White Sox

Swept in Baltimore, White Sox keep an eye on top prospect Yoan Moncada

Swept in Baltimore, White Sox keep an eye on top prospect Yoan Moncada

BALTIMORE — Down at Triple-A Charlotte, opposing pitchers can’t seem to stop the Yoansanity.

Top prospect Yoan Moncada continued his reign of terror as he finished a triple shy of the cycle and reached base four times.

Meanwhile, the major league White Sox offense sputtered against a pitcher that Charlotte rocked only five days earlier. Combined with a few defensive misplays and another day of bad fortune for Jose Quintana, the White Sox dropped a 4-0 decision to the Baltimore Orioles in front of 31,806 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Chris Tillman pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and went on to combine with two relievers on an eight-hit shutout to close out a three-game sweep of the White Sox. Manager Rick Renteria was ejected in the third inning, the first of his White Sox career.

“The first inning started off very well getting guys on with a couple of bases on balls and still ended up loading the bases with one out, weren’t able to drive a run across,” Renteria said. “He was probably able to take a deep breath getting through it.

“It gives you a little boost. I don’t think by the same token we were too focused on that it was just the rest of the time continuing to see if we could get anything started at that point and we weren’t able to do so.”

Looking to avoid a third straight loss and a losing road trip, the White Sox had Tillman in trouble almost immediately. Tillman was making his Orioles season debut and was only five days removed from allowing three home runs against Charlotte.

The right-hander opened the game with seven straight balls and walked the first two men he faced. But Tillman got Jose Abreu to pop out on a 3-2 pitch in and then wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam. Todd Frazier lined out to shortstop and Cody Asche grounded out to first base to strand the bases loaded.

That gave the Orioles an opening and they pounced on it. Quintana issued a pair of one-out walks in the first inning and Tyler Saladino double-clutched on Chris Davis’ infield grounder, which caused his throw to first to be just late. Chris Davis followed with a sac fly to put Baltimore ahead and Trey Mancini singled in a run to make it 2-0.

A pair of bloop singles in the second inning by Joey Rickard and Adam Jones kicked an Orioles’ rally into gear with the latter driving in a run. Manny Machado’s RBI single to left made it a 4-0 contest and effectively wiped out the chance of the White Sox avoiding a sweep.

Quintana allowed four earned runs and nine hits in five innings, walked three and struck out four.

“It was a battle the whole game,” Quintana said. “It was a tough day for me today.

“It was the first bad series we had. It was straight three games, but we have to turn to the page and keep doing what we were doing before. We were playing good, so we have to keep going. Everybody knows that. Turn the page and get ready for the next series.”

 The White Sox offense never quite rebounded from their first-inning failure.

They mounted only two other threat all afternoon. Tillman got Melky Cabrera to ground out to second base to strand a pair and end a fourth-inning rally. Brad Brach wiped out the other opportunity with a game-ending double play off Leury Garcia’s bat.

The White Sox finished 0-for-7 with 11 runners left in scoring position.

Down on the farm, Moncada continued a 15-game tear with three more hits and a walk in a Charlotte victory. Over the span, Moncada is hitting .400/.464/.617 with 16 runs scored, three homers and seven RBIs in 69 plate appearances.

The top-rated prospect in baseball has also made two key improvements as the season has progressed. Not only has he begun to lower his strikeout rate — 21.7 percent since April 20 — but Moncada’s play has improved in the field. By playing more aggressively in the field, Moncada has tapped into his tools, which has resulted in fewer mistakes and better turns of double plays. Earlier in the week, he drew rave reviews from general manager Rick Hahn, who spent part of the week observing the Knights.

“Had a chance to visit with all of (Charlotte’s coaches) and they were very impressed with Yoan and the progress he’s made,” Hahn said. “There were a couple things that Super Joe (McEwing) and (Renteria) were working on with him defense in spring training and mark and Vance (Law) and the staff down here picked up where they left off. And Yoan continues to improve in that regards. We’re real pleased with where he’s at. The fact is he does remain a 22-year old that coming into the year had fewer than 200 plate appearances above A-ball. His development is by no means complete at the minor league level, but he certainly is making a great deal of progress and we’re thrilled with where he’s at.”

