White Sox

With a little help from Frank Thomas, the new and improved Lucas Giolito might be here to stay


With a little help from Frank Thomas, the new and improved Lucas Giolito might be here to stay

Lucas Giolito is sick of losing, which for the White Sox pitcher who took a notorious amount of lumps last season is actually an understatement.

“I’m really sick of losing,” Giolito said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “I went into the offseason personally like, ‘I don’t want to be a loser anymore. It’s time to figure it out and find ways to win.’”

In 2018, no pitcher in the majors received a harsher beating on the mound than Giolito. He gave up more runs (118) and walked more batters (90) than anyone in the American League. His 6.13 ERA and 1.48 WHIP were both the highest in the majors among qualified pitchers. The player once considered “the top pitching prospect in baseball” was on the road to becoming one of the game’s biggest busts unless he made some changes.

How much did he want to fix himself?

“Pretty much more than anything,” Giolito said. “I went into the offseason with this new hunger. I never want to feel like that on a baseball field again.”

Like the time he gave up nine runs on five hits and seven walks in just two innings last April against the Houston Astros.

“Those ones that blew up in my face in the first or second inning, it’s like, ‘What’s going on? Why am I allowing this to happen when I’ve been throwing a baseball for most of my life?'”

Pitching is all about control. But Giolito had almost no control when the ball came out of his hand.

“Bringing the walks down, that was the No. 1 thing. I walked a ridiculous amount of batters last year. To the point where it was like, ‘What are you doing, man?’”

So as fall turned to winter, Giolito went home to Southern California, looked in the mirror and bore down like he never had before.

“It wasn’t one of those offseasons where It’s like, 'I’m going to work really hard in the gym and continue to do what I’ve been doing to prepare myself,' because it wasn’t working. It hasn’t worked for a couple years now,” Giolito explained. “I had to go in with a new mindset, to figure things out, to really, really reconstruct some things. I worked really hard at it and now I’m starting to see a little bit of the results here early, but there’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Among the many changes that Giolito made, he shortened his delivery, key for a pitcher who stands 6-foot-6 and has arms like telephone poles. The cleaner delivery has added velocity and life to his fastball and also allows him to be more consistent with his pitches.

“The biggest thing is the consistency to get to my release point, being in the right firing position and be able to get over the ball more and more instead of flying open and having big misses.”

He also needed to cut down on stolen bases. Oh, did he. Teams were swiping bags at will against him.

“Every time a guy would get on first, he was pretty much standing on second,” Giolito admitted. “I was slow to the plate, I wasn’t varying my times, I wasn’t varying my looks. I would get into that snowball. You could call it a rhythm, but it was an anti-rhythm. Everyone on the bases was a carousel.”

He and pitching coach Don Cooper worked together in spring training, adding a slide step to Giolito’s delivery to get him quicker to the plate. After giving up 26 stolen bases last season, Giolito has allowed only one so far in 38 innings in 2019.

While White Sox coaches have certainly played a role in helping Giolito turn his career around, he also received some unexpected help from a certain Hall of Famer by the name of Frank Thomas.

The two of them were on the stage at an event for White Sox Charities in April when the South Side legend gave Giolito some surprising, yet necessary advice.

“I was standing right in front of Frank. He was behind me. He leans in and said, ‘You need to pitch inside more.’ I’m like, ‘I know, I know.’ He’s like, ‘For real. You need to pitch inside more,’” Giolito recalled.

One of the most feared hitters in baseball during his iconic career, The Big Hurt happens to have a big heart when it comes to helping current players with their craft. Thomas knows how throwing inside can make for an uncomfortable at-bat, even for a player like him.

Giolito got the message.

“My next start, I go to (James) McCann, and I’m like, ‘James, we need to pitch inside more. Let’s go. Righties, lefties, we got to get in there. You get a piece of advice from someone like Frank Thomas, that’s not something you let go through one ear and out the other. I took that to heart,” Giolito said.

In his last two starts, Giolito’s inside approach was on display against two of the top hitters he faced. First, in Cleveland, after giving up a single to Francisco Lindor in his first at-bat, Giolito delivered some chin music high and tight in Lindor’s next at-bat. The Indians All Star ended up striking out. Then in Toronto against Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 20-year-old phenom made hard contact in his first two appearances against Giolito with a double and a deep flyout to center. The next time Guerrero came to the plate, Giolito set him up by throwing inside. He eventually struck him out swinging.

“I’ve always viewed pitching inside as very important, especially for a starting pitcher who throws a lot of fastballs, but to have that reiterated by a legend, by someone who played here, made a lot of memories for a lot of people, knows the game a lot better than I do at this point, I think the message rang true,” Giolito said about Thomas.

Now, opponents around the league are getting the memo about Giolito, who has been a totally different pitcher in the first six weeks of the season.

Seeing Giolito struggle like he did in 2018 was painful to watch, but looking back, it could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to him in his career.

“I learned from every single thing. Every single good thing I did. If I was able to bear down and make adjustments in the middle of an inning, which didn’t happen very often last year, I learned from those situations when I did something that worked out,” he said. “But I learned a lot from the failures, and there were a lot of failures. Every single one made me hungrier and hungrier to figure it out and make me better.”

This year, Giolito is better. Much better. And that queasy feeling he’s had about losing is starting to subside. There’s still a lot of baseball remaining here in 2019, but after watching what the lanky right-hander has done so far, White Sox fans should hope for this: that the new and improved Lucas Giolito is here to stay.

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MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams


MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.

What happened in 2019

While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.

In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.

Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.

When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.

But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.

None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.

Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.

The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.

General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?

That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.

It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.

“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.

“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”

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