White Sox

Hector Santiago would figure to be next up in White Sox rotation, but he's making sure Carson Fulmer stays there

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AP

Hector Santiago would figure to be next up in White Sox rotation, but he's making sure Carson Fulmer stays there

So far in spring training, the best pitcher on the White Sox is the guy who couldn’t get a job.

He also might be the best teammate, a selfless act in sportsmanship unfolding right now in Arizona that is a sight to behold.

A free agent during the worst offseason in the history of free agency, Hector Santiago waited for the phone to ring all winter long. In November, nobody called. In December and January, same thing. Finally in February, teams started showing some interest in the 2015 All Star, but nothing was guaranteed.

Coming off an injury-plagued season, Santiago wasn’t expecting to break the bank in his first chance at free agency, but he did hope better offers would come.  

They didn’t.

Finally, a day before spring training began, he signed a minor league contract with the White Sox, the first team that gave him an opportunity when they drafted him in the 30th round out of little known Okaloosa-Walton Community College in Niceville, Florida, in 2006.

When he arrived in Glendale, there seemingly wasn’t a spot in the rotation. Heck, there wasn’t even room for Santiago on the 40-man roster.

But now with Carson Fulmer struggling, a door has suddenly swung open. However, instead of walking right through it, Santiago is doing the exact opposite, essentially slamming the door on himself for the sake of the team.

Santiago has chosen to help the young Fulmer every chance he gets.

“I’ve talked with Fulmer a lot,” Santiago said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He’s putting a lot more pressure on himself because he feels like he’s competing for a spot. Right now, the job is his and it’s his to lose, so he has to go out there and compete and be positive.”

In his first two spring starts, Fulmer gave up eight runs on nine hits and five walks in two innings. Santiago came out of the bullpen to spell Fulmer in both games and allowed one run in eight innings with one walk and nine strikeouts.

If Fulmer doesn’t improve, the veteran Santiago is the clear candidate to replace him in the rotation.

But Santiago wants Fulmer to get back on track, revealing more about Santiago’s character than his actual pitching ability.

Take Fulmer’s last start. Santiago was watching him in the bullpen and noticed how much energy Fulmer was burning during warm-ups.

“You’ve got to be more conservative going into a game,” Santiago said he told Fulmer. “I was watching him in the bullpen, and I’m like, ‘Here goes three scoreless innings.’ He was executing every pitch, he was spinning it where he wanted it, he had life on the ball, his breaking pitches were great. And then he goes into the game and he gets two strikes, and you’re competing for a spot on the team, and for him it’s like, ‘I gotta get this guy, I gotta get this guy.’ And it’s like, 'No man, if you’ve got a guy 0-2, you’ve just got to execute a pitch. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to bounce it. You can throw a fastball.' He had so many different options where he could put a guy away.”

Instead, Fulmer allowed a leadoff home run to the Padres' Manuel Margot on an 0-2 count in the first inning, and it was pretty much downhill for Fulmer after that.

This could be the best thing to happen for Santiago, who waited all winter for a rotation spot that didn’t come. But here he is, basically blocking his own path by putting the team first ahead of any personal gain.

“I can’t go in there and tell Rick (Hahn), ‘Hey, Fulmer is not throwing the ball over right now, so the spot is mine,'” Santiago said. “I have no control over that. My point is, I can help (Fulmer) and I can go out there and succeed and do well and at the end of spring training you can only hope for the best.”

Santiago’s best friend on the team is Nate Jones. The two came up together as rookies with the White Sox in 2012. Jones is trying to come back from his third major surgery. He should have enough things to worry about. But these two grizzled veterans find themselves spending time away from ballpark thinking about ways to help out the young pitchers.

That’s just the kind of guys they are.

“We’re just sitting at home talking about pitchers and what we can say or do to make them understand that there’s no pressure,” Santiago explained. “We’re teammates, we’re all in this together, we’re obviously competing against each other, but I’m not pushing for anything negative. If I see something I can help someone out with and get better, that’s what we’re here for.”

In the end, Santiago is here to make the team. That seems like a lock right now either in the rotation or as a long man in the bullpen. Though if a closer doesn’t develop in spring training, don’t look past Santiago as a possibility. He came out of nowhere as a rookie in 2012 and became the White Sox ninth inning guy to start the season.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Santiago said looking back.

It could happen again. Who knows?

“For me, I’m trying to go out there and throw strikes and get through my innings and hopefully have a job in the big leagues, whether it’s here or somewhere else. Or a long guy, whatever the case may be,” Santiago said. “Honestly, I’ve never been in this situation before. I’ve always been in team control. As a non-roster invite I could wind up being in Triple-A, a long guy in the big leagues, a starter in the big leagues. I have no idea.”

Whatever role the White Sox give Santiago, he’ll embrace it.

And if Fulmer turns his spring around and makes the rotation, he can thank the pitcher who was in line to replace him.

