White Sox

How technology has helped Jose Abreu maintain his swing

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How technology has helped Jose Abreu maintain his swing

Prior to his three-hit night Monday, one that helped him break out of a mini-slump, Jose Abreu toted his iPad with him to the batting cage.

On occasion, the White Sox slugger brings his tablet and its camera into the cage and shoots footage of that day’s session with hitting coach Todd Steverson and assistant coach Harold Baines. Hitless in 13 straight at-bats through the first inning on Monday, Abreu wanted to determine why he felt out of whack. Though he doesn’t always do it, Abreu has employed the practice for four years now and its one he feels helps him to make proper adjustments.

“Usually I do that when I don’t feel good at the plate,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I do that to try to identify what I’m doing wrong, especially mechanically. That’s the way I identify the mistakes and try to fix it.”

The identification process has become considerably easier for Abreu in the last year or so. He began shooting some of his batting practices when he played for Cienfuegos with the help of a coach, who used his cell phone to record the sessions.

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Since he joined the White Sox, Abreu upgraded to the iPad, which allows him to not only record those sessions but also keep them on file. Abreu has none of the sessions from Cuba but has almost every one since he switched to the tablet. The catalog allows him to compare his current swing to previous instances when he felt like he was hitting the ball well.

“That is very helpful because I’m always trying to learn from the baseball standpoint,” Abreu said. “Every day is a lesson and if you have the resources to keep learning every day from the past, that’s something that is going to help you improve for today and getting better every day.”

Hitting coach Todd Steverson said Abreu rarely brings the iPad into the cage. Steverson stresses to players that the pitches they’re swinging at are as of much importance to the process. But he also appreciates that Abreu wants to give himself an extra tool to make sure he gets his swing back on track.

“We have enough video of games that he just wants to see probably his work is the same, his movement is the same,” Steverson said. “That’s a personal thing for most guys. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a feel. If you can’t feel it you want to see it to figure out what the feel is again. I encourage everybody to do what they want to find their feel back.”

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Abreu said the practice has helped do just that. Having reviewed his swing again and again over the years, Abreu has a good feel for the proper triggers to a successful path to the plate. Whereas Tony Gwynn used to lug a VCR on the road with him to record games to look at his swing, Abreu also knows how advances in technology have made the process much, much easier for players.

“It’s very stunning to realize how the technology has changed and the times have changed,” Abreu said. “Now we can do it easier.

“It’s something that helps you a lot.

“I can identify it very, very quick of what and where is the problem. That’s something that is very easy for me. I think that’s also because I understand me very well and I know what is my approach and what are my mechanics and that doesn’t take too much time.”

White Sox Team of the Future: Starting pitcher No. 5

White Sox Team of the Future: Starting pitcher No. 5

What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?

That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) this month. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?

That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.

Welcome to the starting rotation, and a bit of an explainer on how this worked out. We did have our voters craft a rotation of the future, one through five. We then took the five highest vote-getters, total, and ranked them one through five. It works out nicely as an order, as you'll see over this week, but it doesn't necessarily mean each guy was strictly voted for in a specific spot. The No. 1 starter could have been a No. 3 starter on a specific ballot, but the vote counted the same. Also, we're going to list the same group of "other vote-getters" starting pitchers on all five spots because who knows where they would end up? OK? Moving on.

Our first starting pitcher of the future is Dane Dunning.

Dunning hasn't pitched in a while during his battle against an elbow injury that brought an end to his 2018 season in late June. But before that, what a season it was. He made just four early season starts at Class A Winston-Salem, giving up just seven runs and striking out 31 batters in those 24.1 innings. That earned him a quick promotion to Double-A Birmingham, where he was equally good, posting a 2.76 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 62 innings over 11 starts. All great signs for the now-24-year-old.

But of course that elbow injury is still out there. Rick Hahn provided a bit of an update on that during the GM Meetings back in November.

"Dane Dunning put together a very nice year and had himself some injury issues and knock on wood, left instructional league feeling great and back to the form when he was having success during the course of the season and projects to be part of that Double-A rotation, just as you probably would have expected him to be had he finished the year healthy," Hahn said, "with maybe having to make up for two months of pitching development to get back on pace."

Given the numbers he was able to put up when healthy last season, Dunning has fans excited that he could be a part of a homegrown rotation by the time the White Sox are ready to contend again.

But whether because of the injury layoff or the fact that he's still yet to pitch past the Double-A level, the timing on his arrival in the majors is unknown at the moment. Of course, like with all their other highly rated prospects, the White Sox will allow ample time for Dunning to develop in the minor leagues.

