White Sox

Lighter Avisail Garcia wants to show White Sox his best

Lighter Avisail Garcia wants to show White Sox his best

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Avisail Garcia said he worked all but two weeks this offseason in an effort to prove he can play the outfield. 

Whether it was winter ball in Venezuela or working out, the White Sox right fielder said he has lost nearly 15 pounds from the end of last season. He hopes to lose even more before the start of the season and thinks the lighter weight should help him in the field. Garcia — who was acquired in a three-team trade from Detroit in July 2013 — appears to have the inside track to be the team's starting right fielder. 

"I feel better like this," Garcia said. "I can run better like this. I can play better defense like this. I can hit better like this. I just have to keep working and lose a little bit more."

Garcia said he reported to camp at 254 pounds and wants to get down to 248. He's hopeful that lighter playing weight and more consistent playing time help him improve in the outfield, where he's been below average for his career. While defensive metrics show he was OK in limited play last season, Garcia had a miserable 2015 campaign in the field when he produced a minus-11 Defensive Runs Saved and minus-6.2 Ultimate Zone Rating. That came on the heels of a minus-8 DRS and minus-6.2 UZR showing in 2014.

Still, Garcia is hopeful he can make progress and prove to the rebuilding White Sox he's the man for the job.

"That's my regular position, and I know can do my job there, a really good job," Garcia said. "I'm just trying to prepare myself to get ready for the season and try to get in better shape, try to do my best to help my team win."

[RELATED: Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox]

The field isn't the only area the White Sox and Garcia are hoping for improvement. Garcia hit .245/.307/.385 with 12 home runs and 59 RBIs in 453 plate appearances last season. For his career, Garcia has a OPS-plus of 93, which is seven points below league average. 

But based on his .355/.421/.538 slash line with runners in scoring position, the White Sox still think Garcia can become a very good hitter. They just need to help him translate the focus he puts into those 107 plate appearances into the majority of his trips to the plate.

"In those situations for us where he was a key person in terms of RBI situations, he didn't try to do too much," manager Rick Renteria said. "If he ended up hitting, getting an extra base hit in those situations, great. But if he didn't it wasn't anything he concerned himself with. I think we are just trying to make sure he focuses on honing in and simplifying what he wants to do in terms of approaches. Hopefully that can lead to him being more effective without runners on base."

Though there was some thought he wouldn't return this season, Garcia — who signed a one-year deal worth $3 million in December — tried not to think about it. He instead focused on his offseason program to have himself ready for what is likely his last chance to prove to the White Sox he belongs.

"I have a lot of responsibility coming," Garcia said. "I just want to be ready. I want to be my best. I want to have a good year for me, but for the team also. I have to get ready and play baseball."

Everything that's gone right this year in the White Sox farm system

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USA TODAY

Everything that's gone right this year in the White Sox farm system

If there’s a sweet spot in the White Sox rebuild, you will find it in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That’s where first-time manager Omar Vizquel and a surge of talent have quickly burst onto the scene in the Carolina League.  From big names like Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Blake Rutherford to under the radar types like Jimmy Lambert and Ti’Quan Forbes, Vizquel has been in charge of an overflow of prospects the White Sox minor league system hasn’t seen in years.  

Injuries this year to Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hanson, Jake Burger, Dane Dunning, Micker Adolfo and Ryan Cordell may have put a damper on your spirits about the White Sox rebuild and the speed in which it will take for the big league club to be good again.  But despite those setbacks, the organizational depth Rick Hahn has preached about and has attempted to create in the farm system is starting to become a reality.

Even after some of Vizquel’s best players like Cease, Joel Booker, Luis Basabe and Bernardo Flores were promoted to Double-A Birmingham in June, Vizquel has inherited a brand new wave of talent from Class-A Kannapolis in the form of Luis Gonzalez, Laz Rivera, Tyler Johnson and Blake Battenfield and they haven’t skipped a beat, excelling in a higher league, creating more late-game drama like we saw from the Dash in the first half of the season.

Here’s 28th round pick Laz Rivera hitting a walk-off grand slam Tuesday night in the 10th inning.

If you want to feel down about the lost development time for Burger, Robert and Dunning, go ahead.  It’s real. Their timetables to the big leagues might be pushed back (although Basabe told me at the Futures Game that Robert “is going to learn very quick.” Store that in the back of your mind when he returns, possibly in the first week in August).  

But if you ask Vizquel about the players he has managed this year,  he believes that many of them are on an accelerated path for the major leagues.

