White Sox

White Sox report card: Cutting down

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White Sox report card: Cutting down

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Posted 7:25 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. The Chicago White Sox opened camp with fewer players in the mix than in past years, so the fact that 15 players have moved out of the major league clubhouse means that time is getting tight for those remaining in the fight to head to Cleveland for April Fools Day.

There are 38 players remaining, but the big questions leftquestions that manager Ozzie Guillen claims will unlikely be made until the end of the monthare which of 15 players will fit into the final bench spot and as the 12th arm in the bullpen.

Fifteen players, two slots. Those are the long odds bubble players face when the big club goes All-In.

Stats are through games of March 16.

12th Bullpen Arm

Seven pitchers remain, and Guillen has recently added intrigue to the proceedings with his backing of Gregory Infante despite the righthanders 6.00 spring ERA. Heres a guide on how to handicap the arms race as time begins to run short in camp.

The Pick: Jeff Marquez

Marquez has pitched under the radar so far, using his wild streak (two hit batters, two wild pitches in 7 13 innings) to great effectiveness (10 Ks and a 0.00 ERA). The 26-year-old can be stretched out for more than an inning, a plus given the only multi-inning reliever guaranteed a spot in the pen in Tony Pena and his 4.91 spring ERA. Finally, some recompense for the abomination that was Nick Swisher.

Runners-Up: Phil Humber, Infante, Josh Kinney

Both pitchers had .258 batting averages against, and Humber has every right to the 12th spot as Marquez. But the former bonus baby has less of a wow factor with his arm than Marquez, and we know GM Ken Williams likes a power pen. Plus, the White Sox wouldnt mind seeing him devote his time to starting, in case there are any injuries in the five-man, big-league rotation.

Infante was crisp in his September audition in 2010 and has done nothing to hurt his chances of eventually being a short man in the White Sox pen. But he could use another year of seasoning after pitching nearly all of 2010 at Double-A Birmingham.

Kinney has been sharp in four spring outings, compiling a 1.80 ERA over five innings and a .278 batting average against, just not sharp enough to merit inclusion in the bullpen out of camp.

They Gone: Jeff Gray, Brian Bruney, Shane Lindsay

Gray got off to a splashy start with 1 13 innings of scoreless baseball in the White Sox opener, but has gone downhill since. Hes at 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA and a .333 average against. Wednesdays poor outing vs. the San Francisco Giants likely sealed his fate as one of the next wave of drops, likely coming on Friday.

Lindsay has been one of the most heartwarming stories of camp, a native Australian once knocked out for a year by shoulder problems. And Lindsay has impressed, to the tune of a 0.00 ERA until getting rocked for three runs in one inning on Thursday. But hes pitched in just three games, an indication that the team is not seriously looking at him to turn a strong few Cactus League weeks into a major-league roster spot.

Bruney started strong but also has been roughed up recently. Bruney has thrown better than Gray, with a 4.50 spring ERA, a save, and a terrific .217 batting average against. But thats not going to be good enough.

4th spot on the bench

There are eight players vying for this last bench spot alongside Ramon Castro, Mark Teahen, and Omar Vizquel. Whats sad, if not unsurprising, is that some of the best performers in camp come from this group of players, fighting for their major-league lives.
The Pick: Lastings Milledge

The pick could easily be at least five of the other seven players, but Milledge brings a wow factor to the White Sox that could prove crucial in the case of a prolonged slump or injury. The onetime first-rounder has proven nearly as sound defensively as Brent Lillibridge and Alejandro De Aza and is every bit the baserunner. He also brings more pop as evidenced by his pair of home runs on Thursday to bring his Cactus league total to four.
Lastings Milledge has displayed all of his "five-tool" potential that made him the top prospect of the New York Mets farm system only a few seasons ago. (AP)
Fundamentally (bunting), he might trail the competition, but the White Sox have enough bunters on the roster. It also helps that as the fifth outfielder (given that Teahen will likely see a healthy chunk of time spelling Carlos Quentin in right), Milledge balances the bench as a right-hander, which gives him an advantage over De Aza. Perhaps the biggest advantage Milledge has over the competition is five walks against five strikeoutsall of the other aspirant outfielders are much heavier on the Ks.