Other vote-getters

Lucas Giolito. The one-time top-rated pitching prospect in baseball didn't make our rotation of the future, but there's still a really good chance he's a part of that starting staff the next time the White Sox are contending. Giolito now has a full season in the big leagues under his belt, even if things didn't go so hot. He had the biggest ERA in baseball at 6.13 and led the American League with 90 walks. The results weren't what he or the White Sox wanted, obviously, but he got experience that he wouldn't otherwise have gotten if the team wasn't in the current phase of its rebuilding project. Giolito will get every opportunity to turn those bad moments into lessons learned in 2019, and his arrival here before many of the other pitching prospects gives him a head start to develop into an effective major league starter.

Madison Bumgarner. Almost every other vote-getter was an outside addition of some fashion, and Bumgarner might be the biggest name on the list. He's a free agent next winter and would fit the mold of a Jon Lester type addition to polish off this rebuild. Bumgarner has thrown a ton of innings but he's shockingly young, still not even 30 as he heads into the 2019 season. He's a four-time All Star, a four-time top-10 Cy Young finisher and one of the most accomplished postseason pitchers ever, with three World Series rings and a jaw-dropping 2.11 ERA in 102.1 postseason innings. Having a veteran winner like Bumgarner at the top of the rotation would allow the homegrown youngsters to blossom around him. Talk about the cherry on top of the rebuilding sundae.

Gerrit Cole. This would be a different route to take from Bumgarner, as Cole is younger and less experienced in the winning department, but he's undoubtedly one of the best starting pitchers in the game. In his first season with the Houston Astros last year, he posted a 2.88 ERA with a remarkable 276 strikeouts in 200.1 innings. Cole is an ace and would serve in that role if the White Sox wanted to make a real long-term splash on next offseason's free-agent market.

Justin Verlander. A rotation-mate of Cole's and a pitcher with a resume perhaps even more impressive than Bumgarner's, Verlander is also a free agent next winter — the class is absolutely loaded — and though he'll be significantly older than the last two guys we discussed, 36 next month, he's still pitching like one of the best in baseball. Last season with the Astros, led the AL with 290 strikeouts and finished the season with a 2.52 ERA. Who knows how long Verlander will keep pitching like this, but he's a future first-ballot Hall of Famer and would be a sensational addition to an otherwise really young rotation looking to add a get-over-the-hump piece and vault into World Series contention. One thing of note, though? Verlander and Tim Anderson aren't exactly best buds.

Zack Greinke. This one would require a bit of a blockbuster trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, as the longtime division foe of the White Sox is under contract for another three seasons. And what a contract it is: Greinke makes more than $34 million a year, the highest annual salary in baseball history. Greinke's getting up there in age, now 35 years old, but he's still pitching real well. He's been an All Star in four of the last five seasons, including each of the last two. He finished with a 3.21 ERA last season and struck out 199 batters. He's won five straight Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting in four of the last six seasons. That's still pretty darn good stuff. If the White Sox think the contending days are coming quick, trading some prospect depth for the still-dominant Greinke might not be the worst idea.

Chris Archer. Archer could be a free agent next winter. Or he could be a Pittsburgh Pirate for the next three seasons. Or something. Archer's contract has team options for 2020 and 2021, making him perhaps a more interesting trade candidate than a free-agent addition next offseason. Of course, Archer's numbers have been going in the wrong direction since 2015, when he finished in the top five in AL Cy Young voting. He's posted a combined 4.12 ERA over the past three seasons, a stretch during which he's given up 76 home runs. He still strikes out a lot of batters, with 644 Ks in the last three years, and he's only 30 (that's right, Archer is older than Bumgarner). He might not have the resume of the guys listed above, but if the Michael Kopechs and Dylan Ceases of the world can develop into ace-like pitchers, someone like Archer could be used elsewhere in a rotation of the future.

Sonny Gray. It looks like Gray, who could've been had via a trade with the New York Yankees earlier this offseason, is on his way to Cincinnati to be a Red. Of course, he's a free agent next winter, too, and perhaps this voter is looking ahead to Gray as an attractive add after a resurgent 2019. He'll need it after a 4.90 ERA in The Bronx during the 2018 season. Gray's done big things before, though not terribly recently, and could be a nice addition to a rotation that has a potential hole unfillable by a homegrown piece.

Ivan Nova. Another appearance by the voter who thinks the glory days are already here. Nova was acquired by the White Sox in a trade with the Pirates during the Winter Meetings. He's a solid short-term addition in that he brings veteran leadership to the clubhouse and the pitching staff and fills one of two holes in a rotation that came into the offseason with just three arms for the 2019 season. As for how long Nova could stick around, well, he's a free agent next winter, too, and if the White Sox get the progress they hope for from Cease and the healthy return of Kopech, there might not be much need for Nova to extend his stay on the South Side.

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White Sox Team of the Future: Catcher

White Sox Team of the Future: Catcher

What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?

That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) this month. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?

That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.

