White Sox

How the White Sox plan to convert two college closers into starting pitchers

How the White Sox plan to convert two college closers into starting pitchers

The White Sox selected a pair of college closers on Day 2 of the baseball draft and immediately announced their plans to start them.

The White Sox selected four more position players in between the third and 10th rounds and four right-handed pitchers. All but one of the eight players selected spent the 2017 season at the collegiate level. The one who didn’t, eighth-rounder Samuel Abbott, is an elite water polo player who is considered a long-term project and reportedly was stunned by the team’s decision to draft him.

Some were equally surprised the White Sox would draft college relievers and make them starters. But amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler thinks fourth-rounder Lincoln Henzman and fifth-rounder Tyler Johnson can handle the challenge.

“Lincoln started some last year for Louisville,” Hostetler said. “He started in the Cape. We’ve seen him start a lot. (Louisville coach Dan McDonnell) believes he’s a starter.

“Tyler Johnson has big, big stuff. His stuff is better than Lincoln’s. Lincoln has a little bit more feel and pitchability, but Tyler has the mechanics that can start. He just needs to be stretched out. He had a long little layoff from an injury and came back guns a blazing. He has looked great since.”

The White Sox had the same idea about Single-A Winston-Salem starter Dane Dunning, who mostly pitched in relief at Florida. The White Sox wanted to draft Dunning last year but drafted Zack Burdi instead. They acquired Dunning from Washington in the Adam Eaton trade.

The White Sox were also very pleased to find New Mexico outfielder Luis Gonzalez available in the third round. The White Sox knew early on in the process they liked Gonzalez’s talent. Though Gonzalez has spent his collegiate career in a hitter friendly park at altitude, Hostetler said the White Sox analytics department believes his numbers haven’t been drastically skewed.

[MORE: What draft analysts say about White Sox first-rounder Jake Burger

“I wouldn’t read too much into altitude and playing in that conference,” Hostetler said.

The White Sox were also extremely pleased to find Libertyville-product Evan Skoug available in the seventh round. MLB.com ranked the Texas Christian University catcher the No. 48 best player in the draft.

“He’s a very driven kid,” Hostetler said. “He’s using this as a little bit of a slap in the face. He’s excited to come back home. He’s a Libertyville kid. He’s driven right now. There’s going to be a little chip on his shoulder. I expect to see some pretty impressive College World Series out of him. He’s ready to get going.”

The White Sox were willing to take a shot on Abbott, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who is new to baseball. Abbott has a water polo scholarship to Long Beach State and was so unprepared to be drafted that he had to be pulled out of class to hear his name called.

“The parents were in the athletic director's office, they had to go get him out of class so he could listen to it when we drafted him,” Hostetler said. “So we gave him the heads up and mom and dad were excited, the kid was excited.”

Remember That Guy: 'scrappy' Craig Grebeck


Remember That Guy: 'scrappy' Craig Grebeck

I pulled up Craig Grebeck’s Score baseball cards from 1990 to 1993, and all four cards used the word “scrappy” to describe him. Two of the four went on to add “hard-nosed” after scrappy. You see, if an athlete is under 5-foot-10 and not bulky (that would make them a “fireplug”), they’re automatically scrappy. As for his nose, I don’t know how hard it is. It doesn’t look particularly hard. But fine, let’s go with it.

Anyway, remember Craig Grebeck?

Craig Allen Grebeck was born on December 29, 1964 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. When Craig was young, his family moved to California. Craig attended Lakewood High School (Lakewood, California) and then California State University, Dominguez Hills in Carson. The 5-foot-7, 148-pound shortstop went undrafted, but the White Sox signed him in August 1986.

In 1987, Grebeck started his pro career with Peninsula (class A Carolina League) hitting .280/.343./474 with 15 home runs (hitting home runs is certainly NOT a very scrappy thing to do). From 1988 to 1989 at Birmingham, he settled into the type of hitter he would become, hitting .280 with a .371 OBP and 9 HR, then .287 with a .362 OBP and 5 HR. He was a line drive fastball hitter who hit around .280 with minimal power for the most part.

Grebeck made his MLB Debut on April 13, 1990, a strikeout out while pinch hitting for Scott Fletcher. Playing sparingly, he collected his first major league hit on April 28, a single off Jimmy Key. Craig came off the bench as a fielder, pinch hitter and pinch runner while getting an occasional start filling in at second base, shortstop and third base. He spent a few weeks back in the minors at the end of July and returned in August. On August 10 in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Rangers, Grebeck participated in one of the more improbable events in baseball history. In the bottom of the second inning, Grebeck hit a three-run homer – the first long ball of his career – off Nolan Ryan. Right after, Ozzie Guillen connected with a homer of his own. It was the only time Nolan Ryan allowed back-to-back homers off 8-9 hitters in his career. What makes this even more amazing is that it was the only home run of 1990 for both Craig Grebeck AND Ozzie Guillen.