The Runners-Up: Tyler Flowers, Lillibridge, De Aza

If the Cactus League was a true, open competition, Flowers would not only break camp with the White Sox, hed probably start on Opening Day. But thats not the way the major leagues work, and Flowers largely disappointing 2010 necessitated the return of both A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro. The 25-year-old has proven worthy with his glove and arm, and the White Sox staff is really impressed with his maturity, especially in calling a game. But Flowers calling card has always been his lumber, and with a 1.233 OPS this spring, hes been mashing beyond expectations.

For his defensive flexibility alone, Id tabbed Lillibridge as the 25th man, but the reemergence of Teahen and continued strong play of veteran Vizquel has minimized such flexibility as a pressing need. Lillibridge has an outrageous eight RBI already on the spring, but hes not going to be looked to as a run producer. A .772 OPS isnt horrible, but two walks against seven strikeouts is not what the Chicago coaching staff is looking for.

De Aza is a Guillen favorite, and he does a little bit of everything well, with wheels of fire. But again, plate discipline is a key for the little guys, and De Aza is walking just once for every five Ks.

They Gone: Donny Lucy, Dallas McPherson

Lucy is the catching equivalent of Jim Gallagher for the White Sox, an everyman who just puts his head down and does his job each day. His bat has cooled, but with Flowers raking, hes no better than fourth on the catching depth chart anyway.

McPherson was an extreme insurance policy, in case both Brent Morel and Teahen disappeared in a windstorm. The 30-year-old veteran impressed Guillen early in camp, but slowed considerably after the first week. He has an unimpressive 10 Ks in 13 gamesyoure only allowed rates like that if you can launch moon shots like Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn.
Wild Cards: Jordan Danks, Dayan Viciedo

Before breaking his thumb last week, Viciedo was perhaps the biggest surprise of camp so far, with surprisingly intuitive defense in right field and continued stop-what-youre-doing-and-watch pop at the plate (.500.478). Thankfully he is back to baseball activity and could be ready to hit the field about the time the team breaks camp. That means ifwhen Quentin is hurt this season, Viciedo has earned the first look as his medium-to-long-term replacement.

Danks even has owner Jerry Reinsdorfs attention as an up-and-comer. He had every right to have been moved out of major league camp one or two cuts earlier, and Danks isnt just hanging around because his big brother is an easygoing lefty ace named John.

Like Viciedo, Danks isnt big on patienceone walk in his first 20 at-batsbut his revamped swing also has yielded just four Ks in that time as well. Danks has pop and catches everything launched his way. Charlotte is going to have fun watching an outfield of Stefan Gartrell, Danks, and Viciedo this summer.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

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AP

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

It wasn’t long ago that the question was: “Why isn’t Michael Kopech pitching in the major leagues?”

The question is now firmly: “What’s wrong with Michael Kopech?”

The new script is of course a reflection of how quickly opinions change during a baseball season, when “what have you done for me lately?” tends to drive the conversation more than looking at the entire body of work.

But the body of work doesn’t look too awesome for the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect these days. He carries a 5.08 ERA through 14 starts with Triple-A Charlotte. But it’s the recent struggles that have folks second guessing whether he’s ready for the big leagues.

The month of June hasn’t gone well for Kopech, who has a 9.00 ERA in four starts this month. That features two especially ugly outings, when he allowed seven runs in two innings and five runs in three outings. But for a guy who’s got blow-em-away stuff, it’s the walks that are of the utmost concern to box-score readers: He’s got 21 of them in 16 innings over his last four starts. That’s compared to 20 strikeouts.

More walks than strikeouts is never a good thing, and it’s been a glaring bugaboo for White Sox pitchers at the major league level all season. Kopech wasn’t having that problem when this season started out. He struck out 68 batters and walked only 25 over his first 10 starts. But things have changed.

