White Sox

Is Tim Anderson silencing the doubters? 'He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he's one of the best in the game'

Is Tim Anderson silencing the doubters? 'He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he's one of the best in the game'

In the top of the 12th inning, he hit a go-ahead home run. In the bottom of the 12th inning, he made a spectacular play to end the game.

It was just one night in Kansas City at the tail end of a losing season. But Tim Anderson’s process of silencing the doubters might have hit a new high-water mark Wednesday.

Anderson has long been considered a key piece of the White Sox rebuilding project, and the team seems to have his name etched in as their shortstop of the future. But that hasn’t stopped a great many fans from projecting otherwise. They’ve guessed his future might be in the outfield after he led the majors with a whopping 28 errors last season. They’ve guessed his future might not be as bright as it’s been suggested after he finished last season with a .276 on-base percentage and 162 strikeouts.

This season, however, has looked quite different. He hasn’t exactly pulled a 180 from a statistical perspective. He's slashing just .248/.290/.420 and ranking near the top of the league with 17 fielding errors with 16 games left on the schedule. Those are obvious improvements from last year — during which Anderson spent much of the season battling the effects of the death of his best friend — even if they aren’t dramatic ones. But the main difference has been in Anderson’s play of late, particularly defensively, where he’s making plays (and impressive ones, at that) at a much greater rate than before and making fewer of the mistakes that defined the outlook many had on his future.

“I’d say (there’s been a growth) within the last two to three months,” said White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing, who works with Anderson every day. “He’s gone through a stage where he understands and he’s accountable for the mistakes he was making on the field. And now he’s able to sit back and learn from them and adjust, and he’s just running with it now.

“I believe he’s playing free. There’s not a weight on his shoulders. He wants to prove everybody wrong. (People say,) ‘He’s not a shortstop.’ He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he’s one of the best in the game.”

General manager Rick Hahn has said multiple times that the young players on the White Sox major league roster aren’t finished products just because they’re on the major league roster. Anderson, along with the likes of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and others, are still developing, still becoming the players they are projected to become when the franchise shifts from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

What we’re seeing now from Anderson could be another benchmark in his development. A guy who’s worked extremely hard in his three seasons in the big leagues could finally be seeing that work catching up.

“I kind of feel like the work finally caught up. I’m figuring out the glove and learning the position, figuring out how to play the position. It’s working, man,” Anderson said. “A lot of credit to Joe, he works with me every day and we get out there. It’s been good. Just honored and blessed to be in the position I’m in.”

There’s an obvious difference in the way Anderson is playing defensively right now, and it’s been pointed out by everyone in the organization. Pitchers have lauded how great he’s playing behind them, and in the midst of this losing campaign described by Hahn as “the toughest part of the rebuild,” both the general manager and manager Rick Renteria have pointed to Anderson’s defensive improvement as one of the big positives to come out of this campaign.

How has it happened? Again, work. The daily grind of the developmental process isn’t something that jumps out at any observer when a team plays every single day. But Anderson’s defensive development over the course of this season is perhaps as good an example as any of what the team’s big league staff is doing and how important their work is in crafting the planned perennial contenders of the White Sox future.

“I kind of challenged him and said, ‘I’m extremely proud of the progress you’ve made, let’s not stop, let’s not stop here, let’s take it to another level,’” McEwing said. “‘You say you want to be the best. What does that entail, as far as work-wise, maturity-wise, leadership-wise?’ I challenge him every day to be that leader, take over the infield, make sure everybody’s in the right spot, communicate constantly with each other. And he’s taken it to that level.

“I think he’s starting to understand his body more on the baseball field as far as what he can and cannot do. Before, it was almost, he was afraid to make that mistake. Now he’s just playing to where he’s not worried about making that mistake because he’s playing free.

“As far as understanding his body, he’s throwing from so many different angles now without fear. He’s confident in each throw, he’s confident where his feet are, he’s coming to get hops, he’s seeing hops better now to where (it’s either), ‘I’m going to get eaten up by that’ or ‘I’m going to go get it.’ I think he’s just understanding a lot more of who he is, and I could not be happier or prouder of him. He’s putting in the work every single day.”

