White Sox

Cabrera, White Sox not hitting panic button on season-long slump

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Cabrera, White Sox not hitting panic button on season-long slump

ARLINGTON, Texas — The White Sox aren’t panicking as the guy they signed to a three-year, $42 million deal in the offseason continues to work through his early-season offensive malaise.

Entering Wednesday night’s game in Texas, outfielder Melky Cabrera has a .546 OPS, nearly 200 points below his career average and good for third-worst among qualified players this season. He’s hitting just .236 and hasn’t produced much power, only collecting five extra-base hits (four doubles, one home run) in 219 plate appearances.

Cabrera, though, is avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to his slow start and said he’s not trying anything different to reverse his fortune.

“I don’t change anything in my game,” Cabrera said through a translator. “I just try to keep my focus, try to keep my approach at the plate. Baseball is a hard sport. … You have to try to have confidence in your game and confidence in your work. That’s the only way that you can, sooner rather than later, get out of the slump.”

Cabrera’s poor production can still be partly chalked up to a small sample size, though a handful of other stats have passed that point of early-season dismissal. The good news is that those numbers that have stabilized aren’t far off from what Cabrera had in 2014, when he hit .301/.351/.458 for Toronto.

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Cabrera is swinging at slightly more pitches and is making slightly more contact, while his walk rate and his line drive rate have dropped a bit — but none of those percentages have swung by more than two percent. The biggest difference is, according to FanGraphs, he’s making hard contact on about 10 percent fewer balls in play (30.5 percent in 2014, 19.8 percent in 2015) and his batting average on balls in play is down from .316 to .254.

So it’s been some nefarious combination of bad luck and being slightly off at the plate that’s been the impetus behind Cabrera’s lack of success at the plate. But regardless of why it's happened, he hasn’t provided the two-hole salvation the White Sox thought they were getting when they stretched their budget this winter — with Cabrera mostly hitting second, White Sox No. 2 hitters have a .541 OPS through 50 games, 93 points below 2014’s mark.

“He’s had some days where he’s hit it hard and not gotten anything out of it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That still messes with your mind somewhat. You always want to get something out of it. (As) a veteran guy, he still has confidence in what he’s doing and we do too in where he’s going to end up.”

It’s a viewpoint that shows neither Cabrera nor Ventura see the 30-year-old as having an on-base percentage well below .300 or being rated by WAR as the worst player on the team (-0.8) for much longer. Part of that thought is because Ventura hasn’t dropped Cabrera out his No. 2 perch in the order, outside of a few games in which he’s hit third or fourth.

[MORE: White Sox searching for answers after being throttled by Texas]

Cabrera said having a manager who believes in in him has helped him pull out of slumps in the past, and Ventura’s willingness to let him work through his offensive issues without moving him lower in the order has helped keep his confidence high this year.

“It’s key when the manager gives you the confidence to keep playing every day just because that makes you feel like you have all the confidence and you’re able to keep working and do what you have to do to get better,” Cabrera said. “… I feel very confident right now that things are going to change soon and we, as a team, are going to start playing much better.”

A return to form from Cabrera would certainly be a boost to the run-producing numbers of Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche and Avisail Garcia behind him if he’s able to get on base more and hit for a little more power. But Cabrera’s big picture approach to his offensive struggles means he’s not close to hitting the panic button with 112 games left to be played.

“It’s a long season,” Cabrera said. “You know there are going to be ups and downs and you just have to keep the consistency and your mind tough.”

White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will reportedly be suspended 80 games for use of PED

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USA TODAY

White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will reportedly be suspended 80 games for use of PED

For the first time since new rules came into effect in 2005, the White Sox will reportedly see a major league player suspended for violating baseball’s ban on performance-enhancing drugs.

Welington Castillo, the team’s biggest offseason addition, will be suspended for 80 games, according to a pair of reports.

Manager Rick Renteria said after Wednesday's win over the visiting Baltimore Orioles that he couldn't comment on the reports. Castillo played in Wednesday's game, during which the news broke.

"For me, those at this particular moment are rumors," Renteria said. "MLB is the one that is in charge of that type of stuff. Until they release anything officially I can’t really comment on that."

The veteran catcher, slashing .267/.309/.466 with six home runs and 15 RBIs in 33 games this season, was brought in over the winter to help the rebuilding White Sox in both the short and long term. He had a career year offensively and defensively in 2017, and he was acquired to help develop a young pitching staff featuring big pieces of the future like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and also to swing a solid bat and help this young team learn how to win.

If Castillo proves productive over the course of his two-year deal, the White Sox have a team option that could keep Castillo on the South Side for the 2020 season. That could make him a piece of the puzzle for when the rebuild reaches its apex and the team is ready to start contending for championships. But this news has the potential to change that dramatically.

Zack Collins and Seby Zavala are both having strong offensive seasons at Double-A Birmingham and figure to be the long-term answers behind the plate. But Castillo’s absence from any long-term picture could leave the White Sox without a veteran safety net in the years ahead, depending on how the team decides to react to this news now and in the coming seasons.

Castillo’s absence for the next 80 games could also have an impact on the development of aforementioned pitchers like Giolito and Lopez. Lopez, in particular, has been throwing really well this season, and Giolito has control issues to work through, as he leads the American League in walks. Without the veteran catcher brought in to help those guys transition to the major league level, how will the transition change for those two pitchers?

Omar Narvaez would be the logical choice to take over as the No. 1 catcher. As for who could take Castillo's place on the major league roster, the options are limited. Kevan Smith, who was edged out by Narvaez for the backup-catching job in spring training, is on the disabled list at Triple-A Charlotte, placed there Tuesday. The aforementioned Zavala is also injured at Double-A Birmingham, and it seems far too early to rush Collins to the big leagues. Alfredo Gonzalez is a catcher on the roster at Charlotte. A spot on the 40-man roster would need to be freed up to bring him to Chicago.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should be the plan to call up the White Sox prospects?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should be the plan to call up the White Sox prospects?

SportsTalk Live is on location for White Sox Authentic Fan Night. Phil Rogers (MLB Network), Mark Carman (WGN Radio), David DeJesus and Ozzie Guillen join Kap to talk about Manny Machado Mania, Anthony Rizzo’s struggles and the White Sox plans for calling up their best prospects. 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: