White Sox

Major League Baseball hands Welington Castillo an 80-game suspension after positive test for banned substance

Major League Baseball hands Welington Castillo an 80-game suspension after positive test for banned substance

A day after it was reported that Welington Castillo would receive an 80-game suspension for violating baseball’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball made it official and announced the ban.

Castillo, the veteran catcher brought in by the White Sox this past offseason, tested positive for a banned substance, per the league’s announcement, and was handed the 80-game suspension for first-time offenders.

Castillo released a statement a few hours after the suspension was officially handed down.

“I was recently notified by Major League Baseball that I had tested positive for EPO, a substance that is prohibited under MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement,” he said. “The positive test resulted from an extremely poor decision that I, and I alone, made. I take full responsibility for my conduct. I have let many people down, including my family, my teammates, the White Sox organization and its fans, and from my heart, I apologize. Following my suspension, I look forward to rejoining my teammates and doing whatever I can to help the White Sox win.”
It was the first time since new, harsher rules were put in place in 2005 in the wake of baseball’s steroid era that the White Sox have had a major league player suspended for such an offense.

Reports Wednesday night — which came out while Castillo was playing in the White Sox game against the visiting Baltimore Orioles, his former team — indicated that Castillo did not test positive for a steroid, but rather for a non-steroid performance-enhancing drug. Baseball's announcement indicated that Castillo tested positive for Erythropoietin, a performance-enhancing substance.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn released a statement on the suspension: "The Chicago White Sox were saddened and disappointed to learn of the suspension of catcher Welington Castillo for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Welington has apologized to the team and his teammates and has taken full responsibility for his actions.  He understands that he has negatively affected the team and has fallen short of the expectations we have of our players.  The White Sox fully support Major League Baseball's policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing substances from our game.”

Castillo has a key role on this White Sox team as a veteran catcher tasked with helping to develop a group of young pitchers, two of whom are seen as very important pieces of the organization’s ongoing rebuilding effort: Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. How Castillo’s 80-game absence affects their development remains to be seen. Omar Narvaez, not as adept defensively behind the plate as Castillo, will take over as the team’s No. 1 catcher.

While the White Sox work to develop a specific identity and culture through this rebuilding process, this suspension seemingly flies in the face of what manager Rick Renteria is attempting to create with his preaching of playing hard, playing the right way and giving everything you’ve got. It was Castillo who was benched earlier this week for not running to first base on a popup. Renteria has done that several times this year, and it makes one wonder how such an egregious violation of baseball’s rulebook will be handled inside the clubhouse both during and after Castillo’s suspension.

Castillo’s future is also a topic of discussion in the wake of this news. He signed a two-year deal with the White Sox during the offseason, and there’s a team option for a third. It seemed to be an addition that would act as a bridge to highly ranked catching prospect Zack Collins, who along with fellow catching prospect Seby Zavala is having a nice offensive season at Double-A Birmingham. Collins and Zavala aren’t necessarily close to hitting the major leagues, and if this suspension should change Castillo’s future with the team, perhaps it could impact those prospects’ futures, as well. Maybe Castillo wouldn’t be around to provide a veteran safety net in 2020 or whenever they reach the big leagues.

With Kevan Smith, who lost out on the backup catcher’s job in spring training, on the disabled list at Triple-A Charlotte, the White Sox brought Alfredo Gonzalez up from the minors to serve as the backup to Narvaez and take Castillo’s spot on the active roster. But it’s possible Gonzalez will be just a temporary solution until Smith returns to full health.

Can Luis Robert live up to the hype? 'He makes the game look pretty easy'

Can Luis Robert live up to the hype? 'He makes the game look pretty easy'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Yoan Moncada hype was pretty huge. So was the Michael Kopech hype. And the Eloy Jimenez hype.

But like the answer to the question about who is the best Bears quarterback of all time, the answer to which White Sox prospect has the most hype always seems to be: the next one.

The next one is Luis Robert, and his hype is sky high for a somewhat unique reason among this generation of White Sox up-and-comers. He’s a true five-tool threat who can do everything on a baseball field. Jimenez went as far as calling him “the next Mike Trout” during SoxFest.

Ask his teammates what impresses them the most about Robert, and they take a broad approach to answering, as good an indication as any that what makes Robert so special isn’t one thing. It’s everything.

“All of his game, all the things he does on the field,” third baseman Yoan Moncada said Monday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I can’t pick just one.”

