White Sox

Sox Drawer: Alive and kicking

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Sox Drawer: Alive and kicking

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

They were down and out. Dead and buried. A baseball team whose obituary had already been written. It went something like this:

Here lies the 2010 Chicago White Sox, who died in early June of massive underachievement. An autopsy found that their hearts were in the right place, but their brains often failed to produce enough confidence to win more than one game in a row. They are survived by a fan base mourning the teams unrealized expectations. In lieu of flowers, please send extra shovels and something for Bill Melton, Frank Thomas and Chuck Garfien to talk about on White Sox Postgame Live for the next three months.
It was looking like a very long summer.

A thorough investigation would reveal that the Sox officially flat-lined on June 8. Nursing a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Tigers, Matt Thornton, who had given up only six runs all season, got tagged for five in one-third of an inning. The Sox lost, 7-2. They were embarrassed at home to one of their main rivals. It dropped them a season-low nine games under .500. They trailed the Twins by 9 12 games in the American League Central. And the next day, White Sox general managerfuneral director Kenny Williams delivered the grave news to the assembled media:

Some changes need to take place," he said. "I dont know what and I dont know when, but some changes need to take place. Things arent happening the way that we envisioned, and when they dont happen the way you envision, youve got to make an adjustment. It is what it is. I have to listen to trade offers. Its not that I want to, but Im not blind.

Trouble was, the Sox often played like they were.

But suddenly, later that same evening, against those same Tigers who humiliated the Sox the day before, something strange took place. A spiritual phenomenon that would compel priests, rabbis and ministers to call U.S. Cellular Field, inquiring about a certain celestial event.

A mere two hours after Williams made that grim diagnosis about his struggling team, a miracle occurred at 35th and Shields, and it wasnt just because Brent Lillibridge hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer.

After two months of mediocre, inconsistent, uninspiring baseball, everything just magically clicked.

And I mean everything.

Besides the Lillibridge home run (which was hit so far, Frank Thomas shouted, He hit that to Hurtville!), backup catcher Ramon Castro homered and drove in four. Immediately after Castro went deep, Gordon Beckham hit a double off the wall -- his first extra-base hit in 112 at-bats.

Every single player in the Sox lineup got a hit that night. They scored seven runs in the fourth inning and seven more in the eighth, batting around twice in the same game for the first time since 1981.

Want more?

Five-foot-nothing Juan Pierre leaped over the fence to rob Brennan Boesch of a home run. He then made a spectacular diving catch to end the same inning. The Sox went 10-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

Omar Vizquel came THIS close to hitting a grand slam.

Apparently there was a cap on miracles that night, but no problem. The 43-year-old homered the very next day, just his second since 2007. He also drove in a run on a suicide squeeze.

I hope they check his bat, joked manager Ozzie Guillen.

Overnight, the Sox were no longer a joke. Now it was their turn to deliver the punchline. Detroit would be their first victim, something that seems to have been forgotten. The Sox crushed the Tigers, 15-3, then blanked them, 3-0. That was followed by their historic road trip (yes, historic), going 8-1, the Sox seventh-best road trip ever.

But on every sidewalk along the way there were skeptics who looked at the competition (the Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, who are a combined 34 games under .500) and questioned whether the Sox could match up with a team thats actually good.

The Atlanta Braves are good. Potentially great. They came into Tuesday with the best record in the National League and they sent to the mound their best pitcher, Tommy Hanson, who in his previous four interleague starts was 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA.

Who did he beat in those games? Just the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles.

However on this night, he would receive one serious beatdown. The white hot White Sox torched Hanson, who gave up nine runs on 13 hits, both career highs, in just 3 23 innings.

And just like that, the Sox are suddenly back in it. One game over .500 for the first time since beating Cleveland on Opening Day.

Am I surprised it happened this fast? Um, yeah. But Im hardly the only one.

I didnt expect us to be back to .500 so quickly, Williams said before Tuesdays victory. This team has responded and showed some resiliency. At this time, those efforts should be commended and acknowledged in the form that, OK, they are going to keep pushing. We have to see what possibilities are out there to help them out.

Yep, the Sox went from sellers to buyers about as fast as a Stephen Strasburg fastball. Two weeks ago, the Sox GM warned that his team had about 24 hours to live. Now, they appear saved, thanks to a special elixir the whole team is drinking by the keg-load. Its a remedy for all that ails you.

Winning. It cures everything.

Now if only it continues ...

