White Sox

White Sox: Three players with most to prove in 2016

avi-garcia-saladino-sox-0111.png

White Sox: Three players with most to prove in 2016

February 19th (the first Spring Training workout for White Sox pitchers and catchers) can't get here soon enough. 

While everyone at U.S. Cellular Field wants to wash out the bad taste from the 2015 season, there are some players that have a lot to prove. We know about the veterans that are in need of bounce back seasons, but there are younger players who need to make a statement to the front office in 2016 about their role with the franchise going forward.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Here are three players that have the most to gain (or lose) in 2016 for the White Sox:

Tyler Saladino: Barring any other dramatic roster changes, Saladino will be the only position player in the White Sox Opening Day lineup that came through the team's farm system. Saladino will be faced with the task of replacing Alexei Ramirez, who was extremely durable for the South Siders at shortstop since he took over in 2008, and buying top prospect Tim Anderson more time to develop. Anderson (.312/.350/.459 in Double-A) seems to still be making progress in the minors but isn't quite ready to take the starting job at the big leagues just yet. Saladino showed he needs to be on the field because of his defense (something the White Sox lacked last year). He came back down to earth at the plate (just five hits in his final 40 plate appearances) after coming up hot from the minors. The 2016 season will allow Saladino to show whether he's capable of holding down a starting spot and whether his bat is more like his first 18 games (.260/.313/.397) or last 18 games (.135/.200/.297).

[MORE: Ramirez leaves Chicago, signs contract with San Diego]

Erik Johnson: There's a spot to be had at the end of the White Sox rotation, and it has Johnson's name all over it. The Most Valuable Pitcher of the International League in 2015 was "Mr. Solo Home Run" when he came up to the majors, giving up eight home runs with six of them being one-run bombs. But outside of that, Johnson pitched well in six starts (3-1, 3.34 ERA 1.40 WHIP). While it's not the end of the world, the Sox would surely love to have at least one right-hander in their rotation (LHPs Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana and John Danks likely taking the other spots). Johnson, like Saladino, could ease some of the pressure off another Sox top prospect, Carson Fulmer. If Johnson is pitching well, there's less of a rush to bring Fulmer up like the Sox did with Rodon. The 2015 first-round pick could either spend more time developing in the minors or be used in a bullpen role if he truly proves to be ready. Regardless, Johnson has the opportunity to make a big impression if he can lock down a spot in 2016 and going forward.

Avisail Garcia: Piece to build around? Or fourth outfielder? That's what 2016 should (hopefully) decide for Garcia. His first full (and reasonably healthy) season in the majors saw average results both in the field (even with a few home-run robbing catches) and at the plate (.257/.309/.365 13 HR 59 RBI). With the White Sox reportedly in pursuit of other free agent outfielders, it seems as if he could be a candidate to be the team's starting designated hitter and the Sox need all the pop in the middle of the lineup they can get to surround Jose Abreu. But it's clear Garcia needs to live up to his potential at the plate sooner rather than later.

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

0520-reynaldo-lopez.jpg
USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

0130_carlos_rodon.jpg
USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

Carlos Rodon's return to the South Side is coming soon.

The top-five draft pick recovering from last fall's shoulder surgery made his first rehab start Saturday with Class A Kannapolis and threw well. Rodon allowed just one run on three hits in his five innings of work, striking out six and walking none.

The White Sox announced Sunday that Rodon's second rehab start will come Thursday with Triple-A Charlotte.

As for the exact date Rodon returns to the big league roster, it's unknown at this point. General manager Rick Hahn said that Rodon will make multiple rehab starts. One might look to the pitcher's recovery from a spring injury last year as a guide. Rodon made four rehab starts in June before debuting with the White Sox on June 28.

This recovery is different, of course. Rodon is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28.