“He can do it on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive side,” second baseman Nick Madrigal said. “He’ll hit a 400-plus-foot home run one day, and then he’ll make a Superman catch in the outfield. It seems like he can do it all. Stealing bases every day. He’s definitely the complete package.”

It’s that overflowing toolbox that has made the prospect evaluators out there peg Robert as the best of the White Sox bunch. Moncada, Jimenez, Kopech, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito. All those guys are cornerstones of this rebuilding project. But Robert has the potential to be the brightest star of all.

You only need a sampling of the highlights that accompanied his rapid rise through the minor league system in 2019, when he played at three different levels, to know this. He launched home runs, made highlight-reel grabs in center field, stole 36 bases and slashed .328/.376/.624.

Now he’s got a big-money contract that cleared the way for him to start the 2020 season on the big league roster and will keep him in a White Sox uniform for as many as eight seasons.

It’s all added up to huge expectations as he gets his first taste of the major leagues. Like Moncada and Jimenez before him, just huger.

“I am confident that I am going to have a very good year this year,” Robert said through Russo on Sunday. “I think my mind is strong and in the right place. What I did last year reinforced all the things that I know that I can do on the field. It helped me a lot.

“One of the things that I’m going to learn is that I’m going to need to make adjustments as quickly as possible, as fast as possible, because I know that in the major leagues, I won’t have too much time to waste.”

And so the question becomes whether Robert can live up to the hype. As Moncada and Giolito and Jimenez showed, growing pains would not be unexpected, and even the most hyped prospects who eventually became big league stars had to go through bumpy roads in the early going.

Moncada’s and Giolito’s struggles in their first full seasons in the majors were dramatic, with Moncada striking out 217 times and Giolito posting the worst statistics of any starter in the game. Jimenez hit 31 home runs as a rookie, but he also faced his share of struggles.

Fans are ready for Robert to set the major leagues on fire the same way he did the minors. Taking a little while to get that fire going would not be at all surprising.

“When I spoke to him once we extended him, I reached out to congratulate him and he texted me back: ‘It’s time to go to work,’” manager Rick Renteria said. “He knows this is just the first step, and I think he understands that there are a lot of people expecting so many different things.

“It’s just our job to make sure he understands: ‘Just go out there and play the game. You are not the only one here. There will be a lot of guys here who have to do their particular job and hopefully as you move along, you are able to balance it out.’

“You are always trying to prove you belong here. It takes a little time to ultimately settle down. It won’t be any different for him than any of the other guys.”

And that’s a resource Robert can lean on. The past experiences of Moncada, going through his struggles in 2018, or Kopech, making his big league debut to much fanfare, or Jimenez, admitting that he was a little too anxious when he arrived in the big leagues last Opening Day, can be of great assistance to Robert as he takes his own first steps as a major leaguer.

“The biggest and the key advice from me to him is just to be patient, be calm,” Moncada said. “He’s going to want to do a lot of things. ‘Just take your time.’ I’m going to be around him, (Jose Abreu) is going to be around him. For him it’s going to be very important to be patient and calm because he has the talent to do good things but he needs to also control all the world around him.”

“During SoxFest, we were talking about the things that I’m going to face during my first season in the major leagues. And I am pretty sure they are going to keep giving me advice throughout the whole season,” Robert said, “just about things that I need to improve, things I can do better or things that I’m going to face, how to manage those challenges or those situations. I know that I’m going to have them on my side, and they’re going to help me.”

At the same time, pressure doesn’t really seem to be a word Robert spends a lot of time thinking about.

“Since I signed with the team, I know the expectations have been high, but it hasn’t affected me at all,” he said. “This year won’t be any different. I just need to do my work.”

While it’s a good idea to lessen any pressure and temper expectations for a 22-year-old kid who’s never faced a major league pitch in his life, there’s a reason those expectations are as high as they are. There’s a reason he’s ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball.

Robert is really, really talented. And he can do just about anything you’d want a baseball player to do.

Can he live up to the hype? While the realistic answer is to be patient, you can’t help but see some of the giddiness breaking through.

“It just seems like he’s a different player out there, you know?” Madrigal said. “Sometimes when he’s locked in, it seems like he makes the game look pretty easy. One pitch, it looks like he gets fooled, and the next pitch, he’s hitting it out of the ballpark.”

“I think the fans are going to get crazy just watching him, what he’s capable of doing on the field,” Moncada said. “It’s going to be an exciting time for them. He can do a lot of stuff, and everybody’s going to be very, very happy and excited for him on the field and just watching what he’s doing.”

