White Sox

Derek Holland looks for perfect balance of fun, success with White Sox

Derek Holland looks for perfect balance of fun, success with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Optimistic might not be a strong enough word for how Derek Holland feels at the moment.

He doesn’t want to oversell it, but the new White Sox pitcher not only believes he’s in a good spot physically, he also thinks he’s in the right place to rebound from three frustrating seasons full of injuries.

After spending his entire career with the Texas Rangers, Holland said he chose the White Sox not only because of their reputation for keeping players healthy, but also because of pitching coach Don Cooper’s successful track record with southpaw pitchers. Holland, who signed a one-year deal in December that could be worth $8 million, said he’s already very pleased with his decision to join the White Sox.

“I feel great,” Holland said. “I mean, I don’t know how to rally describe it without sounding crazy, but I feel awesome. I want to use some crazy words, but I have to remember this is the media.”

Holland participated in his first bullpen session on Tuesday and cracked that it went well other than he was throwing next to Jose Quintana, who already appears to be in outstanding form as he prepares for the World Baseball Classic.

But Holland, who produced 8.6 f-WAR from 2011-13, said the health issues that have dogged the past three seasons aren’t presently an issue. Whichever way he opted to go in free agency --- the White Sox or Pittsburgh Pirates --- Holland felt comfortable. Ultimately, it was Cooper’s vision for helping him rebound that sold him on the White Sox.

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“Both have good histories with the pitchers and Coop just kept nailing me, talking to me, ‘There’s some things I want to work on, I know what we can get right. I saw some things,’” Holland said. “We continued, just kept talking about stuff and I know these are things in need to get back on track and to be successful. And that was it. Once he started hammering down on me I was like, ‘Alright, we’re going with the White Sox.’”

Holland thinks he knows what he and Cooper have to do to get back on track and he’s ready to get to work. He’s also comfortable enough to know when to let his hair down and do impersonations in the clubhouse -- Harry Caray, Kermit the Frog and Cleveland from ‘The Family Guy’ are among them. Holland is a big believer in having fun equivalent to the amount of work he puts in and has enjoyed meeting a room full of new teammates, though he’s already butchered several names -- “I’ve met a few guys like five times already,” he said.

Manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday he’s glad to have Holland around as his personality is necessary for a young club. He knows about the impersonations and the all-around character that is Holland and intends to tap into the resource at some point for the sake of his baseball team.

“It’s awesome,” Renteria said. “As we get to know him a little bit more, we are going to take advantage of it, exploit it a little bit. He’s a happy go lucky guy. Very focused. Very intent on his work. Knows what he wants to do. He’s been around. We’ll take advantage of it and use it to liven up the clubhouse a little bit.”

Holland has already done his part, singing in the ear of catcher Geovany Soto about being reunited and taking reliever Tommy Kahnle to the WWE Elimination Chamber event over the weekend. In a perfect world, Holland would reach 200 innings this season and have a lot of fun along the way.

“I am who I am,” Holland said. “I don't want the impersonations being used against me -- the thing that gets lost in translation is that people think that's what I'm really working on when I'm actually here trying to get myself better. I just have a personality, I want to live my life, have fun, enjoy myself and play the game of baseball at the same time. I know how hard I work and what it takes to be out there on the field. But my personality should not dictate that.”

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: A ton of pitching potential

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: A ton of pitching potential

The White Sox are heading into the shortened 2020 season with the same expectations they had back when they thought they’d be playing a 162-game schedule: to leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.

Their ability to do it this year could well hinge on an extraordinarily talented, though plenty unproven, group of young pitchers.

Lucas Giolito broke out in a huge way in 2019, transforming himself from the pitcher with the worst numbers in baseball into an All Star and the no-doubt ace of the South Side starting staff. On Opening Day a year ago, the White Sox were coming off a 100-loss campaign and Giolito was facing legitimate questions about his place in the team’s long-term pitching plan. On Opening Day this year, he’ll be leading the pitching staff on a team with postseason expectations.

