White Sox

White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia to try 'different' stance


White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia to try 'different' stance

He experienced enough inconsistency last season to make a change, and so far Avisail Garcia is encouraged after making a slight tweak to his batting stance.

Though they also remain hopeful, the White Sox are realistic that Garcia has much ground to cover.

But with spring training near — pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 19 — the expectation is the young outfielder will receive enough repetitions to get comfortable with a new stance at the plate before Opening Day.

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Although they don’t see it as a radical change, last month, the White Sox started to work with Garcia to stand taller in the box. They think he’ll need time to adjust to and get comfortable with the alterations. But if the plan works, the White Sox are confident Garcia can eliminate some of the inconsistencies that dominated his 2015 campaign.

And only then might Garcia — who hit .257/.309/.365 with 13 home runs and 58 RBIs in 601 plate appearances — fulfill the lofty expectations that were attached to him when he was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade in July 2013.

“We’re working to get better because last year I was down then up,” Garcia said late last month. “This year I am focused to be tall and being patient and swinging at strikes. When I swing at strikes, I can hit like the start of the season.”

Garcia looked like he may realize his potential when he began last season hitting at a .346/.380/.492 clip in his first 137 plate appearances. Buoyed by an impossible-to-sustain .423 average on balls in play, Garcia had 11 extra-base hits, including four homers, and drove in 17 runs in a torrid start that ran from Opening Day through mid-May.  

Then came the bad times, and they arrived in bunches.

Whether due to bad luck, pitchers’ adjustments or struggling teammates, Garcia’s production collapsed.

He produced a .383 OPS over 11 games (41 plate appearances) from May 18-June 4. A 46-game homerless stretch from June 9-Aug. 3 resulted in a .533 OPS over 187 plate appearances. And Garcia endured another lengthy streak from Sept. 2-25 when he had a .536 OPS in 87 plate appearances.

Throughout it all, Garcia switched stances as he tried to find proper balance at the plate.

Either he saw the ball well, but couldn’t connect for much power whenever he crouched near the front, or he had poor pitch selection and a more powerful stroke deep in the box. Rarely did he find middle ground.

But those struggles may have given Garcia the perspective necessary to realize changes at the plate are needed. Last month, hitting coach Todd Steverson traveled to Miami for a three-day session with Garcia and Jose Abreu. He found Garcia receptive and together they developed a plan.

Steverson is encouraged by the initial work, though he stressed that it’s early in the process.

“You can tell people, tell people, tell people,” Steverson said. “But until they get a hold of it in their own head that says, ‘It’s time to make an adjustment’ or ‘It’s time to do something different,’ then that’s when it comes down to it.

“We put in some time. We need more time, a good thing about spring training. But we’ve done some things that are positive. He likes it. It’s going to take a while repetition-wise to get used to it. He’s gonna look different than you’ve seen, I’ll say that.

“It’s nothing drastic, but hopefully it allows him to be more competitive.”

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Abreu admits that he’s naturally an optimistic guy. Still, he called the three-day session “important” and likes how Garcia is carrying himself. Abreu said he mostly reaffirmed what Steverson said to Garcia and likes how the outfielder has responded.

“Especially to see Avi in the shape that he is and the kind of mindset that he is having now,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “It’s very good.”

“When I look at him, I think that wow, he could be that kind of player that all people are suspecting.”

The White Sox could use a heavy dose of good from Garcia.

In December, they upgraded the lineup with the additions of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie and a catching combo projected to produce 3 Wins Above Replacement, according to ZiPS.

But an offense that produced three or fewer runs in 82 contests in 2015 needs as much help as it can get.

The team — which is projected to win 84-85 games — has since pursued free agent outfielders Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes only to come up short.

While Rick Hahn said he’ll continue to look for roster upgrades before the team’s April 4 opener at Oakland, the White Sox are likely to give Garcia his share of at-bats. But they need him to be much better than the player who finished 115th out of 141 qualified hitters with an isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .108 — especially if his defense doesn’t improve.

“He’s got work to do, there’s no question about it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He understands where he’s at in his career and what he needs to do in order to make improvements in different parts in his game. Everybody reacts differently when they get in that situation and I’ve really enjoyed and liked his reaction to it. He’s come in great shape, ready to go and is determined to prove to everybody that he should be on a roster and playing every day.”

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Said Hahn: “We believe in the talent. There are specific things he needs to work on and he knows that. And he has the aptitude to make those adjustments.”

Garcia said he’s worked hard to prepare himself for success. This offseason differed from the previous one. In 2014, Garcia played winter ball to make up for the at-bats he lost to a shoulder injury. This winter, Garcia stayed home and focused more on physical preparation, resulting in a slimmer build.

Though he did offer a declaration of self-confidence, Garcia didn’t discuss his plan much to avoid setting high expectations.

“I know who I am and what I can offer to my team,” Garcia said. “I really don’t want to get into what I can and can’t prove.

“It’s just not good to spread expectations like that.

“I know I can do better. That’s why I’ve been preparing myself. When you work hard and prepare for something you don’t have a chance to fall.”

Charlie Tilson plays in Detroit for first time since getting injured in his MLB debut

Charlie Tilson plays in Detroit for first time since getting injured in his MLB debut

For over two years, Charlie Tilson was starting to look like his own version of "Moonlight" Graham, the player made famous in the movie "Field of Dreams" because he played in one major league game and never got to bat.

The White Sox traded for Tilson just before the trade deadline passed in 2016. Two days later he made his big league debut with the White Sox in Detroit. He got a single in his first at-bat, but left the game with an injury and missed the rest of the season. Tilson also missed all of the 2017 season and his MLB future was starting to come into question.

