White Sox

White Sox eyeing fifth or sixth game of season for Carlos Rodon's first start

White Sox eyeing fifth or sixth game of season for Carlos Rodon's first start

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carlos Rodon threw two sessions of 20 pitches in live batting practice on Wednesday, and will do the same Saturday as the White Sox ease the left-hander into preparations for the 2017 season. 

While the White Sox don't have a timetable of when Rodon will make his first Cactus League start, manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday the club will assess the next step for the 24-year-old after he throws Saturday. But what Renteria said was "probably accurate" is that Rodon will be slotted into the back end of the rotation and make his 2017 regular season debut around the fifth or sixth game in April. 

Renteria added that having Rodon, who experienced fatigue in 2016, start the season on the disabled list is "not something that I'm anticipating." The White Sox have cautiously brought Rodon along this spring with the expectation he'll carry an increased workload this summer. 

Rodon said he worked on his fastball and changeup on Wednesday, just trying to get those two pitches over the plate as he faced hitters -- albeit, in batting practice -- for the first time this spring. 

"I know nothing has changed," Rodon said. "I'm in the rotation, so I know I'm going to be pitching in April. It's spring training. We're getting ready. Sometimes people don't realize that. Those guys in the box are getting ready, and we're getting ready. Spring training is the time to get ready and then just build on that."

All systems go for Frazier 

Todd Frazier (sprained finger) started at third base in his Cactus League debut on Wednesday, lining out in his first at-bat and striking out in his second over four innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. 

"It felt good, felt good," Frazier said. "I was excited today. I haven't played in how many months, five, maybe? So it felt good to get out there, chatted with the boys and had one good at-bat. Trying to square balls up right now. I felt pretty good that first at-bat."

The 31-year-old Frazier estimated he needs 25-30 at-bats to get ready for the season. 

Quick hits from today’s game (Brewers 5, White Sox 4):

-- Avisail Garcia socked a home run to right-center in the second inning, singled twice and made two sparkling defensive plays in right field. On the first one, he raced to his left and tracked down a fly ball near the right field foul line, on the second, he made a diving catch on a sinking line drive to take away a hit. Garcia also was caught stealing. 

-- Carson Fulmer said he feels "really good at this point" after firing three innings on Wednesday. The 2015 first-round pick allowed one run on two hits (with the damage being done on a Lewis Brinson home run) with one walk and two strikeouts. 

-- The brilliantly mustachioed Tyler Saladino hit a two-run home run and Rymer Liriano added a solo shot to provide the rest of the White Sox offense. Adam Engel made a spectacular diving catch in center, too, flashing excellent range and good instincts. 

State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to starting pitching.

What happened in 2019

To this point, this series has addressed what happened with one player. Moving on to the entire rotation, it’s obviously a little less cut and dry.

On one hand, Lucas Giolito was perhaps the best South Side story of the season. After allowing more earned runs than any other pitcher in baseball and leading the American League in walks during his first full season in the majors, Giolito spent the offseason making mechanical adjustments and revamping his mental approach.

That work paid off in extraordinary fashion, as he transformed into a completely different pitcher, named to the All-Star team and becoming the ace of the staff. He’ll finish somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote after turning in a 3.41 ERA with a whopping 228 strikeouts — a total reached by just two other pitchers in team history. His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against the 100-win Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, shutting down both playoff teams on their home turf.

In summary, Giolito went from a guy who we didn’t know where he fit into the White Sox long-term rotation to the guy leading it.

The rest of the starting staff didn’t experience the same good fortune.

There was certainly other good news, chiefly in the form of Dylan Cease’s arrival to the major leagues. Past his simple presence, however, Cease experienced the same kind of growing pains that Giolito and Yoan Moncada did in their first extended tastes of the big leagues. In 14 starts, Cease’s ERA was a rather large 6.29. He experienced routine trouble early in games before straightening out, and he did have his flashes of brilliance, like when he struck out 11 Cleveland Indians in early September.

Reynaldo Lopez could hardly describe 2019 as a good year, ending it with an ERA of 5.38, narrowly escaping the same distinction Giolito had in 2018, when he was the qualified pitcher with the highest ERA in the game. His first half was particularly nasty, with that ERA at 6.34 at the All-Star break, but while a strong stretch to start the second half showed tons of promise, Lopez returned to his prolonged bouts of inconsistency, dominating an opponent in one start only to get shelled the next time out. By season’s end, even optimistic manager Rick Renteria admitted he didn’t know what he was going to get from Lopez in a given start, troubling to be sure.

