White Sox

How close are injured prospects Luis Robert and Alec Hansen to making their 2018 debuts?

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USA TODAY

How close are injured prospects Luis Robert and Alec Hansen to making their 2018 debuts?

White Sox fans have been thrilled by the big numbers put up by top prospects like Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez this season. But two other stars of the rebuild have yet to even play a minor league game in 2018.

Luis Robert (the No. 3 prospect in the White Sox system and the No. 26 prospect in baseball) and Alec Hansen (No. 4 in the White Sox system, No. 50 in baseball) are still working their way back from spring injuries, and as of Thursday neither had played in extended spring training games — though they soon might.

General manager Rick Hahn gave a lengthy list of medical updates on injured players throughout the farm system, and Robert and Hansen were at the top of the list.

Robert, who has yet to play a game of minor league baseball in the United States, tore a ligament in his thumb sliding into second base during a Cactus League game — a Cactus League game, by the way, in which he later hit a home run — and has been sidelined ever since. He’s expected to join Class A Winston-Salem eventually, with Hahn pointing to the beginning of June.

“Luis is ramping up baseball activity in extended (spring training),” Hahn said. “We expect him to participate in extended spring training games by the end of the month and soon thereafter join an affiliate. It likely will be early June before he actually joins the affiliate, once extended is over. Though we expected he will spend the bulk of the season at Winston-Salem — once he’s officially ready to go, he’ll be at Winston-Salem — it depends how many extended games he gets in before the end of extended in determining where he goes first once he leaves Phoenix.

“But he’s progressing. He’s hitting in cages, he’s doing defensive drills, and hopefully he’ll be playing in games down there by the end of the month.”

Hansen, however, might not be quite as close as Robert. Last year’s minor league strikeout leader, Hansen, who's expected to join Double-A Birmingham when healthy, has been dealing with a forearm injury since spring training, and while he’s been talked about as progressing toward game action, there was no real update from Hahn on Thursday.

“He continues to progress, he’s throwing bullpens. I believe he had one today, might be tomorrow. On a throwing program,” Hahn said. “On a guy like that, similar to (recovering starting pitcher Carlos) Rodon, we’ll let you know when he starts making starts in extended and when he goes on a rehab assignment. Right now, it’s just building.”

The injuries to Robert and Hansen — as well as the season-ending Achilles tear suffered by last year’s first-round pick, Jake Burger — show that this rebuilding process, which has seen a fleet of highly ranked prospects join the White Sox system in recent years, won’t be without its speed bumps. While penciling all these guys into the 2020 lineup was and remains a fun pastime for South Side baseball fans, there’s a reason those names are written in pencil and not pen. Whether it be because of performance, injuries or other developmental reasons, not all of these prospects will hit the bigs in a rapid amount of time, nor is it likely will they all pan out.

It’s not to suggest in the slightest that these specific prospects won’t pan out, but it’s worth questioning how their developments will be affected by missing significant time.

“It depends on the player,” Hahn said when asked that very question. “Not beating around the bush, but Jake Burger missing more than a year is a shame, it’s a real shame. You look at Jake, he’s got a short enough swing and an easy enough swing that he’s able to just pick up with it and not really lose much offensively in terms of his development.

“But there is an element of playing everyday and being used to playing ball and working your way up the chain and getting more challenges that he’s going to miss a year on. That’s a negative.

“Luis Robert missing a couple months, none of it’s ideal ever but he’s going to be back out there this season, there’s still going to be plenty of chances for him to get ABs over the course of the summer and even opportunities for him to play in the fall, as well. The injury that he had certainly didn’t seem to have any long-term implications for him, and it’s a matter of making up for development time over the course of 2018, which he’ll be able to do.”

Time will tell whether or not months on the shelf will negatively impact the developments of Robert or Hansen. The good news for the White Sox is that they’re advancing toward their respective returns, good news because those are two guys who figure to have very large roles to play in the rebuild.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Don Cooper with the inside scoop on the White Sox pitching staff

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Don Cooper with the inside scoop on the White Sox pitching staff

With the regular season getting closer, Chuck Garfien gets the goods from Don Cooper about many White Sox pitchers. The decision to have Carlos Rodon start on Opening Day (3:00), what Lucas Giolito needs to improve on in 2019 (6:16), what they're doing to make Ivan Nova a better pitcher this year (8:10), improving Ervin Santana's velocity and will he be the fifth starter? (11:50), what Dylan Cease needs to work on in the minors (13:20), what other pitching prospect besides Cease will take the biggest stride in 2019? (14:30)

Coop also talks about Kelvin Herrera, Alex Colome, Zach Thompson, Thyago Vieira, Nate Jones and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Minnesota Twins

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Minnesota Twins

As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

If the Twins were anything this offseason, they were busy. Whether they're vastly improved or not, that remains to be seen.

