White Sox

Sox Drawer Q&A: Roadtripping to Spring Training

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USA TODAY

Sox Drawer Q&A: Roadtripping to Spring Training

Glendale, Ariz. — White Sox spring training is here! Well, almost here. Pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch on Wednesday. Position players aren’t due until February 17 (although some players like Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez have already arrived).

I’ve been covering White Sox spring training since 2005. This was the first time I actually made the drive from Chicago. It took three days to complete the 1,500-mile trip. We stopped in Tulsa, Okla. the first night, then Albuquerque, N.M., the second night before arriving in Phoenix on the afternoon of the third day.

A shout out to a man named Ralph Teetor. Who’s he? The mechanical engineer who invented cruise control in 1948. Me and my right foot owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

I was hoping to spot Manny Machado or Bryce Harper hitchhiking on the side of the road with a sign that read, “Glendale, Arizona or bust.”  

Unfortunately, no Machado. No Harper. But here’s one last winter edition of the Sox Drawer!

Q: When will Sox sign Machado? Or Harper? Or Machado and Harper? You didn't expect that kind of a question, did you? -- @kwiat07

CG: Oh, I did. They came flooding my direction once again. I think I speak for everyone when I say I cannot wait for this Harper/Machado suspense to mercifully come to an end! And hopefully with the White Sox signing one of them. Will it happen? I still believe the White Sox have a 50-50 chance to sign Machado. Harper seems like a longshot.

At some point, both of them will have to make a decision. I’m guessing sometime between when position players are due to report and the first spring training games. That means we “should” know where Machado and Harper are signing in the next two weeks. Expect a big ripple effect of signings (Kimbrel, Gonzalez, Keuchel, etc.) to occur soon after that.

Q: Enough w Machado and Harper questions. Best move the White Sox made this offseason? Include who they got rid of and who they got. -- @RyanPokorny27

CG: I think the best move the White Sox made was one of their first moves: acquiring reliever Alex Colome for catcher Omar Narvaez. Colome has one of the best bullpen arms in the American League. He’s a high strikeout guy who had 47 saves for the Rays in 2017. He was used more as a setup man last season, but figures to be the closer come Opening Day. The White Sox sold high on Narvaez, who was probably going to back up Welington Castillo this year, with Seby Zavala and Zack Collins waiting in the wings.

Q: How come the White Sox haven’t signed Adam Jones yet? -- @courtney883

CG: Good question. I’ve been driving the Sign Adam Jones train since October! The veteran free agent outfielder remains unsigned. I think he’d be a great leader and mentor for the young guys, especially for Eloy Jimenez who told me last year how big of a fan he is of Jones. I spoke to Jones in December when he showed up at the winter meetings looking for a job. By the way, he’s been a longtime teammate of Manny Machado. Just sayin’. What kind of role would he like to play on a team? Here’s what he said:

“At this point, I’m older so I’m going to have to be that veteran presence. I’ve had Manny (Machado) and (Jonathan) Schoop under my wings the last six years, so it’s been great to see that transition and see how players look up to the older players. When I came into the game, I had some very good people to look up to. I just want to be that same influence that the younger generation could look up to.”

Q: Are the White Sox still in the market for a veteran starting pitcher? -- @alabamachuck

CG: Rick Hahn said at SoxFest that they are looking at the veteran starting pitching market. I’d expect you’ll see them sign one or even two of them in the next week or so. Don’t hold your breath for a Dallas Keuchel. They’ll likely sign someone to a low-risk, high-reward one-year deal or minor league deal. Ervin Santana, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez are some possibilities. I’d personally take a long look at Clay Buchholz. The 33-year-old dominated for the Diamondbacks last year (7-2, 2.01 ERA in 98.1 IP). Injuries have been an issue, but when healthy last year, he was really good. He’s someone the White Sox could potentially flip at the trade deadline to make room for Dylan Cease. Or else, they can always sign 45-year-old Bartolo Colon. I won’t object.

