White Sox

Micker Adolfo staying 'very positive' during long Tommy John surgery recovery

Micker Adolfo staying 'very positive' during long Tommy John surgery recovery

On a November morning in Glendale, Ariz., the sparkling fields at Camelback Ranch scream for baseball, but look around, and it feels like a ghost town. The hustle and bustle you see during spring training has been replaced by the sound of nothingness, just desert air breezing by, tumbleweeds rolling through the parking lot far off in the distance.

This is where you will find Micker Adolfo, the White Sox prospect working his way back to health and back to baseball.

He’s the only player at the facility.

Welcome to the life of an athlete returning from Tommy John surgery, an often lonely, isolating existence, where time stands still, and baseball dreams get put on hold.

“Body wise, I’m 40 percent, arm wise 30 percent. Still a long way to go,” said Adolfo, who’s about four months removed from the surgery to repair the UCL in his right elbow.

It's a procedure that usually needs eight to 10 months to heal. It’s an injury to his throwing arm, arguably the best outfield arm in the entire White Sox organization. Add the fact that he’s 6-foot-3 and has the physique of an NFL tight end and you can dream about the 22-year-old’s ceiling, which is somewhere in the high Arizona sky.

If all three of them reach their potential, or come close to it, the White Sox would have a dynamic future outfield of Adolfo, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

During last spring training, a day before Adolfo learned about his elbow injury, the three of them were standing in the outfield together, dreaming about the possibilities.

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day be part of the same outfield in the major leagues, hitting behind each other in the order, envisioning ourselves winning championships,” Adolfo said. “I really envision myself someday in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

Adolfo met Jimenez when they were both 15. They’ve been friends ever since. Right after Jimenez was traded from the Cubs to the White Sox, Adolfo was the first player to call Jimenez.

“I’m glad he’s here now,” Adolfo said.

If the White Sox happen to sign a big-time free agent outfielder to a long term contract, that could wreck their plans of sharing the same outfield.

“It’s so much fun to see the amount of talent we have in this system, not just the outfielders but everybody. Some of us might make it with the White Sox, others might not. All you can control is going out there and giving 100 percent,” Adolfo said.

Tommy John surgeries are a reality in baseball. They’ve just happened to hit the White Sox farm system square in the gut in the last year and a half, taking out Adolfo, Michael Kopech and Zack Burdi.

Sometimes Adolfo is joined by other injured White Sox prospects who have made Camelback Ranch their second home: Burdi, Jake Burger and 2017 10th round pick J.B. Olson to name a few.

Burdi and Olson are further along in their TJ recoveries. They’ve offered wisdom and advice to Adolfo.

“I was having a hard time with my range of motion,” Adolfo said. “I would talk to them. What’s some stuff I can do to improve?”

Adolfo’s rehab is a little easier now in one respect: baseball season is over. No need to follow (or ignore) the box scores. Adolfo’s main focus is his health — and the calendar.

“My timetable for throwing is sometime near January. Obviously I won’t be full-go for spring training, but they’re hoping at least I’ll be full-go to hit and I’ll work my way back into the outfield,” Adolfo said.

He’s hoping to be back full-time as both a hitter and outfielder by May or June.

“(The White Sox) are probably going to want to take it slow and I want to take it slow,” Adolfo said.

It’s been a rollercoaster year for Adolfo who after spraining the UCL, got the medical green light to DH to start the season since it couldn’t do any future damage to his arm. He went to Class-A Winston-Salem, where he had a breakthrough season, slashing .282/.369/.464 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 79 games.

By mid-season, there seemed to be another breakthrough in regards to his injury.

“I went back to Chicago and (the elbow) was healed,” Adolfo said.

He went on a throwing program for a month. He was close to getting back in the outfield. But then…

“A day before I was supposed to take the outfield, on the last throw doing infield (drills), I felt a pop again, and that was it. Surgery was definitely required at that moment. I felt it immediately,” Adolfo explained.

Adolfo would have the TJ surgery. A full recovery is expected, but to get so close to returning to the outfield and have a setback like that was crushing to say the least.

“It was pretty upsetting because we built such a good bond with that team in Winston. We were doing so good. We won the first half together. I felt like I was a special part of that team, and then it was just gone,” he said.

Despite not being able to play in the second half of the season, Adolfo doesn’t have to look far to find some silver linings to his injury.

“Nobody wants to go through this, but this is actually a good time to know my body,” he said. “I’m working on a lot of things that I’ve never worked on before. A lot of exercises I’m doing, I didn’t know about them. It’s not heavyweight, it’s lightweight stuff and doing a lot of reps, activating those little muscles.”

Unable to play the outfield this past season, Adolfo took advantage of the extra time to fully concentrate on his hitting.

“I walked more than I did last season in less plate appearances. My strikeout rate went down as well. That’s something I’m going to continue to try to improve as the years go on,” Adolfo said. “I was just focused on my hitting. Not to take away from defense and all that, because I take pride in everything, but I wanted to get better as a hitter. I’m very happy that happened.”

In the meantime, it’s back to the grind of recovery. There are good days and bad days. Sometimes you see the light at the end of the tunnel, other times, it’s an oncoming train hauling a heavy freight of doubt and fear.

That’s the reality of this kind of surgery, but Adolfo sees better days ahead.

“I’m very positive right now,” Adolfo said. “I’m hoping for the best come spring training.”

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

It might not be possible to measure the effect Yasmani Grandal has already had on the 2020 White Sox.

While the team’s first big splash signing of the winter has been met with near universal acclaim — how could you not love a guy with Grandal’s track record of offensive production and winning experience? — plenty wondered why it happened in the first place. After all, the White Sox already boasted an All-Star catcher in James McCann.