Back healthy, Tilson started this season in Triple-A Charlotte and hit .248 in 39 games when he got called up to replace Leury Garcia, who was placed on the disabled list. On Thursday, Tilson returned to a big league field for the first time in more than 20 months. He went 0-for-3 in a loss to Baltimore.

Friday marked a return to the site of Tilson's big league debut and the injury that made it such a brief stint. Tilson has now played three big league games, over the course of nearly 21 months, and two of them have been in Detroit.

Tilson went 1-for-4, meaning both his hits are in Comerica Park. The White Sox lost 5-4 after giving up three runs in the bottom of the eighth.

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

Lucas Giolito is having a rough go of things in his second year with the White Sox.

He came into the season with some pretty high expectations after posting a 2.38 ERA in seven starts at the end of the 2017 campaign and then dominating during spring training. But he’s done anything but dominate since this season started, and after one of his worst outings in Thursday’s 9-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, he’s got a 7.53 ERA in 10 starts in 2018.

Giolito stuck around for only four outs Thursday, but he allowed the Orioles to do plenty of damage, giving up seven runs on six hits — two of which were back-to-back home runs to start the second inning — and three walks. He leads the American League with his 37 walks.

“I take what I do very seriously. I work as hard as I can at it,” Giolito said. “So when I experience failure like this, it’s kind of hard to deal with. All I can do is come back tomorrow, keep working on things and hopefully have a better one.”

All of Giolito’s struggles have fans wondering why the White Sox haven’t sent him down to Triple-A to work on his craft.

“I don’t foresee that at this particular time,” Rick Renteria said when asked if Giolito could be sent to Triple-A. “I think he’s just a young man who’s got to continue to minimize the emotional aspect of crossing from preparation into the game and staying focused, relaxed and hammer the zone with strikes. And truthfully it’s just first-pitch strike and get after the next one.”

The White Sox have already sent one young pitcher down in Carson Fulmer, who was having a nightmarish time at the big league level. Fulmer’s results were worse than Giolito’s on a regular basis. He got sent down after posting an 8.07 ERA in nine outings.

But hasn’t Giolito suffered through command issues enough to warrant some time away from the major league limelight? According to his manager, Giolito’s situation is vastly different than Fulmer’s.

“I don’t see them anywhere near each other,” Renteria said. “They’re two different competitors in terms of the outcomes that they’ve had. Lucas has at least had situations in which he might have struggled early and been able to gain some confidence through the middle rounds of his start and continue to propel himself to finish some ballgames, give us six or seven innings at times. So it’s two different guys.

“With Gio, I expect that we would have a nice clean start from the beginning, but when he doesn’t I still feel like if he gets through it he’ll settle down and continue to hammer away at what he needs to do in order to get deeper into a ballgame, and that was a little different with Carson. With Carson it was right from the get-go he was struggling, and he had a difficult time extending his outings after the third or fourth because it just kept getting too deep into his pitch count and not really hammering the strike zone as much.”

Renteria is not wrong. Giolito has had a knack to take a rough beginning to a start and turn it into five or six innings. Notably, he gave up a couple first-inning runs and walked seven hitters and still got the win against the Cubs a week and a half ago. And while his first-inning ERA is 10.80 and his second-inning ERA is 12.54, he’s pitched into at least the sixth inning in seven of his 10 starts.

Renteria’s point is that Giolito is learning how to shake off early damage and achieving the goal, most times out, of eating up innings and keeping his team in the game. Those are a couple valuable qualities to develop for a young pitcher. But are those the lone qualities that determine that Giolito is suited to continue his learning process at the major league level? His command remains a glaring problem, and both he and Renteria admitted that his problems are more mental than physical.

“The one thing everyone has to understand is we have to go beyond the physical and attack a little bit more of the mental and emotional and try to connect and slow that down,” Renteria said. “Those aspects are the ones that ultimately, at times, deal in the derailment of the physical action. So if we can kind of calm that down a little bit.

“He’s very focused. Giolito is high intensity. Nice kid but high-intensity young man when he gets on the mound. You might not believe it. He’s going 100 mph. So I think it goes to more just trusting himself, trusting the process, taking it truthfully one pitch at a time.”

Well, if a demotion to the minors isn’t likely, what about moving Giolito to the bullpen? Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale dipped their toes in bullpen waters before moving to the rotation. Could a reversal of that strategy help Giolito?

Well, the current state of the White Sox starting rotation — Fulmer in the minors, Miguel Gonzalez on the 60-day DL and pitchers like James Shields, Hector Santiago and Dylan Covey, who aren’t exactly long-term pieces, getting a lot of starts — doesn’t really allow for another piece to be removed.

“I know they have done it with Rodon and Sale,” Renteria said. “The difference is we don’t have the makeup of the starting rotation that those clubs had in order to put those guys in the ‘pen. We are in a different situation right now. Moving forward, is that something we can possibly do? Absolutely. It has been done with very good success.

“Right now we are in truly discovery mode and adjustment mode and adapting and trying to do everything we can to get these guys to develop their skill sets to be very usable and effective at the major league level and we are doing it to the best of our ability.”

There could be promise in the fact that Giolito has turned a season around as recently as last year. Before he was impressing on the South Side in August and September, he was struggling at Triple-A Charlotte. Even after he ironed things out, things had gotten off to a rocky enough start that he owned a 4.48 ERA and 10 losses when he was called up to the bigs.

It doesn’t seem Giolito will be going back to Charlotte, unless things continue to go in a dramatically poor direction. Right now, these are just more of the growing pains during this rebuilding process. “The hardest part of the rebuild” doesn’t just means wins and losses. It means watching some players struggle through speed bumps as they continue to develop into what the White Sox hope they’ll be when this team is ready to compete.