White Sox

Five White Sox players with something to prove in spring training

Five White Sox players with something to prove in spring training

Spring training arrives shortly, and with it brings some prove-it moments for some of the White Sox most important young players. Here are five guys with something to prove this spring at Camelback Ranch.

1. Michael Kopech

Will Kopech end up on the Opening Day roster or not? That’s one of the biggest questions of camp as the flamethrowing 23-year-old makes his long awaited return from Tommy John surgery. The White Sox have made it clear they plan to limit Kopech in some fashion, not as a reflection of anything less than perfect health, but over a concern about overworking his right arm. He hasn’t pitched at any level above instructional league since September 2018, and his next big league appearance will be only his fifth.

But that plan is, as of this moment, undetermined. Will Kopech get a slow start, beginning the season in the minors? Will he be used out of the bullpen in some capacity? Will he make the rotation but have his starts skipped every once in a while? We don’t know right now, and the team might not, either, with Hahn saying they’ll wait until things get going in Glendale before making a decision.

That said, obviously Kopech would like to be part of the 26-man roster the White Sox roll out for the March 26 opener against Kansas City. If that’s going to happen, he’s going to have show team brass that he’s ready to handle a major league season, but also that he’s ready to do what he needs to in order to keep himself fresh for meaningful games down the stretch and perhaps into October. Kopech doing that will be based more on what he shows the team behind the scenes than what he does in Cactus League play. But he still has to prove it.

2. Nick Madrigal

Madrigal might be the best second baseman in the organization, and certainly he’s one of the best prospects in baseball, rated No. 40 on MLB Pipeline’s recently refreshed list. But none of that will secure him a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Hahn recently said Madrigal has “a few more things to prove” before the White Sox deem him ready for his major league promotion, signaling it’s likely the team prefers him to have more than the current 29 games he’s played at Triple-A Charlotte under his belt before bringing him up. But Hahn added the possibility exists for Madrigal to impress enough that he changes the White Sox minds and forces his way onto the Opening Day roster.

Madrigal has spent the offseason talking about his belief that he’s ready for the big league stage, and he has the ability to blow the doors off the Cactus League, showcasing his elite bat-to-ball skills, his inability to strike out and his defense, so often talked up as Gold Glove caliber. If the White Sox, clearly attempting to jump into contention mode as soon as Opening Day, feel like Madrigal would be a benefit to their chase for a playoff spot in 2020, then perhaps they see fit to include him on the squad from Day 1.

But Madrigal has to show he belongs.

3. Reynaldo Lopez

Lopez is probably not in danger of losing his rotation spot during the spring. Hahn forecasted locked-in rotation spots for Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease as far back as September, and that’s not likely to change, even if the same inconsistencies that bedeviled Lopez during the 2019 season linger into Cactus League play.

But make no mistake, this is shaping up to be a make-or-break season for Lopez, who went from the rotation’s best pitcher in 2018 to some really ugly numbers last year. He finished with a 5.38 ERA in 33 starts and gave up the most earned runs, 110, of any pitcher in baseball. The White Sox still see top-of-the-rotation potential in Lopez, but things have yet to click on a consistent basis, with Rick Renteria memorably walking out to the mound last September in Detroit to “make sure he was aware that he was actually pitching today.”

Lopez doesn’t need to prove himself worthy of keeping his rotation spot this spring, but he needs to accomplish that this year. As the White Sox reach contention mode, they won’t be able to afford such inconsistencies when there’s a playoff berth on the line. And with Kopech — and eventually, Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert, once they recover from their Tommy John surgeries — waiting in the wings, the pressure is on.

4. Luis Robert

The big-money contract extension Robert got this winter looks like a home run for the White Sox, who now have the No. 3 prospect in baseball under team control for as long as the next eight seasons. Robert is a true five-tool threat who can do it all on a baseball field, bringing with him rave reviews that he could be the best of the White Sox youngsters.

Now he just has to, you know, do it.

Robert has yet to play in a major league game, and that won’t change until Opening Day. But a great spring would go a long way toward showing he is indeed ready for the big league stage and the White Sox were correct to put their faith in him with the big contract.

Growing pains would not be unexpected during his first season in the majors. We saw them from Giolito and Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. And undoubtedly, the contract for Robert was a long-term investment that doesn’t necessitate immediate returns. But if Robert wants to live up to the hype and do what he said he wants to do, winning a Rookie of the Year Award and multiple championships with the White Sox, then this spring is a good place to start.

5. Nomar Mazara

When the White Sox first acquired Mazara in that Winter Meetings trade with the Texas Rangers, Hahn brought up the possibility of a platoon in right field, considering Mazara’s numbers against left-handed pitching in his career have not been good. But talk of such a system has pretty much disappeared as time has passed, indicating the White Sox have confidence in, at least initially, letting Mazara try his hand at the everyday job in right.

Hahn has repeatedly talked up the unlocked potential the White Sox see in Mazara, and this change of scenery from Texas to the South Side provides the perfect opportunity for that potential to come out. Hahn has also said the White Sox would be fine with Mazara producing at the levels he has during the first four seasons of his big league career, describing him at one point as a “bridge” of sorts to the team’s stockpile of outfield prospects. But there's hope for much more than that, too, the kind of talent Mazara displayed when he was a top-rated prospect.

This spring, Mazara can show people he’s more than just a bridge, more than an OK upgrade to the worst right-field production in baseball in 2019. He can show he’s a legitimate piece of the puzzle to a White Sox team with playoff expectations. Mazara looks good as the No. 8 hitter in a suddenly loaded White Sox lineup, but the team thinks he could be something more. The unlocking starts this spring.