If Moncada continues to perform at the same level, he could force the White Sox into changing his locale. The threshold to keep Moncada under team control for a seventh year is only a week away.

One of Hahn’s favorite sayings regarding prospects is that the best ones tend to force their way into the majors. If Moncada can continue to reduce his strikeout-rate, play sharp defense and be an overall force on offense, he could find his way to Chicago soon enough.

Luis Robert's legend grows, suggesting White Sox should ready for superstardom

Luis Robert's legend grows, suggesting White Sox should ready for superstardom

The legend of La Pantera grew even larger Saturday. And he made it seem rather mundane.

"I was sitting on a soft pitch on the outside, and then this pitch was in and I had to react and swing the bat, and I think that was why I fell when I hit the ball."

Luis Robert's description of the event dramatically undersold what happened. The dude homered while he was falling down.

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Of course, Robert makes everything look easy. Why wouldn't he make it all sound easy, too?

The truth is that the much hyped Robert can do just about everything on the baseball field, and that apparently now includes sending a ball over the fence while simultaneously toppling to the ground in a somewhat cartoonish fashion. If you didn't think the hype train could move at a higher speed after he thrilled minor league audiences last season with a true five-tool display, then you weren't prepared for the highlight from Saturday's intrasquad game on the South Side that caught like wildfire across the baseball-loving sections of the internet.

Robert's arrival in the major leagues, however delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is part of the reason the White Sox look capable of making their long awaited leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode this season. He's being described as the best of the team's collection of talented youngsters and talked up as one of baseball's next superstars.

The best part of all of that for the White Sox?

"I'm glad he's on my team," said pitcher Carlos Rodón, who had the unfortunate distinction of being the guy who gave up that bananas home run.

Indeed he is on this team, and thanks to the big-money deal that paved his way to the Opening Day lineup, Robert is going to be on this team for a long time. A pair of options at the end of that contract allow for Robert to remain in a White Sox uniform through the 2027 season. Rick Hahn's always talking about keeping this team in contention mode for as long as possible. Inking Robert's name into the projected lineup for the next eight seasons surely helps.

"I'm smiling from ear to ear," White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said Saturday. "We are as an organization because we are going to have an opportunity to see this for a long period of time.

"He's an individual who you pay to go watch play. ... You can come to the ballpark and understand he has a chance to do something special every day in every aspect of his game, whether it's running, playing defense, throwing, hitting.

"What he did today, ... I saw him sitting on the ground and I was like, 'Run, run, run!' and then I realized the ball was 15 rows deep. He's a pretty special talent, and we are fortunate and lucky to have him on our side."

The question, though, doesn't seem to be how good Robert will be one day but how good he'll be from Day 1.

RELATED: 2020 White Sox lineup: This looks like what it could be come Opening Day

Robert was expected to have a full six months in his first taste of the big leagues, expected to have time to make the kinds of adjustments Eloy Jiménez did as a rookie last season, when he started slowly only to catch fire for a white-hot month of September. Robert won't have that luxury, with the season squeezed down from its typical six-month marathon to a two-month, 60-game sprint.

But Robert doesn't seem to view that as much of a problem. Like the uber-talented White Sox youngsters who have arrived on the South Side before him, he's a confident kid. And while he's not going as far as Jiménez did in January, when the left fielder called his new center fielder "the next Mike Trout," Robert's expecting to be able to hit the ground running while seeing big league pitching for the first time.

"I am feeling very confident," he said Saturday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I feel real good right now, mentally and physically, and I think that is important. I think that's why I have been able to get the results that I've been having during this time.

"Being here facing major league pitchers, even though they are my teammates, has helped me a lot because that's an advantage for me to know what I'm going to face once the season starts.

