The White Sox drop their simulated home opener, 5-2

What could have been: Luis Robert grabs his first major league hit during the simulated Opening Day game against the Kansas City Royals. (@WhiteSox)


Whether an actual baseball game is played or not, South Side Hit Pen is here for you!

As many of you know, today was supposed to be the long-awaited White Sox home opener. Unfortunately, life happens. Fortunately, Strat-O-Matic is helping baseball nation out by simulating the 2020 games, day by day. Yes, they even remembered to include the Sox! As all of baseball should know, this team is the team to watch for the foreseeable future.

On this overcast, 40-degree day, your Chicago White Sox were anticipated to send out this interesting lineup formation:

  1. Yoán Moncada 3B
  2. Yasmani Grandal C
  3. Eloy Jiménez LF
  4. Edwin Encrnación DH
  5. José Abreu 1B
  6. Tim Anderson SS
  7. Nomar Mozara RF
  8. Yol- … I mean … Leury García 2B
  9. Luis Robert CF

Personally, I would have flip-flopped Eloy and Abreu, as one of many rearrangements to this lineup.

And of course, Lucas Giolito was given the first start of the year by the Sox’s pitching staff! However, Giolito would go on to pitch only five innings, where he gave up four runs on six hits, three walks, and a long ball. On the bright side, he did theoretically throw eight strikeouts, which we absolutely love to see!

As for the White Sox offense, it wasn’t too shabby. Every starting player had a hit besides the beloved Grandal. So, what does that mean? It means LUIS ROBERT SNAGGED HIS FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HIT IN HIS FIRST BIG LEAGUE GAME! The arrow points up for Robert! The newcomer Mazara even hit a long ball! (The Sox won the trade.)

As for our *favorite* AL Central team, Danny Duffy earned the win in his first start of the year. He went 5 ⅔ innings, giving up only two runs off of eight hits while only striking two batters out. My #SoxMath brain is pointing out that the arithmetic seems a little off there, but I’ll let Duffy and the Royals have this victory; besides, the Sox are going to take the remaining games against Kansas City, anyway.

Kansas City’s offense compiled five runs off of nine hits, including two home runs. Can confirm no bat flips were initiated by the Royals. Can also confirm TA7 is waiting for Brad Keller for his first homer and bat flip of the year.

Even though the situation isn’t what we all anticipated come today, I hope you are all doing your part to stay safe! Real-life baseball games will be here before you know it, and our brilliant SSHP staff will have all of your game threads, game recaps, Six Packs, and many more fun articles that accompany actual games being played!

Baseball bracketology: 2020 White Sox’s Final Four, Cinderellas, Upsets, and Bubble Watch

 


Selection Sunday has now come and gone, with gone being the operative word, as the entire Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments were outright canceled due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19.

Pair that with the fact that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day now has no definitive start date, with the initial two-week being delay usurped by the CDC’s recommendation to not conduct nationwide gatherings of more than 50 people for at least eight weeks. That would make the soonest that Opening Day could theoretically happen May 11.

My “bracket” is a little dubious on that date being a reality, but you never know. With all that said, with everyone self-quarantined, working from home, running to the stores with more raw speed than Adam Engel, and finding themselves with more free time than ever, we all could use a respite and also a way to fill the void.

From where I sit behind my keyboard, there’s no better way to do that than fill the vacuum of both no baseball and no March Madness with one composite article.

This clocks in at just more than 4,500 words, but we all have some free time on our hands and we have an itch for White Sox baseball, March Madness, and sports in general. And if not sports, then even text on a screen about sports. So this is broken into sections. Read it in full, or parse it out, consume it in bits, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water for each hot take in-between sections (especially after the Upset section, as you may need to cleanse). We don’t have sports, but we have the game of words and through that we can have some strange version of White Sox March Madness –– in a real world that currently doesn’t have either.

With that said, I’m going to lay out my picks for the Chicago White Sox’s Final Four –– a core of players that will be the most valuable in 2020 –– who may surprise (Cinderellas) or underperform (Upsets), projected regression that may not happen, (think the annual trendy expert upset pick), and outline which prospects will see the big lights this season (“on the bubble”).