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Lucas Giolito self-quarantining at home while trying to stay ready for baseball

USA Today

Lucas Giolito self-quarantining at home while trying to stay ready for baseball

Lucas Giolito was holding out hope that he could stay in Arizona and resume spring training activities soon. Eventually, he realized it was time to go home.

“It just got to a point for me where it’s like, OK, things are getting worse, it’s time to really get serious about this and practice the social distancing thing for real,” Giolito said Tuesday.

So last weekend the White Sox pitcher and his wife, Ariana, jumped in the car and went home to California, where they’ve put themselves in self-quarantine for 14 days out of an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just traveled across state lines. Just trying to be as cautious as possible,” Giolito said. “We were at gas stations and I know those are hot spots. I don’t want to be responsible for infecting anyone else or getting infected or anything like that.”

Technically, the White Sox facility at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. is still open. But the number of players there is dwindling and Giolito said the team is reducing the number of days it is available for players. It is safe there – players keep their distance and frequently wash their hands – but as the reality of a significantly delayed season sunk it, Giolito felt like it was time to go home.

"It was getting to the point where, for me personally, being around a bunch of people every single day isn't really what we're supposed to be doing as people in this country,” Giolito said. “If we want things to get better, people have to buy in and adhere to what we're supposed to be doing here."

Ariana Giolito is in veterinary school and happens to be studying infectious diseases right now, so that also impacted their decision to head home. Now, like most of the country, they’re hunkered down at home spending a lot of time in the kitchen and watching Netflix.

“We’ve been crushing a lot of things. Last night (we) watched five straight hour-long episodes of this reality show Love is Blind on Netflix,” Giolito said. “Watching a lot of Curb your Enthusiasm, that’s one of my favorite shows. TV, movies, pretty much on a nightly basis.”

(Insider’s note: Go watch the Jon Hamm episode from Curb Your Enthusiasm. You won’t regret it.)

But Giolito isn’t just sitting on the couch and falling out of baseball shape. He has a meal delivery plan and a home gym set up in the garage. He has a net in his backyard and a park nearby where he can throw into a fence. He monitors his throwing program by counting his pitches as he goes.

“(It’s) kind of like a test to see, despite limited resources, how focused can you be on a daily basis on the work you need to get in? You try to make it fun, turn it into a game. It is what it is,” Giolito said.

The White Sox are providing as much guidance as possible. Giolito said he’s in constant communication with pitching coach Don Cooper and bullpen coach Curt Hasler, as well as the medical staff.

"As far as specifics with the throwing program, I think it depends on the guy,” he said. “As a starting pitcher it's important to try and get off as slowly as possible and try and get up-and-down work to maintain that stamina. We're doing our best to do that with limited resources.”

The good news is that Giolito is fully healthy. After his 2019 season ended a couple weeks early with a lat strain, he was sidelined at the start of spring training with a pulled chest muscle that occurred while he was battling a bad case of the flu. That was well before the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and Giolito said he has not been tested for COVID-19 and does not know of any teammates who have been tested either.

“That was taken care of pretty early on in the spring. By the time I was building up and throwing and getting off the mound for the first time it wasn’t even a thought,” Giolito said. “I was looking forward to a nice full season. It’s obviously not looking that way but we’ll see what we can make happen here. I’m feeling very good, very strong, doing my best to just maintain where I’m at. Hopefully we get the call soon.”

Hope is all the players – and fans – have right now. And pretty much everyone feels the same way.

“It sucks. We wish we were out there playing,” Giolito said. “At the same time, we are in the middle of a crisis and we can’t force the issue. We have to let everything run its course and hopefully we can get this going as soon as possible.”

Government edicts could force baseball delay to last deep into summer


Government edicts could force baseball delay to last deep into summer

When will the Major League Baseball season start?

Obviously, as the world continues fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, that is a question without an answer.

But recent moves by local governments across North America could point to the delay of the 2019 campaign lasting deep into the summer.

The recent agreement between the league and the union established criteria for when the season would be able to start, among them, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, that there would be no governmental edicts on mass gatherings that would prevent teams from playing in their home stadiums.

Well, hopes of an early June start could end up being impacted by that criteria, with the city of Toronto on Tuesday canceling all city-led events through the end of June. It was initially believed that could include more than 40 scheduled home games for the Blue Jays. It does not. But the move shows that cities across the continent are showing concern that social-distancing measures might need to stay in place for months.

In the United States, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Monday issued a stay-at-home order that lasts until June 10. There are no major league teams in Virginia, of course, but as more such orders are issued by local governments, it might not be long before a city or state with a major league team is impacted.

Though not as concrete as a stay-at-home order, California Governor Gavin Newsom said earlier this month that social distancing in his state could last as long as 12 weeks, which from when he made that statement would be June 16. California is home to five major league teams.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday extended our state's stay-at-home order to April 30.

As of this writing, Major League Baseball has put no date on how long its delay could last. The most recent announcement by the league committed to following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which at the time was the banning of gatherings of at least 50 people until mid May.

Now, the agreement between the league and the union also included the possibility that games could be played away from teams' home stadiums — perhaps at spring training facilities or neutral sites — if there were no better options. That could include making special arrangements for a team that plays its home games in a city that was particularly affected by the pandemic while other parts of the country or continent were able to start hosting such events.

If local governments in North America make decisions that impact the return of pro sporting events, it could make it difficult for the baseball season to start as soon as hoped.

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