White Sox

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

It might not be possible to measure the effect Yasmani Grandal has already had on the 2020 White Sox.

While the team’s first big splash signing of the winter has been met with near universal acclaim — how could you not love a guy with Grandal’s track record of offensive production and winning experience? — plenty wondered why it happened in the first place. After all, the White Sox already boasted an All-Star catcher in James McCann.

Sure, two All-Star backstops are better than one. But with so much still on Rick Hahn’s offseason to-do list when the move was made, why spend big bucks — the richest contract in team history — on a position you already had covered?

Well, the 2020 campaign hasn’t even started yet, and already Grandal’s worth is evident.

As much love as McCann got for his skills as a game-planner during his All-Star season in 2019, the rave reviews for Grandal take things to a whole different level.

“I got to talk with Yaz for a while, I played catch with him today down the road. He’s already got a plan for me, how he wants to set up, attack guys, showing me the program he uses. It’s awesome,” new White Sox reliever Steve Cishek said before SoxFest kicked off Friday. “He’s ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him.

“Just talking with him today, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about. And then you see why he’s one of the best catchers in the game. And then how mentally prepared he is, we’re not even into February yet, and he knows what he wants to do with each and every one of us. That’s incredible to me. He’s just planning ahead.

“I introduced myself. He wanted to play catch, just to see what my stuff does first hand. … First conversation after playing catch, he’s like, ‘Did you see me messing around? I was standing over here just to see if you would start your fastball over here. This is how I’m planning on setting up with you. I watched how Willson (Contreras) set up with you last year. I like how he did it, but I want to try this way, too.’

“Are you kidding me? When can we start? Let’s go.”

It’s clear from talking to his new teammates — some, like Cishek, who haven’t even been able to spend much time with him — that Grandal is prepared to the point where he’s ready for the season to start yesterday.

Rick Hahn revealed when the White Sox signed Grandal way back in November, that the newest backstop on the South Side is the kind of student who asks for homework — then devours it in no time.

“We met with him in Phoenix (the) Tuesday afternoon during the GM meetings, but I think it was by Thursday, he had reached back out and requested video of each of our starters and wanted to spend some time getting to know each of them,” Hahn explained the day the White Sox announced Grandal’s four-year contract. “He had some familiarity from afar but wanted to spend some up close time learning their strengths and weaknesses and how to get them better.

“He and I, since things became official late last night, we’ve been texting back and forth about various guys both on our roster and available throughout the league. He really has a deep, deep knowledge of how to maximize a pitcher’s ability. He’s tireless worker.”

Though the White Sox have yet to converge on Camelback Ranch for spring training, that unmatched work ethic has already become apparent to Grandal’s new teammates. These pitchers haven’t had much opportunity to work with Grandal yet — as Cishek mentioned, he talked with Grandal for the first time Friday before heading to SoxFest — but they’ve already been blown away by the kind of preparation and the kind of work Grandal has done.

It’s the kind of effect a veteran with winning experience can have on a young group.

“I haven't personally thrown to him, but having conversations with him about pitching and pitch mechanics, he's very intellectual,” Michael Kopech said earlier this week. “He himself is very serious about his training and his body and his regimen. It's refreshing to see somebody take that much pride in what their doing.

“Not that we don't have that already, we've always had that. But to have that veteran role step in and show you that you can do this and you can do this for a long time, it means the world to us, because that's what we're all wanting to get to.”

One of the White Sox other offseason splashes, Dallas Keuchel, has on multiple occasions talked about Grandal as an attractive selling point that helped bring him to the South Side. Friday night, he described Grandal signing with the White Sox as “mind-blowing.”

Grandal has excited pitchers who were already a part of the organization, too.

“When he signed, the first thing I did was I went to YouTube and I looked him up,” Dylan Cease said Friday. “First, I started with his framing highlights, because there’s a YouTube (video) of that. And then I went to his hitting. I was like, ‘All right. This is a nice addition.’”

That would seem to be an understatement.

Obviously, Grandal will be expected to add something special to the White Sox lineup, and his career .348 on-base percentage in eight major league seasons — not to mention a career-best 28 home runs in 2019 — ought to provide plenty offensively.