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“What I see from him is an ability to be an ace,” new White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who has a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring on his resume, said of Giolito. “He’s every bit of a horse that you’d want at the top of the rotation. … He’s got all the intangibles you want in a quality major league pitcher that can do it for years to come.

“What I see in him is what I had in myself. … Until you get over that mental edge and push through and have that first good year, you can’t really say too many things out loud. But it’s the inside that really counts, because you’re pushing yourself every day.”

The question now becomes how many additional young arms can join Giolito in emerging as championship-caliber major league pitchers. The White Sox have no shortage of them, and baseball’s months-long layoff allowed time for several of them to make recoveries from Tommy John surgery, giving the team a deep pitching staff heading into the 60-game sprint to the postseason.

The biggest questions surround Dylan Cease and Reynaldo López, who both finished 2019 with some nasty looking numbers. Cease’s results, a 5.79 ERA in 14 starts, can be easily chalked up to him dipping his toes into major league waters for the first time. López, however, seemed to switch places with Giolito, going from the status of the team’s best starting pitcher in 2018 to a woefully inconsistent 2019.

But the White Sox are confident one season will not tell the entire story for either young pitcher, both of whom they see as having front-of-the-rotation potential.

Cease is frequently raved about for having remarkable stuff, and he showed it off at times last season. His finest outing was probably also a pretty good encapsulation of his entire rookie year, when he dazzled for much of his 6.2 innings in Cleveland, striking out 11 batters, only to wind up tagged for four runs. But while he had a tendency to have a brief stretch in each outing define his day for the worse, his performances were often solid when looked at as a whole. And considering he was facing big league bats for the first time, there was a lot to like about what the future holds.

RELATED: Yasmani Grandal getting younger White Sox ready for 'playoff mode' all season

López, meanwhile, had even brighter flashes of brilliance, even if they were fewer and farther between. He struck out 14 Detroit Tigers in April and grabbed a complete-game, 11-strikeout win over the Indians in September. After a mostly dismal first half, he vowed he’d be a better pitcher after the All-Star break and was just that, with a 2.13 ERA in his first six starts of the second half.

Of course, that’s not to paint over the more glaring bad results. He still finished the season with a 5.38 ERA and 35 home runs allowed. The good news? There’s a compelling reason to believe in a Giolito-style turnaround for López in 2020.

Giolito made his transformation, in large part, because of a revamp of his mental approach to pitching. The bad moments that were happening early in his outings would snowball until he had given up a large number of runs, hits, walks or all three. That's not the case anymore. López has spent the last few months, dating back to spring training, talking about his own mental overhaul from the offseason that included talking with the White Sox eam psychologist. Now, he says, he’s in a much better place mentally, better able to shed the effects of a bad result. Who knows how much it will do to lower his ERA, but the White Sox saw just last year how big a difference that kind of approach can make.

“Sometimes, as players, we are struggling with our thoughts, especially nervous thoughts when something goes wrong. And for players that’s one of the bigger challenges, get over it, keep moving forward. It’s not always easy,” López said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I used to think one of the most important things for us, especially for me, was just the physical part of the game. I was wrong. That was one of the reasons I kept failing. Because I wasn’t prepared mentally to face those situations, to face those thoughts.

“I realized that, and that was one of the reasons I stayed here in the U.S. during the offseason and why I approached the team psychologist to work with that, to try to enhance my mind and get rid of all that other stuff and to deal with it in a way I could use it as an advantage and not a disadvantage of my game.

“How that is going to help me, it’s already helping a lot and that is going to help me a lot going forward because now I know how to deal with different situations, now I know how to be prepared for different situations, and that’s a big difference for me. I’m a better player because my mind is stronger and prepared for situations.”

While Giolito and Keuchel provide reliability at the top of the rotation, teams need more than just two guys to form a pitching staff capable of winning a championship. And though Michael Kopech is a big part of the team’s long-term planning, he decided not to play during the 2020 season. That means the fate of White Sox pitching this season could rest on Cease and López even more than it already did.

Fortunately, there’s no need for those two to feel too much pressure, though. As mentioned, the layoff allowed for some full-season reinforcements, three more guys who fall into the category of young pitching that has the White Sox primed to make their leap into the realm of baseball’s contenders.