The Luis Robert Show debuts March 26 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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Why Dallas Keuchel signed with the White Sox and what his expectations are for 2020

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USA TODAY

Why Dallas Keuchel signed with the White Sox and what his expectations are for 2020

White Sox fans are going to love Dallas Keuchel for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with No. 56.

If Keuchel had a Mount Rushmore of his all-time favorite pitchers, he’d probably put White Sox legend Mark Buehrle up there front and center. Like a Buehrle clone, Keuchel is a trademark soft-tossing left-hander with a World Series ring and a trophy case filled with Gold Glove Awards.

Keuchel’s admiration for Buehrle is pure gold.

“He’s somebody who at the end of my career, hopefully I’m still compared to him years from now," Keuchel said about Buehrle in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. "It’s an honor."

No one can ever replace Buehrle. Keuchel is just hoping he can have a White Sox career that comes close to it.

“(Buehrle) is synonomous with the White Sox. Obviously, he’s got a perfect game and a no-hitter, multiple Gold Gloves, a World Series champion. That’s stuff that gives me motivation," Keuchel said. "That gives me chills thinking about how big of a career he had. I hope he comes around Chicago a few times because I would love to talk to him just about anything and everything.”

This has to happen, right?

How Keuchel came to the White Sox started early in the offseason. In fact, as early as legally possible. Rick Hahn sent a text to Keuchel’s agent, Scott Boras, the morning after the World Series. The White Sox were the first team to reach out.

But what Hahn didn’t know at the time was that Keuchel had already scouted the White Sox. He was all-in dating back to August. That’s when the White Sox came to town to face Keuchel’s Braves. The former Cy Young Award winner was impressed, to say the least.

“I saw a three game set, and it really opened my eyes to the progress that they had made,” Keuchel said. “I saw a big leap, and not just the Abreu’s of the world. Giolito made a big step last year, Moncada, Anderson.  Jimenez, I got to see that power potential, thankfully not against me.”

Keuchel faced the White Sox in one of those three games. Jimenez got three singles against him, Anderson went 2-for-5 and Moncada had an RBI single. Keuchel gave up two runs on nine hits in six innings en route to a win.

Keuchel decided to jump at the chance to play for the White Sox because he believes they’re on the verge of something big.

“Honestly, the only next step is just getting to the playoffs and getting a taste of that,” he said. “Ultimately, when the offseason started, that’s really what drove me. (The White Sox) were one team that initially peaked my interest.  When I heard word there was early interest, it really excited me.”

Going through the rebuild, the White Sox were on the receiving end of way too many losses. After a while, that much losing can damage your baseball soul.

Keuchel knows from experience.  

He lived it during the Houston Astros rebuild when they lost over 105 games for three consecutive seasons. He was aboard for the final two 100-loss drubbings before they finally broke through and eventually won the World Series in 2017.

“Once the doors started to get kicked down and opened for the Astros when I was establishing myself and we had a chance to win every night, that is really the only feeling I’ve wanted to have since,” Keuchel said. “For (the White Sox) to be in this position, and add a couple guys in free agency, really says we’re trying to win now, and that’s the feeling that I want to push towards these guys. Once you get that winning feeling, it’s addicting.”

Keuchel says communication is really important to winning, even if that means communicating to the general manager how much he wants to win — and expects to.

“I told (Rick Hahn), four out of the last five years I’ve made the playoffs. To me, there’s no better feeling,” Keuchel said of his recent conversation with the GM.  “I said, ‘I don’t plan on stopping my string of appearances in the playoffs.’ I just wanted to reiterate, that’s where I’m coming from. That’s what I expect.”

Those are certainly encouraging words to hear considering the White Sox haven’t made the playoffs since 2008.  But most everyone in baseball believes that the times they are a changin’ on the South Side. The days of the painful rebuild and a half-empty ballpark appear to be in the past.

Keuchel is hoping for more wins and more fans coming out to Guaranteed Rate Field.

“The thing that I was saying in Houston for a number of years was, if I was a fan, I wouldn’t like the product either if it was subpar,” he said. “If you’re going to pay money to watch sub-par talent, you should just go to the casino and throw out your money and just walk away. I don’t blame fans at all for any sort of support or no support during lean times.

"But it’s going to be a whole lot different this year, and I think the AL Central is up for grabs. Division titles are very nice because you’re guaranteed a five-game set [in the postseason]. I’m hoping that the fans come out and we see a lot of numbers in the 20 (thousands), 25, 30. That would mean a lot to us. We’re going to continue to play ball. It’s going to be exciting.”

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