It might end up taking a creative choice to find the long-term catcher of the future on the South Side, but we think the most obvious choice is the most likely one, with Zack Collins as this team's backstop the next time it's in contention mode.

Collins has been facing questions about his defense behind the plate ever since the White Sox drafted him with a top-10 pick in 2016. And those questions make it difficult for lineup prognosticators like us. Perhaps catching at the major league level won't be a problem. Perhaps he ends up moving to first base or swinging the bat as a designated hitter. He's received votes at both of those spots during this process.

Projecting Collins to spend much of the 2019 season at Triple-A Charlotte seems like a safe bet, and another safe bet is that he'll be doing a lot of work on his defense to become as well rounded as possible by the time he finally gets the call to the bigs.

What is far less of a question is what he can do offensively, and having that kind of a bat at a position like catcher is a mighty appealing thought for the White Sox and their fans. Collins posted a tremendous.382 on-base percentage during with Double-A Birmingham during the 2018 season. He hit 15 home runs — and won the Home Run Derby at the Southern League All-Star Game, it should be noted — smacked 24 doubles and drove in 68 runs. But the 101 walks might be more exciting than any of those other numbers.

But, again, his long-term position at the major league level isn't a 100-percent certainty. The White Sox are confident Collins will provide them with the first-round catcher they thought he'd be when they drafted him and aren't talking any kind of position switch at the moment. But while splitting time with another catching prospect, Seby Zavala, for a good chunk of 2018 at Birmingham, Collins ended up playing just 74 of his 122 games at catcher, the rest at DH.

Time will tell with Collins, and just like the White Sox gave ample time to Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez to master as many aspects of their game at the minor league level as they could, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar strategy with Collins.

Other vote-getters

Welington Castillo. An interesting choice, one of our voters apparently thinks the future is now — or that Castillo is going to put up big numbers in 2019 and convince the White Sox to pick up his option for the 2020 season. Yes, Castillo is only under team control for a little while longer, and though he's currently the White Sox No. 1 catcher, he's come nowhere close to living up to the expectations the team had for him when he signed last offseason. Last winter, Castillo was coming off a career year both offensively and defensively, but his numbers plummeted in 2018 and he finished with a .259/.304/.406 slash line. Chalk it up to whatever you'd like, but it's likely the 80-game suspension he served for a failed drug test had something to do with it, if only because those three missed months prevented him from getting into rhythm at the plate. What it definitely did was prevent him from doing what he was signed to do: help develop the White Sox young pitching staff. But after the trade that sent Omar Narvaez to the Seattle Mariners, Castillo is once more the no-doubt No. 1 catcher heading into this season, effectively getting a do-over to work with the pitchers and impress enough to warrant a third year on the South Side.

Seby Zavala. Zavala was briefly one of the White Sox breakout prospects in 2018. He started real hot, slashing .271/.358/.472 with 11 homers in 56 games at Double-A Birmingham. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte, where the production was not nearly as prolific. He slashed .242/.266/.357 with two homers in 48 games there. So he'll likely spend much of the 2019 season at Charlotte, with Collins in all likelihood joining him once again. Zavala might not be shooting to the top of the organization's prospect rankings anytime soon, but he did enough last season to make us wonder if the catching tandem of the future has been established with him and Collins. And, in the event the questions about Collins' defense persist and force him to another position, maybe Zavala hits well enough to be the catcher of the future, as one of our voters thinks.

Matt Wieters. The soon-to-be 33-year-old Wieters is currently a free agent, so perhaps this voter thinks the White Sox can get themselves a bargain as the offseason moves into spring training. Wieters is a four-time All Star, his most recent appearance coming in 2016. But there are several red flags that would accompany (or perhaps prevent) a Wieters signing. First, he played in only 76 games last season. Second, despite a .330 on-base percentage, his numbers in that limited time weren't great: a .238 batting average and a .374 slugging percentage with only eight homers. Veteran leadership and good on-base skills have been good qualities for the White Sox to add this winter. Perhaps this voter is seeing a resurgent 2019 for Wieters and a free-agent signing next offseason, when the current roster's two catchers might see their stays on the South Side come to an end.

Francisco Cervelli. Another outside addition, Cervelli is actually going to be 33 sooner than Wieters is. But Cervelli's production in recent seasons could make him a tad more desirable when he hits the free-agent market next offseason. This voter might be seeing other big free-agent additions on the horizon, in which case Cervelli would be a nice complementary piece for a team still looking for an everyday catcher. He slashed .259/.378/.431 with 12 homers as a Pittsburgh Pirate in 2018, and those on-base skills would be quite welcome on the South Side. This addition would mean Collins and Zavala wouldn't have blossomed into big league caliber starting catchers by next offseason, but it would be another veteran on a short-term deal, you'd figure, that could help develop young pitchers and give Collins and Zavala more time, if needed.

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