I tried my hand at a similar piece over at another publication back in 2016. Like any bracket, I had my share of red (losses), but also some notable prognostications in the green (wins) as well.

My Final Four consisted of Chris Sale, José Abreu, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana.

Sale made it to the final weekend, turning in an 3.34 ERA All-Star season and setting career highs in wins (17) and innings pitched (226 ⅔) that may have been driven by his league-leading six complete games. He’d ultimately finish fifth in Cy Young voting and notch MVP votes despite being on a non-playoff team. 

Abreu got bounced after the Sweet 16. He had a decent enough year, but it took a potent second half to bounce back from a fairly dreadful first two months to salvage his season. He failed to hit the 30-home run mark or make the All-Star team but still ripped 100 RBIs for his fourth straight season and finished with a respectable .820 OPS.

Frazier didn’t make it out of the Sweet 16, either. He made a lot of shots –– 40 home runs, to be exact –– but overall did not live up to expectations or his seed line. His final line was .225/.302/.464, with clear shortfalls in average and OBP. He was worth 2.8 fWAR, which fell short of a projected four-win season.

Quintana, my outside Final Four pick, delivered in earnest. He joined Chris Sale at the All-Star game, put together a 3.20 ERA over 200-plus innings, got a 10th place Cy Young vote and had what to date has been the best season of his career.

I also identified two Cinderellas: Adam Eaton and Carlos Rodón.

Eaton surely did not disappoint. He actually edged Sale and led the 2016 White Sox in fWAR with a 5.9 mark. He got on base at a .362 clip, swiped 14 bags, but most importantly flashed an absurd glove after a position shift to right field –– propped up by an arm that could hit triple-digits on release and nail runners like clockwork. He also led the AL in triples and garnered a 19th-place MVP vote at years end.

Rodón didn’t quite have a “breakout” year, but he did have what unfortunately remains the best season of his White Sox career thus far by racketing up 168 innings over 28 starts while posting playable numbers in a 4.04 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in what was really his first big-league season as a full-time starter.

For upsets, I thought Adam LaRoche would be downed by a back injury. It turns out he got “upset” by something entirely different: His 14 year-old son Drake LaRoche not being allowed in the clubhouse. This set off what was quite truly an international firestorm when he retired over the matter, and it oddly sparked a broader discussion about the place of children in the workplace. You can’t make this stuff up, and no my bracket did not have the details –– only that he’d have an early exit.

I had Jacob Turner upsetting John Danks for a rotation spot, predicting that the White Sox would actually eat Danks’ contract midseason in the midst of contention, a bold call considering the conventional Jerry Reinsdorf behavior. I was dead wrong about Turner, who was absolutely atrocious during just two starts and 24 ⅔ innings pitched in a starter/bullpen hybrid role. Turn down the backlight on your screen so as not to burn your eyes when you read about his 6.57 ERA, near 2.000 WHIP, and a 5.8 BB/9 to just 6.6 K/9. Chicago did release and eat the rest of Danks’ $15.75 million salary in May, so this pick was mixed.

My two players on the bubble, Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer, both made it to the majors, so there’s that.

Now that I’ve proven at least a modicum of credibility in my baseball bracketology, here’s a similar exercise for 2020. It is going to be semi-challenging given the uncertainty of baseball this season and how disrupted conditioning and a late and shortened season may impact performance and sample sizes, but here goes.


Final Four

C Yasmani Grandal

This was a move White Sox fans have been waiting for ever since A.J. Pierzynski was forced out of town only to be supplanted by the polarizing Tyler Flowers. Not only was the four-year, $73 million dollar Grandal deal the largest free agent outlay in White Sox history, but the backstop has been an absolute turnstile for essentially the last four seasons. There’s not better way I can demonstrate how much of an upgrade Grandal will be than this:

That 5.2 fWAR made Grandal the second-most valuable catcher in the majors last year and would have also made him the second-most valuable player in Chicago by that same metric. He posted an absurd 17.2% walk rate, per FanGraphs, which helped him achieve a .380 OBP.

Pair that with a career-high 28 home runs and a glove that gets rave reviews from both the pitch-framing eye test and advanced metrics, to say nothing of his ability to be a beacon for a staff, and Grandal looks like he’ll be a linchpin for the White Sox and deliver a massive season. If we weren’t looking at a truncated year, I’d say 25-30 home runs would be in the cards.