Grebeck is on the list of only six players who hit their first MLB home runs off Nolan Ryan, along with Ron Hassey, Will Clark, Tracy Woodson, Ron Gant and Kevin Koslofski.

Craig flied out against Ryan in his next at-bat. But when they met again a week later, Grebeck got plunked then struck out twice. In 14 career plate appearances against the Ryan Express, Grebeck reached base six times (3 hits, 2 walks, 1 HBP), good for a .429 OBP. Pretty decent. 

Also in 1990, Craig’s brother Brian was drafted by the Angels in the 19th round of the MLB Draft. He never reached the majors but did play professionally from 1990 to 2001.

RELATED: Remember That Guy: Greg Hibbard

1991 would be Grebeck’s best Major League season. He played a career-high 107 games and hit .281/.386/.460 with 6 home runs, splitting his time between second, shortstop and third. Despite only accumulating a half-season's worth of plate appearances (268), he was worth 3.1 wins above replacement, making solid contributions with his glove, as well.

In 1992, Grebeck did a fine job as super sub once again, posting 2.3 wins above replacement in 88 games, which calculates to 4.2 WAR per 162 games. He had a respectable .268 average and .341 OBP. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by a foot injury. He was hit by a Randy Johnson pitch on July 31 and reaggravated the injury in early August while running the bases. How much his success in 1991 to 1992 could be chalked up to “scrappiness” is hard to discern. What IS known is that by now, Grebeck earned the moniker “Little Hurt” from Hawk Harrelson because he was the perfect compliment to the 6-foot-5 “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas.

In 1993 to 1994, the two Hurts combined for 80 home runs and two MVP awards; that Frank accounted for 79 of the homers and both MVPs is irrelevant. In 1993, Grebeck slumped at the plate, but he was a valuable part of the team and was involved in a few notable moments. On August 4, 1993, Robin Ventura was hit by a Nolan Ryan pitch and charged the mound. It was Grebeck who pinch ran for Ventura after he was ejected. In 1993, Grebeck saw the only postseason action of his career. He pinch hit for Dan Pasqua in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays and ended up a perfect 1-for-1 (single off Al Leiter) in his playoff career. Grebeck missed a chunk of 1994 with an ankle injury but hit .309 with a .391 OBP in 35 games when he was healthy. Following the 1994 season, Grebeck participated along with Jason Bere in the Cuervo World Series of Volleyball in Kauai, Hawaii.

Grebeck played his final season for the White Sox in 1995, hitting .260 with a .360 OBP in 53 games. One thing White Sox fans might be shocked to know is that he had 12 home runs during his career with the team… and only two stolen bases.

In 1996, Grebeck signed with the Marlins and then with the Angels for 1997. He spent 1998 to 2000 with the Blue Jays. In 1999, Grebeck hit a stunning .363 (41 for 113) in 34 games. On June 9, 1999, Grebeck was at the center of one of the more memorable moments in MLB history. In the 12th inning of a game at Shea Stadium, Grebeck reached first base on catcher’s interference (he was facing Pat Mahomes), as Mike Piazza stepped too far forward to make a play. Mets manager Bobby Valentine argued the call and was ejected… and later returned to the dugout wearing sunglasses and a fake mustache. But it was a Grebeck at-bat that started it all!

In 2001, Grebeck closed out his MLB career with a 23-game stint for the Red Sox filling in for Nomar Garciaparra, who was out with a wrist injury. At each stop along the way in his post-White Sox baseball journey, from Miami to Anaheim to Toronto and down to Boston, you can be sure Grebeck displayed maximum scrappiness.

In 12 MLB seasons, Grebeck played in 752 games, hitting .261/.340/.356 with 518 hits, 19 home runs and four stolen bases.

Following his MLB career, Grebeck had a few jobs within baseball, serving as hitting coach for the A’s rookie league ball team in Arizona in 2005 and then in the Angels system at Rancho Cucamonga from 2006 to 2007. Craig’s son Austin was drafted by the Mariners in the 21st round in 2016.

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White Sox pitcher Steve Cishek knows the real heroes in the fight against COVID-19

White Sox pitcher Steve Cishek knows the real heroes in the fight against COVID-19

We often refer to baseball players as heroes for the special gifts they bring to the field and the incredible feats that wow us on the sport’s biggest stage.