There will surely still be plenty of questions heading into the 2019 season. Anderson will finish with new career bests in home runs, doubles, RBIs (he ranks second on the team in that category), stolen bases and walks, but he could finish with a career-low batting average and his second consecutive sub-.300 on-base percentage. He has more walks this season than in his first two seasons combined, but he also ranks in the top 25 in the majors in strikeouts.

But everyone you talk to in the White Sox organization sees improvement, and even from the outside it’s not difficult to notice, especially defensively. So when Hahn says that these young players aren’t finished products, he can point to Anderson as an example of the growth that can occur at the major league level.

And that ought to make fans far more bullish on Anderson's future — and the future of this entire rebuilding effort.

“Last year was a tough season overall, off the field. This year, it’s been great,” Anderson said. “I feel like I’ve been playing with that same energy all season and nothing changes. But I’m getting better.

“When I step over those lines, I feel like I’m the best player on the field, and that’s how I go about it. Nobody can beat me. I want to compete and be dominant every day, try to just go out and play hard and see what happens.

“Hopefully we can bring a championship to the South Side. We’ve got the pieces and got the players and got the guys down in the farm system. It’s going to be fun.”

Renteria believes Kopech is 'looking far more advanced than people might think'

Renteria believes Kopech is 'looking far more advanced than people might think'

On the first day that Dane Dunning threw live batting practice since having Tommy John surgery last March, leave it to Michael Kopech to steal his thunder.

Not to minimize the pivotal and symbolic breakthrough for Dunning, one of the White Sox top prospects, who is definitely someone to watch in 2020, but after Kopech completed his own live batting practice against White Sox hitters, the words coming from manager Rick Renteria about Kopech was the biggest pitching news of the day.

“Honestly, he’s looking far more advanced than most people might think,” Renteria said about Kopech, who is six months ahead of Dunning in his return from Tommy John.  “I think he’s commanding a lot better. Changeup, breaking ball, fastball, the misses are minimal. The ball is coming out of his hand loose and hot. Looks really good.”

Kopech agrees.

“Yeah. I’m a lot more comfortable already than I thought I would be. With all the work I put in last year and ending the season on a good note with a couple innings there, I felt like coming into spring was a little more relaxed for me, because I wasn’t having to get here and then prove that I can still pitch,” Kopech said. “I do feel like I’m in a good spot. I do feel like there’s some things that need to be worked on. I’m in a better spot than what I thought I would be.”

Kopech faced some menacing White Sox hitters. Among them Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. The new White Sox catcher, who is coming back from an injured calf injury, tested the calf by running out of the box to first base several times, showing no signs of problems.

With a flamethrower like Kopech, you might be wondering about his velocity. Ask Kopech, and he’s not thinking about it at all. At least, not yet.

“To be honest, I don’t want to know until I’m in a game. There’s no point in me finding out how hard I’m throwing right now.  It would just be something I’m conscious about that I don’t need to be conscious about.”

He’ll throw another batting practice session in five days and says that his first Cactus League appearance could come after that.

“I think I’m getting close.  Breaking balls are something I’ll need to fine tune a little bit.  I need to be a little quicker with them,” Kopech said. “I feel very comfortable.  I’m pretty relaxed. I don’t feel like I’m getting too far ahead of myself, but I haven’t been in a game situation yet so I can’t really speak to that very well.”

As for Dunning, taking the mound against live hitters for the first time in more than a year, he was thrown straight into the fire. Moncada was the first batter he faced.

“I was a little nervous because it was my first time facing hitters. I was a little amped,” Dunning said about pitching to Moncada. “If one runs away from me, I think that would have been really bad for my career. Luckily enough I was able to actually throw some strikes. It was fun.”

Dunning was able to locate his fastball. “I was getting after it. It was a controlled hard,” he said. He got a feel for his changeup and spun some breaking balls as well.

Considering the long sludge that is Tommy John recovery, how big of a step was this for Dunning?

“I feel like it’s that hump I just got over, facing live hitters again. Getting back in action again, it’s exciting for me because I know that games are coming soon.”