"I don't know if I think about doing extraordinary things. I just think in terms of doing the best that I can in every aspect of the game, in every play that I'm involved in. And I think that's the reason why I've been able to do very good things. That's the reason why, I just try to do my best every time."

RELATED: What Michael Kopech skipping season means for White Sox in 2020 and beyond

Robert's presence is just one of a whole bunch of reasons the White Sox appear primed for a big jump in 2020. He's part of a remade lineup featuring veteran additions Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara. He's one of two highly touted prospects who could take over starting roles this season, along with Nick Madrigal. He's the newest addition to a White Sox core that already had its breakout season a year ago, when Jiménez, Yoán Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson did such big things.

And this is just the beginning. So many of those guys are under team control for years into the future. And so even if Robert and the White Sox don't rise to the level of World Series contenders in 2020, they're planning to do it soon — and stay there for a long while.

How good can Robert be during that stretch? The consensus seems to be that the sky is the limit. And if his wardrobe choice for his Saturday session with reporters, a LeBron James jersey, was any indication, the South Side could be in for larger-than-life superstardom.

"I think that every athlete has that in mind," he said, asked if he had designs on being as good as James, one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. "When you see what other athletes have done, whatever the sport they’re playing, it’s something that you use to motivate yourself."


Luis Robert hits home run while falling down during White Sox intrasquad game

Luis Robert hits home run while falling down during White Sox intrasquad game

They say Luis Robert can do it all.

Who knows how often he'll be called upon to hit a home run while falling down, but it turns out he can do that, too.

Robert lifted a Carlos Rodón pitch out of Guaranteed Rate Field during Saturday's intrasquad game on the South Side. While it was happening, or perhaps immediately afterward, he fell over and landed on the other side of home plate.

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Worrywarts have no need to panic, he got right up, picked up his batting helmet and trotted around the bases. The next inning, he returned to his spot in center field.

So instead of a terrifying moment, the White Sox rookie delivered a kooky — and frankly, kind of amazing — highlight for the ages.

And so his legend grows.

Robert has already been the player to command the most fan interest during "Summer Camp" workouts. He heads into his first big league season as the most hyped White Sox prospect in recent memory, topping the excitement levels generated by the debuts of Eloy Jiménez, Michael Kopech and Yoán Moncada.

All that buzz comes after he thrilled minor league crowds last season with a combination of tape-measure home runs, blazing speed and highlight-reel catches in center field. That jam-packed toolbox has evaluators labeling him as the best of the White Sox collection of talented youngsters, and he's already being talked about as the game's next superstar.

"I see or hear all of that stuff," Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo earlier this week. "I try to not pay attention to that. I know what I can do, and sometimes if you hear all that stuff, you’re going to have more pressure on you. And that might not be good for you because there is more. It’s good if people say that, but I just try to not pay too much attention to it.

"My expectations and goals are always the same. Give 100 percent, always, on the field, help the team as much as I can and hopefully go to the postseason. And if I’m lucky enough, maybe win the Rookie of the Year. Those are my goals, and if I stay healthy I feel confident I can do that."

RELATED: White Sox rookie Luis Robert confident in 'pretty hot' start to his '20 season

Robert has some challenges in this most unusual of baseball seasons. While getting his first taste of major league pitching, he was expected to have a full six months to make any necessary adjustments. Instead, he'll have just 60 games. Jiménez showed how useful having an entire season can be, starting slowly during his rookie campaign in 2019 only to figure things out in time for a white-hot month of September. If Robert doesn't catch fire immediately, he might not have the time to adjust before the season's almost over.

But that's not worrying Robert too much.

"If, for whatever reason, I don’t start the season as hot as I know I can, I will do my best to make the adjustments as fast as I can," he said. "But of course that’s not my mindset right now.

"I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to start the season pretty hot and display all my talent. I will have to adjust as much as I can if I have any trouble."

After seeing what he did Saturday, maybe he's right.