Either way, Grandal will provide pop and on-base percentage from both sides of the plate and be the perfect steward for Chicago’s rotation. He’s what we’d call a blue-blood No.1 seed –– a lock –– and your best bet to reach Chicago’s Final Four from a composite value perspective.

LF Eloy Jiménez

Jiménez had his first taste of big-league action from the jump last season after signing a winter extension. He ended up missing some time with a pair of IL stints, one for a right ankle sprain and another one for sustaining a nerve contusion in his arm during an outfield collision.

Through 122 games, Jiménez still managed to break the 30-home run mark with 31 bombs, and some of them were truly tape-measure shots. There was a little swing-and-miss to his game (26.6% K-rate) but he slashed .267/.315/.513 on the whole with a .246 ISO.

Jiménez is like that upstart program that is suddenly elevated with a slew of top recruits but is felled by injuries and exits earlier than expected. Not in 2020. The roster of prolific batting tools will be coming back, so to speak, and with an expectation of health.

Jiménez barely tapped into the value of Guaranteed Rate Field as a hitter’s park last season (.748 home OPS compared to an .892 away) which is an aberration that is unlikely to be in play again. His torrid pace to end the season (.340/.383/.710 slash line with nine home runs in September) could very well be a prelude of what’s to come. Eloy will simply mash in 2020.

SS Tim Anderson 

Anderson had a breakout campaign last season in a full-fledged attempt to #changethegame You could call it akin to mid-major that ends up leaving a lot of red in its wake and rubs teams and their fans the wrong way in its run to the Final Four; but at the same time also exhilarates a whole new brand of play and ends the tourney with much more name recognition. Anderson invented the “Javelin Bat Flip,” after all.

In 2020, he’ll make good on last year’s run and be a favorite to repeat the performance. Anderson got his title game of sorts last season by leading all of baseball with a .335 batting average. That hardware came with 32 doubles and 18 home runs in just 123 games, as the shortstop battled an ankle sprain.

Had he not missed the time, he likely would have produced his second consecutive 20/20 season. Anderson ended up being worth 3.5 fWAR last year despite the injury bug and the fact that he was actually negative on the other side of the game, committing a league leading 26 errors –– many of the throwing variety.

Expect the Chicago shortstop to clean that up this season as defense has been mentioned publicly as a priority for him, and no one on the club has a more tenacious work ethic. People looking for an upset might point to the fact Anderson walked at just a 2.9% clip and posted an unsustainable .399 BABIP.

But Anderson has proven that he’s going to play his game, from the javelin bat flips to his aggressive approach at the plate. Net-net, his game plays up due to plus raw speed, plus plate coverage, and the fact that he hits the ball to all fields with minimal infield fly outs –– all ingredients that will aid in his maintaining at least an above-average BABIP.

Regression there could be offset by someone who hasn’t even turned 27 yet and likely still has more playable power in his game. Once again, if this were a full season, a 25/25 year could have been on the table, with an outside shot at a 30/30 year if he really broke out.

Given Moncada’s in-game speed has not played as much in the way of base stealing, Anderson along with Robert could be Chicago’s best shot at a 30/30 player. The shortened season makes it much more unlikely, but expect Anderson to be a star nonetheless and both cut down the errors and the nets as his visibility as a face of the game becomes even more high-profile.

3B Yoán Moncada

Moncada was like Anderson last season in the sense that he was more of a No. 3-to-4 seed that made his way to the final weekend. Imagine a very talented team that doesn’t see things click as a group until their junior season.

That’s what happened for Moncada last year as he slashed .315/.367/.548 en route to a team-leading 5.7 fWAR, in part thanks to a glove that played up at third base as opposed to the keystone. He cut his strikeout rate from an abysmal 33.4% in 2018 to a very playable 27.5% in 2019.

Moncada smashed 25 home runs, 34 doubles, and five triples despite missing a chunk of time with a hamstring strain. There are some regression worries due to a high BABIP, which will be addressed later, but there’s more ceiling for Moncada in 2020 — and that should be a scary thought for opponents.