“We’re seeing a lot of explosive players who can go through the system and maybe surprise some people and be in the big leagues a little sooner than people expected,”  Vizquel said in a phone interview.

Who is Vizquel speaking about?  Let’s start with Cease who started the year in Winston-Salem. Vizquel likened him to Justin Verlander.  Yeah, he went there.

“A guy I can compare (Cease) with, I would say he’s a Justin Verlander type.  I was with Justin the last four years in Detroit and obviously he’s one of the most veteran pitchers in the game.  Just the way he handles the situation when he’s on the mound, he’s just amazing. What impressed me about Cease was his composure.  The way he takes the mound every time,” Vizquel said. “Obviously, he’s got a really good fastball that can go up to 98, 99, and he can go to 100 pitches and he still has the strength to go out there in the 9th inning and shut people down.  At his age it’s really tough to find guys like that who can handle the pressure and everything that goes around the pitcher’s mound. And he has that.”

Cease and Basabe both played in the Futures Game.  If Robert wasn’t injured, he very likely would have joined them in Washington, DC.   

Basabe made a big splash in the game, drilling a 102 mph pitch from Reds prospect Hunter Greene deep into the right field seats.   The third player in the Chris Sale trade, Basabe battled a knee injury last season. Healthy this year, he’s showing off all the tools and promise the White Sox were expecting.

“He’s one of those guys who can run balls down in every outfield position.  We used him in every spot. Right, center and left. With his speed and his arm he can play anywhere.  He can hit the ball with power, he can hit consistently for average,” Vizquel said about Basabe. “He can be one of those players who can change the game with one at-bat.  He can bunt, he can hit for power and he can also steal a base. When you have a player that is complete in every aspect of the game, he can be a really good player for anybody.”

Basabe and Joel Booker have both had big comeback seasons.  Booker has been a revelation, raising eyebrows in the White Sox farm system.

“Joel Booker is the most underrated guy we have,”  Cease said during an interview before the Futures Game.

Booker was named the MVP of the Carolina League All-Star Game, got promoted to Birmingham where he’s leading off for the Barons, hitting ahead of fellow outfielder Basabe.

“(Booker) is another guy who has the same tools that Basabe has, except he’s a little faster than Basabe,”  Vizquel said. “I think he wasn’t being mentioned too much in the White Sox organization because there are so many high top prospects here that he probably gets lost in that group of people.  Obviously, when the game starts you can see that he’s one of those players who can bring a lot of attention. He can steal bases, he can hit the ball hard. Even though he’s a leadoff guy he can hit the ball a long way.  He’s a guy who is still learning the game and I think because he hasn’t played baseball that long, people overlook him a little bit, but he’s going to be a great player, too."

When Booker got promoted to Birmingham, that opened up a spot in the Winston-Salem outfield for Luis Gonzalez.  The White Sox 3rd round pick from 2017 immediately became one of the Dash’s best players.

“Luis Gonzalez is one of these guys who can hit in every spot in the lineup.  He’s a good leadoff guy and is very aggressive with the count. He likes to swing the bat.  As a matter of fact, he got mad at me because I don’t let him hit in the 3-hole sometimes. He can tell you that he’s ready to swing at every pitch,”  Vizquel said about Gonzalez who is slashing .306/.349/.449 in 22 games in Winston-Salem.

“He’s a left-handed hitter who doesn’t care if he has a left-handed pitcher on the mound.  He still sticks his nose in there and he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time. That’s who I have at the top of the lineup right now and he’s another player who’s learning the game real quick.  Even in his young age, he looks like a veteran out there.”

But wait, there’s more.  Outfielder Blake Rutherford who the White Sox acquired in the Todd Frazier/David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle trade last July, has quickly made people forget about his struggles in Kannapolis last year (.213/.289/.254 in 30 games).  This year in a higher league, he’s been one of its top hitters (.300/.345/.459), ranking 2nd in RBIs and 4th in hits.

“Rutherford is a guy who is really young too.  I love to have him with runners in scoring position because he can bring an RBI anytime,” Vizquel said about the Dash right fielder who turned 21 in May and is batting .343 with 57 RBIs with RISP.  “He’s a guy who makes contact. He’s going to be good. He’s another great outfielder, not as good as defensively as (Booker and Gonzalez), but he still does have great tools to be out there playing everyday.”