Most notable among that trio is Carlos Rodón, who’s been around for a while but is still just 27 years old. Like López, his past few seasons have featured plenty of flashes of brilliance, but consistency has eluded him. The bigger hurdle he’s had to climb is health, and numerous injuries have derailed his attempt to settle into the role of the front-of-the-rotation arm his No. 3 draft pick status had the White Sox hoping he’d be.

Rodón has looked good in “Summer Camp,” and he’s as realistic about his situation as anyone. Kopech’s decision not to play this year might make Rick Renteria’s decision an easier one when it comes to a six-man rotation, and Rodón could get a chance to make regular starts for the entirety of the shortened 2020 campaign. With just one year after this one before he’s scheduled to hit free agency, Rodón knows he needs to show the White Sox that he can still be the huge part of their pitching future they long hoped he’d be.

"I feel like there's some stuff I need to prove," Rodón said. "The last few years have not gone the way I wanted them to, obviously. It's kind of unfortunate, injuries and underperforming. This 60-game season, I feel like it will do a lot for guys. Not just me, but other guys around the league — or on this team — wherever, can prove themselves in those 60 games, and I think it will do a lot."

RELATED: Why it's unlikely Garrett Crochet will pitch for the White Sox in 2020

And then there are the two other Tommy John recoverers behind Rodón, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert, who have also shown well during “Summer Camp.” Whether they’ll have their shot at the big leagues depends, probably, more on how the other six starters on the team perform. But unlike last year, when Rodón went down and the White Sox trotted out a parade of ineffective options like Odrisamer Despaigne and Manny Bañuelos in an attempt to plug the hole, there is legitimate depth this time around. So at the very least, even if Dunning and Lambert don’t end up making big-time contributions to this year’s club, they provide depth that makes the White Sox stronger.

Dunning, especially, could still emerge as a prime piece of the long-term puzzle on the South Side. Rick Hahn talked about Dunning potentially being in the mix to be a part of last year’s Opening Day rotation before arm injuries did away with that idea. Should any one of the arms after Giolito and Keuchel falter in a season where every game means something, Dunning could get his shot.

And there’s even more on the way, though it’s unlikely that prospects like Jonathan Stiever and Garrett Crochet — who were both named to the White Sox “taxi squad” Tuesday — will reach the majors this season. Still, it shows the White Sox are truly built for the long term. Once the contention window opens, the goal becomes not letting it close too soon. And even if Rodón departs after 2021 or Keuchel’s time on the South Side ends with his current contract or further augmentation is needed, the White Sox can make that happen from within as well as from outside the organization.

But this year, the potential is there. The White Sox have the young pitching talent to form a menacing staff, but there are a lot of questions to answer first. If the answers are positive ones, then look out. This team could be the AL Central’s most balanced.

“I really do love the mix of pitching that we have here,” veteran starting pitcher Gio González said. “I think we have plenty of fire arms. … I've been very impressed with Dylan Cease. I think Cease's arm is incredible with how he gets the spin behind the ball.

“Then you've got your Lucas Giolito, and then Lopey. I had Lopey and Lucas when I was in Washington, and I got to see that firsthand. … This rotation kind of fills in all the blanks for all the ones that you have to question whether he's too young or he's too old for this.

“I think the White Sox did a great job with mixing it all together for the young guys and definitely some of the veteran guys that can kind of take the load off with the thinking process.”


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3 White Sox questions left to answer before Opening Day, from Moncada to Madrigal

3 White Sox questions left to answer before Opening Day, from Moncada to Madrigal

Let’s try this again.

Back on March 11, I addressed three questions the White Sox had to answer before Opening Day. It was 15 days before the scheduled start of the 2020 regular season. It was also the first and last column I wrote for NBC Sports Chicago before COVID-19 shut the sports world down.

It’s now 126 days later and the White Sox will (hopefully) begin their season a week from Friday against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field.

A lot has changed. Spring Training is now Summer Camp. The minor leagues aren’t operating. There’s a thing unofficially called the Schaumburg Sox.

