White Sox

Inside the play that has White Sox fans salivating over a fully healthy Luis Robert

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AP

Inside the play that has White Sox fans salivating over a fully healthy Luis Robert

It was a play that lasted only 10 seconds during a recent game in the Arizona Fall League, but those 10 seconds gave the White Sox another glimpse into what Luis Robert can do on a baseball field.

And it’s electric.

It all started with Robert hitting a routine ground ball to the left side of the infield. The third baseman gobbled up the baseball and took his time throwing to first. Bad idea. Robert was racing down the line at warp speed and beat it out.

Moments later, Robert stole second base on a nifty head-first slide despite a perfect throw by the catcher. Robert made it look effortless.

Then came the moment that should have White Sox fans salivating.

A ball was caught in deep left-center field, which could easily get Robert to third, but he wanted more.

“I saw that the fly ball was hit kind of deep,” Robert explained through a translator, teammate Laz Rivera. “I was just thinking about scoring straight from second, but coach (Dave) Anderson stopped me at third. As the shortstop was walking in, I felt like he got overconfident and I took advantage of it.”

Robert dashed for home. The throw arrived. Robert slid to his right, reached out his left hand to touch home plate. He safely avoided the tag, scoring from second base on a sacrifice fly.

I asked him: Can you do this routinely without stopping at third?

“It depends on how deep the fly ball is and how good the center fielder hits the cutoff man,”  Robert answered.

How many times have you done it?

“I’ve never done it,” he said. “But I’m confident I can do it.”

Even though he’s been on everyone’s radar since the White Sox signed him as a 21-year-old Cuban phenom in 2017, the Arizona Fall League felt like Robert's official coming out party. Thumb injuries limited him to only 45 games in 2018 with Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem. Fully healthy now, Robert proved to be one of the best players in the AFL, facing some of the best pitching prospects in the minor leagues.

He finished with a slash line of .324/.367/.432 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases in 18 games. Thanks to a 14-game hitting streak, he also won an AFL Player of the Week Award.

Since the White Sox signed the 6-foot-3 outfielder, he’s had trouble staying healthy with two thumb injuries, a knee injury and a few aches and pains along the way. It’s left some to question whether Robert will be able to stay healthy.

He says not to worry. There’s been a reason for his ailments.

“I felt like I was getting injured last year because I had a year and a half without playing and now I feel like I’m ready to go,” said Robert, who was unable to play games after he defected from Cuba in 2016 until he joined the Dominican Summer League White Sox toward the end of the 2017 season.

“Every injury is a learning experience,” he said. “Everything I’m doing right now is helping my body become better."

Robert mentioned two big plans for him during the offseason. The first is working to improve his swing.

“I should be practicing hitting curveballs more often, but I feel like I’m in a good place right now to hit them. I’m working on more counts, I’m seeing more pitches and waiting for my pitch,” Robert said.

He’s also moving to Tampa, Florida, where he wants to get a house for him and his family, who are currently living in the Dominican Republic.

“So we can be together,” Robert said.

It’s not a coincidence that Robert has chosen to live in Tampa since that’s also the winter home for fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada, who's been a mentor to Robert since the White Sox signed him. Moncada is in Glendale this month getting in some extra training at Camelback Ranch in preparation for next season.

“He’s always taking care of me,” Robert said of Moncada. “He’s always giving me advice on what I should or shouldn’t be doing on the baseball field and off the baseball field.”

After watching Robert on the baseball field in the Fall League, spring training cannot come soon enough.

Gio Gonzalez's crazy journey back to the White Sox

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USA TODAY

Gio Gonzalez's crazy journey back to the White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz — When the news broke in December that the White Sox signed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, it sounded like an early April Fool’s joke.

Even Gonzalez himself had trouble believing it, and he was the one who signed the contract.

“Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I did not think that I would have been on (the White Sox) radar,”  Gonzalez said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I didn’t think they wanted me to come back. Lo and behold, I stand corrected. I’m happy I did.”

How Gonzalez is finally back with the White Sox is one of the wildest transaction journeys in franchise history. 

“It’s good to be back again. It was again and again and one more time again,” Gonzalez said smiling.

His 15-year adventure culminated last week at Camelback Ranch with a hug between Gonzalez and White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams, the man who twice traded Gonzalez away.

“The first time around, I’d do it again,”  Williams said about trading Gonzalez. “The second time around, no.”

More on that in a moment.

Drafted by the White Sox towards the end of the first round in 2004, Gonzalez seemed destined for a spot in the major league rotation behind the likes of Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras.

But then, a World Series happened.

And 15 years later, Gonzalez would like to remind us of the other championship won by the White Sox in 2005 — in the minor leagues at Class-A Kannapolis.

“I was a part of that by the way,”  Gonzalez said. “I did something at least for the White Sox in the minor leagues. We got one for Kannapolis!”