But Grandal is here to help the Ceases of the world, too. While Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez bring some veteran reliability to the South Side starting staff, the White Sox need to see some improvement from both Cease and Reynaldo Lopez from the not-so-stellar numbers they put up last season, if they’re truly going to contend for a spot in the postseason.

Grandal is making that his mission, to help the younger pitchers blossom into the stars their once lofty prospect rankings said they could be.

“This not being the first time (I’ve been through this kind of thing), I understand it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take some time,” Grandal said Friday. “We’re not going to try and hurry the process up, we’re just going to let it be. We know what we have, and we’re just going to take it one day at a time.

“Once I have at least 80 games behind the plate, we’ll look at the bigger picture and start making the bigger strides and start doing the things that we really have to do. We’ve got to lay some sort of base in order to start building. I feel like we’ve moved in the right direction so far this offseason. It comes down to me and the whole catching group getting together with the pitchers.”

That kind of work is something Grandal has already shown he’s willing and excited to do. He’s impressed the pitchers he’ll be catching in their limited interactions, and while he describes a potentially time-consuming process in getting everyone to where they need to be, he’s still thrilled to be working with this group of arms. He continues to explain that it’s the No. 1 thing that drew him to the South Side.

Because as a guy who’s played in each of the last four postseasons knows, it’s all about the pitching.

“As we saw in the past World Series, the Nationals kind of did exactly what needed to be done. They relied on their pitching staff,” he said, “and they got big hits when they needed it. At any point, once you get to the playoffs, if you have the right amount of pitchers, you can have a big win.

“Let’s just get there first.”

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A bowling-ball minor leaguer nobody's talking about could be the White Sox 26th man

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

A bowling-ball minor leaguer nobody's talking about could be the White Sox 26th man

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a White Sox clubhouse filled with big-name prospects like Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn sits an under-the-radar minor leaguer who can flat out rake.

His last name is Mercedes, but this isn’t a sports car we’re talking about. Yermin Mercedes is built like a Mack Truck.

He plays the game like one, too.

“I like the homers. I have a hard swing. I like to swing,” said the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Mercedes, who when he settles into the batter’s box looks like the second coming of Juan Uribe.

“Yeah, I’m good with that,” Mercedes said, smiling when asked about the Uribe comparison. “I’m feeling great with that.”

Chris Getz sees the resemblance, too.

“Juan could certainly do some damage when he went into the box, and he went in there fearlessly. I think that attitude that (Mercedes) plays with, Juan did that,” said Getz, the White Sox director of player development who was a teammate of Uribe’s. “He played with fun and enjoyed the game.”

That joy was certainly on display during Thursday’s workout, when Mercedes celebrated a home run with a bat flip — during batting practice. Uribe would be proud.


“I have fun every day,” Mercedes said. “Everyone likes it when I smile or joke or play with my teammates. They like that.”

How Mercedes got here is a story in itself.

He logged three years in the Dominican Summer League with the Washington Nationals before being released in 2014. He spent time in the Pecos League, a remote independent league filled with baseball lifers. He ended up with the White Sox after they selected him in the minor league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft.

Mercedes has been blowing through red lights and stop signs every step of the way in his all-out quest to make it to the majors.

And now, he’s got another road block ahead of him.

Though he’s got a spot on the White Sox 40-man roster, the 27-year-old catcher is buried on the depth chart behind Yasmani Grandal, James McCann and Zack Collins.

So this is probably a good time to ask two important questions: How is Mercedes going to make it to the majors in 2020, and why is he someone White Sox fans should really be watching this spring?

Let’s start with what Mercedes did last season when he was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte and compare him with one of his Knights teammates, the guy who will likely be the big league team's Opening Day center fielder:

— Mercedes: .310/.386/.647 in 53 games

— Luis Robert: .297/.341/.634 in 47 games

Impressive.

Then there’s Mercedes’ confidence. Spring training games haven’t even started yet, but when the regular season begins on March 26, Mercedes plans on being in a White Sox uniform. His message to general manager Rick Hahn:

“I’ll be there. I’m the 26th man. Yes, of course. I promise you,” Mercedes said emphatically.