He showed a solid walk rate during his pro ball days in the minors and in his 2017 debut (12.6 %) which fell to just 7.2% in 2020. With excellent plate discipline, there’s certainly reason to believe that number reverts a little closer to above-average range or at least the double-digits, which will raise his OBP. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old will likely continue to show even more in-game power, as he can certainly hit moonshots and the long ball should come with more regularity.

Finally, someone with 70-grade speed should quite frankly be swiping more bags. Moncada made just 13 attempts last year despite a 76% success rate. Moncada should be swiping 20 bags with ease in a full season and possibly even in a shortened season.

So tapping into more in-game power, more playable speed, and just natural growth for the White Sox’s most tool-ridden and physical specimen outside of Robert, Moncada will have more than “One Shining Moment” in 2020 and potentially make an MVP bid. He is the odds-on No. 1 seed for 2020.

Cinderellas

SP Reynaldo López

López makes for a very interesting cinderella pick as he could very well “bust” some brackets in 2020, especially brackets that are labeling him a “bust.” Will 2020 truly be the year of “hindsight is 2020” for these fans and pundits alike? Here are a few reasons why the slipper, or rather cleat, may fit for López.

He absolutely has the former prospect pedigree. Coming up with the Nationals, some evaluators painted López as even more of a star than his often more-touted teammate Lucas Giolito. That seemed to prove true as he flashed nastier stuff than a struggling Giolito and ended 2018 –– his first full season as a big league starter –– on a high note.

Rather than López carrying that over into 2019 for a breakout, it was instead Giolito who had a surge, and López ended up being an unmitigated disaster –– “good” for a 5.38 ERA over 33 starts and an unforgiving FIP of 5.04 that wasn’t noticeably better.

López quite frankly was all over the plate, even showing lack of concentration at times. His HR/9 clocked in at 1.71, which is eye-popping bad, while he also walked more than three batters per nine innings. There wasn’t obvious bad luck either, as he had a pretty in-line .316 BABIP against and a 69.2% strand rate.

So what could possibly be the positives? Well the raw stuff is certainly still there. López’s fastball velocity still runs up regularly over 95 mph while his curveball can still look sharp at times. His K/9 was actually a full batter improvement from 2018, settling at 8.27 per nine, and despite his struggles he’s been durable with two consecutive seasons of more than 180 innings pitched and such durability has led to two straight two-WAR seasons as well. So it’s not all entirely bad.

Sometimes these things just take time. Grandal has already been reported to have a positive effect on López, apparently identifying some ways López can leverage his off-speed stuff better; this being one of the paramount reasons Grandal was a good add.

We’ll see if it carries over into the season, but for López the stuff is there and so is the durability. Now it’s all about that elusive control and command, which if realized, could give the White Sox a very solid power righty. If not, maybe he’s a two-pitch pitcher who plays up in the pen. The 2020 season will be a litmus test, but one worth giving for sure.

OF Adam Engel

Engel has been a trendy Cinderella for years. When you get body and tool comps to Mike Trout, that tends to happen. These types of comps are always unfair, but not unusual this time of year when a team is regarded as “the Butler, VCU, or Davidson of year X.”

I don’t think Engel will be a Cinderella in the traditional sense, where he parlays his myriad of tools, build, and athleticism into some huge Elite Eight run as a double-digit seed, but he can be a Cinderella in the sense that he carves out a niche on this roster.

The glove has always been playable — more than playable actually; in fact, plus. He’s the perfect roving outfielder to come in as a late defensive replacement or pinch-runner where his plus speed can play up late in a game during a crucial moment.

It’s not worth getting into the annual narrative of mechanical adjustments and swing changes, but the fact remains that Engel can fill a role in 2020 and be of value. It was a small sample, but Engel hit .313/.360/.482 versus LHP in 2019 and he’s always been better against southpaws in his career. Not as flashy as that line, more like a .679 OPS type, but still –– better.

Given Nomar Mazara will be manning right field, Engel could be a serviceable platoon partner for him and generate additional value defensively and on the basepaths, with some occasional pop here and there.

Once he’s no longer overexposed in a starting role, Engel may go from a liability to a competent utility piece, and that would certainly be a Cinderella story for someone who otherwise would be on the fringe of being out of the game entirely. Maybe 2020, is Adam Engel’s Sweet 16 –– where he was once regarded as an intriguing prospect.

