White Sox

White Sox won’t force it with Avisail Garcia’s development

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White Sox won’t force it with Avisail Garcia’s development

It’s easy to forget Avisail Garica will only turn 24 in June, given the White Sox outfielder is already in his fourth major league season and has played in more World Series games (three) than every one of his teammates besides Melky Cabrera.

His youth means there’s likely more to his game than his impressive start to the season would show. But his coaches aren’t thinking about where he can grow his game, not while he has a .872 OPS through 33 games.

“Experience is going to the biggest thing for him once he levels out, as far as understanding what people are trying to do to him and go from there,” manager Robin Ventura said. “… (We) kind of stay away from the ‘we’re going to take him a step further’ mentality. Just let him play and continue to understand the strike zone and I think he’s going to be great.”

Garcia’s two-run home run in the ninth inning Sunday helped the White Sox secure a fifth consecutive victory, and over the course of that winning streak he has 11 hits in 22 at-bats with two home runs. Both those home runs have been to right-center, and three of his four homers this year have gone out to center or right.

Eventually, the White Sox believe Garcia will develop the kind of pull power that could turn him into a 20-plus home run player. But Ventura & Co. aren’t going to try to force that left field power out of the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Venezuela native who could pass for an NFL linebacker.

“As far as being able to put the bat on it, he’s great,” Ventura said. “The power is there. Nobody with his size doesn’t really have it. We saw that in Oakland his last at-bat.”

[MORE: White Sox staying confident through ups and downs]

Hitting coach Todd Steverson said he’s been pleased with Garcia’s pitch recognition and his ability to fight off tough pitches until he gets the one he wants. So far, Garcia’s been turning those opportune pitches into hits.

Garcia credited his time in the Venezuelan Winter League as a key undercurrent to his strong start. He played in 34 games this winter, collecting 125 at-bats that have proven critical for a guy who missed a big chunk of time with a shoulder injury in 2014.

“It helped me a lot because I lost, like, three months last year and playing helped me a lot because I saw more pitches,” Garcia said. “They had really good pitchers over there, so I saw pitches, curveballs, sliders, and I made adjustments.”

But another undercurrent to Garica’s hot start has been a .423 batting average on balls in play, a mark that’s unlikely to be sustainable over a full season. The highest BABIP a qualified major league hitter has had since 2007 was .396 (Austin Jackson in 2010), so eventually Garcia is bound to see fewer hits on the balls he puts in play.

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That doesn’t mean, though, that Garcia can’t continue to grow as a hitter and produce at a high level even if his luck turns a bit. Again, he’s only in his age 24 season and is playing in career game No. 175 Monday night.

There’s still plenty of room to grow, but the White Sox don’t want Garcia thinking about the big picture in the middle of a season.

“He’s got a high ceiling,” Steverson said. “But you don’t want to sit there and put that kind of pressure on him right now. Let him go play...He’s a great part of our lineup right now.”

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.