Speak with his teammates from last season in Charlotte, and they wouldn’t be surprised if this charismatic bowling ball of a baseball player is knocking opposing pitchers out of games from the get-go in the big leagues.

“When I saw Yermin for the first time, I thought that he was going to have to tone it down a little bit, but he proved me wrong, just by being ready to hit and having the intent to hit the ball and do damage,” first baseman Matt Skole said. “As long as he continues to build off what he did last year, he’s definitely going to make an impact at the big league level at some point.”

And don’t limit Mercedes as an all-or-nothing hitter. He’s more than that.

“He’s a guy who can hit a fastball. He can hit it to all fields. He’s a good two-strike hitter, meaning he’s good at off-speed and fastballs,” Getz explained. “He can put together an at-bat. He’s an offensive force. You put on top of that that he’s a catcher that can do those types of things, it’s impressive.”

Then there’s the clutch competitor that thrives in the big moments. That’s Mercedes.

“You like playing with him, and you don’t want to play against him that’s for sure,” infielder Danny Mendick said. “When he gets in there, he knows what he’s doing. He’s got great eye-hand coordination. When you need a clutch hit, he’ll give it you.”

So if it’s the late innings, and the game is on the line, maybe Mercedes’ ticket to the big leagues is being that fearless hitter who can come off the bench as the 26th man, who doesn’t give a crap about pressure and deliver the big hit.

“Everybody wants me to come in and pinch hit, because I do the job. I get the base hit. I hit the homer to win the game,” Mercedes said confidently.

What do the White Sox think?

“For him to get (major league) at-bats, to get that opportunity, he needs to continue to perform, show us what he’s capable of doing both offensively and defensively,” Getz said. “Rosters have expanded to 26. That’s another opportunity because he does bring some things to the table. If you look at lineup construction and filling out and maximizing a roster, I think he comes into the conversation. If he stays on this track, he will get an opportunity.”

Then there’s Mercedes' catching, which has always lagged behind his hitting. However, last season there was a surprising shift in his metrics, specifically with his pitch-framing.

“From the catching side, I’ve worked with him quite a bit and like what he does back there,” pitcher Carson Fulmer said. “I think his game-calling got a lot better. There’s an adjustment between Double-A to Triple-A just with experienced hitters. He got on the same page with a lot of us, which is really useful.

“He has a great arm. He can hold a runner close to the bag, which is nice. With his framing, as well, he’s able sell some strikes for us. Most importantly, what really stood out for me was his ability to call a game. He’s definitely matured quite a bit.”

On paper, Mercedes might be a longshot to break with the team when it heads back to Chicago, but the Dominican spark plug has made a career out of defying the odds.

This is no different.

“I’m going to surprise a lot of people. A lot of people need me. They say, ‘Where’s Mercedes? Where’s Mercedes? Why isn’t he here?' I take my time. So when the team gives me the opportunity, I take it.”

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Talkin' lineups: Rick Renteria hints at how he'll stack up White Sox hitters

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USA TODAY

Talkin' lineups: Rick Renteria hints at how he'll stack up White Sox hitters

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is far too much attention paid to lineups. The idea should be simple: have nine good hitters that can all do damage at any time. Obviously, that's easier said than done. But the point is that who the hitters are is of far more important than where they hit.

Still, there are few things that cause more fan consternation than how a manager sorts his hitters on a daily basis.

Rick Renteria is often resistant to discuss how he's planning to line guys up, especially this far out from Opening Day. But Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the skipper provided plenty of insight into certain elements of his lineup construction, perhaps as good a sign as any that things have entered a different mode for the White Sox.

Nothing was concrete, of course, but Renteria made it clear that Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada will occupy the first and second spots in the order.

"I still consider Timmy Anderson or Moncada a possibility at the top of the order, one or the other in vice-versa positions," Renteria said. "I want to see them and I want to be able to see beyond that with some of the youngsters that we have in camp."