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Michael Kopech's back on the mound, scary comebackers and all

Michael Kopech's back on the mound, scary comebackers and all

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Everything is going according to plan for Michael Kopech.

Except for the part where he almost got drilled in the face with a line drive.

Kopech faced a scary comebacker off the bat of Matt Skole during live batting practice Friday at Camelback Ranch, one that forced him to get out of the way and one that, according to Kopech, felt like it might have even grazed his ear.

It's not the kind of sight anyone wants to see for a pitcher who hasn't thrown in any game above instructional league since September 2018, just now returning from his lengthy recovery after Tommy John surgery.

But, hey, you want to get back in the swing of things? This is what you get.

"I haven’t seen that kind of real-time feedback in a long time, and that’s about as real-time as it gets," Kopech said with a chuckle after practice. "That’s what you want to experience, to see if you can get somebody or if he can get you. And he got me."

Fortunately for the White Sox, Skole didn't "get" Kopech any worse.

Kopech is an important part of the team's long-term plans, and while the exact specifics of the plan for Kopech this season haven't been formally announced, it sounds like there's a good grasp on them, per manager Rick Renteria, though the skipper wouldn't reveal exactly where Kopech will begin the 2020 regular season.

"I think that we are very optimistic about where he’s at," Renteria said. "I think that the plan that the organization has in terms of how we want to start him off is probably pretty consistent in terms of where he’ll be. And then we will allow him to continue to pitch and get some innings under his belt. And I’m sure, first year after coming from the surgery, that there are parameters I’m sure we want to stay within.

"It will be still a very optimistically guarded approach to where he’s at."

So, no, we don't yet know whether Kopech will begin the campaign pitching for the big league team or pitching at Triple-A Charlotte in an effort to manage his workload in his first year back on the mound.

Though the competitor in him probably wants to be on that 26-man roster heading back to the South Side for the March 26 opener at Guaranteed Rate Field, Kopech is willing to do whatever is necessary for him to be a part of a playoff push, pitching in meaningful games down the stretch.

"At the end of the day, it’s me trying to fit into a plan to make the team better collectively. And if that’s not starting with the team right away, then I’m OK with that, too," Kopech said. "I just need to do what’s the best interest of me and the team.

"Ultimately, my goal is to be able to go deep into games for 30 starts a season. Now obviously, I haven’t had the experience of doing that to the extent that I want to, especially at the big league level. But I think that’s the point of what my entire rehab process was, to build me up to where I’m going to be able to take that kind of workload."

The White Sox have been adamant about their vision that Kopech will one day soon be an integral part of the big league rotation. For those wondering if this slow-play has anything to do with health effects from his surgery, it doesn't. He's healthy and pitching without restriction. But considering even before the procedure the most innings he'd thrown in a season were the 134.1 he logged in 2017, it's understandable the White Sox wouldn't want to overtax his arm.

The plan this spring is slow moving, as well, with Kopech still unsure when he's going to get into Cactus League action, which begins Saturday. So, there's still some question marks this spring as there are for the regular season.

"Right now, we have a plan of when I’m going to throw live BPs and when I’m going to throw bullpens. The question mark is still about when I’m getting into a game. But I think I have a plan to go at the beginning of March, around there anyway. I’m just trying to work my way up to that.

"It’s been pretty much day to day. We’re trying to really focus on spring right now and make sure my workload gets managed properly. And then by the time we get to the season, hopefully I’m ready to break with a team, whether it’s Charlotte or Chicago."

Every detail of the plan might not be public knowledge. But the plan is in place, and everything seems to be running smoothly.

Though it probably wouldn't hurt to cut down on the number of liners heading for Kopech's face...

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A bowling-ball minor leaguer nobody's talking about could be the White Sox 26th man

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

A bowling-ball minor leaguer nobody's talking about could be the White Sox 26th man

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a White Sox clubhouse filled with big-name prospects like Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn sits an under-the-radar minor leaguer who can flat out rake.

His last name is Mercedes, but this isn’t a sports car we’re talking about. Yermin Mercedes is built like a Mack Truck.

He plays the game like one, too.

“I like the homers. I have a hard swing. I like to swing,” said the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Mercedes, who when he settles into the batter’s box looks like the second coming of Juan Uribe.

“Yeah, I’m good with that,” Mercedes said, smiling when asked about the Uribe comparison. “I’m feeling great with that.”

Chris Getz sees the resemblance, too.

“Juan could certainly do some damage when he went into the box, and he went in there fearlessly. I think that attitude that (Mercedes) plays with, Juan did that,” said Getz, the White Sox director of player development who was a teammate of Uribe’s. “He played with fun and enjoyed the game.”

