White Sox

White Sox plan for right field seems to include more than just Nomar Mazara

White Sox plan for right field seems to include more than just Nomar Mazara

SAN DIEGO — The White Sox traded for a new right fielder Tuesday night, but it doesn’t seem like they’re done finding right-field solutions just yet.

The need in right was perhaps the team’s most pressing entering the offseason, with no internal solutions to speak of after White Sox right fielders posted the worst OPS in baseball in 2019. Nomar Mazara, who the team got in a deal with the Texas Rangers, isn’t the jazzy name fans were hoping for, especially with Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna still on the free-agent market and rumors of a Joc Pederson trade wafting across the internet.

But general manager Rick Hahn admitted Wednesday that Mazara might end up just being part of the fix, asking judgment be reserved until his front office completes its work this winter.

“I wouldn't judge this move necessarily in isolation. I'd wait to see how the entire roster pans out and what we have, ultimately, on a day-to-day basis come this summer,” Hahn said. “Fortunately I don't need to make out the lineup on Dec. 11. We like how this piece fits, and we'll see what we continue to add over the coming months.

“Certainly as you look at our roster today, of course he's the everyday right fielder, based on today's roster. But Opening Day's still a few days away.”

That’s not to undersell how the White Sox feel about their new acquisition. They parted with Steele Walker, the organization’s No. 6 prospect, in order to bring Mazara to the South Side. Hahn used the phrase “untapped potential” in his statement when the deal was announced late Tuesday night. A day later, he was committed to that description and that the White Sox can hopefully get something out of Mazara much greater than what he showed in his four years with the Rangers.

“We view him, our scouts view him, as someone who has some untapped potential and some upside,” Hahn said. “This is a kid who, as you all are aware, has been viewed as having a very high ceiling. We continue to think he has a chance to reach that ceiling and are optimistic about where he goes once he's with us.”

But Hahn was quick to point out that a change-of-scenery style turnaround isn’t the only possible outcome, touting how Mazara improves the White Sox lineup even if his production stays at the same level it was during his time in Texas. And certainly that is true. Mazara had a .786 OPS in 2019. White Sox right fielders had a .565 OPS.

Of course, Castellanos was much better, offensively, and that’s why White Sox fans might be looking at this move with a furrowed brow.

But it doesn’t seem as if Hahn is ready to plug Mazara in at the top of the depth chart and walk away from the situation. In a recurring descriptor of the White Sox offseason, there’s more work to be done.

Does that mean a platoon? Maybe. Mazara has produced well against right-handed pitching, and his left-handed bat was one of his more attractive attributes to the White Sox, who can further balance their lineup. Against righties in 2019, Mazara hit .288/.344/.500. Against lefties, not so good: .220/.252/.394.

“The player that he has been over the last couple years has had some issues with lefties. So the question is: Will those continue? Can we get him better against left-handed pitching? How much was the thumb injury or the oblique that he fought with over the last couple years factoring into those issues? And make an assessment whether we need to complement him,” Hahn said. “If we need to complement him, that's just fine.

“That's a valuable bat against right-handed pitching. Let's see how the rest of the roster comes together before fully assessing how we addressed right field.”

There’s plenty remaining on the White Sox offseason to-do list, chiefly adding a pair of pitchers to the starting rotation. But there are also a lot of “maybe” items, too. Maybe they’ll try to find an everyday-type DH. Maybe they’ll try to add more to the bullpen. And maybe they’ll try to add another right fielder to team with Mazara.

One thing’s certain: Hahn’s not done yet.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Are the White Sox looking for more?

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Are the White Sox looking for more?

The offseason is still going on, which means the White Sox could make even more moves. Host Chuck Garfien is joined by NBC Sports Chicago White Sox writer Vinnie Duber and producer Chris Kamka as they discuss various options the Sox could go with to fill out the roster.

(1:35) - How will the Sox fill out the rest of the roster?

(6:02) - Will Nicholas Castellanos be on the South Side?

(8:15) - Is Yasiel Puig an option for the Sox?

