White Sox

Prospects highlight White Sox spring training invitees

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USA TODAY

Prospects highlight White Sox spring training invitees

Pitchers and catchers report in just over three weeks and the White Sox announced the list of spring training invitees on Monday.

The White Sox signed six players to minor-league contracts to get them to camp, but, as has been the case for the past year-plus with the White Sox, all eyes will be on the prospects.

Pitchers Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease and position players Luis Robert, Zack Collins and 2017 first-round pick Jake Burger are among the top prospects the White Sox invited to spring training. The team’s top prospect, Eloy Jimenez, is already on the 40-man roster so he was already set to be included. Jimenez, Kopech, Hansen, Robert and Dunning were just included on Baseball America's top 100 prospects.

Kopech and Collins were in spring training last year and Jimenez was in spring training with the Cubs in 2017 so it’s not an entirely new experience for them, but White Sox fans will be able to get a more extended and accessible look at Jimenez for the first time. Robert will likely have extra attention on him due to this being his first professional baseball in the U.S. Robert played in the Dominican Summer League after signing with the White Sox last summer.

The other non-roster invitees are pitchers Chris Beck, Tyler Danish, Jordan Stephens, Connor Walsh, Brian Clark and Jordan Guerrero and position players Alfredo Gonzalez, Seby Zavala and Jacob May.

The players signed on minor-league contracts are Rob Scahill, Chris Volstad, Michael Ynoa, T.J. House, Patrick Leonard and Matt Skole. Volstad and Ynoa both pitched with the White Sox in 2017, but have since been removed from the 40-man roster. Scahill is a Chicagoland product who graduated from Willowbrook High School and pitched at Bradley in college.

White Sox still mum about Monday's starter as another option enters the picture

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USA TODAY

White Sox still mum about Monday's starter as another option enters the picture

Who’s going to start for the White Sox on Monday? They’re not saying just yet.

We know it won’t be Manny Banuelos, who’s on the injured list for what the team hopes is a brief stay. But someone has to take his turn in the rotation. Who?

“We're still talking about that as we speak right now,” was all manager Rick Renteria would offer up prior to Sunday’s series-finale against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Requiring a spot starter isn’t generally of so much interest, but given the fragile state of the White Sox starting staff and the dearth of major league ready starting-pitching depth in the organization, the pure mystery of this has become one worth following.

And considering how Banuelos has performed to this point — he’s got a 9.15 ERA in five starts — fans are looking for any other option that might be able to take his place on a more permanent basis. Given the White Sox liked Banuelos enough to trade for him over the offseason, they’re likely not ready to give up on him quite yet. But Banuelos has been through a ton of injuries prior to his current shoulder strain, and the ongoing negative results aren’t combining to make for a promising mix at the moment.

So what are the most likely options for Monday?

A simple bullpen day could be the most realistic option, especially if Banuelos is only going to miss one start, as he communicated was a possibility earlier in the week. That’s not the ideal way to kick off a four-game series against the Houston Astros, the best team in the American League. And of course it depends on how Renteria needs to deploy his bullpen Sunday. If Reynaldo Lopez can eat up a good chunk of innings after Lucas Giolito pitched all five innings in Saturday’s rain-shortened affair, then the bullpen — which is carrying an extra man with Banuelos on the IL — will be well rested and ready to soak up nine innings Monday night.

Then there are the two new faces down in Charlotte. Ross Detwiler pitched well Tuesday night (10 strikeouts in six one-run innings) and might find his way into the big league rotation at some point. Detwiler, who the White Sox recently plucked out of independent ball, hasn’t made a major league start since 2016. But he was on the hill for Charlotte on Sunday, so scratch him off the list of possibilities for Monday's game in Houston.

The White Sox added Odrisamer Despaigne to the organization Sunday. He’s a five-year major league veteran who was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate until a little while ago. He made eight starts there this season and had a 3.92 ERA, with his most recent outing coming May 10.

Those two options seem less of the permanent variety, so maybe a spot start could be in the cards.

What’s pretty certain is that White Sox fans won’t get their wish to see Dylan Cease promoted to make his major league debut Monday night in Houston. Cease is pitching well at Charlotte, but as general manager Rick Hahn has said numerous times, when Cease makes his debut will have nothing to do with a need at the big league level and everything to do with when the White Sox feel he’s ready. The emphasis is on having Cease log innings at Triple-A and get experience pitching at that level. Described as being on a track similar to the one Michael Kopech was on last season, Cease is more likely to debut in July or August than May or June.

