Lucas Giolito

White Sox excited for Ivan Nova to play the James Shields role in 2019

White Sox excited for Ivan Nova to play the James Shields role in 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not every player who’s going to contribute to the next White Sox world championship is on the list of the organization’s top prospects. Not every player who’s going to contribute to the next White Sox world championship will be in the clubhouse for that champagne celebration.

Some of them are here now, in the days leading up to the transition from rebuilding to contending, helping to develop the players who will get their hands on that trophy.

Ivan Nova figures to be one of those guys. He was acquired this winter in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and has just one year left on his current contract. While Nova could surprise and turn in the kind of season that generates plenty of interest next winter, the White Sox rotation of the future is a crowded one full of exciting young arms: Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynadlo Lopez, Dane Dunning.

And so one of Nova’s main tasks this season is to be the veteran presence those guys need to develop into championship-caliber starting pitchers.

“I'm looking forward to watching him throw, talking to him,” Giolito said Thursday at Camelback Ranch. “He's a strike-thrower, he fills up the zone. That's what we need to do as a starting staff, so it's amazing we have a guy like that come in, fill up the zone.

“I'm looking forward to picking his brain, see how he attacks hitters and learn some more stuff from him.”

Giolito was one of the players most receptive to the player who filled this role last season, James Shields. Shields was the final player acquired during the “prebuild” days, but he had plenty of value once the White Sox transitioned to a full rebuild and acted as a mentor type to starting pitchers like Giolito.

This year, Nova’s that guy.

“Just like Shields last year, having a guiding force,” Giolito said. “And not just him, we picked up a few guys. I’m just in the beginning stages of meeting them, getting to know them. But, yeah, just having a few guys like that who can guide us in the right direction. Young guys, we’re kind of all over the place sometimes. So guys that can keep us grounded and keep us locked in and kind of show us the way about being a professional, being a big leaguer.”

“Really similar (to what Shields did last year),” manager Rick Renteria said Thursday. “Eat up some innings. Give us quality starts. Keep us in ballgames and allow us to hopefully get some back-end-of-the-bullpen situations. … A very well spoken young man. A professional. He gets after it, has a looseness to him, has been around the block on several organizations. He brings in experience and the ability to communicate with everybody across the board.”

So that’s what the White Sox are expecting from Nova. How does he feel about all that?

He joined the organization with a reputation as a great clubhouse presence and a mentor type to young pitchers in Pittsburgh. Clint Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager, raved about Nova after the trade during the Winter Meetings, calling him “a good pitcher and a good man” and “the definition of a pro.”

It seems Nova is ready to carry that over to the South Side.

“You can’t be shy. You’ve got to be yourself,” Nova said Thursday. “I’m probably new for a lot of these guys, but there are other guys I’ve seen in the past from playing against each other. So it’s not difficult.

“If I’ve got to approach somebody, I’ll do it my way. I’m not a type of guy that’s going to step up in front of everybody and say something. I don’t like to get involved in anyone’s personal space. But if I’ve got to say something to someone, I’m going to grab them aside and do it that way.”

While many White Sox fans will associate Shields with the trade of Fernando Tatis Jr. (now the No. 2 prospect in baseball) and the 92 home runs he gave up in two and a half seasons on the South Side, he was quite good in 2018, one of just 13 pitchers to log 200 innings.

If the White Sox can get that kind of on-field performance and the same type of off-field value that Shields provided out of Nova in 2019, they would figure to be happy with that.

Short-term contract. Long-term benefit.

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The White Sox rebuild is still a work in progress, but these guys want to win now: 'I'm sick of losing'

The White Sox rebuild is still a work in progress, but these guys want to win now: 'I'm sick of losing'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Spring training is a time of perennial optimism. Look no further than Nicky Delmonico digitally redecorating the front of the White Sox facility to crown them World Series champions in 2019, 2020 and 2021. That’s optimistic, to say the least.

But a few White Sox players might be throwing some frustration in with their optimism. Well, maybe not frustration so much as a chip on their shoulder, a hunger to finally accomplish what this organization has been building toward.

“I'm sick of losing, honestly,” starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said Thursday at Camelback Ranch. “I've been losing from the minor leagues, my last few years, coming up here. I'm ready to win.”

Giolito was talking from a personal standpoint. Excluding his brief stint with the 2016 Washington Nationals, you have to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time he was part of a team with a winning record: the Class A Hagerstown Suns, who went 82-58 in the South Atlantic League that season. Most recently, he was part of 2018’s 100-loss campaign on the South Side. And he was a featured player in that misfortune, leading baseball’s qualified pitchers with a 6.13 ERA and leading the American League with 90 walks.

Obviously, he would like to put all that in the rear-view mirror.