Twins fans probably are experiencing whiplash after the past several seasons: a 103-loss campaign in 2016, then a playoff trip in 2017 via the wild card, then back to a sub-.500 record and an uneventful October in 2018.

But the rebuild-heavy AL Central presents an opportunity for the Twins, who could capitalize on 19 games apiece against the White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, three teams that combined for more than 300 losses in 2018. And so the Minnesota front office got to work this winter and added quite a bit to this roster.

The biggest names among the newcomers are Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz. Gonzalez is two years off a big 2017 season, when his .303/.377/.530 slash line and 23 home runs helped fuel the Houston Astros to a World Series championship. He was one of the best players available on this winter's free-agent market, noted for his versatility after playing every position besides pitcher and catcher last season. Cruz is 38 and shouldn't be considered a part of any team's long-term plans, but the Twins want him for the 40-homer average he's posted over the last half decade.

That boost to the Twins' lineup gets amplified even more when you consider new additions Jonathan Schoop, who believe it or not put up better numbers than Manny Machado in 2017, and C.J. Cron, who launched 30 homers for the Tampa Bay Rays last season.

All those guys join what the Twins already had, chiefly Eddie Rosario, who had a big 2018. More specifically, though, he had a big first half, batting .311/.353/.537 with 19 homers before the All-Star break and just .240/.262/.361 with five homers after it.

So that's all very nice, and just on the new additions alone, that stacks up well against the Cleveland Indians' lineup, which isn't terribly imposing beyond the two MVP candidates on the left side of the infield. But are Gonzalez and Cruz and Cron and Schoop really enough to make the Twins a legit contender?

First off, it's important to note that none of the aforementioned players are pitchers. The Twins have a terrific starting pitcher in Jose Berrios, probably the best player on the team. He had a 3.84 ERA and 202 strikeouts in his 192.1 innings of work last season. And Kyle Gibson, my fellow Missouri Tiger, had himself an under-the-radar season in 2018, too, with a 3.62 ERA and 179 strikeouts. Jake Odorizzi wasn't quite as good, with a 4.49 ERA, but all three of those guys made 32 starts. The other two parts of the Twins' rotation? Michael Pineda, who hasn't pitched since July of 2017, and Martin Perez, who had a 6.22 ERA with the Texas Rangers last season.

In other words, that's not bad but nothing that comes close to what the Indians have, a loaded rotation that might be baseball's finest from top to bottom.

The busy Twins also added a new closer in former Cub and Los Angeles Angel Blake Parker, who had a 2.90 ERA in his two seasons in Anaheim.

It's a lengthy list of changes that have come to the Twin Cities — and it's without even mentioning new manager Rocco Baldelli, better known to Rhode Islanders as the Woonsocket Rocket — but even in a division where three teams are going through the growing pains of rebuilding processes, is it enough to get the Twins back to the postseason? Plenty of observers seem to think so, and it's not an outlandish opinion. But their pitching staff doesn't boast the same crop of All-Star talent as the Indians' does. They don't have the big bats the Indians' lineup has.

Now, winning the AL Central isn't the only path to the playoffs, but with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees locks to gobble up the AL East crown and the top AL wild card spot, there's only one other option and more competition. Certainly the Twins are among the contenders for that spot, but they'll have to hit on many if not all of their offseason adds.

2018 record: 78-84, second place in AL Central

Offseason additions: Marwin Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, Blake Parker, Martin Perez

Offseason departures: Joe Mauer, Ervin Santana, Logan Morrison, Logan Forsythe, Robbie Grossman

X-factor: Gonzalez really is the definition of an X-factor, and it's shocking he didn't generate greater interest during the offseason. His ability to play every position on the field would figure to be a mighty valuable thing to all 30 teams. The Twins are the ones who landed him, and he can be their Swiss Army Knife all season long. But will he hit? A dynamite 2017 that saw him land in the top 20 in AL MVP voting segued to a disappointing 2018, during which he slashed just .247/.324/.409 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs, numbers down from .303/.377/.530, 23 and 90 the year prior despite an increase in plate appearances. 

Projected lineup:

1. Jorge Polanco, SS
2. C.J. Cron, 1B
3. Eddie Rosario, LF
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Max Kepler, RF
6. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
7. Marwin Gonzalez, 3B
8. Jason Castro, C
9. Byron Buxton, CF

Projected rotation:

1. Jose Berrios
2. Kyle Gibson
3. Jake Odorizzi
4. Michael Pineda
5. Martin Perez

Prediction: Second place in AL Central, no playoffs

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