None of that seemed plausible back in March.

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Naturally, some of the questions for the White Sox have changed too. Others haven’t. One thing we know hasn’t changed: the high expectations for this team in 2020. In fact, those expectations may be even higher in the 60-game sprint that will begin on July 24.

Before we get to Opening Day though, there are still three big questions to sort out:

When will Yoan Moncada be available?

Moncada has yet to appear at Guaranteed Rate Field since workouts began and was placed on the 10-day injured list last Friday. Teams aren’t permitted to announce if a player has tested positive for COVID-19, but two unnamed White Sox players have tested positive. Moncada and pitcher Jose Ruiz are the only two players on the injured list.

The good news is that both players who tested positive were asymptomatic, which could bode well for a return. At one point, pitcher Lucas Giolito even said to reporters: “Obviously Moncada will be back soon.” Unfortunately, that was a week ago.

At this point, it seems unlikely Moncada will be ready to go for Opening Day, but the sense is that he shouldn’t miss too much of the season. The determining factor will be how long it takes the third baseman to get into game shape.

"I don't know, to be honest with you," White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said. "I think 10, 15 at-bats to see where he's at. And then, probably, I'd say 20 at-bats to get him started in the right direction. As far as days, I don't know what he's able to do while he's not here.

"Listen, he's a great athlete, and I think it's going to be sooner rather than later for him. Once he sees his teammates playing, he'll want to get in there. And that might not be such a bad thing. If he's in shape and he's ready to handle the workload, I think he'll get in there pretty quick."

In the meantime, the White Sox have primarily used Cheslor Cuthbert and Danny Mendick at third base with Leury Garcia being an obvious option too when he’s not playing second base. Prospects Yermín Mercedes and Andrew Vaughn have also received work at third base.

RELATED: Andrew Vaughn, Yermín Mercedes 'ready to go' for White Sox if needed

Perhaps a bigger consequence of Moncada’s absence is the impact it has on Luis Robert in the batting order. The plan was to have Tim Anderson and Moncada hit 1-2 in the order, but with Moncada out, Robert has either led off or hit second in every intrasquad game the White Sox have played. And he's looked good doing it.

What will the starting rotation look like?

When this column was originally written back in March, one of the three questions was about when Michael Kopech would join the rotation. We now know his services won’t be available at all as Kopech has opted out of the 2020 season. There’s no reason to minimize that blow. He has the most talented arm in the organization and his absence hurts both the White Sox’s playoff chances and his own development. When the team reconvenes for spring training in 2021, it will be two and half years removed from Kopech’s Tommy John surgery, with just one spring training appearance (a very impressive one at that) to account for.

That said, the White Sox do have starting pitching depth and can remain competitive without Kopech. Based on what we’ve seen in intrasquad games, the rotation already looks six-deep and it’s possible it will look like this:

RHP Lucas Giolito
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Dylan Cease
LHP Carlos Rodón
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Reynaldo Lopez

Right-handers Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert could also provide starts and with the amount of pitching that will be carried on the 30-man roster and available on the taxi squad in Schaumburg, “opener” games using the bullpen aren’t completely out of the question.

Will Nick Madrigal be on the Opening Day roster?

The answer to this question in March was that Madrigal was most likely headed to Charlotte, but would certainly be on the White Sox well before July. Well, now it’s July and there are only 60 games in the season. Service time rules still apply and Madrigal is not currently on the 40-man roster, but wins will be at a premium when the season starts and the White Sox could already be without Moncada.

Madrigal has looked good in intrasquad games so far, spraying baseballs all over the field. So maybe the better question is, can the White Sox afford to keep him off the Opening Day roster?

Manager Rick Renteria said he will approach Opening Day like the White Sox are in first place after 102 games played with 60 to go. If that is the case, you’d think he’d want Madrigal in the lineup. Renteria also loves Leury Garcia, who is serviceable at second base, but without Moncada, perhaps the best solution is to have Madrigal at second and Garcia at third.

Sending Madrigal to Charlotte in April for seasoning was defensible. Sending him to Schaumburg in July for intrasquad games is a tougher argument to make.

 

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