But despite the long-term focuses on Giolito, Cease and Lopez, the 2019 season, from the standpoint of the starting rotation, will likely remain infamous for its mostly ineffective pieces that were trotted out with alarming frequency following Carlos Rodon going down for the year with Tommy John surgery. The likes of Ervin Santana, Odrisamer Despaigne, Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler and Hector Santiago were routinely pummeled by opposing lineups, exposing a lack of major league ready starting-pitching depth in the White Sox organization. South Side starters — including the positive efforts of Giolito and Ivan Nova, who was increasingly reliable as the season went on — finished with a 5.30 ERA. Only six teams had a higher ERA by season’s end.

In the minor leagues, the bag was also mixed. Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all spent the season in recovery mode from Tommy John surgery, contributing to that dearth of depth near the top of the system. But Jonathan Stiever broke out as a prospect worth watching, posting a 2.15 ERA in his 12 starts following a promotion to Class A Winston-Salem, striking out 77 batters in 71 innings.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have perhaps nothing higher on their offseason to-do list than starting pitching, not surprising after the team wore that aforementioned depth bare early in the 2019 campaign.

General manager Rick Hahn laid out his front office’s plans during his end-of-season press conference last month, projecting that Giolito, Cease and Lopez will all be part of the team’s rotation next season. Kopech is expected to join them, though there’s a chance the team starts him in the minor leagues if spring training isn’t enough to get him ready for Opening Day. Rodon, Dunning and Lambert will all finish their own recoveries over the course of 2020, but they won’t be able to account for spots in the rotation when the team leaves Glendale, Arizona.

“We're very pleased, going into the offseason, projecting out Giolito, Cease and Lopez as part of that rotation, but that leaves a couple spots,” Hahn said. “Obviously, Michael Kopech's coming back from injury, Carlos Rodon at some point next year, at some point next year Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert. But it still leaves the opportunity to solidify that rotation either through free agency or trade, and that will likely be a priority in the coming months.”

The offseason is likely setting up for the White Sox to add a couple arms to the starting-pitching mix. As for exactly what kind of arms they’ll be shopping for, that remains a mystery. There are needs in various areas that Hahn would surely like to address, both pairing an impact arm with Giolito at the top of the rotation and providing the kind of depth that would prevent a repeat of this year’s misfortunes.

All eyes will instantly dart to the top of what could be a pretty loaded free-agent market from a starting-pitching standpoint. Gerrit Cole, who’s currently carving up every lineup that comes his way in the postseason, will be the No. 1 name there and could command the richest pitching contract in baseball history. But he’s not alone, with World Series winners Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel available, as well. One of the best pitchers in the National League, Hyun-Jin Ryu, will be out there, along with one of the New York Mets’ young guns in Zack Wheeler and an All-Star pitcher in Jake Odorizzi from the Minnesota Twins. And then there’s the possibility of Stephen Strasburg opting out of his deal with the Washington Nationals and becoming a free agent.

So if Hahn & Co. are aiming to add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, there will be opportunities to do so. Likewise, there will be opportunities to add pieces elsewhere in the rotation. Examples include Rich Hill, Cole Hamels, Michael Wacha, Kyle Gibson, Alex Wood, Wade Miley, and perhaps the likes of Jose Quintana and Chris Archer.

One thing for sure: Hahn will be busy looking for starting pitching this offseason.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

Obviously we don’t know exactly what the rotation will look like, but there will be plenty of questions that need answering.

Will Giolito’s transformation be permanent? Will Cease be able to pull off a Giolito-esque winter and take a huge step toward reaching his high ceiling? What will Kopech look like on the other side of Tommy John surgery, and will he have to endure the same growing pains his teammates did as they found their big league footing?

But there might be no bigger mystery than what Lopez will do — and exactly how much opportunity he’ll have to do it. Hahn signaled that the White Sox still plan to have Lopez as part of the 2020 rotation. But how does he fit in this puzzle? Giolito and Cease have spots locked down, and Kopech will pitch out of the rotation for much of the year, one would figure. If the White Sox make two additions to the starting staff this winter, what kind of room does that leave for Lopez?