Upsets

Upsets: you love them and you hate them, depending on your bracket and allegiance of course, but they always happen. In this context, upsets are always negative –– well, mostly. You’ll see a few qualifiers. Upset will be ranked as most likely to happen to least likely as described by traditional NCAA Tourney seed vernacular. A 16-over-1 is historically unlikely while a 10-over-7 is a relatively safe bet and really anything 12-over-5 and less isn’t mind-blowing, at least to those who dig into the numbers.

Roster Spot Crunch (10) over Zack Collins (7)

With the signing of Grandal, the White Sox now have not one but two All-Star catchers on their roster when you factor in holdover James McCann. The fact that Abreu is still manning first base, Grandal can also play that corner infield spot, and the additional fact that Edwin Encarnación was signed with the explicit intent of full-time DH duties, the roster composition is not looking kind to Collins, a former Top 10 draft pick back in 2016 who has hit for power and OBP in the minors but whose profile has been dampened by a poor hit tool and subpar defensive outlook as a backstop. The shortened season means even less chance for opportunity, as a limited schedule may not be as taxing for players. Factor in that with the logic of getting Collins regular ABs at Charlotte, and he does not look to get a lot of time under the bright lights in 2020.

Bullpen Role (11) over (6) Carlos Rodón

This would be an upset in the sense that Rodón was not taken with the No. 3 overall pick out of N.C. State back in the 2014 draft to be used as a bullpen piece. He was drafted to be a front-end starter. But Rodón has been a disappointment no matter how you frame it. Save for a 2016 season in which he made 28 starts to compile 165 innings of respectable 4.04 ERA ball with a 9.2 K/9 as a 23 year-old, it’s all been a massive slide from there.

You can blame injuries, underperformance, or a combination of the two, but Rodón has just not gotten it done from the mound. After those 165 innings in 2016, he’s thrown just 224 ⅔ combined in the three years since with a 4.33 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and 4.1 BB/9 over that span.

Now coming off Tommy John Surgery and with a shortened season ahead and a crowded rotation, it makes loads of sense to take Rodón’s fastball and slider, which have looked like a deadly combo in the past, and see how they play in the bullpen.

A lefty coming out of the pen with nasty stuff could be just the trick for Rodón. It would be less taxing on his arm and possibly lead to actual, tangible value. Chicago has just one year of control on the pitcher after 2020; they might as well get something out of him.

As a Scott Boras client, Rodón seems like a change of scenery guy when he hits free agency. Rodón and Boras may be “upset” by this upset, but White Sox fans may be pleasantly surprised. And if he does turn into Chicago’s version of Andrew Miller –– a modern-day, two- or three-inning bullpen slicer with explosive stuff –– then he may have an even better chance at a payday.

Win-Win.

Shortened Season (13) over Luis Robert (4)

Robert is dripping with talent. If well-rounded prospects are tool sheds, then he’s five top-of-the-line toolboxes inside of a tool shed. Robert may be the best player of the whole critical mass when all is said and done.

He has the bat, mammoth power, leopard speed, and platinum glove. But Robert also has zero big league experience and despite video game numbers in Charlotte, the hit tool is still a bit raw. It is quite possible there will be a lag, a period of adjustment.

The 2020 season had a good chance to shake out as a coming-out party for Robert with real Rookie of the Year potential, but a shortened season won’t help in masking early struggles. If those make up a disproportionate portion of the 2020 campaign, then Robert’s road to true stardom may have to wait until 2021.

COVID-19 (15) over Major League Baseball (2)

There’s something that’s been eating at my mind, and that’s the possibility that baseball doesn’t happen at all. With every waking day, the value of social distancing and flattening the curve with COVID-19 rises even more to the forefront. And with it usually comes new CDC recommendations on limiting crowds to smaller numbers and for longer periods.

Speculation is abound and there’s been some lines of thinking that baseball may not start until midsummer and that even if it does, it may have to occur without fans or with limited attendance. The systems to properly screen and re-integrate into society may simply not be in place.

There’s also conjecture that if baseball were to be canceled entirely by the league due to a “national emergency,” the MLBPA may not be able to stave off contracts being invalidated. That’s a win on overhead for the owners.

