White Sox

Morosi: White Sox interested in both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

Morosi: White Sox interested in both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

The GM meetings aren't typically known for being exciting or really that useful at all, but every once in a while, we'll get a spicy new rumor from it. 

This year's first? Jon Morosi of MLB Network and Fox got the South Side of Chicago all worked up over this tweet: 

The Machado-to-the-White-Sox rumor isn't particularly groundbreaking, or even a stretch of the imagination. The Sox have the money and a serious positional need. In 2018, White Sox shortstops ranked 17th in WAR (2.1), 19th in wRC+ (88), 20th in wOBA (.298) and dead last in K/BB (0.21). Four stats don't tell the whole story, but it's pretty evident just how little offensive production they got from the shortstop position last season. 

Bryce Harper to the White Sox? That ain't it. 

Speculation sure is fun though! 

A different Daniel Palka in 2019? Don't worry, White Sox fans: 'I feel like the same stud I was before'

A different Daniel Palka in 2019? Don't worry, White Sox fans: 'I feel like the same stud I was before'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Rick Hahn said it at one point during the 2018 season: Daniel Palka has no interest in being a 27-year-old DH.

And so that’s what he’s trying to avoid heading into this new campaign.

Palka won a special place in the hearts and minds of White Sox fans last season, hitting 27 home runs in his rookie season and displaying everyman qualities that made him one of the most popular players on the team — all this despite not even making the Opening Day roster.

But while there was much to like about Palka’s 2018 — left-handed power and a knack for clutch hits among the highlights — there were obvious things that he needed to work on. His defense was the most discussed, and it seemed he was best suited for a role as a designated hitter.

To Palka’s credit, he worked every day with White Sox coach Daryl Boston to improve in the outfield, and his work carried into the offseason. And while he says he needed no extra motivation to transform from likely DH into big league outfielder, the team’s acquisition of Yonder Alonso — who will split time at first base and designated hitter with Jose Abreu — seemed to take away the DH opportunities Palka was ticketed for.

So now improving his defense becomes imperative if he wants to stay in the conversations surrounding the White Sox short- and long-term futures. He knows it.

“The whole offseason, we were working on defense and small footwork stuff just to get more mobile,” Palka said Saturday at Camelback Ranch. “I ate right, ran a lot. We did a lot more sprint work this year than I’ve ever done. Just wanted to come back and be ready to play in the outfield every day.

“Whether we have 18 DHs or not, I wanted to be able to say, ‘Hey, if I’m going to contribute on the team, I need to be in the outfield every day and playing a position.’”

And the good news for Palka is that he’s already noticing a difference in his defense.

“It’s night and day,” he said. “We did a lot of reps. Even the first day we got out there with (Boston). Everything was smooth. Defense is one of those things where you have to put in the work. Hitting is fun, but defense is work. It’s the first year I did that, so I’m pretty confident.”

The White Sox outfield is about to get a lot more crowded. While the Opening Day starting three might be relatively easy to project — Palka, Adam Engel and the newly acquired Jon Jay — top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez is expected to arrive a few weeks into the regular season and take over an everyday job in left field. And so Palka, Engel, Jay, Nicky Delmonico and Leury Garcia are left to fight for time at the other two spots. There will not be room for all of those players on the active roster.

Palka can offer left-handed pop none of those other guys can. But can he be improved enough with the glove to box them out? That’s one of the big questions of camp and the early part of the season.

“Whatever role I have to do, for me to be able to contribute to the team, I need to be playing defense,” Palka said. “I wanted to be able to contribute on both sides of the ball instead of just sitting. It just makes me more valuable to the team, and the more ways I can contribute the better.”

And defense isn’t the only thing Palka needs to improve to distinguish himself from his competition in the outfield. Despite the 27 home runs, he hit .240 with an on-base percentage of .294 in 2018. He’s worked on that, too, communicating with hitting coach Todd Steverson during the offseason and trying to improve his approach.

