White Sox

Is it time to start talking about Dylan Covey's place in the long-term future of the White Sox rebuild?

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USA TODAY

Is it time to start talking about Dylan Covey's place in the long-term future of the White Sox rebuild?

Rebuilds are sure to have their surprises. Maybe one of the big surprises of the White Sox rebuild is happening right in front of our eyes.

Dylan Covey is dominating opposing lineups, including a couple playoff-bound ones in the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. He’s out-dueling some of the American League’s finest arms in Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer. He’s got a 2.29 ERA.

That’s about as big a surprise as you’re going to see on the South Side this season.

Seriously, this is a guy who had an objectively terrible 2017 season, finishing with a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings of work. He gave up 20 homers and walked 34 hitters. He went 0-7. And because of those numbers, he figured to be a total non-factor when it came to the White Sox long-term plans.

With a wealth of highly ranked pitching prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease and a trio of young big league arms in Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, why would that crowded competition have any room for someone like Covey, whose first taste of the majors was a disaster?

Well, that’s why this has been so surprising.

“I’m just super comfortable,” he said Wednesday night after pitching seven innings of two-run ball against the visiting Indians. “With my mechanics, with my pitches. I’m throwing off-speeds for strikes, I’m throwing my curveball for strikes. It’s just all about comfort for me right now.”

A Rule 5 pick, Covey never pitched beyond Double-A before getting thrown into the major league deep end last season. That rapid acceleration in his timeline, forced by rule, was not helpful. While there were surely things he learned pitching at the big league level, it didn’t appear to be the level his development required him to pitch at in 2017.

So he finally went to Triple-A at the outset of this season, and it helped a great deal.

“I think it was really big because I came off of last year having a pretty tough year and I was able to work some things out down there and get to where I am now,” Covey said. “I just feel really good, confident and comfortable.”

One offseason and seven starts at Triple-A produced this? It’s been a dramatic transformation, not just in how he’s pitching but in the results he’s getting.

“Just strikes,” manager Rick Renteria said when asked what the difference has been for Covey. “He’s allowing the action that he creates in his pitches to work, and they’re more effective in the zone. So even if he’s trying to hit a spot and that ball dives, it’s got action. It allows (opposing hitters) to try to put their eye on it and try to put a swing on it and sometimes it gets a miss, sometimes it gets a ground ball, sometimes it’s anything that we need in order to get an out.

“Strikes create outs. Getting guys to swing the bat and trusting his stuff, he’s thrown a lot more strikes it seems like. They’re offering at a lot more pitches. His breaking ball, he’s throwing it closer to the plate now, more manageable. He’s able to mix and go to both sides of the plate a little bit. Some of them he hits or will miss off or run the other way. His action, his natural action, is what’s allowing him to continue to have the success he’s having.”

Covey’s got just six starts under his belt this season for the major league team, and things can certainly change as opposing teams do their homework. But this has been an unbelievable development for a White Sox starting staff that struggled so much through the first couple months of the campaign. Covey’s emergence, improved performance from James Shields, a consistently good season from Reynaldo Lopez and the return of Carlos Rodon have made for a pretty good-looking rotation at the moment.

The continued calls for Michael Kopech now have a counter argument: Where would you put him?

If this continues from Covey, where does he fit in this rebuilding effort? He’s 26 years old and is under team control through the 2022 season. A handful of good starts in a rebuilding season won’t make Covey a long-term fixture. And certainly that fleet of aforementioned youngsters will have plenty to say once they’re all major league ready. But that could be a while, so why shouldn’t Covey try to take advantage of the opportunity he has right now?

Rebuilds are full of surprises. And the ultimate determination of who is and who isn’t part of this team’s long-term future is performance.

“You’ve heard me say probably too many times that the baseball gods can be cruel,” general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this week. “Not everyone’s going to hit their potential. Some guys are going to get hurt, unexpected things are going to happen. There actually is a positive corollary to that in that some people are going to surprise us.

“We’re a team that is obviously in transition that is providing opportunities for a lot of young players. Regardless of their pedigree or how we acquired the player, whether it’s off waivers or through the Rule 5 or a major trade involving a former star, we have no biases as far as who winds up being the 25 guys that help us win a championship. So if one of these guys is seizing this opportunity and wants to etch his name in stone, so to speak, going forward, that’s fantastic.”

Fantastic. That’s what Covey has been for the White Sox so far this season.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with Charlotte Knights catcher Zack Collins about

-His hot start to the season at the plate (5:30)

-How James McCann helped him with his catching during spring training (7:20)

-How he's changed his approach at the plate this season (13:10)

-What he orders at Chick-fil-A (15:40)

-Why he's not thinking or worrying about getting called up to the majors (17:50)

-An incredible story about Dylan Cease (20:30)

-His thoughts on Tim Anderson's bat flip (28:20) and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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White Sox Talk Podcast

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A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

Hitting has not been the biggest problem for the White Sox. But even after a win to kick off this week's series against the Baltimore Orioles, they're still under .500 and in fourth place in the aggressively weak AL Central.

There's a ton of baseball left, and their spot in the standings on April 22 indicates nothing about where they'll be at the end of September. But the issues that have cropped up in the early going — many of them having to do with what's gone on on the pitcher's mound — have signaled that another losing season in the thick of the ongoing rebuilding process wouldn't come as a great shock.

That point being established, there's still been more to smile about in the early going this season than there was perhaps in the entirety of the 2018 campaign, what Rick Hahn described from the beginning as "the toughest part of the rebuild." That turned out to be prescient, with the White Sox losing 100 games. This year, the early season emergence of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jimenez have made it so there are exciting reasons to pay attention to what's going on on the South Side, all the while making for a lineup that can push across a good deal of runs.

Now imagine if Jose Abreu wasn't hitting below the Mendoza Line.

He's not anymore after a big night Monday, but the guy who's arguably still the team's best hitter when everything's right hasn't been right very often so far in 2019. That could be starting to change, though, and if it does, a lineup that's already a heck of a lot more threatening to opposing pitchers than it was at any point in 2018 could become even more fearsome, even more productive. And that leads to more wins, important not just for fans hoping for a surprise run at relevancy given the weak state of the division, but for a team building a lineup for the future that it hopes is scoring a whole bunch of runs in meaningful games in seasons to come.

Abreu went 3-for-5 in Monday night's 12-2 laugher in Baltimore, the White Sox bats looking even better with an opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching, which entered as the worst staff in the majors with a 6.21 ERA and owned a 6.37 ERA after Monday's blowout. But it's a three-game hitting streak for a guy whose average was down to .174 after Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. Since, he's 6-for-15 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Maybe it's just a nice three-game stretch, boosted by a chance to swing against the big leagues' worst pitching staff. But it allows the White Sox to dream about a lineup made ever more dangerous by the regular production of a two-time All Star and one of the AL's reigning Silver Sluggers.

Again, offense has not been the main reason the White Sox are still underwater, from a win-loss perspective, at this point. They aren't exactly blowing the doors off the league when it comes to their offensive prowess, middle of the pack in baseball with 106 runs scored this season. But they entered Monday's game with a 5.44 team ERA, one of the four worst marks in the bigs. The bullpen's ERAs are still on their way down after short outings from the starting staff in the season's first couple of weeks forced them into unenviable situations. One run allowed in Monday's bullpen day should help with that. The team ERA shot down to 5.27 after Monday's game, still not enough to vault them out of the bottom six teams in the league.

But reliable versions of Anderson (who's still hitting over .400), Moncada and Jimenez are pieces this lineup didn't have last year, and they've been three of the best parts of it so far in 2019. Leury Garcia has been quietly productive if not flashy while doing it. James McCann, who hit a three-run homer to start the scoring in Monday night's rout, has put up good numbers in limited time while splitting catching duties with Welington Castillo. Even Ryan Cordell, only the team's starting right fielder for a few days, has shown promise with a couple homers already. There have been holes, of course, chiefly Yolmer Sanchez — who was still hitting under .100 on April 13 but is now batting .231 after a three-hit night Monday — and the sent-down Daniel Palka. Abreu and Yonder Alonso, in the middle of the White Sox order, have been unproductive, as well, while the younger guys have flourished around them.

But an Abreu turnaround — or, really, an awakening, considering how early it still is — would boost the numbers and make the lineup capable of even more on a regular basis.

It could also be another factor in the ongoing conversation about a potential Abreu contract extension. While Hahn has suggested it's unlikely that such a deal would be struck during the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see it come before Abreu is set to hit free agency once the 2019-20 offseason begins. The White Sox are such big fans of what Abreu does in the clubhouse and as a mentor for younger players that production might not play as big a role as it normally would. But obviously the consistency of that production in Abreu's first five big league seasons certainly helps. To keep that production going with a late-April awakening would be all the more reason to keep Abreu around for the transition from rebuilding to contending.

The White Sox lineup has been promising to this point. It could become downright potent if Abreu starts knocking the ball around as we all know he can.

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