Q: Which of our prospects will we see this year? -- @Bed_Hola

CG: It’s tough to say 100 percent, but here’s a list of players who are good candidates to make it to the majors in 2019: Jimenez, Cease, Zavala, Collins, Burdi, Medeiros, Stephens and possibly Dane Dunning, Bernardo Flores, Tyler Johnson, Zach Thompson, Luis Basabe, Joel Booker and Jimmy Lambert. I might have left out a few, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Q: Which starting pitcher will get the most wins for the White Sox and will it be more than 13?? -- @MJK171002

CG: I’m going with Reynaldo Lopez. I’m predicting that he takes a big step forward in 2019. Although I’m not sure if he’ll win more than 13. And don’t look past Ivan Nova.

Q: How was your road trip? -- @vinnyc52

CG: Definitely on the long side, but lots of fun. We drove through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Ate a whole lot of fast food. Best meals: Cracker Barrel and Texas Roadhouse.

Q: What was your favorite part of Oklahoma on your drive here? -- @scottmerkin

CG: The gas prices in Oklahoma City! $1.87?!!!

Q: What SPF do you use? -- @Southpaw

CG: 55. I don’t mess around.

Q: Why doesn’t @Southpaw make the trip to get in game playing shape out in AZ? Why didn’t you let him sit shotgun and be your co pilot... u coulda brought him out this year Chuck! Some of the other teams have their mascots out in AZ, but I guess he is already perfect though -- @scottgarcia35

CG: It would have been great to have Southpaw as my co-pilot! Maybe next year. And I agree with you. Southpaw is the perfect mascot. Although the next time it rains, he needs to bring me a bigger umbrella.

Thanks everyone for your questions! Baseball season is coming!

Yoan Moncada has gone from 'strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven'

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada has gone from 'strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven'

Yoan Moncada is finishing off a breakout season and he has gotten there with a different approach at the plate.

When Moncada came up through the minors and even in his first two years in the majors, he was known for drawing plenty of walks. At every stop of the minors and in each of his first two seasons with the White Sox, Moncada walked in well north of 10 percent of his plate appearances.

This season, which is inarguably his best in the majors, he has 39 walks in 510 plate appearances. After Moncada added three hits in Sunday’s 11-10 loss to the Mariners, he is now hitting .308/363/.537 with 23 home runs, 72 RBIs and 75 runs scored.

Sunday's 3-for-5 game added to his red-hot September. Moncada is hitting .436/.492/.636 in 14 games this month. He's not the only White Sox hitter on fire this month.

Before the game, White Sox manager Rick Renteria talked about Moncada’s different approach.

“He’s going to be a 30-homer type guy,” Renteria said. “I think his on-base percentage is good. I think people look at the numbers in terms of the base-on-balls, the total numbers that are down, but he’s gone from strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven, so to speak, and I think there’s going to be a balance in between where he’s going to continue to have those walk numbers, on-base numbers and be a pretty significant impactful player as a third baseman.”

That strikeout heaven Renteria referred to is another big difference for Moncada this year. After striking out in 32 percent of his plate appearances in 54 games with the White Sox in 2017 and whiffing a whopping 217 times last year (33.4 percent), Moncada has cut down on that number. He has 139 strikeouts this year, which is down to 27.2 percent.

So the strikeouts have gone down along with the walks. Moncada’s overall numbers are clearly better so it appears the tradeoff has been worth it.

“I think he’s taking into account more situational type things,” Renteria said. “Instead of taking that borderline pitch that they would call a strike, for example, he might be more inclined to create a productive out and drive in a run and put the ball in play.

"It’s more baseball-oriented, not just numbers wise. It’s a baseball situation in which he is now understanding a little bit more, I have a chance to impact this in a positive way. (If) I don’t swing the bat, it’s a called third strike, I’m walking into the dugout and my guys are still out  there on the bases. I got a pitch I can handle, I can still manage. Put the ball in play, score that run and we score another point, it puts us in a better position. Ultimately it’s about scoring runs.”

Renteria emphasized that he didn’t want Moncada chasing pitches as he tries to be more aggressive. However, going after borderline pitches that are hittable instead of trying to work a walk as one of the most dangerous hitters on the team isn’t always the best approach.