 

James McCann can still play 'a pivotal role' for White Sox

James McCann can still play 'a pivotal role' for White Sox

James McCann went from backup to All Star and back again.

The White Sox upgraded at catcher this winter, adding Yasmani Grandal on a team-record contract. Make no mistake, Grandal’s signing is an inarguably good thing for the South Siders. He’s got a track record of success both at and behind the plate, with the winning experience necessary to help this team get to where it wants to be.

But it might not have been the best thing for McCann, individually, after he earned the starting job with what he accomplished in 2019, going from a career backup to a spot on the AL All-Star team.

Any frustration at returning to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart is more than understandable.

“There’s things about the business that you can’t control,” McCann said on the day pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch. “All you can control is how you handle your own self and how you handle your own preparations, and that was my main focus throughout the offseason and that will continue to be my main focus: how to make myself better and how to help the team win.”

Of course, even with Grandal slated to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate, McCann is still expected to play a valuable role on this White Sox team, one looking to play October baseball for the first time in more than a decade.

After all, two All-Star catchers are better than one, right?

“A hallmark of a good team is having quality depth,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “That's something we talked about from the start of being one of the goals that we set out to accomplish through this rebuild, and quite frankly, it was one of the things I've talked about publicly perhaps of not being entirely there yet in terms of organizational depth at certain spots. Catcher isn't one of those spots.

“We've got two All-Star caliber catchers, both of whom we anticipate contributing to a good club this summer.”

Independent of how often he’ll find his way into the lineup, whether McCann can produce at the same level that earned him an All-Star nod is very much an uncertainty. After slashing .316/.371/.502 in the first half last season, he struggled mightily after the All-Star break, hitting just .226/.281/.413. Those second-half numbers were far more in line with the numbers he put during his five years with the Detroit Tigers than what he did in his first few months with the White Sox.

That uncertainty is no longer a season-defining issue now that Grandal sits atop the catching depth chart, but McCann can obviously still have a positive effect on this team. In addition to simply providing depth, he showed last season a great ability to work with White Sox pitchers, particularly Lucas Giolito, and earned rave reviews from his teammates for his work ethic and dedication to game-planning.

“A pivotal role,” manager Rick Renteria said of how important a part McCann would play for the White Sox in 2020. “We have two catchers that are two All Stars, potentially.

“He’s an integral part of who we are as we move forward. … You can't run a catcher out there every single day. You can't expect one guy's going to catch 162 games. It's not gonna happen. I ran Mac out there trying to catch almost 162 games, and you start to break down a little bit.

“Having two guys who you can truthfully trust and being able to manage the pitching is a huge benefit to us, and we're happy that we have these two guys to balance us out.”

White Sox pitchers like Dallas Keuchel have touted the catching tandem as being an ultimate luxury. And for what it’s worth, both catchers said that having the two of them on the roster is a positive.

“James has been great,” Grandal said. “Obviously, I’ve needed him here just to go through a few things. For the most part, we’ve just been talking catching and how we can get in that aspect. … For me, it’s going to be how can I get in his head in order to kind of see it the same way and then we can talk about it and go from there.”

“It’s a good group,” McCann said. “Obviously Yaz strengthens that. I’m going to take stuff from him, as I’m sure he’ll be able to take some stuff from me. That’s what makes a team good, when guys can grow from each other and push each other.”

Who knows what will end up happening with McCann. The White Sox would figure to be better with him than without him, someone who does reliable work behind the plate and is capable of All-Star production with the bat, even if there’s no certainty those numbers will return in 2020.

But McCann is also slated to hit free agency at season’s end, and perhaps some team comes calling, putting the White Sox in a position to deal from a position of strength. After all, Zack Collins is still a part of this organization and its catching depth, a first-round pick who flourished offensively at Triple-A last season.

But for any understandable frustration that might be lingering, McCann spoke with the same type of confidence about the 2020 White Sox as everyone else during the early days of camp.

Heck, he might have come off more confident than anyone.

“If I said we weren’t trying to win a World Series, then I’d be lying,” he said. “It’s win now, and it’s not just get to the playoffs, it’s win a World Series.”

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