Sure, there’s boatloads of money on the table to be lost. Out of sight, out of mind is at play, too. But at some point –– especially if a decent chunk of games would have to be played with no fans –– then the ROI, not the revenue, but the actual income over fixed operating costs may be very minimal — or worse, projected to be negative.

If that’s what the tea leaves start to say, then there is at least a chance the owners lobby with Major League Baseball to pull the plug on the 2020 season entirely. This would be an upset for the ages, but it’s not one to write off entirely.

The Trendy Upset That Won’t Happen

BABIP (12) over Yoán Moncada (5)

Every year there is one team that all the pundits pick to shock the world, and the shock is that it doesn’t happen. In recent years, think any South Dakota State team with Mike Daum on it, or a New Mexico St. team that could always crash the boards but instead crashed dreams of bracket perfection instead (Thanks Aggies!)

The trendy upset pick this year in the baseball world is that the league leader in BABIP, Moncada, will see massive regression and that this said underlying number was a key driver of his breakout season.

Moncada had a .406 BABIP last year, up from a .344 BABIP the year prior. That screams regression, until you look at the fact that Moncada also lowered his infield fly ball rate, raised his hard contact rate, and increased his line drive rate. Those are all immediate explanations for why he had a higher BABIP, and again, his baseline in a down year was .344.

Want to dive deeper into the stats? He increased his exit velocity between 2018 and 2019 from 90.6 to 92.8 (seventh in baseball) and his barrel % from 9.6 to 12.2, per Baseball Savant. That barrel % is nearly twice the league average of 6.3.

Moncada also brings other drivers that can make a BABIP more sustainable, like hitting to all fields, possessing raw speed to leg out infield hits, and the fact that he actually is hitting the ball out of the park way more than before. You don’t have to worry too much about your BABIP when your ball isn’t in play as often, and it’s less in play for the good reasons like home runs and walks, not the bad one: strikeouts.

Another interesting note: speaking of those infield hits, Moncada had an 8.9% rate in 2018 and only a 4.6% in 2019, so he may actually leg out more infield hits in 2020, making the sustainability of a higher BABIP all the more buyable.

The bottom line is this –– even if Moncada’s BABIP recedes, his overall ceiling may not. The best is yet to come and over-inflating one statistic that isn’t as alarming as it seems will do a disservice to your baseball bracket. Avoid this trendy upset pick.

On the Bubble

2B Nick Madrigal (IN)

Madrigal was likely going to be here by mid-April at the latest. The high-IQ player who simply does not strike out is an easy at-large bid despite the small stature. Service time considerations and how they will apply to a shortened 2020 are still up in the air, but it won’t matter with Madrigal. The mature rookie with the slick glove will be manning second at some point.

1B Andrew Vaughn (OUT)

Vaughn has impressed mightily in his initial taste of pro ball. He is an extremely polished college bat who may be the best pure hitter in the whole organization. He truly could be a 60 hit/60 power guy which could shake out to a perennial near-.300 average and consistent 30-bomb player. But the shortened season will make a September (November?) call-up unlikely even if Chicago is in contention. He just won’t have enough requisite ABs in the minors to make the jump.

SP Dane Dunning (OUT)

The crowded rotation already put Dunning in a dangerous position on the bubble, and that’s without even referencing that he’ll be coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’ll need more than just a tuneup in the minors before seeing the big leagues. He may find his way in if there are injuries, or the season actually starts in May rather than July, but if not, Dunning will have to wait until 2021 to hear his name called.

SP Michael Kopech (IN)

You could actually say Kopech is in a somewhat similar boat as Dunning given the developing circumstances, but he’s had his time in the minors –– and a short stint in the bigs –– so it’s more about purely rehabbing. While we’ll see less of Kopech in 2020 than we would have without COVID-19, we will see Kopech –– or the lightning power arm I like to call “Zeus” –– in 2020 at some point. If not, it will be a major snub.


I hope this fulfilled the gaping black hole that’s a result of the lack of sports during what is an unprecedented global crisis. From me to you the reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and remember: There are sunnier days ahead. Days where the sun will be beaming down on ballplayers.

Patience is a virtue, and hope is currently our best medicine.

