White Sox

Early evidence suggests Avisail Garcia seeing pitches better

Early evidence suggests Avisail Garcia seeing pitches better

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — One of the main goals of the White Sox work with Avisail Garcia is improving the outfielder’s pitch recognition.

While the offensive numbers have been slow to come so far, Garcia has made progress in swinging at better pitches. He still has ground to gain, but Garcia has swung at 7 percent fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this season, according to fangraphs.com. While Garcia is only hitting .207/.281/.448 with two home runs and four RBIs in his first 32 plate appearances, the White Sox believe his improved selectivity will ultimately benefit him at the plate.  

“If he continues that way you would expect the production to come,” manager Robin Ventura said. “This is a kid that’s still young and learning.

“His recognition is better. Where he’s at in his legs also makes it better. The adjustments he made in spring training is part of the reason. He had more time to see it as well. It’s an adjustment that has paid off for him.”

Garcia has plenty of room for improvement.

Out of 141 qualified hitters in 2015, Garcia ranked 138th in PITCHf/x Plate Discipline as he chased 44.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. Garcia has reduced that figure to 37.9 percent this season, which currently ranks 181st out of 209.

Part of the reduction comes from Garcia standing taller at the plate, which allows him to see the ball better. Hitting coach Todd Steverson can see a difference, even if it's subtle.

Garcia has extended more at-bats where he has fallen behind in the count. Perhaps his best was Thursday when Garcia fell behind Ervin Santana 1-2 and made the pitcher throw nine pitches. While the at-bat resulted in a strikeout, Garcia had seen everything Santana would attack him with, and he later homered and doubled, big keys in a 3-1 victory.

“Some very good at-bats,” Steverson said. “Been down 1-2 and not chased a few pitches that maybe he did in the past. My thing in kind of evaluating his approach and thought process is really that. Everybody got on him for all the chase pitches, all the early swings and all of the out-of-the-zone stuff.

“The scrutiny was his recognition and his ability to put strikes in play consistently, and I think he’s done that pretty well up to this point. He’s chased a few pitches here and there, and everybody has on this team. But he was documented on it. I think he’s doing a hell of a job making the adjustment.”

Garcia said his goal is mostly to stay focused and fight in every at-bat, not give any away. He and Steverson have worked to stay away from outside pitches, too.  

“You’ve got to get better,” Garcia said. “Every year. Work to get better. That’s what we work on.

“You try to lay that pitch off and leave the outside corner alone and try to swing to something close to you.”

Pretty simple stuff — but if Garcia can stay with it, there’s no reason he can’t tap into his powerful frame. Now that the results count, the trick is getting Garcia to trust an approach he has worked on since January. While the results haven’t been overwhelming so far, Garcia has a 107 wRC+ (Weights Runs Created Plus) — above league average — in 32 plate appearances entering Friday.

“Everybody wants the result because we have to win ballgames,” Steverson said. “But the process of it becomes a result. And if you get more result-oriented than you are process-oriented than you are more subject to change and not having anything definitive going forward. He’s stayed pretty true to what we’ve been doing.”

Another dominant effort from Corey Kluber shows rebuilding White Sox will have to solve Indians pitching to become future kings of AL Central

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USA TODAY

Another dominant effort from Corey Kluber shows rebuilding White Sox will have to solve Indians pitching to become future kings of AL Central

The best part of the White Sox final six games of the 2018 season? They won’t have to face Corey Kluber again.

Kluber’s dominance over the South Siders continued Monday night, the White Sox offense silenced against a Cleveland Indians pitching staff that could enter October as the American League’s most fearsome. Four Indians starters have hit the 200-strikeout mark this season, the first time a single staff has ever had that happen in baseball history. And a bullpen that’s underachieved statistically after a big-spending offseason still has Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to worry about.

Kluber added to his own big strikeout total with 11 against the White Sox. In four starts against the White Sox this season, Kluber racked up 39 strikeouts and allowed just three earned runs in 28 innings of work. He’s got 184 strikeouts against them in his career, more than any other opponent.

“Kluber did the same thing he’s continued to do,” White Sox skipper Rick Renteria said. “He attacks the strike zone, stays below the zone, ball fades out, works both sides of the plate, runs balls in, catches you locks you up, mixes his pitches well. He got us quite a few times and he just did what he does.

“He’s a Cy Young type pitcher. I think with guys like that, when you have certain opportunities — and you don’t get very many — you’ve got to be able to get at least one point across.”

This is no surprise, of course, one of the league’s top arms — a two-time Cy Young winner, including last year — having so much success against a lineup that’s missed the playoffs every season he’s been in the major leagues. But it shows how tricky it will be for the rebuilding White Sox to ascend to the top of the division. Not only do all the young hitters on the rise through the farm system need to figure out how to succeed at the big league level, they need to do it against some of the game’s best pitchers.