With director of player development Chris Getz on the horn Thursday to talk about all of the promotions throughout the minor league system, he was asked about Kopech and pointed to Wednesday’s outing, which lasted only five innings and featured four more walks. But Kopech only allowed two earned runs, and Getz called it a good outing.

“Last night I was really happy with what he was able to do, and that’s really in comparison looking at his last probably four outings or so,” Getz said. “He did have a little bit of a hiccup, getting a little erratic. He was getting a little quick in his delivery, his lower half wasn’t picking up with his upper half. The command of his pitches was not there.

“But last night, although the line is not the best line that we’ve seen of Michael this year, it was still a very good outing. He was in the zone, commanding the fastball. His body was under control. He threw some good breaking pitches, a couple of good changeups. He was back to being the competitor we are accustomed to. We are hoping to build off of this outing. I know he’s feeling good about where he’s at from last night and we’ll just kind of go from there.”

It’s important to note, of course, that the White Sox are often looking for things that can’t be read in a box score. So when we see a lot of walks or a lot of hits or a small amount of strikeouts, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it count as everything the decision makers in the organization are looking at.

Still, this is development and growth in action — and perhaps a sign that the White Sox have been right in not yet deeming Kopech ready for the majors. Kopech perhaps needs the time at Triple-A to work through these issues rather than be thrown into a big league fire.

As for how these struggles will affect his timeline, that remains to be seen. The White Sox aren’t ruling anything out, not promising that he’ll be on the South Side before the end of this season but certainly not ruling it out either.

“If he builds off of what he did last night, commanding his fastball, his breaking pitches continue to kind of define themselves, I think we’ve got a chance to see him,” Getz said. “He’s going to find his way to the big leagues. He’s going to be an impact frontline type starter. I’m very confident in that.

“Now just like a lot of great players, sometimes it’s a meandering path. And to say that he’s gone off track is not fair because it’s only been a couple of outings. I think he’s in a really good spot. If he builds off of this, I don’t think it’s unfair to think he’ll be up here at some point.”

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Rick Hahn’s been saying it all year: The good ones have a way of forcing the issue.

Consider Dylan Cease one of the good ones.

The pitcher acquired alongside top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez in last summer’s crosstown trade with the Cubs was one of the more than a dozen players promoted within the White Sox farm system Thursday. He put up stellar numbers during the first half with Class A Winston-Salem and because of it is on his way to Double-A Birmingham.

While many rebuild-loving fans could’ve forecasted Jimenez’s rapid journey through the organization, Cease’s acceleration is one that even the White Sox are considering a “pleasant surprise.”

“There’s definitely been some pleasant surprises,” Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, said Thursday. “For one, I think Dylan Cease was a guy, heading into the season, his first full year with us, the focus was: every fifth day, a full season’s worth of innings. He’s more or less forced our hand.

“He's really come on, he’s pitching with four pitches, four plus pitches, he’s commanding the ball, very mature kid. And he’s certainly ready for the next challenge at Double-A.”

Cease turned in a 2.89 ERA in his 13 starts with Winston-Salem, striking out 82 batters in 71.2 innings. Considering he made just 25 starts above Rookie ball during his time in the Cubs’ organization, the dominance in his first taste of High A is quite the positive for the White Sox.

The team’s starting rotation of the future is a mighty crowded one, with roughly a dozen different guys competing for those spots: current big leaguers Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito; Triple-A arms Michael Kopech, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams; Double-A hurlers Cease, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning; and Class A pitchers Lincoln Henzman and Blake Battenfield, both of whom earned their own promotions Thursday.

There’s a lot of time before the White Sox have to settle on which five will make up that future starting staff. But Cease could be doing the work of making a name for himself, something that hasn’t been easy to do. With all the love he’s getting, he’s still the organization’s fourth-ranked pitching prospect. Heck, thanks to Jimenez, he wasn’t the top-ranked guy in his own trade.

But Cease is getting attention now, and if he keeps pitching like this, he could keep forcing the White Sox hand.