White Sox

Tyler Saladino could be White Sox SS until Tim Anderson is ready


Tyler Saladino could be White Sox SS until Tim Anderson is ready

MINNEAPOLIS — Hope you got a good look at Tyler Saladino at shortstop for the White Sox on Wednesday night.

He could spend a lot more time there next season.

While the rookie merely spelled Alexei Ramirez for a night, Saladino could assume the role in 2016 until Tim Anderson is ready to make the leap to the majors.

With a $10 million team option that looks pricey given his current production, Ramirez, who has a $1 million buyout, looks to be headed for free agency after eight seasons with the White Sox.

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Though he doesn’t have the same kind of offensive potential as the 2014 Silver Slugger winner and All-Star Ramirez, Saladino is a strong defender and appears to be the top in-house candidate for the role. Saladino went 1-for-4 on Wednesday night as the White Sox lost to the Minnesota Twins, 3-0, at Target Field.

“If you’re not as good offensively, you better be real good with the glove,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “And if you’re not very good with the glove, you better be really good with the bat. There’s always give and take with that, but you really look when a guy doesn’t play it well, it’s a tough go for the pitchers, especially in the middle of the field to have somebody do that. You always need somebody in there that can hold that position down.”

Ramirez has been much better since July 1, posting a .285/.324/.435 slash line with six homers and 22 RBIs in 214 plate appearances. But in spite of a strong July performance with his glove, Ramirez, a Gold Glove finalist a season ago, has continued to hover in the bottom third in defensive metrics. He ranks 19th among 25 qualified shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved and 20th in Ultimate Zone Rating, according to fangraphs.com.

Through 127 games, Ramirez has been worth minus-0.8 Wins Above Replacement. With several other holes to fill, the White Sox seem likely to use the roughly $8.5 million they would save by using Saladino to address other concerns. Saladino has struggled offensively (he brought a .601 OPS into Wednesday’s game) but has impressed the White Sox with how quickly he has adapted to third base, where he has a team-high nine Defensive Runs Saved.

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General manager Rick Hahn recently said the White Sox don’t need to see much of Saladino at short this month to see how he’d handle the position.

“We know he can play short,” Hahn said. “It was more of a question could he play third because he only had done it for a handful of times in the system. But we knew before his callup what we felt what kind of big league shortstop he’d be even though he’s probably not going to get much of an opportunity to play over there this year. We’ve got it in our minds what he looks like going forward.”

The White Sox weren’t quite sure how Saladino would respond after his 2014 season ended early because of Tommy John surgery.

Actually, Saladino didn’t know, either.

“I had no idea, that was part of the mental roller coaster,” Saladino said. “Once that happened, of course you think ‘Am I ever going to play again?’ You can’t help but think that but you just try to stay the course, trust the medical staff you’re working with and pay attention to what they advise, find the things that help it feel better and then just sticking with it.”

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But since he returned to the field following some shoulder strengthening issues earlier this season, Saladino has possessed an arm worthy of playing at either spot on the left side of the infield. Saladino said he’s had no signs of weakness and only has to do specific work to maintain his arm strength.

Anderson has had a spectacular season at Birmingham with improved defense, a .780 OPS and 49 stolen bases. But the White Sox seem to prefer more time for Anderson to mature, as he’s only two-plus years removed from junior college.

“Tim hasn’t had a ton of time playing,” Ventura said. “So that experience is important for him.”

Because Saladino has experience at third and shortstop, the White Sox have some flexibility in how they could attack their offseason. Along with catcher, third and shortstop have been the most difficult vacancies to fill the past few offseasons.

Options are limited.

While Saladino’s offense likely makes him a better fit at shortstop, the White Sox can look for the best overall player at either position knowing they can put Saladino at the other spot, if they chose.

“He can handle the position,” Ventura said. “Offensively, that’s a whole other thing. But short is a tough position. To be able to do it every day is a tough task for a lot of guys because it’s a demanding position. He has the ability to maybe do that.

“Any position, you’re giving and taking.”

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez


White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018


Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.