But in December of 2005, the White Sox were charging for another World Series title. Believing he needed a left-handed bat in the middle of the order, Williams, then the GM, acquired future Hall of Famer Jim Thome from the Phillies for fan favorite Aaron Rowand and Gonzalez, who was one of the White Sox top pitching prospects at the time.

“That was Jim (bleeping) Thome,” Williams said laughing. “So I would do that (trade) again. Actually not now, because Gio can still pitch and Jim can’t play anymore.”

Williams can joke about it now, but back then he had to put his emotions aside and complete a baseball trade he felt made too much sense to pass up.

“We were trying to repeat. We needed that big left-handed bat, but it was still difficult. Everybody knows how close Aaron Rowand was to my heart so it was difficult enough as it was, but in order to make it happen, they insisted on Gio or it wasn’t going to happen. We felt we needed Jim Thome to try to go back to the World Series,” Williams said.

Gonzalez who was only 20 years old at the time, was overwhelmed to be in the same trade as Thome.

“I was blown away by the name alone, his presence,” Gonzalez said about Thome. “I was also excited because it was going to be another chapter in my life. I was sad to see the White Sox go because that was the team I wanted to be with so bad. You want to play with the team that drafted you. You want to be a part of their history, their legacy. It was unfortunate, but it gave me an opportunity to be somewhere else.”

However, his stay in Philadelphia wouldn’t last long. Almost a year to the day later, out of nowhere, Gonzalez received a phone call from the White Sox.  

“Bam! We’re back (with the White Sox) with another trade,” Gonzalez recalled.

The White Sox re-acquired Gonzalez along with fellow pitcher Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia. Life seemed right again. Gonzalez was returning to the organization that drafted him. After a dominant season at Double-A Birmingham in 2007, he was so close to Chicago he could taste the pizza.

But then came the trade Williams admits he regrets to this very day.

The White Sox sent Gonzalez, outfielder Ryan Sweeney and minor league pitcher Fautino De Los Santos to Oakland for a switch-hitting slugger with a big personality, Nick Swisher. The White Sox would make the playoffs that 2008 season with Swisher (or despite him, depending on who you ask), but the marriage didn’t last long. By September, Swisher was often riding the bench and barely played in the ALDS against Tampa Bay. 

The following November, Williams shipped Swisher to the Yankees in a trade highlighted by journeyman utilityman Wilson Betemit who played a total of 20 games with the White Sox. Gonzalez would become an All-Star in 2011 and 2012.

That was an ugly paragraph to write.

“I should have kept him that time. That’s all I’ll say,” Williams said about the second Gonzalez trade. He wanted to say more. Almost did, but instead just repeated the line, “I should have kept him that time.”

Over a decade later, what does Gonzalez think about being traded twice by Williams?

“The first time I gave him the benefit of the doubt,” Gonzalez said. “The second one, we laugh about it now. He brought me back.”

Besides those two All-Star appearances, Gonzalez would lead the National League with 21 wins in 2012 and he’d make eight starts in the postseason with the Nationals and Brewers. Although he was the one responsible for trading him, Williams cheered for Gonzalez every step of the way.

“Especially given the fact that I didn’t think it was fair to trade a young guy like that, so I’ve rooted for him this entire time,” Williams said. “That’s why it was easy when I saw him (at Camelback Ranch) and gave him a hug. We had a good laugh.”

Rick Hahn also brought the funny when he contacted Gonzalez to welcome him back to the White Sox after the one-year deal was finalized.

“I said, ‘I am more confident now than ever that we’re actually going to see you in a White Sox uniform,’” Hahn recalled. “We absolutely laughed about the history when I officially re-welcomed him for a third time to the organization.”

Gonzalez’s third stint with White Sox has been slightly delayed, however. He arrived in Glendale with some discomfort in his left shoulder which has put him about a week behind schedule. Gonzalez says there’s no reason to be alarmed.

“I think we’re making great progress, especially from where I was before to where I am now. It’s night and day.”

So are the White Sox — this spring compared to last.

“It seems like they want to do magic this year and for years to come.”

Better late than never for Gonzalez and the White Sox, reunited again.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: The crazy journey of Gio Gonzalez

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: The crazy journey of Gio Gonzalez

Making it to the majors is a fantastic and rare feat in itself, but White Sox pitcher Gio Gonzalez's path to the White Sox, and from the White Sox, several times over is a journey baseball fans everywhere should listen to. Chuck Garfien is joined by Gonzalez to discuss his pro career and what he sees in this young White Sox team.

(1:40) - Surprised the White Sox wanted him to comeback

(6:00) - Wanted to go a team that wanted to give him a opportunity

(10:00) - Yasmani Grandal is a different kind of person

(13:30) - Thoughts on the Sox young pitching core

(16:20) - Thoughts on the expectations for this team

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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