 

White Sox attack early, top Royals 5-4 as part of a Sunday sweep!

Ready to go: Tim Anderson was all smiles before his matchup against the Royals this afternoon (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox had split squad action today, with most of the regular players facing off against the Kansas City Royals at Camelback Ranch. The Royals did the same with their lineup, giving the fans in attendance what was close to an early AL Central matchup this afternoon. The early goings made it seem like this would be a shootout, but with both teams went on to stay somewhat quiet the rest of the way in what ended up being a 5-4 win for the White Sox.

Right-hander Alex McRae took the mound this afternoon. He ran into some trouble in the first inning where he gave up a run on a wild pitch, after allowing the first two batters to reach base. Even though he walked two in the inning, McRae kept the damage to a minimum by only allowing the one run to score. He would eventually settle down and went on to have a pretty good outing where he gave up one run on one hit through three full innings.

Luckily for McRae, the White Sox answered immediately by knotting things up at 1-1 in the bottom of the first. Tim Anderson started the game off with a single and would later come around to score on a fielder’s choice. Anderson, who bobbled a grounder in the top half of the inning, made up for it with his bat and he went on to have a good day in the field. He took charge on fly balls, and nearly nailed a runner as the cutoff man at second base on a deep fly out. And even though he had an early bobble, he kept the ball in front of him and still made the play.

The White Sox continued their early momentum in the second inning by putting three more runs on the board. Luis Robert reached on a dribbler down the third base line in his first at-bat. Robert was driven in immediately by Zack Collins, who had an opposite field, two-run home run off left-hander Kris Bubic. Later in the inning, Blake Rutherford doubled and was driven in on a sacrifice fly by Yoan Moncada. The White Sox jumped out to a 4-1 lead after the second inning and they maintained that lead throughout the rest of the game.

It seemed like both teams got all of their scoring out of the way early, as both the Royals and the White Sox remained relatively quiet for the rest of the way. However, the Royals made things interesting in the eighth inning. With Caleb Frare on the mound, the Royals blasted three solo home runs to make it a 5-4 game.

Fortunately for the White Sox, they added an insurance run in the sixth inning which proved to be needed after the Royals late rally. Jacob Lindgren took over in the top of the ninth and secured the win by striking out two and going 1-2-3. Lindgren, who joined the org last year, has put together a very impressive spring and today was no different story.

[For a look at the White Sox’s 6-0 whitewashing of San Diego, hop over to South Side Sox and check out Year of the Hamster’s take on the game.]

The White Sox will be back in action on Monday, March 9 as they host the Reds at Camelback Ranch. Dylan Cease will take the mound with first pitch set for 3:05 PM CT.

Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen

White Sox, Yoán Moncada agree to extension

Locked in: Yoán Moncada signed a deal that could keep him with the White Sox through 2025. (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)


Rejoice, White Sox fans. The front office increased the odds of a contention window expansion today. Yoán Moncada and the White Sox have agreed to an extension that could keep Moncada on the South Side through the 2025 season. Previously, Moncada was set to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2023 season.

South Side Hit Pen’s own James Fox really was on top of things last Monday, wasn’t he? Can’t say I’m surprised.

Ken Rosenthal was the one who officially broke the news this afternoon.

This deal will guarantee Moncada $70 million over the first five years (2020-24). When all is said and done, Moncada could earn $90 million depending on the White Sox’s decision after the 2024 season. For the first five years, the AAV will be $14 million, and if the White Sox pick up the option for 2025, the AAV will be $15 million.

Considering Moncada’s performance in 2019, this deal appears to be a bargain for the White Sox. Moncada slashed .315/.367/.548 with a 141 wRC+, putting his offensive production well above average. Moncada’s defense at third base was an improvement over what we had seen from him at second base. According to FanGraphs, Moncada was 4.3 defensive runs more valuable than an average third baseman in 2019 (had been 3.7 runs below average at second base in 2018). If we combine such strong production with the bat and the glove, we get a player who is really freaking good. Like, 5.7 fWAR in only 132 games good.