That makes perfect sense after the huge seasons Anderson and Moncada each had in 2019. Anderson won a big league batting title by lifting his average nearly .100 points from where it was a season prior. Moncada emerged as the best all-around hitter on the team a year after striking out 217 times. Having them in front of big boppers like Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez shouldn't be a controversial topic.

But it is, at least in certain corners of White Sox Twitter. The historically high BABIPs posted by Anderson and Moncada — in other words, they hit into a statistically significant amount of good fortune — have triggered questions of how they'll be able to repeat their production. The pair’s successes in 2019 came from their aggressive approaches at the plate. That also meant few walks. And there's an argument to be made that if you're not walking, you shouldn't be batting at the top of a lineup.

Renteria, on the other hand, doesn't care how players get on base, as long as they get on.

"I think it would be safe to say if you're getting on base, whether by walk or by hit, at a pretty high rate, it's probably kind of a wash," Renteria said. "The difference would be simply that maybe some individuals take a pitcher deeper into a count in a particular at-bat. But even those guys that are high average guys that may not prototypically fit your on-base percentage profile. They end up probably fouling off a lot of pitches, as well, so they end up still driving that pitch count up."

I don’t know if that will soothe the concerns of worriers, but it doesn’t sound like protests will prevent Renteria from putting Anderson and Moncada first when he writes makes lineup for the opener on March 26.

Related: What's the deal with second base at Sox camp?

One player who won't be there: Luis Robert.

"I wouldn't consider Robert right now, as we're standing here today, to be the leadoff hitter," Renteria said. "I think we have enough guys that allow him to transition in the lower part of the order right now.

"See where he starts to develop and if he starts to evolve into somebody that shows us he's also, at the major league level now — and I expect and I anticipate that somewhere in the near future we will see that, that he is another guy that develops into being anyone that can hit between one and five.

"I think his skill set lends itself to being able to be potentially a leadoff-type guy, but with the power he has, the on-base and slugging he has, he can filter into the middle, as well."

That makes sense, even if Robert seems like someone whose endless tools would make him a prime top-of-the-order candidate. Robert will get his first taste of the major leagues when the 2020 season begins and dialing down the pressure by keeping him out of that leadoff glare would certainly have its benefits.

One more thing from Renteria that ought to be of interest: consistency. The skipper said he's planning to go with a set lineup (for the most part) throughout the season, something that stems from the White Sox new-look group of position players. With Encarnacion, Robert, Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara and eventually Nick Madrigal joining Anderson, Moncada, Abreu and Jimenez, the puzzle pieces just seem to fit together a little easier.

That means far fewer lineup changes from one day to the next during the season. Good news for those who grew tired of the 143 different combinations the White Sox trotted out in 2019.

"I’ll be honest, I’d like to say that I feel more comfortable this year in telling you that there’s probably going to be a more consistent set of guys, one through nine," Renteria said. "Will there be a tweak here or there? Yeah, absolutely. I’m not going to hold myself to not making adjustments as the season is going on and what the guys are doing in a particular moment in time. It would be foolish for me to lock myself into doing something that’s not conducive to helping us put together a lineup on a particular day.

"But I think we’re getting to a point where it’s some consistency and hopefully, that’ll give us the ability to allow you guys to see the same guys in maybe the same slots throughout the course of a season.

"It stems from the fact that now the cast members have changed. And so it extends the lineup a little bit more and gives you more depth. ... It gives you the luxury of being able to slot them in a particular place on a consistent basis. That, coupled with the fact that our young players have grown and developed and have started to flourish, it gives me comfort in knowing and believing that they can slot into certain areas consistently over the course of a season."

And there's the big takeaway. Not that Renteria was happy to be rouletting his way through lineups last season but that a collection of more talented, more entrenched players gives him the luxury of being consistent. The players are better and more established, and the White Sox are more likely to win because of it. That will also manifest itself in a more consistent lineup.

A lot can and will happen over the course of 2020 to shake up Renteria's February plans. But right now, he's eyeing consistency at the top of and throughout his batting order. You'll have to wait until March 26 to see the whole thing. Until then, you can start filling in the blanks.

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