Kluber is under team control for another three seasons, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer for another two and Mike Clevinger for a whopping five seasons. The White Sox likely aren’t tailoring their rebuilding effort to the current kings of the Central. But they’ll one day need to overtake the Indians to get to the level they want to reach, and this collection of pitchers isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

This season alone, Indians pitchers have turned in eight double-digit strikeout performances against the White Sox.

Of course, the fearsome foursome of Cleveland pitchers should also give the White Sox plenty of hope. There’s a crowded list of names angling for spot in the rotation of the future on the South Side, which speaks to the pitching depth Rick Hahn has amassed in the farm system. Perhaps the likes of Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning can form a similarly talented group down the road.

Cleveland's captured three straight division titles. If the White Sox can form their own dazzling rotation, they'd be in position to attempt the same kind of feat.

But until that day comes, the Indians’ stellar starting staff will serve as a constant reminder of who the White Sox will need to pass on their planned journey to the top of the division and perennial contention.

The AL Central goes through Cleveland — for now, and perhaps for a while.

Something of the future: Nick Madrigal has a bright future with White Sox, no matter what position he plays

Something of the future: Nick Madrigal has a bright future with White Sox, no matter what position he plays

There’s a good deal of time before the White Sox need to decide where Nick Madrigal fits in the puzzle that is the team’s lineup of the future.

The good news is that he’s a piece that can fit into several different spots.

Part of the allure of Madrigal’s first-round selection in this summer’s draft was that he was a talented defender capable of playing a number of positions on the infield. And though he almost exclusively played second base during his first season as a pro, he’s still capable of playing elsewhere on the infield.

Heck, he’s even got experience catching. Kind of.

“I’ve worked on different positions throughout my life in the infield,” Madrigal said, meeting with reporters Monday at Guaranteed Rate Field. “When my dad hit me ground balls, I made sure to take them from both sides of the bag, just to make sure I had that in my back pocket. I’ve played a lot of shortstop my whole life.

“When I was really young I caught, so I feel like I’ve played almost every position on the field and I feel comfortable doing that.”

Madrigal made sure to point out that the last time he played catcher he was 11 years old, so don’t expect to see him bring those skills to the majors when he eventually arrives on the South Side. But his versatility means there’s a variety of permutations that Rick Renteria could employ when the time comes.

Selecting a middle infielder — and one with three years of collegiate experience, at that — was a bit of a curious decision when the White Sox made the pick back in June. It’s not because anyone didn’t like the skill set that Madrigal brings; he was considered the best all-around player in college baseball and is already the organization’s No. 4 prospect in MLB Pipeline’s rankings. But two members of the White Sox young core are currently playing middle infield in the major leagues. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada figure to be pretty well entrenched in their positions, with the team talking about them both as if they’ll be around for a very long time after things shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Will there be room for all three of those guys on the diamond, should they all live up to expectations? The White Sox certainly would qualify that as a good problem to have. But Madrigal’s versatility could help solve it before it starts. To their credit, both Anderson and Moncada have also commented this season about a willingness to play other positions.

Like with many of the other highly touted prospects in the White Sox loaded farm system, Madrigal already has sky-high expectations from the rebuild-loving fan base. He played at three different levels of minor league baseball in his short time since joining the organization, and after a successful collegiate career that included a College World Series win this summer, there’s an expectation that he could fly through the system.

Whether or not that ends up happening, the expectations likely won’t decrease any time soon: In 43 minor league games, Madrigal slashed .308/.353/.348 with a jaw-droppingly low five strikeouts in 173 plate appearances.

“Throughout my life I’ve always had expectations,” Madrigal said. “I know there’s always going to be people talking and social media and all that stuff. I’m really just focused on now and, while I’m in the instructional league, trying to get better, trying help the people around me. Those things don’t bother me, but I know they’re going to be there my whole life. But I’m not worried about it at all.

“I’ve won at every level I’ve been at so far, going back to Little League, high school and college. That’s something I want to continue doing. And it seems like this organization is the perfect fit for me.”

So how quickly could Madrigal force the issue and reach the big leagues? His bat will likely determine the answer to that question, and we’ll see what the results are next season. He’s not concerned about it, however. He seems to share the confidence of many of his fellow White Sox prospects. He definitely shares the knowledge that the decision on when he reaches the bigs is not his to make.

Whether at second base, shortstop or third base — or catcher (not really) — Madrigal has a bright future ahead, another reason for fans to be so excited about this team’s future. How long will this particular waiting game last? You’ll just have to, well, wait.

“It’s kind of out of my control at this point,” he said. “Whatever the organization needs me to do. I can definitely see this being a home for me sometime soon.”