This isn’t a list of fantastic options, obviously, and that’s the point. The rest of the Charlotte rotation has been roughed up for huge ERAs or is currently injured, too. The guys at Double-A have a little more future promise and might be allowed to develop further, just like the White Sox are doing with Cease.

It might just be one spot start, but it’s another step in the ongoing saga involving the team’s starting-pitching depth, or lack thereof.

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Rain-soaked day on the South Side can't wash away Lucas Giolito's continued resurgence

Rain-soaked day on the South Side can't wash away Lucas Giolito's continued resurgence

Saturday wasn’t Lucas Giolito’s best outing of the year, nor was it is longest, thanks to an extended bout of heavy rain that delayed the White Sox tilt with the Toronto Blue Jays almost three hours before it was finally called. But it was another good one, and Giolito’s status as the team’s most reliable starting pitcher remained intact.

It’s only been seven and a half months since Giolito finished his first full season in the major leagues as, statistically, baseball’s worst qualified starting pitcher. He led the game in ERA and WHIP. He led the American League in walks. It was a rough campaign that lasted as long as it did because the rebuilding White Sox were in a position to let their young players learn from their growing pains.

Well, a season later, Giolito seems to have learned plenty.

“I think he absorbed everything that happened last season, good and bad. I think it has played a huge role in his development and his growth,” manager Rick Renteria said before Saturday’s game. “I think he’s taken ahold and challenged himself and sought to look to improve and do things that are going to help him continue to evolve as a pitcher at the major league level.

“I think to this point he has shown that he has taken ahold of some of the changes that he’s gravitated to. But on top of that, the confidence, his mentality. He’s a pretty driven kid, pretty bright kid. I’m glad we have him on our side. I’m really looking forward to continuing to see him grow as a Chicago White Sox.”

Giolito lowered his season ERA to 3.35 with five innings of one-run ball Saturday, giving up just three hits and a pair of walks and technically recording his first career complete game, the franchise’s first since September 2016.

The most impressive moment came as the skies opened up and the goal seemed clear: make this an official game in case the rain meant no further baseball. Giolito, pitching in a monsoon, struck out the three batters he faced in the top of the fifth inning, accomplishing that goal in dominating fashion, even if the umpires and Blue Jays hitters might have had the same results in mind.

“Everyone was joking about that. They were like, 'Shower! Complete game!' I don't consider it a complete game until I get nine,” Giolito said after the game was called. “But I went out there for the fifth, saw the rain coming down, and I was like, 'All right, we've got to pick up the tempo a little bit.' Luckily, we were able to get through five and close it out there.

“The raindrops were so big that they were getting into my glove, on the ball, getting on my hand. So my approach was just to attack the strike zone with a fast pace and hopefully get a nice 1-2-3 inning, and that's what we did.”

Giolito’s logged three quality starts and could very well have two more had those outings not been shortened. In addition to Saturday’s rain-impacted affair, Giolito had to exit his April 17 start against the Kansas City Royals with a hamstring injury after just 2.2 innings.

Giolito’s been a different pitcher in 2019, taking a leap that has thrust him back into a conversation many fans and observers kicked him out of after how 2018 went. Once the top-rated pitching prospect in baseball, plenty of folks gave up on Giolito’s long-term status as a member of the White Sox rotation of the future. But he’s on the way to achieving the kind of consistency he struggled to find last season.

“I think he feels that everything he's doing right now is going to be able to lead him to have an opportunity to do what he wants on the mound,” Renteria said after the game. “He doesn't get flustered. He's very much under control in his emotions, all the things he was working to control last year. With the change of his arm swing, his ability to repeat and execute along with another year under his belt in the big leagues and being able to trust himself.”

While a physical change has been beneficial, Giolito gave plenty of credit to his mental approach this season, his different way of reacting to trouble and settling down in tight spots.

“Definitely the mental side,” he said. “Cleaning up a lot of things when it comes to my mind racing out there. I walked two batters in the fourth, and whereas last year that might get me going a little bit, might be rushing and trying to get out of it really fast, now I'll take my deep breath, reset, know what I can do and just execute.

“It's all in the breath. If things are starting to go a little bit haywire out there, I always go back to my breath. Step off the mound, take a big, deep breath, reset, forget about what happened, on to the next pitch.”

There’s a lot of baseball left to be played, of course, and just like one rough season in 2018 didn’t mark a definitive end of Giolito’s long-term prospects, a string of good starts early on in 2019 doesn’t mark a definitive return of them. But this is a very positive sign for a team with its focus on the future and a pleasant surprise for a fan base that watched plenty of bad starts from Giolito last season.

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