White Sox

Ballantini: Smooth sailing for Peavy continues

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Ballantini: Smooth sailing for Peavy continues

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011Posted: 2:43 p.m. Updated: 4:54 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz Well, drama sells, but nobodys buying at Chicago White Sox camp so far this spring training.

The early return on this budget-busting bunch of Chisox is smiles all around. On Wednesday, pitchers threw to hitters in live batting practice for the first time, and that was a topic of some apprehension in one corner of the clubhouse before workouts, as Juan Pierre indicated some nervousness about facing John Danks after the lefty had gone some four months without throwing to a batter.

Theres just that little bit of doubt, Danks said, after Pierre had outlined some escape strategies in case of wildness. I dont mind hitting batters, but not the guys on your own team.

Danks explained that in order to ease into throwing to live batters, he works on hitting his spots away, then gradually moves toward the inner half of the plate.

Pierres worries were unfounded. It was in fact lefty fireballer Matt Thornton who sent him Speedy Gonzalezing in the batters box. Danks, meanwhile, had an entertaining exchange with catching prospect Tyler Flowers, who was mauling some of his pitches. Finally, Danks announced he was throwing a cutter, and promptly sawed the barrel off of Flowers bat, sending it flying to deep shortstop.
Peeved

No, White Sox hurler Jake Peavy isnt angry hes cruising through the early portion of his rehabilitation from latissimus dorsi surgery.

Peavy threw to Omar Vizquel, Lastings Milledge, and Eduardo Escobar during his portion of live BP two sets of 20 pitches, approximating two innings work and by all accounts the session was better than anticipated. Pitching coach Don Cooper exclaimed his encouragement on more than one occasion, and later confirmed that the righty was on track to not miss a start in April.

Peavy indicated he was feeling no abnormal discomfort afterward, and what ill effects he was feeling was completely normal for spring training in fact an encouraging sign that hes keeping up with his fellow White Sox starters.

Its just another step in the right direction, obviously, Peavy said. It has been a long process of rehabilitation and these last few days have been as grueling as youll have as far as getting your arm in shape. There is some soreness, but I was just in the clubhouse talking about their soreness and them trying to get through it as well.

He had better stuff, increased intensity, and the ball was going more where the glove was, said pitching coach Don Cooper. Now, he is as tough a judge on things as anybody I have every had he will throw pitches that I like, but he doesnt like. Thats him. But Im sitting back there liking everything whatever pitch he was throwing. It had a little more zip on it.

Ramon Castro, who caught Peavys session, thought that the fireballers breaking stuff was season-ready Peavy said he threw about 10-12 breaking pitches but the backstop estimated his fastball at around 70-80 percent.

He was nice, throwing every pitch fastball, slider, curveball, changeup for a strike, Castro said. It looked like the old Peavy in terms of breaking ball stuff. The fastball is not there yet, but hes going to get there.

It was a big accomplishment for Peavy to succeed with his breaking stuff, something he hadnt done consistently in his rehabilitation to this point.

I said the last time I threw a few just to try to get a feel for breaking pitches, Peavy said. Yesterday in playing catch, I threw in a few more. But before you get out there in a game you want to have a little bit more of a feel if you need to throw one.

While its tempting to prematurely judge Peavy fit for a fifth starters duty on April 9, not missing a turn on the season, the fireballer himself isnt attaching that sort of pressure to his early spring training work.

It really doesnt mean a whole lot to me, Peavy said of breaking camp in the rotation. I just want to be healthy. I want to be healthy for the majority of the season. If Im healthy this whole season and throw 200 innings with the guys, its certainly something I want to do. But if I dont, I dont see myself being that far behind. I just want to make sure when I get back theres not any kind of setbacks.

Count Peavys pitching coach as sold on the toughness of his hurlers remarkably fast comeback.

First of all, for him to be out there in many ways is impressive, Cooper said. Hes throwing the ball better. He probably went up a notch in intensity. He threw more breaking balls. He certainly is doing what everybody else is doing. Its a credit to the surgeons, Jake and trainer Herm Schneider following up on all the things he is supposed to be doing.

He certainly has more to do and climb. But I dont think the climb could be going any nicer than it is right now.

Peavys next work off the mound comes on Saturday, in a workout to be determined.

Sales Set

To be sure, Chris Sale is cherishing his role as a full-time baseball player; remember, a year ago, he was juggling his college pitching with schoolwork.

I can put 100 percent of my focus on baseball instead of going to the field, then going to class, maybe having an exam and next week having to study and have a paper due in a couple of days, Sale said. I can really just focus all of my attention on baseball. Its definitely worked out a lot better for me this year, just going through it.

For a pitcher whos just a few days into his first training camp, hes cherishing the experience.

Its definitely a change of pace, Sale said, laughing at the thought of where he was a year ago, a relatively nondescript starter at Florida Gulf Coast University. Its different. I love it: Come here in the morning, get your work in, start your day out pretty good, wake up early. Im eating a couple more meals a day than I would. The thing that I like is that Im getting a lot better sleep because I dont have to worry about going to class, practice, study hall and stuff like that.

I mean, last night, I fell asleep at 8:30.

Judging by the sideline debate on Wednesday, Sale is also an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate, with many people being unaware that Sale still qualifies for the award.

Ask him, and when it comes to winning the Rookie of the Year, Sale doesnt much care either way. But if he wins it, hes not exactly going to send it back.

Rookie of the Year talk comes up, but at the same time Im just worried about going out there and performing, Sale said. You cant really have that goal in mind. The ultimate goal is getting to the playoffs and ultimately winning a championship.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.