“It was a lot of fun stuff, but at the same time, I kind of looked back on it as frustrating,” Palka said of his rookie year. “You know you can do more. My plan is to be a hitter first. The homers will come. I’m a hitter, and I was a little raw last year in my approach but it was a good learning curve.

“You can do all the hitting and stuff you want to do in the offseason, but until you start and have a different approach in live at-bats, that’s where it’s going to change. So, I have to come in here and key in on my pitches early instead of just wanting to hit every single pitch.”

This all sounds like pretty serious business from a guy who won over fans by joking around on social media and during media sessions. Well, don’t worry. He’s hoping the work will make him a different caliber of fielder, but he’s not changing too much.

“I mean, I feel like the same stud I was before.”

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Michael Kopech has some eye-popping praise for Eloy Jimenez: 'I look at him as the Babe Ruth of our generation'

Michael Kopech has some eye-popping praise for Eloy Jimenez: 'I look at him as the Babe Ruth of our generation'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As if expectations weren’t high enough for Eloy Jimenez.

White Sox fans are eagerly awaiting Jimenez’s ascension to the major leagues, which is anticipated to happen within the first few weeks of the 2019 season. He’s the top-ranked prospect in the organization and the No. 3 prospect in the game. His statistical output, light-tower power, ever-present confidence and scouting reports from every corner of the baseball world have previewed Jimenez as a superstar in the making.

Even general manager Rick Hahn acknowledged this offseason that the White Sox expect Jimenez to become the caliber of player that puts him the same category as the “premium talent” the team has pursued on this winter’s free-agent market: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two of the best players in baseball.

And now you can add a comparison to arguably the greatest hitter in history.

“I look at him as the Babe Ruth of our generation,” Michael Kopech said Saturday at Camelback Ranch. “He’s going to be OK.”

Oh?

So apparently White Sox fans can expect to cheer on one of the best players of all-time, watch him belt more than 700 home runs and turn his name into an adjective — once he finally gets his first major league at-bat, that is.

That sounds pretty hyperbolic, but as illustrated, Kopech’s eye-popping praise is only the latest for a guy who’s expected to entrench himself in the middle of the South Side batting order for the better part of the next decade.

“Very smart hitter, very well rounded when gets to the plate,” Kopech said. “He’s very calm, doesn’t seem like he’s out of place at any point, no matter who’s on the mound. Very impressive to watch.

“I’ve seen that guy hit about everything as far as anyone can hit it, so I don’t know if there’s a pitch you could get by him.”

Jimenez had an opportunity to respond to Kopech's compliment and dolled out one of his own.

"Yeah, he told me that in Triple-A," Jimenez said. I feel proud and blessed. And I think he is the Nolan Ryan."

Jimenez didn’t make it to Chicago last year, but he was the No. 1 topic of discussion at Guaranteed Rate Field, with Hahn consistently peppered with questions about when Jimenez would be promoted to the big leagues. If it seemed a little premature, considering Jimenez had played in only 18 games above Class A when the 2018 season started, just look at what he did: a .337/.384/.577 slash line with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs in 108 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.

While the White Sox dealt with the financial realities of the game, Jimenez’s continued stay in the minor leagues prompted angry statements from his agents. And the player himself penned a piece for The Players’ Tribune about how ready he was for the majors. The latter wasn’t much of a controversy, though, as Jimenez has been talking about his big league readiness since he was acquired in the 2017 trade that brought him over from the Cubs.

Mix in that confidence with all the talent, and you get a guy who’s expected to hit the ground running when he finally gets called up, most likely sometime in mid April.

The transition from the minors to the majors can be tough for some. Kopech doesn’t think it will be a problem for Jimenez — even though he has to deal with Ruthian expectations.

“If there’s any struggles at all, it won’t be physically, it will be mentally. But I don’t see him struggling,” Kopech said. “He’s been a big leaguer in his own mind for a long time, and with good reason.”

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