Mark Grudzielanek

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 1st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 1st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Conventional wisdom would tell you that when a guy hits 66 homers in one MLB season, he must've gotten off to a heck of a hot start.

But that wasn't the case for Sammy Sosa in 1998, who didn't hit his first longball until the fifth game of the season and only had six dingers in the campaign's first month.

The first homer came courtesy of Marc Valdes and the Montreal Expos on April 4, 1998, a solo shot to the opposite field in the third inning.

That helped stake Terry Mulholland and the Cubs to a 3-1 victory. Sosa's first homer of 1998 traveled 371 feet.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was Sosa's counterpart in right field that game as the young Expos star (23 at the time) was just beginning his stretch of Hall of Fame seasons.

Fun fact Part II: Mark Grudzielanek was the Montreal leadoff hitter in that game, just a couple months before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Grudzielanek then became a member of the Cubs for the 2003-04 seasons.

White Sox prospect Carson Fulmer leaves games early, expected to make next start

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Carson Fulmer leaves games early, expected to make next start

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carson Fulmer left Tuesday night's game early but he should be back on the mound again in time for his next start.

The Triple-A Charlotte pitcher exited in the top of the sixth inning with a cramp in his right leg, Knights manager Mark Grudzielanek said. Fulmer informed the staff he had cramped up in the third inning and received treatment. He returned to the mound but had to exit again in the sixth. The Knights lost 5-3 to the Toledo MudHens in 10 innings at BB&T Ballpark.

“He just cramped up. It was a hot night and it was his push-off leg,” Grudzielanek said. “His actions, he was feeling it so we got him out of there.

“He was a cramping up a few innings, probably the end of the third he came in a little tight, worked him out, hydrated him and tried to get him feeling a little better, loosened him up. He looked good in the fourth but it came back after the fifth.”

“Absolutely, he’ll be fine. It was cramps. It wasn’t anything other than that. You get better, you move on and he’ll make his next start and be ready to go like he always does.”

[MORE: Why White Sox prospect Lucas Giolito feels as good as he has all season

Fulmer moved on after a slow first inning cost him three runs. The right-hander yielded a three-run homer to ex-Cubs prospect Jeimer Candelario in the first inning, one of three first-inning hits Fulmer allowed. But Fulmer, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, settled down and retired 10 straight batters.

Fulmer is 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA in 24 starts this season.

“He hung some pitches and got behind a little bit and when that happens you put some runners on, put a good swing on it and it leaves the park,” Grudzielanek said. “He understands the consequences when you get behind hitters.

“He looked good after that. He’s working his offspeed pitches. I thought he threw for strikes earlier in the counts and got ahead of some of the hitters and had some rollouts and some easy fly balls and he was a different pitcher there for four or five innings.”

Fun and fluid: Drill sharpens White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada's defensive skills

Fun and fluid: Drill sharpens White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada's defensive skills

All the tools Yoan Moncada needs to be a good defensive second baseman are already in place. He just needs to learn how to access them more quickly and effectively.

Tapping into those elite abilities is a critical part of the development plan the White Sox have in place for their super prospect, who is currently the top-ranked minor leaguer in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com.

One way the White Sox have tried to unlock Moncada's gifts is by having him participate in a simple batting practice drill designed to enhance his fun and fluidity. The impact of the exercise could be seen Friday night when Moncada --- who also had two hits --- made a pair of outstanding turns on double plays for Triple-A Charlotte and also threw out another runner from deep in the hole.

"Since Day 1 he's gotten better," White Sox player development director Chris Getz said. "He's just another kid that needs to get the reps. He's into it, he's engaged and plays with energy.

"He's a solid defender and put that together with the offensive package and he's got a chance to be a very impactful player at the major league level."

The offensive potential has consistently been on display since the middle of March when Moncada's bat took off. Moncada has an .899 OPS in 68 plate appearances at Triple-A Charlotte, including four home runs, after he produced a 1.074 OPS this spring. 

"I'm glad he's on our team," Charlotte pitcher Carson Fulmer said.

While the White Sox would love to see a reduction in Moncada's strikeout rate, there's as much of an emphasis on helping him refine his defense. Some analysts and scouts question whether or not Moncada can stick at second base or if he'd eventually need to move to the outfield. But that possibility isn't close to a consideration right now for the White Sox, who think it's simply a matter of repetitions and time needed to clean up Moncada's process.

They've worked with him specifically on being more aggressive to the ball and taking better angles. But to kick his mind into another gear, bench coach Joe McEwing placed Moncada at shortstop during batting practice one day this spring. It's an exercise McEwing has previously used with first and third baseman to keep them more active.

"It was to get his feet moving and have a little fun doing it," McEwing said. "Sometimes at second base our feet can from time to time get stale and we sit back on more balls.

"We wanted to get him off the baseball once it's hit and to be aggressive and using his athletic ability to the maximum potential. He was smiling and jumping around and that's exactly what we want him to feel and do on the other side of the field. It's all the same. Angle may be different, but it's all the same mentally on how we want you to attack a baseball."

Moncada's manager at Charlotte, Mark Grudzielanek, has seen steady improvement from the second baseman. The White Sox like the progress Moncada has made and think more will come with age. Moncada turns 22 next month. Grudzielanek specifically likes how Moncada positioned himself at the bag on a pair of double plays on Friday, which allowed his strong arm to get behind his throws.

"We get him out there on the balls of his feet," Grudzielanek said. "We're tying to get his angles down a little bit. We're tightening him up with his throws. We're keeping him over the base at second base on the turns, which you saw (Friday) were some pretty above average turns even at the big league level. There's not many guys that can make that kind of turn and that do it the right way. He's looking really good out there, he's getting better and he understands what he needs to do and he's getting done."

Moncada said he likes how the BP drill has him more comfortable on the field. He continues to participate in it and feels like he's more fluid.

"(McEwing) just wanted me to have fun at the position, to be more loose with my feet and then because in that way, once I go back to second base, I could be more relaxed and loose with my legs and position my feet in their position when I needed to make a play," Moncada said through an interpreter. "I'm working every day to get better.

"That's something that helps you with your mobility and the moment you go over to second base it makes everything a lot easier."

The enthusiasm with which Moncada has attacked the team's plan has been evident to his coaches and teammates. Grudzielanek noted Moncada's willingness to learn and McEwing said he has seen consistent improvement since the Cuban product arrived at mini-camp in January. Veteran outfielder Jason Bourgeois said late Friday that Moncada also has started to grasp the timing of the game and has begun to figure it out. McEwing agrees that all Moncada needs is time and experience.

"The tools are there," McEwing said. "You see all the God-given athletic ability.

"What you're going to see over time is the process of chipping away at the speed of the game. We can't forget this kid is 21 years old. The speed of the runner, the attention to fundamentals, it takes time to grasp."