(13:26) - Options for the Sox at second base

(21:16) - Who can the Sox get to fill out the Bullpen?

(25:44) - Adding more starting pitching

(29:04) - Who should the Sox sign ASAP?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox

Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox

On the eve of the most anticipated SoxFest in recent memory, Michael Kopech got a haircut.

He likely won't be the only one sporting a fresh look when the White Sox gather for the annual fan convention this weekend at McCormick Place. But he's probably the only one who had his restyling attended by the local media.

Kopech got his trademark flowing locks clipped off Wednesday as part of a charity event that raised $20,000 for the Ronald McDonald House and White Sox charities, meaning there'll be a noticeable difference the next time he steps on a major league mound. There was bound to be a difference, considering he last pitched in a big league game in September of 2018. But how much of a difference there will be in his pitching style remains to be seen.

Kopech has long been promised as a flamethrower that can touch ungodly speeds like 101, 102 and 103 miles an hour on the radar gun. He'll still be able to do that, he says, but there will be a difference.

"I don't know if I'm going to necessarily be that type of power pitcher again in my career," he said Wednesday. "I think I'm going to be a little bit smarter and cautious about how I pitch. That being said, velocity will always be a part of my game."

We'll have to wait and see exactly how Kopech will attack opposing hitters after his recovery from Tommy John surgery. "Wait and see" will be a theme of at least the early portion of Kopech's 2020 campaign. The White Sox have signaled that he'll be limited in some capacity in an effort not to overwork him — remember that his next major league appearance will be only his fifth — but we don't know what that will look like yet. Will he be part of the rotation, but be skipped at times? Will he pitch out of the bullpen for a little bit? Will he start the season in the minor leagues?

According to Kopech, he doesn't know the plan, either, knowing only that he feels great and will be looking to earn a roster spot in spring training.

"Not really," he said, asked if he's talked with the team about what it has planned for him. "My plan for myself is to be competitive in the spring and give my team a chance to win, and hopefully that's giving myself the best chance I can.

"But for what the team has in store for me, I really don't know those answers. I'm just going to do my best when I get there."

Between the moves Rick Hahn's front office has made this winter and the way so many of the White Sox young, core players broke out in 2019, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side for the first time in a long time, with the expectation being that the team will make its long awaited leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. Kopech would figure to be a big part of that, still ranked as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Even with plans to limit his workload, the White Sox would figure to want him to be pitching in meaningful games if they should roll around in August and September, or even October.

Of course, these kinds of expectations are nothing new for these White Sox players, who have long been willing to express their confidence in the organization's bright future. Kopech has talked about wanting to win the 2020 World Series. Eloy Jimenez has talked about being a part of a championship outfield. Lucas Giolito, "sick of losing," has been talking playoffs since the end of last year's 89-loss season. And the freshly extended Luis Robert is talking about winning multiple championships.

This group has always been about setting lofty goals. But now the fan base is buying in to all that, too, and setting its own set of expectations, ones that end with the White Sox reaching the postseason. Kopech can already feel a different vibe surrounding this team, though added that the expectations inside the clubhouse haven't changed from what they've always been.

"We were just talking about that a couple of days ago. We were out playing catch, me, Zack Burdi, Ryan Burr, Grandal was out there. It was that camaraderie, but more so, the underlining competitiveness in all of us. It felt like a different energy, was the word that was used," Kopech said. "We were all pulling in the same direction, which I think is kind of a glimpse to us what the future is going to look like.

"Not to look too far ahead, but I think we all are pulling in the same direction, not that that wasn't the case before. We're all starting to get that taste, sort of speak.

"(Playoff expectations are) what we've put on ourselves, as well. We're always going to want to be a competitive team, and we're going to want to be a competitive team at the highest level and that's to be in the playoffs.

"Those expectations that people are putting on us, we're going to also put on ourselves and try to achieve that."

It's still a bit of an unknown when and in what capacity we'll first see Kopech contributing toward reaching those expectations. But don't adjust your television set when he does make his first appearance. That's him, all right. Just lighter now without all that extra hair.

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