At the end of the 2018 season, Lucas Giolito was statistically the worst pitcher in baseball. James McCann was on his way to getting non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers.
Halfway through the 2019 season, both guys are All Stars.
A pair of incredible turnarounds were honored Sunday, when Giolito and McCann were named to the American League All-Star team. So, too, was Jose Abreu, who is an All Star for the third time in his career. They’ll all represent the White Sox a week from now at the All-Star Game in Cleveland. It's the first time the White Sox have sent at least three players to the All-Star Game since 2014.
Giolito’s transformation has been nothing short of stunning. He led the game’s qualified starting pitchers last season with a 6.13 ERA, a 1.48 WHIP and 118 earned runs allowed. His 90 walks were the most issued by any AL pitcher. But through the first three months of the 2019 campaign, he’s been as good a Cy Young candidate as you’ll find in the Junior Circuit. After five innings of work against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, he’s got a 2.72 ERA on the season.
He was particularly dominant during a nine-start stretch in May and June during which he went 9-0 with a 1.30 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 62.1 innings.
Thanks to the ugly numbers he put up in 2018, Giolito was cast out of many fans’ projected rotations of the future for these rebuilding White Sox. After a half season of sensational pitching, he looks capable of being someone who could lead that rotation of the future.
Giolito is the White Sox first All-Star pitcher since Chris Sale and Jose Quintana both made the team in 2016, appropriate as he was acquired in one of the three trades so important to the White Sox rebuilding process, the first of which sent Sale out of town and the third of which sent Quintana to the other side of town. Giolito has been one of the best pitchers in the AL to this point and figures to at least receive some consideration to start the All-Star Game. Sale started the 2016 game in San Diego.
McCann, meanwhile, is a tremendous turnaround story in his own right. The White Sox picked him up off the free-agent heap with designs of him being a backup to Welington Castillo and serving as a veteran bridge of sorts to highly touted catching prospect Zack Collins. While the team thought he would have a positive impact on the pitching staff, it was hard to expect much from him offensively after he slashed .240/.288/.366 in his five seasons in Detroit.
Instead, McCann has shattered all expectations. He quickly usurped Castillo as the team’s No. 1 catcher, and his offensive production has made him a middle-of-the-order bat for the White Sox. Entering Sunday, he owned a .320/.378/.519 slash line, numbers that ranked first, first and fourth among AL catchers with at least 100 at-bats. At 29 years old — and under team control for another season — it’s not outrageous to suggest that McCann could be a part of the team’s long-term plans.
McCann is the franchise’s first All-Star catcher since A.J. Pierzynski in 2006.
It’s fitting that Giolito and McCann are going to the All-Star Game together, as Giolito has given McCann credit for helping him turn things around. Certainly there was a lot of offseason work that went into Giolito’s transformation before the two met up at spring training. But Giolito has credited McCann for his game-calling skills and allowing him to focus on executing his pitches.
And Abreu will make his second consecutive, and third overall, third to the Midsummer Classic. He was elected as the AL's starting first baseman a year ago, and now he's getting a nod for a productive first half that has featured 19 home runs and 60 RBIs to this point. As of this writing, only two AL players had driven in more runs than Abreu. After an uncharacteristic slump and a couple freak injuries ended Abreu's streak of 25 homers and 100 RBIs, he's well on his way to reaching those totals in 2019, even if his averages haven't rebounded similarly. In fact, he's on pace to set new career highs in home runs and RBIs.
Abreu, constantly praised for what he does off the field and in the clubhouse as a mentor for young players, sure seems to be in the White Sox plans past the 2019 season, even though he's scheduled to hit free agency at the end of the year.
Considering every team gets at least one representative, the White Sox sending three players to the Midsummer Classic might not seem like some tremendous leap in the quality of play on the South Side. But it’s yet another positive during a 2019 campaign that’s had a lot of them to this point. Giolito’s turnaround has been perhaps the biggest story of the season to date, but he’s one of a growing list of players that are having strong seasons and making the future look even brighter. Certainly McCann and Abreu are on that list, too, and though Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez won’t be going to Cleveland, they’re a big reason for big optimism moving forward. Dylan Cease’s major league debut Wednesday will be another before the All-Star break hits.
So while the All-Star nods for Giolito, McCann and Abreu are excellent individual honors, they also go a long way toward highlighting the future of this franchise, as well, showing that the rebuild is moving in a positive direction.