 innings twice in his career, although 2019 was one of those years when Strasburg led the National League with 209 innings.

His ERA has been under 3.8 every year of his career and he hasn't shown any signs of dropoff in his arsenal. He was also a stud in the playoffs this fall with a 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts and four walks in 36.1 innings.

Strasburg would vault straight to the top of the White Sox rotation. If he can continue to shoulder a full-season workload, which is a fair question because Strasburg averaged 145 innings per year from 2015-2018, Strasburg is a top 10 pitcher in baseball.

What it would take to get him

Strasburg opted out of the final four years and $100 million on a seven-year, $175 million contract to enter free agency so he's expecting to get more than that. He could be in line for a record-setting contract for a pitcher, although Gerrit Cole could top him within the same offseason.

Look for Strasburg to get more than $30 million per year on a long-term contract.

Why it's not realistic for the White Sox

Until the White Sox win the bidding war for a top-end free agent, the assumption will be that they won't. Strasburg is a premier pitching talent coming off a World Series MVP. He will be expensive and many teams will be interested in him.

There's also the fact that Strasburgh might not want to leave the Nationals anyway. He has been in the nation's capital his whole career and most early indications are that both parties want to sign a new deal.

Latest rumors

Report: Nationals think they have a better shot at keeping Stephen Strasburg over Anthony Rendon

Nationals owner Mark Lerner says team can’t afford Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon