White Sox

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: Where does Nicky Delmonico fit in the long-term picture?

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USA TODAY

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: Where does Nicky Delmonico fit in the long-term picture?

White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.

The plan did not include Nicky Delmonico, you'd have to imagine.

The White Sox rebuild has seen an incredible infusion of talent into the minor league system, with some of that talent hitting the big leagues last season. And with this collection of highly touted prospects have come the projections, figuring out who goes where on the diamond when the rebuild finally reaches its apex and the White Sox are planned to be a perennial contender. It's easy to plug guys like Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and Michael Kopech into those spots, and by simply following along with the prospect rankings, it's not at all difficult to map out projected lineups for the foreseeable future.

This time last year, those projections would not have included Delmonico. But they might now.

Delmonico doesn't carry the same top-prospect pedigree as many of his current and future teammates, but he made quite the impression in his handful of big league games at the end of the 2017 campaign, earning himself a fan club and consideration to be a long-term piece for this team. In 2018, Delmonico will join many of his fellow White Sox in trying to prove he belongs.

Delmonico played in 43 major league games last season, posting a .262/.373/.482 slash line with nine homers, 25 runs scored and 23 RBIs. Now that's a small sample size, but it's reason to get a little excited. Extrapolate those numbers out to a full season, and you could be talking about a 30-homer campaign with more than 80 RBIs — and more than 80 walks, an important stat considering some of the team's other young players count reaching base via the walk as a big weakness.

Again, there's no guarantee that those kinds of numbers will come in 2018, but Delmonico figures to be given every opportunity. He'll likely be the everyday left fielder at the season's outset, and his versatility allows him to play elsewhere on the field, too.

Delmonico also has a big personality and big expectations, and he seems to have emerged as a strong clubhouse presence on this young team.

But the White Sox outfield of the future looks to be a crowded one. Jimenez and Robert, two of the top 30 prospects in baseball, would figure to have future spots on lock, even if they're still more than a year away from reaching the majors. Micker Adolfo has high hopes — and was part of the same buzz-worthy batting-practice group as Jimenez and Robert during the early days of spring training — but he's dealing with a potentially significant elbow injury that could delay his arrival on the South Side. Then there's the virtually undiscussed Blake Rutherford, who MLB Pipeline still ranks as one of the game's top 100 prospects.

But as Rick Hahn is frequent to remind, these rebuilding efforts never see everything go exactly according to plan. That could mean in a negative way, such as the injuries to guys like Adolfo and Jake Burger or the fact that it's simply unrealistic to expect each and every one of these prospects to become big league superstars. But it can also mean in a positive way, such as surprises like Delmonico. Just because a guy isn't ranked as one of the game's top prospects doesn't mean he can't still turn into an everyday big leaguer. Delmonico will try to prove that this season, prove that August and September last year were no fluke.

And he won't be alone. 2018 is setting up to be a "prove it" year for guys like Yolmer Sanchez, Carson Fulmer and even guys like Tim Anderson and Avisail Garcia as the wave of prospects comes increasingly closer to the South Side. The guys there now need to show they're just as much a part of this rebuilding effort, too. Just like it's a developmental season in the minors for the prospects, it's a developmental season in the majors, too. And Delmonico is one of the guys hoping to develop into a no-brainer long-term piece.

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Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson turned 24 on Saturday and celebrated the occasion with a bang.

Anderson smashed a three-run home run in the first inning against the A's. It was actually his first swing on his birthday. Anderson took the first two pitches before launching the 1-1 pitch over the right field fence.

That home run, Anderson's 13th of the year, gave the White Sox a 5-0 lead. Things took an ugly turn later in the game with Oakland winning 7-6. Dylan Covey left in the fifth with a hip injury, which manager Rick Renteria said will be evaluated tomorrow to determine the severity of the injury.

Anderson finished 2-for-4 on his birthday. He later added a single, a stolen base and a run in the sixth inning.

Anderon's power surge this year has him on pace to blow past his 17 homers from a year ago. He is four shy of last year's total and has done so in just under half as many plate appearances.

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.