Sure, two All-Star backstops are better than one. But with so much still on Rick Hahn’s offseason to-do list when the move was made, why spend big bucks — the richest contract in team history — on a position you already had covered?

Well, the 2020 campaign hasn’t even started yet, and already Grandal’s worth is evident.

As much love as McCann got for his skills as a game-planner during his All-Star season in 2019, the rave reviews for Grandal take things to a whole different level.

“I got to talk with Yaz for a while, I played catch with him today down the road. He’s already got a plan for me, how he wants to set up, attack guys, showing me the program he uses. It’s awesome,” new White Sox reliever Steve Cishek said before SoxFest kicked off Friday. “He’s ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him.

“Just talking with him today, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about. And then you see why he’s one of the best catchers in the game. And then how mentally prepared he is, we’re not even into February yet, and he knows what he wants to do with each and every one of us. That’s incredible to me. He’s just planning ahead.

“I introduced myself. He wanted to play catch, just to see what my stuff does first hand. … First conversation after playing catch, he’s like, ‘Did you see me messing around? I was standing over here just to see if you would start your fastball over here. This is how I’m planning on setting up with you. I watched how Willson (Contreras) set up with you last year. I like how he did it, but I want to try this way, too.’

“Are you kidding me? When can we start? Let’s go.”

It’s clear from talking to his new teammates — some, like Cishek, who haven’t even been able to spend much time with him — that Grandal is prepared to the point where he’s ready for the season to start yesterday.

Rick Hahn revealed when the White Sox signed Grandal way back in November, that the newest backstop on the South Side is the kind of student who asks for homework — then devours it in no time.

“We met with him in Phoenix (the) Tuesday afternoon during the GM meetings, but I think it was by Thursday, he had reached back out and requested video of each of our starters and wanted to spend some time getting to know each of them,” Hahn explained the day the White Sox announced Grandal’s four-year contract. “He had some familiarity from afar but wanted to spend some up close time learning their strengths and weaknesses and how to get them better.

“He and I, since things became official late last night, we’ve been texting back and forth about various guys both on our roster and available throughout the league. He really has a deep, deep knowledge of how to maximize a pitcher’s ability. He’s tireless worker.”

Though the White Sox have yet to converge on Camelback Ranch for spring training, that unmatched work ethic has already become apparent to Grandal’s new teammates. These pitchers haven’t had much opportunity to work with Grandal yet — as Cishek mentioned, he talked with Grandal for the first time Friday before heading to SoxFest — but they’ve already been blown away by the kind of preparation and the kind of work Grandal has done.

It’s the kind of effect a veteran with winning experience can have on a young group.

“I haven't personally thrown to him, but having conversations with him about pitching and pitch mechanics, he's very intellectual,” Michael Kopech said earlier this week. “He himself is very serious about his training and his body and his regimen. It's refreshing to see somebody take that much pride in what their doing.

“Not that we don't have that already, we've always had that. But to have that veteran role step in and show you that you can do this and you can do this for a long time, it means the world to us, because that's what we're all wanting to get to.”

One of the White Sox other offseason splashes, Dallas Keuchel, has on multiple occasions talked about Grandal as an attractive selling point that helped bring him to the South Side. Friday night, he described Grandal signing with the White Sox as “mind-blowing.”

Grandal has excited pitchers who were already a part of the organization, too.

“When he signed, the first thing I did was I went to YouTube and I looked him up,” Dylan Cease said Friday. “First, I started with his framing highlights, because there’s a YouTube (video) of that. And then I went to his hitting. I was like, ‘All right. This is a nice addition.’”

That would seem to be an understatement.

Obviously, Grandal will be expected to add something special to the White Sox lineup, and his career .348 on-base percentage in eight major league seasons — not to mention a career-best 28 home runs in 2019 — ought to provide plenty offensively.

But Grandal is here to help the Ceases of the world, too. While Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez bring some veteran reliability to the South Side starting staff, the White Sox will need to see some improvement from both Cease and Reynaldo Lopez from the not-so-stellar numbers they put up last season if they’re truly going to contend for a spot in the postseason.

Grandal is making that his mission, to help the younger pitchers blossom into the stars their once lofty prospect rankings said they could be.

“This not being the first time (I’ve been through this kind of thing), I understand it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take some time,” Grandal said Friday. “We’re not going to try and hurry the process up, we’re just going to let it be. We know what we have, and we’re just going to take it one day at a time.

“Once I have at least 80 games behind the plate, we’ll look at the bigger picture and start making the bigger strides and start doing the things that we really have to do. We’ve got to lay some sort of base in order to start building. I feel like we’ve moved in the right direction so far this offseason. It comes down to me and the whole catching group getting together with the pitchers.”

That kind of work is something Grandal has already shown he’s willing and excited to do. He’s impressed the pitchers he’ll be catching in their limited interactions, and while he describes a potentially time-consuming process in getting everyone to where they need to be, he’s still thrilled to be working with this group of arms. He continues to explain that it’s the No. 1 thing that drew him to the South Side.

Because as a guy who’s played in each of the last four postseasons knows, it’s all about the pitching.

“As we saw in the past World Series, the Nationals kind of did exactly what needed to be done. They relied on their pitching staff,” he said, “and they got big hits when they needed it. At any point, once you get to the playoffs, if you have the right amount of pitchers, you can have a big win.

“Let’s just get there first.”

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Live from Opening Night of SoxFest 2020

NBC Sports Chicago

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Live from Opening Night of SoxFest 2020

David Kaplan is joined by Chuck Garfien as they speak with the newest White Sox winter acquisitions from this offseason as well as the current White Sox core from Opening Night of SoxFest 2020 in McCormick Place.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast