White Sox

James McCann isn't the cleanup hitter the White Sox expected, but he's doing well in the fourth spot

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USA TODAY

James McCann isn't the cleanup hitter the White Sox expected, but he's doing well in the fourth spot

This is not the cleanup hitter the White Sox or their fans expected when the season began.

James McCann, who started the year as the team's second catcher, if not the "backup" catcher in the strictest definition, has spent the last four games as the No. 4 hitter in the White Sox lineup. Historically, that's a spot that goes to one of the biggest run producers on the squad. While there's plenty of sound reasoning to the argument that it doesn't really matter where someone hits in the order — you'll hear more of it from McCann himself in a bit — it's still surprising to see McCann as Rick Renteria's everyday cleanup hitter right now.

After all, McCann entered his first year on the South Side after five seasons with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, with whom he slashed .240/.288/.366. In 13 games with the White Sox, he's got a .333/.382/.490 slash line. So a little different.

"I don't know that I feel like a cleanup hitter or a leadoff hitter or anything," McCann said ahead of Monday's game against the Baltimore Orioles. "When it's my turn to hit, I try to have a quality at-bat each and every time. If that means moving a runner, if that means driving a runner in or if that means getting on base. I think when guys get caught up in where they're hitting in the lineup they can get kind of mixed up and try to do too much or whatever it may be. Honestly, once you're the second time through the order, you're not really a cleanup hitter or a leadoff hitter anymore.

"Staying within myself, taking what's given to me, not trying to do too much," he said about his success at the plate this season. "I look back in my past, when things weren't going good, I was trying to do too much. When you try and do too much it ends up snowballing, a slump ends up being, instead of 10 to 15 at-bats, it ends up 20 or 30 at-bats. But if you stay within yourself and take what's given to you, those highs and those lows will stay more in the middle."

In the middle is where McCann's batting right now. It's a small sample size, of course, but he's done well batting behind the red-hot Jose Abreu. In the three games prior to Monday's, McCann went 5-for-13 out of the cleanup spot, a .385 average to go along with a .429 on-base percentage. That's pretty good.

It's also a stark contrast to the guy who spent the bulk of the team's first 22 games batting fourth, Yonder Alonso. The offseason acquisition has yet to really get going in 2019, the owner of an ugly .185 batting average and a .313 on-base percentage. He has hit four homers, and only three guys on the team (Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Abreu) have hit more. But this isn't exactly what was expected from Alonso when the White Sox traded for him in December.

McCann, who was acquired at practically the same time as Alonso, has been a pleasant surprise from an offensive standpoint. The team expected to get what he's been able to provide as a catcher working with a young pitching staff. But a cleanup hitter? That likely wasn't part of the deal.

But if he keeps hitting like this, the White Sox will be perfectly fine with this unexpected development.

"He’s been really, really good," Renteria said Monday. "Came into camp working very, very hard. You can see he’s quite a pro. He takes everything he does seriously. He has an idea of what he wants to do, he works very well with the staff, all the coaches, putting himself in terms of where he wants to be offensively.

"He’s had a good run here for us and we’re able to take advantage of that."

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Eloy Jimenez gets rave review from Yankees All Star: 'He can be a star for all of MLB'

Eloy Jimenez gets rave review from Yankees All Star: 'He can be a star for all of MLB'

The temperature is rising on the South Side, and if you look outside, you know it has nothing to do with Mother Nature.

Instead, it’s a heat wave coming from a fresh-faced 22-year-old slugger who’s crushing baseballs, igniting a fan base and screaming “Hi Mom!” to his actual mother whenever he spots a TV camera with its red light on.

Eloy Jimenez has arrived with the White Sox, and according to a New York Yankees All Star who has known him for years, the best is yet to come.

“Not this year, but next year, he’s going to be even better,” infielder Gleyber Torres said about Jimenez.

The two of them were signed by that team across town in 2013 when they were both 16 years old. They were practically inseparable back then, and they remain tight to this day.

“I talk with Gleyber pretty much every single day now. He’s kind of like my brother,” Jimenez said. “We haven’t lost that communication, and I think that’s good for us.”

Torres echoed similar thoughts about Jimenez.

“In my first couple years with the Cubs, he was my roommate every day. We’ve got a really good relationship. We’re like brothers. We are really good friends,” Torres said. “I’m just happy to see what he’s doing right now.”

Which, lately, has been just about everything.

There was that majestic home run Jimenez belted on Wednesday against the Washington Nationals that landed on the center field concourse at Guaranteed Rate Field, the two walks the next day when the Yankees decided to pitch around Jimenez as if he was a perennial All Star, and then the two-homer game on Friday: The first one gave the White Sox the lead, the second stuck a dagger into the Yankees, as well as the heart of his longtime friend.

“For sure, I didn’t like it,” Torres said with a smile about Jimenez’s two-homer, six-RBI game. “I’m not surprised. I knew Eloy before he signed with the Cubs out of the Dominican. He’s a big dude. The power is coming every day.”

How good can Jimenez be? Torres, who plays on a star-studded team with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius, sees Jimenez reaching the same stratosphere.

“He can be a star for all of MLB. He’s just a young guy right now, but when he matures a little more, he can do everything.”

Jimenez is turning up the heat in Chicago, and it’s not even summer yet.

The South Side can’t wait for the sizzle to come.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Eloy is coming? No. Eloy is here!

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Eloy is coming? No. Eloy is here!

Eloy Jimenez has arrived.

His rookie season has become special with big games and big moments, the latest being his two-homer, six RBI game against the Yankees. Chuck Garfien and Vinnie Duber discuss the magic of Eloy (1:30). Chuck interviews Jimenez after the game (6:20), Lucas Giolito is the first 10-game winner in baseball. Let that sink in (8:00). Die-hard White Sox fan Frank Kaminsky rips Cubs fans (13:00) and more.

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

White Sox Talk Podcast

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