But personal results aside, there’s a feeling — inside the clubhouse, at the very least — that this team is ready to take the next step. How realistic that is remains to be seen given that Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and many other of the organization’s best young players will spend most if not all of the 2019 season away from the major leagues.

But the guys who are here now are ready to turn the corner, a little tired of talking about the far-off future and ready to show there should be a conversation about the present.

“We're about winning here,” Giolito said. “It's not about trying to win. It's not 'Oh we're feeling it out.' It's about winning now. That's pretty much it. That's the most fun, when you're winning. That's the mindset now. I'm all about it.”

Giolito echoed the message manager Rick Renteria gave his players a day earlier, and Renteria shared a bit of that with the media Wednesday.

“I think we're in a different phase in where we're at as an organization,” Renteria said. “It's the third year in all the change that's been going on. We expect a lot. We don't sell ourselves short. We're going to shoot high.”

This is all well and good for the players who have tried to win every game during this rebuilding process, even if the bulk of the organization’s talent has been busy developing in the minor leagues. Eloy Jimenez will arrive early in 2019 and figures to make this team better right away. The offseason additions of guys like Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay, Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera and Ivan Nova were upgrades. And there’s the possibility that Manny Machado comes to the South Side and serves as a transformational figure as the rebuild reaches its apex.

But there’s still time to go before Rick Hahn’s planned perennial contender is fully cooked.

Jimenez, Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Reynaldo Lopez will continue to develop at the major league level. And there are still many young players making their way through the minor league system. Are things progressing in a positive fashion? Absolutely, and people are right when they say that some of the biggest names of this process have reached or are about to reach the big league level. But that doesn’t mean it’s over.

“We’re very cognizant of fact of where we are in this rebuild,” Hahn said Wednesday. “We know we’re entering Year 3, have really been at it in earnest for 26 or 27 months. … It’s nice to start seeing some of the fruits of this labor, some of the guys we project to see playing big roles on championship clubs starting to work their way more toward that environment in the big league level.

“It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture from time to time and get focused on one or two potential moves that may be out there. But when you take a step back and you look at what we’ve been able to accomplish over the course of the first couple years and what it’s going to start looking like over the course of the next couple, it’s hard not to get excited.”

Of course optimism is allowed at this stage in the baseball calendar, when every team is tied for first place. The White Sox know the train has not yet reached the end of the rebuilding track, but that fact isn’t going to dampen their springtime expectations, it’s not going to curb their preseason appetite. They’ve kept hearing about how bright the future is, and they’re confident in that. But some of these guys are ready for the present being bright, too.

“Sky’s the limit,” outfielder Jon Jay said Wednesday. “You never know what’s going to happen, that’s the beauty of baseball. You’ve got to play 162 games. There’s a ton of talent in this room. A lot of guys had positive years, positive second halves or whatnot, stuff where you can look at it.

“The goal is to look up in September and have a chance to play in October. That’s what we’re all here for and what we’re striving for.”

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The White Sox connection to Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom that once and for all proves pitcher wins are meaningless

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USA TODAY

The White Sox connection to Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom that once and for all proves pitcher wins are meaningless

Jacob deGrom was excellent for the New York Mets in 2018, and his sensational campaign was rewarded Wednesday with the NL Cy Young Award.

The Mets' ace led baseball with a 1.70 ERA and struck out 269 batters in 217 innings. The other end of that spectrum was Lucas Giolito, who in his first full season in the big leagues had the highest ERA in baseball (among qualified pitchers) at 6.13. He struck out 125 guys in 173.1 innings.

It would seem to be two dramatically different seasons, but in one area the two were very much the same. Just look at this factoid dug up by ESPN's Sarah Langs:

That's right, the White Sox were just as good in Giolito's starts as the Mets were in deGrom's starts, and the two pitchers finished with an identical number of victories on the season.

So if there was still any doubt that the pitcher win has become a meaningless stat, this ought to erase it.

That's not to come down on Giolito, who said he learned an awful lot from his struggles during the White Sox rebuilding season, lessons the team expects will benefit him down the road in seasons when the White Sox are contending for championships. Instead, it's to point out that the pitcher win, which has long since fell out of favor as a stat used to analyze how good someone is, is officially dead. After all, deGrom ranked 47th in wins and still managed to be arguably the game's best pitcher last season.

Obviously deGrom had no control over what the rest of his Mets teammates did in games he started. He allowed an average of fewer than two runs every time he took the mound. The Mets averaged fewer than three and a half runs in games deGrom started, more than half a run fewer than they averaged over the course of the 162-game season.

White Sox fans familiar with the Jose Quintana Era can relate.

Again, Giolito is expected to improve with experience as his career goes on. And it's important to remember that 2018 was never supposed to be about what his numbers looked like at the end but what they'll look like in the future.

Another lesson to take from 2018, though? The pitcher win is deader than disco.