GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Colome was making some noise Saturday. Literally. His pitches were not just fast. They were loud.
Lined up next to Kelvin Herrera during a weekend bullpen session, Colome gave onlookers a preview of the most significant (to this point) additions of the White Sox offseason. Colome was the major league saves leader in 2017. Herrera was a key piece of a fearsome Kansas City Royals bullpen during that team’s back-to-back World Series runs in 2014 and 2015.
Talk about improving the South Side relief corps, which posted a 4.49 ERA last season, ranking 23rd out of 30 big league bullpens.
“When they added both of them, that’s one thing I was thinking. My thoughts were, ‘Our bullpen could be nasty,’” fellow reliever Nate Jones said Sunday at Camelback Ranch. “With the young guys, you’ve seen all the talent we’ve accumulated, and you got a glimpse of it in September with the guys in the bullpen. With what they can do, hopefully they can take what they learned last year and apply it to this year. We could be pretty dang good.”
It’s certainly not outlandish to suggest that Colome and Herrera could give the White Sox the best bullpen in the American League Central. Three of the White Sox four division rivals had worse relief ERAs in 2018, including the division-champion Cleveland Indians, who struggled out of the bullpen all season despite their former dominance in that department. The only Central team better was the Minnesota Twins, one spot ahead in 22nd with a nearly identical 4.45 ERA.
And those numbers are obviously without Colome and Herrera in the mix for the White Sox.
While the division is weak enough for the White Sox to potentially surprise this season, this is a team completely focused on the future. Thankfully, Colome and Herrera have big roles to play in that aspect, too. Colome, under team control for two more seasons, and Herrera, under team control for as many as three more seasons, figure to be around as the South Siders make the transition from rebuilding mode to contention mode. But even if they aren’t under contract for the next decade, they’ll have a big impact on the organization’s crop of young relievers.
Just ask Jones, the elder statesman of the group at this point, a 33-year-old entering his eighth big league season with the White Sox.
When the two newcomers were acquired, they figured to have a positive effect on the development of young pitchers like Jace Fry, Ian Hamilton, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare and others, including guys who haven’t even reached the majors yet like Zack Burdi, Tyler Johnson and Zach Thompson. If Colome and Herrera and Jones have the back end of games covered, it would figure to allow those young guys to pitch in lower-leverage situations.
Jones said that is absolutely the case.
“With some of the younger guys in the bullpen, they can look up to these guys and see what their work ethic is and how they attack hitters and go about their day and go about the game and learn from that,” he said.
“I know when I was one of the young guys, that definitely helped to get my feet wet in the big leagues, to not be thrown into those high-leverage situations right out of the chute, so you can kind of get your feet wet, build that confidence up and then have the trial and error of going into those high-leverage situations.
“Being a young guy and having the back end of the game taken care of a little bit takes the pressure off, let’s them focus on the game and throwing strikes and getting guys out first. I think it helps our bullpen tremendously.”
And so it’s a multi-faceted pair of acquisitions for the White Sox, who greatly improved their bullpen in the short term and hope to continue to reap benefits far into the future.
As everyone continues to focus on the acquisition the White Sox have not yet made (some guy whose name rhymes with Shmanny Shmachado), it’s important to realize they might have already made a couple of home-run adds.
“When they were brought on board, I was like, ‘All right!’” Jones said. “Especially Kelvin, we faced him so many times with the Royals. So I told him, first thing I said was, ‘It’s nice you’re on our team now.’ But both are huge. They bring that veteran experience. One’s a World Series champion, and one’s been the single-season saves leader one year. Can’t do nothing but help us.”