White Sox

Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

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Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 1:20 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
The Chicago White Sox, All-In yet wheezing toward another pallid month of training wheels baseball, have just a week to turn cans into can-do.

Over the course of this prickly Cactus League season, in which the White Sox have clinched the distinction of being the final spring training team to reach double-digit wins, several worries have come and gone.

Mark Buehrles batting-practice fastballs melded with awful location to find the crafty lefty bruised and battered midway through spring, yet hes bounced back from four figures to hold a not-unbearable ERA of 5.54 heading into his final spring start.

Carlos Quentin was looking as lost in the batters box as he did in right field, taking enough sideline BP to slowly corkscrew himself into Glendales crusty earth, when hellfire met hulk-mania and he embarked on a 12-17 tear that included four doubles, three homers, and seven RBI.

Paul Konerko took an extra warm-up lap out of spring training, shooting for team honors in strikeouts, Mendoza Line tripping, and accidental standup triples, before regaining his stroke last week and easing his OPS to a more plausible .823.

Even young gun Chris Sale, sporting an ERA this spring (5.23) that would find him falling freely out of Rookie of the Year contention, nonetheless has maintained a future closerace rate of 6.5 strikeouts per walk.

But Adam Dunn, the Big Donkey turned Brawny lumberjack courtesy of a beard borne of boredom, has yet to give a slip to his spring training yips, slogging through a .616 OPS spring and a batting average still short of spitting distance of Mendoza (.190). While hes pocketed eight walks, hes whiffed an astounding 25 times in 18 games, with very modest run production numbers (one jack, three RBI).

Worry about Dunn is twofold. First, its that K-.431 this spring compared with an already-healthy .328 in his career. Second, its come with a power outage; in Dunns career, hes tapped out a round-tripper once every 14.1 at-bats, while this spring hes stuck at one per 58, and counting.

And yet, is anyone on the White Sox worried? Not really.

The great thing about Dunn is that, unlike Sale or even Quentin, hes a veteran whos been through countless slow starts in his career, so hes well inoculated against over thinking the process.

If I stressed out about it, Id have been out of this game years ago, Dunn said. The beginning of the season is always toughwell, I say always, Im going to try this year to change that, gol-lyIm not going to set myself up and say Im going to start slow, but whispers good chance.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is a bit jumpier in nature than Dunn, but is likewise unworried.

He reminds me a little bit of Jim Thome, Guillen said. This guy strikes out 100-plus, walks 100-plus, thats 250 times up without putting the ball in play, and still puts up a lot
of numbers. How they do it, I dont know.

Fans eyes pop out over home runs, but ask Dunn, and he could care less about the long ball.

Its not so much the homers; getting on base is No. 1 with me, Dunn says. If I can keep my on-base average .380-plus, thats my No. 1 goal of the year. Getting on base is going to equal runs. If I get on 40 of the time, were going to score some runs.

Thats exactly the way Guillen says it, although the manager has penned a quiet wish for 50 homers from Dunn this season.

I dont expect anything different from Adam, Guillen said. You get on base, youre going to give the team a chance to win. Thats why Im putting him at the top of the order, to give him more at bats and get him on base.

Dunn admits that last year, the Washington Nationals anemic offense forced him to change up his strategy. Tired of being stranded at second base, the slugger turned on his aggressivenessand wasnt much pleased with the results.

Last year was the first year I tried to swing a lot, and everything was about the same except my on-base, Dunn said. I feel like I wasnt on base last year. We needed to score runs in Washington. I dont know whats going to happen this year, but Im just going to let it freaking rip.

The numbers bear that out. Dunn isnt a slow starter, historically (his .982 OPS in 214 career MarchApril games is his highest of any month), but last year, the bookends of his season were miserable. In MarchApril he put up an .823 OPS, and wheezed to a .765 in SeptemberOctober. In 49 games over those two month, the Nats masher pushed across just 24 RBI.

It was locker mate Matt Thornton who offered an explanation for Dunns poor finish.

Its called being 25 games out in July, Thornton said. I went through it in 2007. Youre that far out that early, and its hard to keep your mind from drifting to the offseason. Theres nothing worse than struggling to find something to play for.

Clearly, Dunn wants results, and his inability to get untracked this March indicates some similar pressing. A cool customer who was granted automatic respect from teammates the minute he walked through the clubhouse door, the slugger is no different from any player on the fieldhe wants to fit in and not disappoint.

I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I know I have struggled early in the past, so I dont panic and say holy expletive, Im hitting .150 in April. It sucks, but that only means theres some damage coming in May, June, July, and August. Its hard to be patient when everybodys panicking, but it just takes five good months, so you can have a bad one.

Dunns forgetfulness about his past prowess out of the gate could just be a smart strategy against overreacting to the deep freeze slump that seems to plague every one of the Chicago 9 on a yearly basis. Theres a fair chance that in spite of some insipid spring numbers, Dunn will pile some of the smaller Hose on his shoulders early and slug the Chisox to some wins all on his own. Not that the Big Donkey is braying on it.

If I start out on fire, Ill freak, said the genial slugger. I dont know whatll happen--.400, here I come.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute White 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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