Some of Santiago’s advice to Fulmer was to have fun — and not worry about outcomes.

Santiago’s advice for the rest of the American League:

“In the near future there’s going to be a lot of teams worrying about the White Sox.”

Eloy Jimenez celebrates new contract with monster day in spring training

Eloy Jimenez celebrates new contract with monster day in spring training

The ink on Eloy Jimenez's contract is still drying, but the outfielder already celebrated with a big game in spring training.

Jimenez and Rick Hahn spoke at a press conference mere hours before Saturday's Cactus League game against the Dodgers took place. Then Jimenez did his thing with the bat in the game.

The 22-year-old opened with a walk then followed with a pair of singles later in the game. He saved his best for last with a home run in the eighth inning.

Jimenez had not been having a good spring training and was even sent down to minor league camp nearly two weeks ago. Saturday's action was his first game in big league camp since March 11.

Before Saturday he was hitting .154/.154/.346 in nine games. The 3-for-3 game moved Jimenez's spring numbers to a much more respectable .241/.267/.517. His walk on Saturday was his first in the Cactus League. He now has two home runs.

During Saturday's press conference, Hahn went out of his way to say they are not making any announcements about the Opening Day roster yet. It is still assumed the Jimenez will start with the White Sox, but Hahn said they would like to have face-to-face conversations with the other players involved when it comes to the 25-man roster decisions.

With that said, Jimenez did bat sixth on Saturday. That could be a glimpse of where he will bat on Opening Day with Yoan Moncada (who continued his hot spring with two doubles and a home run on Saturday), Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yonder Alonso and Welington Castillo batting ahead of Jimenez in the lineup.

Plenty of eyes with remain on Jimenez for the rest of spring and in 2019. He delivered in his first game since signing his new contract.

 

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Nicky Delmonico sent to Triple-A, but do White Sox need to cut another outfielder to clear room for Eloy Jimenez?

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USA TODAY

Nicky Delmonico sent to Triple-A, but do White Sox need to cut another outfielder to clear room for Eloy Jimenez?

The White Sox made a notable outfield cut Saturday, sending Nicky Delmonico to Triple-A Charlotte not long after Eloy Jimenez signed his new six-year deal.

Rick Hahn wouldn't 100-percent confirm during the press conference whether or not Jimenez would be on the team's Opening Day roster, but the new deal eliminates the service-time conversation surrounding Jimenez and allows him to make his major league debut when the regular season starts next week in Kansas City.



If Jimenez is going to end up on the Opening Day roster, the White Sox will need to make room for him. That could mean cutting another outfielder in addition to Delmonico, but not necessarily. More on that in a bit.

Delmonico might have had a tough time making the Opening Day roster even if Jimenez would've started the season in the minor leagues. The White Sox outfield is a crowded one after the offseason addition of veteran Jon Jay. The presence of Adam Engel, Daniel Palka and the versatile Leury Garcia made it difficult to envision a place for Delmonico, who had a disappointing, injury-filled season in 2018 after showing promise at the end of the 2017 campaign.

It seems as if, eventually, the White Sox could have to move another one of those aforementioned outfielders to make room for Jimenez, who figures to be the team's everyday left fielder in 2019. But that decision could be delayed until mid April thanks to a bunch of built-in off days at the start of the regular-season schedule.

Both Hahn and manager Rick Renteria have discussed the possibility of the White Sox using only four starting pitchers at the outset of the season. Thanks to those off days, those four starters can all pitch on regular rest until as late as April 17. So, theoretically, Ervin Santana, who figures to wind up as the team's fifth starter, wouldn't be needed on the major league roster until that finale of a home series against the Kansas City Royals in mid April. That's one less pitcher that needs to be on the roster and one more position player that can be on the roster.

The versatility of Garcia, who has torn the cover off the ball this spring, and infielder Jose Rondon, who has added a little bit of outfield to his repertoire this spring (and is out of options), means they're likely not going anywhere. But instead of having to potentially dispatch of fan favorite Palka before the season even begins, there are potentially two spots available for three players, those two and Engel. Palka brings power, while Engel brings defense. Both have their weaknesses, too, Palka seeming best suited for a DH role that has been given to the combination of Jose Abreu and Yonder Alonso, and Engel the owner of a career .207/.260/.314 slash line.

It's important to note in all of this, too, that Renteria has said that Jay might not be an everyday player. Jay's versatility in the outfield also means he might be playing at one set position all season. So for those arguing that the White Sox could have an everyday outfield of Jimenez, Jay and Palka for the next six months, it might not be so simple. And if Jimenez and Palka are in the corners, that makes Engel's glove all the more valuable.

Jimenez returned to the White Sox lineup for Saturday's Cactus League game, perhaps another sign that he could return to the major league roster after being optioned to Charlotte prior to the announcement of the new contract.

Whether his making the roster would force off another outfielder remains to be seen.

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