But over the last few weeks, we are quickly learning who the true heroes are in our society in this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

They include the hospital workers who heal us and the grocery workers who help to feed us.

These selfless individuals have a special place in the heart of White Sox pitcher Steve Cishek.

They’re members of his own family.

There’s his mom Susie, who works as an X-ray technician at Falmouth Hospital in Massachusetts five to six days a week.

“I’m proud of my mom and the work she’s doing there, but at the same time I’m thinking about her every day,” Cishek said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “The thing I worry about with her is she has pretty bad asthma, so (COVID-19) being a respiratory illness, it’s a little bit alarming if she were to get it.”

Cishek says she doesn’t work on the floor designated for COVID-19 patients. “But she’s just as exposed as anyone else going in there,” said Cishek, who posted a photo of his mom showing the extra protective clothing she must wear at all times, including gloves, a mask and face shield.

And there's more that adds to Cishek’s concerns. When his mom’s work day is over, she goes home, immediately puts her clothes in the washing machine, cleans up and goes to take care of her mother.

“She’s also around my grandmother quite a bit, and we don’t want our grandmother to get sick. So we think about them a lot. We’re praying for them both,” said Cishek, whose grandmother worked in the linens department at a hospital for more than 40 years. “It hits home a little bit more. It gets a lot more serious when you’re seeing your family on the front lines, essentially.”

Cishek’s cousin has been up close with the virus. She works in the emergency room at the Jupiter Medical Center around 85 miles north of Miami.

“Thankfully, things have calmed down there quite a bit,” Cishek said of his cousin's hospital. “She hasn’t been asked to come in to work all that much because it’s been really slowing down, so that’s encouraging. She’s a brave soul.”

Meanwhile, his uncle works as a produce manager at Stop & Shop grocery store in Falmouth.

“He’s almost as affected as my mom is at the hospital because he’s around these people all day, he’s putting out all this produce. Who knows what he’s walking into?” Cishek explained. “He survived a small bout of cancer a few years ago. Obviously, his immune system isn’t the strongest, so we think about him, as well, too.”

Not to mention Cishek’s dad is a diabetic.

Taking the mound in the major leagues takes talent, but it also takes guts, hard work and dealing with pressure. They all come with the job. They are traits Cishek might have gotten from his mom.

“She doesn’t panic at all,” he said. “She’s one of the most selfless people I’ve met. My mom has worked fingers to the bone her whole life. That’s the way my grandmother was. My mom was born in Portugal, came over with my grandfather and grandmother when she was 7.”

The pandemic has been a major disruption for everyone, no matter what you do for a living. It threw Cishek a curveball while he was training in Glendale, Arizona.

“At first, I was having a little bit of a hard time with it, especially when I was in Arizona,” said Cishek, who originally was planning on staying in the Phoenix area with his family while working out at the White Sox spring training facility. “Then literally like the next day, everything just flipped over. (We were) told, 'You guys should probably consider going home. We’re only going to be allowed to have this many people at the facility. We have no idea how long this is going to be.'”

Without a playbook telling him how to safely get his family from Phoenix to their home in Jupiter, Florida, during a pandemic, Cishek improvised a plan.

“If we leave first thing in the morning on a Southwest flight, that’s the cleanest the plane is going to be. They sterilize it like crazy. Let’s just wear it, get up early in the morning, get on the plane and get home and just weather the storm in the comfort of our own home,” he explained.

“They were tough decisions to make, but at the end of the day, we felt like we did the right thing.”

Since arriving back in Florida, Cishek has been busy training in his backyard, prepping for a baseball season that might or might not come.

“This spring was the best I’ve felt in years,” he said. “Everything was clicking. I felt great.

“I’ve backed off a bit. Obviously, I’m not facing hitters. I’ve kept my arm in shape. If we get word that spring training is on the horizon, then I’m going to start ramping back up.”

We all want baseball to return, at the very least to just give us back some normalcy. There are moments during the day, even if only flashes, when things do feel like they used to. Cishek said his mom even experiences that when she’s driving to work.

“It’s like just another day of work, but then when she walks in the doors it’s like, 'Oh yeah, this is going on,'” Cishek said. “It’s hard for her and hard for a lot of us to wrap our heads around. It’s just so surreal. That’s the best way to describe it.”

Fortunately, it seems there might be some good news in this corner of Massachusetts.

“She can’t disclose a lot of that stuff, but what she did tell me it’s actually quieting down. It hasn’t been as bad as she would have expected. I’m thankful for that. The quieter these hospitals get the better because our loved ones out there aren’t getting exposed, and it means all the self-quarantining seems to be working, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

And we can thank everyone on the front lines — the real heroes in this fight — for shining their own lights and being there for all of us.

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