White Sox

White Sox see Nate Jones tying bullpen together


White Sox see Nate Jones tying bullpen together

GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the first time in three years, the White Sox will begin a season able to pencil Nate Jones into the middle of their bullpen mix. 

Jones is finally healthy after undergoing a back procedure and Tommy John surgery that wiped out over a season and a half, limiting him to two games in 2014 and 19 games in 2015. He has the dubious distinction of being one of 48 players in major league history to have an infinite ERA in a season — he allowed four runs in two games and didn’t record an out before hitting the disabled list in 2014 — but returned strong last summer, posting a 3.32 ERA in 19 games. 

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The White Sox bullpen that was solid in 2015 (a 3.67 ERA, 16th in MLB), but could come together nicely with a full season of the flamethrowing Jones pitching in the latter innings.  

“(He’s) an important piece,” manager Robin Ventura said. “For him, you have that power arm back there that you can feel comfortable using multiple days.”

Few players may be enjoying the slog of spring training more than Jones, who admitted last year’s rehab process from Tommy John surgery left him on his own most of the time. 

“It makes you feel actually a part of the team,” Jones said. “Last spring training, I’d be coming in early, doing my rehab and stuff like that, everybody’s going up to play games and I’m stuck here.”

But that loneliness of sorts paid off when Jones returned to the White Sox bullpen last August. The White Sox eased him into high leverage spots, but when he started pitching in more of those, he excelled. Jones appeared in five high-leverage spots in August and September and didn’t allow a run in any of them, totaling six strikeouts, two walks and three hits in 5 2/3 innings. 

“It made me very thankful of all the rehabbing that I did,” Jones said of his return last year. “It got me back to that point. It just let me know, hey, I can do it. I worked my butt off during the rehab and this is the end product of it and I can still contribute.” 

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Ventura said he’ll have better flexibility to use Jones and Zach Duke in tight spots late in games this year to set up closer David Robertson, with the benefit there being an ability to avoid taxing either pitcher. The trickle-down to the rest of the bullpen will be positive, too, with Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam, Matt Albers and whoever else staffs the relief corps able to stay fresh throughout the season. 

“You can give a guy a break — that becomes the biggest thing is you don’t have to overuse people in the bullpen,” Ventura said. “That becomes the tough fight. You need to have enough depth that you’re not using the same guys that are back there the entire time.” 

White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked


White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked

For the biggest dreamers among the White Sox faithful, here's how this offseason might be playing out.

Rick Hahn said the team will make some additions to the pitching staff. So for those dreamers, it's a rush to the top of the list of free-agent starting pitchers, right? Why not hook one of the biggest fish in the pond?

The top of that list looks like this: Clayton Kershaw (should he choose to opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and seek a new, more lucrative one), Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin. Some might even have those last two names flipped, with Corbin, coming off an All-Star season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, second only to one of the best to ever throw a baseball.

The White Sox might not be capable of outbidding baseball's biggest spenders, and that's without even mentioning that they might simply not be looking to ink a hurler to a long-term contract. After all, that's what all those talented prospects are for, right? Assembling the rotation of the future? Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are all already part of the 2019 staff. Michael Kopech, when he's done recovering from Tommy John surgery, will join them in 2020. And Dylan Cease was just named MLB Pipeline's minor league pitcher of the year. With all that in mind, any offseason additions to the rotation for 2019 might simply be one-year fill-ins.

But fans often like to dream big, and a lot of them have Corbin on their wish list.

That's not surprising when you look at his numbers. He threw 200 innings last season and struck out 246 batters while finishing with a 3.15 ERA, those last two numbers the best of his six-year big league career. He's 29 years old and a long-term deal would figure to have him in the starting rotation as the White Sox plan to shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Just one problem: There's plenty of belief out there that Corbin's destination this winter has already been booked.

This has been a talking point for a while now, as the Yankees tried to bring Corbin to the Bronx via trade last offseason. They're expected to try to do so again, this time via free agency, as they've got a ton of money to spend. Corbin was quoted in the Nightengale story from April saying: "It would definitely be great to play there. I grew up a Yankee fan."

Sorry to burst your bubbles, White Sox fans. But don't blame me. Blame the Yankees, which seems to be becoming a frequent refrain. If Didi Gregorius' elbow injury means Manny Machado ends up in the Bronx this winter, too, White Sox fans might drop the Cubs as Public Enemy No. 1.

The White Sox have enough hurdles to clear in any pursuit of one of the game's top free agents: They have to compete with baseball's traditional big spenders, and they have to try and beat win-now pitches with a pitch of planned — though not yet arrived — long-term success. It's not like that hasn't been a winning battle before, though, as the rebuilding Cubs got Jon Lester to believe in their future and brought him in to help make their transition from rebuild to championship contention.

But throw in the hurdle of a history between a player and another team, and it makes it an even harder job.

The White Sox will be making some additions this offseason, though they might not be the ones fans are dreaming about. But not landing the winter's biggest fish doesn't mean the organization's biggest, most important dream of building a perennial contender on the South Side is going anywhere.

Top White Sox MiLB moments of 2018: Omar Vizquel's award-winning managerial debut

Top White Sox MiLB moments of 2018: Omar Vizquel's award-winning managerial debut

With the White Sox season over, we're looking back on the top 10 moments of the club's minor league season. We'll unveil one per day for 10 days, showcasing each moment in chronological order.

The moment: Omar Vizquel is named the Carolina League Manager of the Year, Sept. 13.

Vizquel became the third Winston-Salem Dash manager to be named Manager of the Year. The Dash went 84-54, the second-highest win total in franchise history and won the division title in both the first and second half.

Vizquel's season: As soon as Vizquel retired after the 2012 season, he went straight into coaching. First, he was an infield coach for the Angels in 2013. Then, he became the first base coach for the Tigers.

Vizquel remained there until taking the Dash job in the White Sox organization this season. Winston-Salem was an important post because seven of the top 10 and 16 of the top 30 prospects from MLB Pipeline's rankings spent some time there in 2018.

Vizquel was able to guide that talent to a whole bunch of winning. The Dash had the best record in the Carolina League in the regular season.

The playoffs did not go so well. The Dash got swept by the eventual league champion Buies Creek Astros in the first round.

Still, it was a successful managerial debut for Vizquel and the White Sox got to take advantage of his experience with a number of top prospects playing under him.

He may not manage the White Sox any time soon, but Vizquel's ties to the organization (two years playing with the team and now coaching in the organization) make him a possible candidate at some point in his managerial career.