And even if Lopez gets his shot at sticking in the starting five, how long can the White Sox afford to put up with any continued inconsistencies in a season they hope can feature the transition from rebuilding to contending?

“He's still a young kid, and there's still going to be development at the big league level,” Hahn said. “We've talked about this for years, that unfortunately it's not always linear. Sometimes these guys don't climb progressively with each and every start or each and every month. There's setbacks and there needs to be adjustments, not just from the mechanical side, which is probably what plagued Lopey more than anything in the first half, but sometimes from the approach and preparation side.

“He's learning. And this experience, I think, is going to be good for him. ... Lopey's going to be better for it, and you're going to see not only the improvement in terms of the mechanical adjustments that we made and you've seen over the course of the second half, but also from the approach. I think it's been a positive year for him, even if the results haven't been what anyone, including him, were looking for.

“At this time, as we sit here right now, we continue to remain very bullish on Reynaldo Lopez in the rotation. He's got the stuff, he's got the ability. We just need to see more consistency.”

Then there’s how Rodon, Dunning and Lambert could factor into things. Rodon is entering his final two years of team control with the White Sox and will only pitch, at maximum, in a year and a half of those. But will there even be room in the rotation for him upon his return from Tommy John? Hahn said Dunning might’ve been a part of the 2019 Opening Day rotation if not for his injury.

And all of that is before even knowing who the additions from outside the organization will be and how long those pitchers end up factoring into the White Sox plans.

It’s going to be a very interesting season from a starting-pitching standpoint, one in which some of the team’s long-term questions at the position should be answered.

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Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal highlight White Sox minor league all-star team

Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal highlight White Sox minor league all-star team

Until the White Sox start winning at the big league level, the minor league system will continue to be of extra importance to the fanbase.

Even as Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease joined the White Sox in 2019, there was still some high-level talent in the minors. MiLB.com broke down each position to come up with a team of White Sox minor league all-stars.

These players were picked solely based on production and not prospect status, but a number of prospects still found their way on the team.

Catcher: Yermin Mercedes

First base: Gavin Sheets

Second base: Nick Madrigal

Shortstop: Zach Remillard

Third base: Danny Mendick

Outfield: Luis Robert, Steele Walker and Daniel Palka

Utility: Matt Skole

Left-handed starter: Avery Weems

Right-handed starter: Jorgan Cavanerio

Relief pitcher: Will Kincanon

The obvious standouts are Robert and Madrigal. Both played at three levels before finishing in Triple-A Charlotte. Overall, Robert had a 1.001 OPS and Madrigal hit .311, including a .331 mark in Charlotte.

Both players are expected to be up with the White Sox for most of 2020.

Walker and Sheets, both former second-round picks, are also noteworthy prospects. Sheets, drafted in 2017, led the Double-A Southern League in RBIs and Walker, drafted in 2018, was productive at both levels of A ball.

MiLB.com played some games with the rest of the infield a bit with Mendick being listed at third base. Mendick played more games at second (48) and shortstop (42) than third base (38) for Charlotte. He started at all three of those spots as a September call-up for the White Sox. His versatility will be valuable going forward in the majors.

Mercedes became a hot topic among White Sox fans for a scorching hot season. The 26-year-old catcher split the year between Double-A and Triple-A and put up especially big numbers for Charlotte. He hit .310/.386/.647 in 53 games for the Knights, which should be enough of a resume to give him a chance to impress during next spring training.

Palka and Skole have been with the White Sox for multiple years in the majors and were a part of a dangerous Charlotte lineup. Meanwhile, Remillard is a career minor leaguer who had a nice season with Birmingham and Single-A Winston-Salem.

On the pitching side, Jonathan Stiever may have gotten robbed. The right-hander had a 3.48 ERA in 26 starts between both levels of A ball, including a 2.15 ERA in 12 starts with Winston-Salem. However, Cavanerio, 25, got the nod with a 3.13 ERA with the Dash in 19 starts.

Regardless of his exclusion on this team, Stiever emerged as a breakout prospect in 2019 and will be one to watch in 2020 as he enters the higher levels of the minors.

Weems was a sixth-round pick out of Arizona in the 2019 draft. The left-hander pitched in both levels of rookie ball and finished with a 2.09 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 10 walks in 60 1/3 innings.

Kincanon is a local product from suburban Riverside-Brookfield High School. The 23-year-old had 71 strikeouts and a 1.86 ERA in 58 innings for Winston-Salem.

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