White Sox

Milledge building case for Opening Day roster

410489.jpg

Milledge building case for Opening Day roster

Sunday, March 13, 2011Posted: 4:53 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. Its just three weeks into his tenure with Chicago, but Lastings Milledge is looking more and more like hes been around the White Sox for a lot longer.

Hes quick to look for tips from coaches, and even faster to trade quips with teammates, especially another new member of the Pale Hose he knows as a teammate with the Washington Nationals, Adam Dunn.

Milledge of course wears his White Sox cap with considerably less security than Dunn, who signed a four-year, 56 million deal with Chicago this offseason. Milledge? Hes not even on the 40-man roster.

The White Sox were the first team interested in me, but also were honest with me, Milledge said. "They told me it wasnt going to be a big-league deal, that Id have to come here and prove myself. But I knew I had to do that, anyway. The honesty, and the talent on this team made signing here a no-brainer.

For a player whos seen his maturity questioned at every stop, Milledge exudes unusual calm and precise perspective discussing his current role with the Chisox.

Things happen. I am where I am now. I cant change it, he said. Right now, the main focus is being a player who can be called upon to do anything the team asks. I know that Im not going to start, so now Im just trying to get better at what Im asked. If somebody goes down, I want to be able to be productive in those times.

The 2011 White Sox are not a short-term proposition for Milledge, either. Not that hes angling to fall short of making the big club, but hes already anticipated any setbacks along the way.

Im definitely going to Charlotte AAA if I dont make the club, Milledge said. We already talked about it. I dont have a problem with that. Whether starting at AAA and going from there, Ive been there and done that as well. I just want to be the best at what I do when Im called upon and the team needs me to step up. Whatever the case may be, I want to be able to step in and be productive when Im called upon.

So far, so good for the multifaceted outfielder. Entering Sundays play, hes played a solid outfield, starting mostly in center field, and sits at a .414 OBP and .391 SLG. Plate discipline has never been a strength of Milledges (104 career walks, 286 strikeouts for a rate, barely one walk for every three Ks), but this spring the outfielder has just four strikeouts against five walks.

White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker has been quick to praise Milledge for his work ethic and willingness to listen. Walkers modus operandi is to craft practice plans that adhere to a players particular style, not take on a dictatorial stance.

With Lastings, weve simplified things, Walker said. Hes had a lot thrown at him in a very short period of time, and hes had a lot of people telling him how to hit. He knows how to hit; thats why he was in the majors at 21. Were just working on getting him back to where he was where he found his most success.

That work has been met with approval from manager Ozzie Guillen, who no sooner had called out some of the players fighting for the last spot on the bench than acknowledged the fact that Milledge had stepped up his production across the board.

Its important to become a complete player. I have all the talent, I just have to build myself up, Milledge said. I just have to put it all together. With all these good players around me, it makes me up my game. I can learn a lot from these players in here. Theyre real easy to talk to. I feel like I have everything I need right now.

Part of everything includes teammates that are providing some of the first mentorship the 25-year-old (who started on the New York Mets two months after his 21st birthday) has ever received in his career.

Im talking to guys like Paul Konerko, Dunn, getting comfortable with JP Juan Pierre, Milledges locker neighbor and asking him stuff. Right now, I have everything I need. Everything I ever wanted. Im learning a lot, and trying to put everything together, the young outfielder said.

Pierre speaks of Jeffrey Hammonds mentoring him as a young player, Matt Thornton learned the ways of the mound from wizened lefty Arthur Rhodes it seems that any successful major-leaguer can point to a veteran whos helped him along the way. Plunged into the majors at such a young age, with a five-tool phenom label tagged on him as a No. 12 overall pick, only with the wisdom of hard knocks has Milledge realized what he missed not having a mentor in his career.

I had to learn everything on my own, Milledge said after a long pause. Being 21 and in New York, it was tough. I learned on the fly. Now, its my fifth season and Im starting to know what people expect Its there for me to be an explosive player and a game-changing guy. Its there. I just never put anything together on a consistent basis.

Through some tough setbacks, Milledge has been able to see the value in failure, something in abundance in baseball, but rarely something players want to acknowledge.

I got to the big leagues early, and its great to fail earlyIve been through a lot, seen a lot, he said. Im glad I already have my back up against the wall. I know what I can and cant handle. Ive been everywherefrom being a top prospect, to being released. Its an advantage more than a disadvantage.

Confidence, despite having been dealt from his first two big-league teams (New York and Washington) and left untendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates after a decent 2010, is something Milledge still possesses in abundance.

I definitely believe in my talent; until the day I retire, Ill always believe in myself, he said. Maybe Ill believe in myself too much, or think Im better than I am , but I dont have a problem with that. Im a confident person. The day I let that slip away from me, Ill feel like I dont have an edge.

One thing too commonly overlooked about Milledge is the sheer love of the game he has. He was roundly criticized as a rookie for running to the outfield after crushing a game-tying, extra-inning home run, and celebrated his first round-tripper as a White Sox last week by pulling his helmet off some 15 feet before home plate.

Its just something I do, whether its spring training or during the season, I love the excitement, Milledge said. I love when I do good. I love when the team does goodIm the first guy on the step when somebody else homers. I just love the game. People can take it how they want, but I just love to do good.

Love of the game is whats kept Milledge going. And from the looks of things midway through camp, that love might push him all the way onto the Opening Day roster.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

White Sox Talk Podcast: SoxFest at Night!

tim_anderson_rick_renteria_nbc_sports_chicago.jpg
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

White Sox Talk Podcast: SoxFest at Night!

Chuck Garfien and White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti host SoxFest at Night live from Sox Fest at McCormick Place. They're joined by Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria, Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez and many more.