When it comes to starting pitching, Cease, Dunning, Hansen and Michael Kopech get most of the attention in the minor leagues.  But there are some other pitchers making names for themselves this year. Left-hander Bernardo Flores has combined for a 2.56 ERA in 109 innings for Winston-Salem and Birmingham. Since being called up to Double-A, Jimmy Lambert is 3-1 with a 3.13 ERA.  He flirted with a no-hitter in his last start against the Cubs AA team, giving up 1 hit over 7 innings with 10 strikeouts.

“He’s gross,”  Cease said about Lambert.  “He throws his fastball 92 to 95. Disgusting change-up.  He can throw 15 change-ups in an inning and he’ll get 11 swings and misses on it.

Good curveball and slider.  He’s gross.”

Cease and Lambert are now throwing to catcher Zack Collins, who leads the Southern League with a .409 on-base percentage and 77 walks.  The next closest in the league in walks has 53.

We know Collins can hit and get on base.  What about his defense?

“From when I threw to him during spring training to now he’s like almost a new guy,”  Cease said about Collins. “He’s framing well, calling a good game and blocking and that’s all you need from a catcher.”

In Charlotte, there’s 23-year-old reliever Ian Hamilton, who got called up last month and gave up only 2 hits in his first 6.2 IP with 9 strikeouts and 1 walk. His fastball can hit 98 mph and he has a hard slider that can reach 90.  He’s a possible future closer for the White Sox.

He also has a teammate named Eloy Jimenez.  I hear he’s having a big season as well.

In a perfect world, every White Sox prospect listed here will stay healthy, all of them will max out their potential, and in the coming years they’ll win every World Series title from 2020 to 2023.

But life isn’t perfect, especially in baseball.  Too much can go wrong, and often does.

The way to withstand the inevitable setbacks is by stocking your organization with waves of talent.  For a long time, you could only find ripples of this in the White Sox farm system.

Now in Winston-Salem, it’s surf’s up!   The hope is that one day they’ll be hangin’ ten from Kannapolis to Chicago.

For now, Omar Vizquel is handing out longboards to his first-place Dash who have been the class of the Carolina League.  

If he can create a winning culture like he experienced with the Cleveland Indians in the 1990’s, and have that success flow upstream into the big leagues,  the future at 35th and Shields will be very bright.

“I’m glad that I have this opportunity to be involved with all these young bright stars and make a difference and teach them the right way to play fundamental baseball and just play the game the right way,”  Vizquel said. “It’s something that I learned with all my years of experience. I think we’ve been trying to let these guys know how to play the right way and I think it’s paying off.”

Who knew? Stat nuggets from the White Sox pre-All-Star break season

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Stat nuggets from the White Sox pre-All-Star break season

It’s the All-Star Break, so why not take a look back at the first 58.6% of the White Sox season.

 

They may not be contending quite yet, but there have been several interesting moments. 

 

Focusing on the hitters, let’s take a look at ten amazing achievements this season.  And while there may be several to list for some players, I’m going to limit it to one fact per player.  Let’s go.

 

  • On March 29 (Opening Day), Matt Davidson became the 1st player in MLB history to hit 3 Home Runs in a game in March.
  • On April 23, Yoán Moncada (22 years, 331 days) became the youngest player in White Sox history with a double, triple & HR in the same game, passing Tito Francona (24 years, 205 days) on 5/28/1958.
  • Daniel Palka recorded a triple on May 22nd, making him the first player in White Sox history with 3 triples & 3 HR within his first 20 career MLB games.
  • On July 3, Palka (LF) & Avisaíl García (RF) became the second pair of White Sox outfielders to each hit 2 HR in the same game; the other pair? Minnie Miñoso (LF) and Larry Doby (CF) on July 30, 1957.
  • On May 28, Matt Skole became the first player in White Sox history with a home run AND a walk in his MLB Debut.
  • The lone White Sox walkoff Home Run of 2018 was off the bat of a player who hit .116 for the Sox this season (Trayce Thompson on May 3 – he went 14 for 121 this season for the Southsiders).
  • The White Sox have started a game with backto-back home runs four times in franchise history. 9/2/1937, 7/4/2000, 9/2/2017 & 6/12/2018.  Each of the last 2 times, Yolmer Sánchez hit the second home run.
  • On June 23, Tim Anderson became the first White Sox shortstop ever to homer on his birthday.
  • On June 27, José Abreu hit his 136th career HR and passed Minnie Miñoso for most by a Cubanborn player in White Sox history.  He hit one more since.
  • Leury García managed to become the first White Sox player with at least 10 stolen bases (he has 10) without being caught before the AllStar Break since Mike Cameron (13 for 13) in 1997.