“If you look at his at-bats, he’s not a chaser,” Renteria said. “He doesn’t put balls in play that are a foot (outside), he doesn’t do that. There are balls that are manageable, hittable, things that he can either get a base hit out of or put in play to create a particular run. It’s more situational awareness that he’s become better at, which I think has helped him improved some of his numbers offensively.”

In other Moncada news, he got hit by a throw after stealing a base in the seventh inning .The throw bounced and hit Moncada in the side as he was sliding into second. After being in obvious pain, Moncada stayed on the bases, later came around to score and finished the game.

 

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The biggest pieces of the White Sox rebuild are on absolute fire in September, great news for 2020

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USA TODAY

The biggest pieces of the White Sox rebuild are on absolute fire in September, great news for 2020

“The 2020 season, it starts in September.”

Jose Abreu said that before August was even over, looking toward the final month of yet another losing season, yet another season without a playoff appearance on the South Side. Of course, everyone involved with this organization is hoping that changes in 2020, and with his sights on that campaign, Abreu talked about using the last month of this one to get ready for next year.

Well, if this month is really the first month of what’s next, the guys who figure to play the biggest roles on that 2020 team — in this rebuild, in general — are off to a heck of a start.

Friday night, it was the quartet of Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez powering a high-scoring win over the Seattle Mariners. The four combined to go 8-for-18 with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, seven RBIs and six runs scored.

It was a nice microcosm of what’s been happening all month.

In the dozen games the White Sox have played in September, Abreu, Anderson, Moncada and Jimenez have combined for a .363 batting average, a .431 on-base percentage, a .687 slugging percentage, 13 home runs, 18 doubles, a triple, 42 RBIs and 40 runs scored. They’ve accounted for more than 58 percent of the runs the team has scored and more than 61 percent of the runs the team has driven in.

Considering Anderson, Moncada and Jimenez are three cornerstones of Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort and the elder statesman Abreu, with his constant declarations of his desire to remain with the team, seems a safe bet to be back in black for 2020, this is the core of this lineup moving forward playing at an extremely high level.

It’s exactly what the White Sox and their fans want to see.

Anderson is going to be dominating the headlines the rest of the way as he chases a batting title. He woke up Saturday with the best batting average in baseball, a .334 mark for the 2019 season. In September alone, he’s hitting .400.

Moncada has steadily had the best all-around offensive season of anyone on the team, quite the transformation from a year ago, when he struck out 217 times in a disappointing first full campaign as a major leaguer. In September, he’s hitting even better than Anderson, with a .435 batting average to go along with an insane .500 on-base percentage.

Jimenez has had an up-and-down rookie season, but he’s closing in on 30 home runs after smashing No. 27 on Friday night. He’s definitely in the midst of one of his better stretches right now and owns a .694 slugging percentage with five homers in September.

Abreu has been criticized by certain segments of the fan base for the noticeable dip in his on-base percentage this season. Thanks to a hot finish, it is higher than last year’s at the moment, but if the season ended today, it would be lower than the figures he posted during his first four seasons in the big leagues. But what those critics aren’t focusing on is one of the most productive seasons of Abreu’s career. He also homered Friday and is up to 33 bombs on the season, three off the career high he set as a rookie in 2014. And he’s blasted past his career high in RBIs from that same season, up to 116, which leads the American League. He's got five September homers and a .784 slugging percentage on the month.

In a season judged from the outset based on the development and performance of the team’s core players rather than its win-loss record, that’s all spectacular news for the organization moving forward into 2020. Combine all that with the strides made by Lucas Giolito and James McCann, the arrival of Dylan Cease, the expected return of Michael Kopech, the expected arrivals of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, plus what’s expected to be an active offseason, and this team is shaping up to have a very promising outlook for 2020.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” manager Rick Renteria said after Thursday’s game, asked if he believed the White Sox string of sub-.500 seasons would end next year. “We are trying to win. I think we talk about it, we are going through it. I know there’s still refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you. We are finishing this season, we are talking about coming into next season ready to battle, period, exclamation point. That’s what we are looking to do.”

If these four guys keep swinging the bats like this straight on into next March, that would go a long way toward proving their manager right.

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