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

It might not be possible to measure the effect Yasmani Grandal has already had on the 2020 White Sox.

While the team’s first big splash signing of the winter has been met with near universal acclaim — how could you not love a guy with Grandal’s track record of offensive production and winning experience? — plenty wondered why it happened in the first place. After all, the White Sox already boasted an All-Star catcher in James McCann.

Sure, two All-Star backstops are better than one. But with so much still on Rick Hahn’s offseason to-do list when the move was made, why spend big bucks — the richest contract in team history — on a position you already had covered?

Well, the 2020 campaign hasn’t even started yet, and already Grandal’s worth is evident.

As much love as McCann got for his skills as a game-planner during his All-Star season in 2019, the rave reviews for Grandal take things to a whole different level.

“I got to talk with Yaz for a while, I played catch with him today down the road. He’s already got a plan for me, how he wants to set up, attack guys, showing me the program he uses. It’s awesome,” new White Sox reliever Steve Cishek said before SoxFest kicked off Friday. “He’s ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him.

“Just talking with him today, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about. And then you see why he’s one of the best catchers in the game. And then how mentally prepared he is, we’re not even into February yet, and he knows what he wants to do with each and every one of us. That’s incredible to me. He’s just planning ahead.

“I introduced myself. He wanted to play catch, just to see what my stuff does first hand. … First conversation after playing catch, he’s like, ‘Did you see me messing around? I was standing over here just to see if you would start your fastball over here. This is how I’m planning on setting up with you. I watched how Willson (Contreras) set up with you last year. I like how he did it, but I want to try this way, too.’

“Are you kidding me? When can we start? Let’s go.”

It’s clear from talking to his new teammates — some, like Cishek, who haven’t even been able to spend much time with him — that Grandal is prepared to the point where he’s ready for the season to start yesterday.

Rick Hahn revealed when the White Sox signed Grandal way back in November, that the newest backstop on the South Side is the kind of student who asks for homework — then devours it in no time.

“We met with him in Phoenix (the) Tuesday afternoon during the GM meetings, but I think it was by Thursday, he had reached back out and requested video of each of our starters and wanted to spend some time getting to know each of them,” Hahn explained the day the White Sox announced Grandal’s four-year contract. “He had some familiarity from afar but wanted to spend some up close time learning their strengths and weaknesses and how to get them better.

“He and I, since things became official late last night, we’ve been texting back and forth about various guys both on our roster and available throughout the league. He really has a deep, deep knowledge of how to maximize a pitcher’s ability. He’s tireless worker.”

Though the White Sox have yet to converge on Camelback Ranch for spring training, that unmatched work ethic has already become apparent to Grandal’s new teammates. These pitchers haven’t had much opportunity to work with Grandal yet — as Cishek mentioned, he talked with Grandal for the first time Friday before heading to SoxFest — but they’ve already been blown away by the kind of preparation and the kind of work Grandal has done.

It’s the kind of effect a veteran with winning experience can have on a young group.

“I haven't personally thrown to him, but having conversations with him about pitching and pitch mechanics, he's very intellectual,” Michael Kopech said earlier this week. “He himself is very serious about his training and his body and his regimen. It's refreshing to see somebody take that much pride in what their doing.

“Not that we don't have that already, we've always had that. But to have that veteran role step in and show you that you can do this and you can do this for a long time, it means the world to us, because that's what we're all wanting to get to.”

One of the White Sox other offseason splashes, Dallas Keuchel, has on multiple occasions talked about Grandal as an attractive selling point that helped bring him to the South Side. Friday night, he described Grandal signing with the White Sox as “mind-blowing.”

Grandal has excited pitchers who were already a part of the organization, too.

“When he signed, the first thing I did was I went to YouTube and I looked him up,” Dylan Cease said Friday. “First, I started with his framing highlights, because there’s a YouTube (video) of that. And then I went to his hitting. I was like, ‘All right. This is a nice addition.’”

That would seem to be an understatement.

Obviously, Grandal will be expected to add something special to the White Sox lineup, and his career .348 on-base percentage in eight major league seasons — not to mention a career-best 28 home runs in 2019 — ought to provide plenty offensively.

But Grandal is here to help the Ceases of the world, too. While Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez bring some veteran reliability to the South Side starting staff, the White Sox will need to see some improvement from both Cease and Reynaldo Lopez from the not-so-stellar numbers they put up last season if they’re truly going to contend for a spot in the postseason.

Grandal is making that his mission, to help the younger pitchers blossom into the stars their once lofty prospect rankings said they could be.

“This not being the first time (I’ve been through this kind of thing), I understand it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take some time,” Grandal said Friday. “We’re not going to try and hurry the process up, we’re just going to let it be. We know what we have, and we’re just going to take it one day at a time.

“Once I have at least 80 games behind the plate, we’ll look at the bigger picture and start making the bigger strides and start doing the things that we really have to do. We’ve got to lay some sort of base in order to start building. I feel like we’ve moved in the right direction so far this offseason. It comes down to me and the whole catching group getting together with the pitchers.”

That kind of work is something Grandal has already shown he’s willing and excited to do. He’s impressed the pitchers he’ll be catching in their limited interactions, and while he describes a potentially time-consuming process in getting everyone to where they need to be, he’s still thrilled to be working with this group of arms. He continues to explain that it’s the No. 1 thing that drew him to the South Side.

Because as a guy who’s played in each of the last four postseasons knows, it’s all about the pitching.

“As we saw in the past World Series, the Nationals kind of did exactly what needed to be done. They relied on their pitching staff,” he said, “and they got big hits when they needed it. At any point, once you get to the playoffs, if you have the right amount of pitchers, you can have a big win.

“Let’s just get there first.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.