That joy was certainly on display during Thursday’s workout, when Mercedes celebrated a home run with a bat flip — during batting practice. Uribe would be proud.


“I have fun every day,” Mercedes said. “Everyone likes it when I smile or joke or play with my teammates. They like that.”

How Mercedes got here is a story in itself.

He logged three years in the Dominican Summer League with the Washington Nationals before being released in 2014. He spent time in the Pecos League, a remote independent league filled with baseball lifers. He ended up with the White Sox after they selected him in the minor league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft.

Mercedes has been blowing through red lights and stop signs every step of the way in his all-out quest to make it to the majors.

And now, he’s got another road block ahead of him.

Though he’s got a spot on the White Sox 40-man roster, the 27-year-old catcher is buried on the depth chart behind Yasmani Grandal, James McCann and Zack Collins.

So this is probably a good time to ask two important questions: How is Mercedes going to make it to the majors in 2020, and why is he someone White Sox fans should really be watching this spring?

Let’s start with what Mercedes did last season when he was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte and compare him with one of his Knights teammates, the guy who will likely be the big league team's Opening Day center fielder:

— Mercedes: .310/.386/.647 in 53 games

— Luis Robert: .297/.341/.634 in 47 games

Impressive.

Then there’s Mercedes’ confidence. Spring training games haven’t even started yet, but when the regular season begins on March 26, Mercedes plans on being in a White Sox uniform. His message to general manager Rick Hahn:

“I’ll be there. I’m the 26th man. Yes, of course. I promise you,” Mercedes said emphatically.

Speak with his teammates from last season in Charlotte, and they wouldn’t be surprised if this charismatic bowling ball of a baseball player is knocking opposing pitchers out of games from the get-go in the big leagues.

“When I saw Yermin for the first time, I thought that he was going to have to tone it down a little bit, but he proved me wrong, just by being ready to hit and having the intent to hit the ball and do damage,” first baseman Matt Skole said. “As long as he continues to build off what he did last year, he’s definitely going to make an impact at the big league level at some point.”

And don’t limit Mercedes as an all-or-nothing hitter. He’s more than that.

“He’s a guy who can hit a fastball. He can hit it to all fields. He’s a good two-strike hitter, meaning he’s good at off-speed and fastballs,” Getz explained. “He can put together an at-bat. He’s an offensive force. You put on top of that that he’s a catcher that can do those types of things, it’s impressive.”

Then there’s the clutch competitor that thrives in the big moments. That’s Mercedes.

“You like playing with him, and you don’t want to play against him that’s for sure,” infielder Danny Mendick said. “When he gets in there, he knows what he’s doing. He’s got great eye-hand coordination. When you need a clutch hit, he’ll give it you.”

So if it’s the late innings, and the game is on the line, maybe Mercedes’ ticket to the big leagues is being that fearless hitter who can come off the bench as the 26th man, who doesn’t give a crap about pressure and deliver the big hit.

“Everybody wants me to come in and pinch hit, because I do the job. I get the base hit. I hit the homer to win the game,” Mercedes said confidently.

What do the White Sox think?

“For him to get (major league) at-bats, to get that opportunity, he needs to continue to perform, show us what he’s capable of doing both offensively and defensively,” Getz said. “Rosters have expanded to 26. That’s another opportunity because he does bring some things to the table. If you look at lineup construction and filling out and maximizing a roster, I think he comes into the conversation. If he stays on this track, he will get an opportunity.”

Then there’s Mercedes' catching, which has always lagged behind his hitting. However, last season there was a surprising shift in his metrics, specifically with his pitch-framing.

“From the catching side, I’ve worked with him quite a bit and like what he does back there,” pitcher Carson Fulmer said. “I think his game-calling got a lot better. There’s an adjustment between Double-A to Triple-A just with experienced hitters. He got on the same page with a lot of us, which is really useful.

“He has a great arm. He can hold a runner close to the bag, which is nice. With his framing, as well, he’s able sell some strikes for us. Most importantly, what really stood out for me was his ability to call a game. He’s definitely matured quite a bit.”

On paper, Mercedes might be a longshot to break with the team when it heads back to Chicago, but the Dominican spark plug has made a career out of defying the odds.

This is no different.

“I’m going to surprise a lot of people. A lot of people need me. They say, ‘Where’s Mercedes? Where’s Mercedes? Why isn’t he here?' I take my time. So when the team gives me the opportunity, I take it.”

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