Skeptics note that 2019 was Moncada’s first year where he was clearly above league average, and his strong season at the plate was aided by a .406 BABIP. While he has yet to put up back-to-back strong seasons, Moncada’s approach at the plate was entirely different in 2018 versus 2019. In 2018, Moncada displayed a lack of aggressiveness at the plate that resulted in lots of backward K’s on the scorecard. While Moncada walked frequently (10.3%), he struck out a ton (33.4%), and when he put the ball in play, it was not particularly sharp contact (90.6 mph average exit velocity).

In 2019, however, we saw a different kind of hitter. While Moncada’s more aggressive approach resulted in less walks (7.2%), he struck out much less often (27.5%), and his average exit velocity of 92.8 mph ranked seventh in the majors. When players hit the ball hard, and they run as fast as Moncada (72nd percentile for sprint speed, per Baseball Savant), they tend to end up with a high BABIP. Sure, .406 is unsustainable, but it is not quite as crazy as many pessimists believe.

So, is Moncada going to be a 141 wRC+ player for the remainder of his contract? Probably not. But, can we count on him to be above average on a consistent basis? After last year, that seems like a safe bet. For that reason, this is an excellent extension, and it is surprising that they managed to pull this off for that price. Bravo, front office, for getting this deal done!

Robert and Jiménez shine, but White Sox fall to Rangers 7-6

Bash Bros: Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez ignited the White Sox offense this afternoon in Surprise. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


SURPRISE, Ariz. — It was a dream day for White Sox fans, as Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez both connected on their first home runs of the spring season. Additionally, Yoán Moncada had a multi-hit day and the White Sox starters put together a performance that fans should be excited about.

The only downside to the day? The strong performance wasn’t enough, as the Rangers hit a walk-off home run to beat the White Sox 7-6.

Drew Anderson took the mound for the White Sox this afternoon, and it was a tough day for the righthander. He struggled to throw strikes, got behind in a lot of his counts, and was being hit hard by the Rangers. They attacked Anderson early and often, which eventually led to the White Sox having to play from behind after the first inning. Luckily for Anderson, the bats backed him up and after his two innings of work, he left with the game tied.

Jiménez got the scoring started for the White Sox with an opposite field, two-run home run. That long ball gave the White Sox their first lead of the day in what was a back-and-forth battle for both teams. This was Eloy’s only hit this afternoon, but he also had a deep fly out to center field, where he just missed leaving the yard for the second time.

Jiménez would be one-upped by Luis Robert this afternoon. Robert had by far and away the best day out of any White Sox hitters. Shocking, right? In his first at-bat, Robert singled and then immediately stole second base. While at second, he kept getting a big lead, and shuffling back and forth between second and third base to mess with the rhythm of the opposing pitcher, Jonathan Hernandez. And Robert definitely had Hernandez’s attention, as he threw to the bag and had to step off another time because of Robert. While all of this was going on, Leury García was at the plate and ended up drawing a walk, as Hernandez struggled to focus on the strike zone.

In his second at-bat, Robert shot one over the left-center gap for a solo home run. According to Statcast data, the ball was hit with an exit velocity of 113 mph, and it got out of Surprise Stadium in a hurry. This shot came in the fourth inning, and gave the White Sox a 3-2 lead. For those keeping track at home, Robert had a single, home run, stolen base, RBI, and a run scored by this point. He was the star of the show today, and showcased all of the tools that he’s flooded with.

For the rest of the hitters this afternoon, Jaycob Brugman came up clutch with a three-run home run that gave the White Sox a late lead. Moncada collected two singles and hit the ball hard in each at-bat; he looks like he’s starting to get his timing down again, so I expect him to start putting the ball in play more frequently. And lastly, Andrew Vaughn went 1-for-2, picking up a single in his first at-bat of the afternoon. He’s playing in his first spring training with the big league club, but you wouldn’t think that’s true, as he looks extremely comfortable at the plate and continues to hit.

Offensively, the White Sox scored six runs on nine hits and the bats were the story from this afternoon. However, there were a few pitchers that turned in a good performance despite the loss. Adalberto Mejía entered the game in the fourth inning and he got a pop out for his first out, but that would be the only ball in play he would allow for the rest of his outing. He went on to strike out three consecutive batters before handing the duties off to Carson Fulmer with one out in the fifth inning. Fulmer looked great today, he pounded the strike zone and only allowed one ball to leave the infield. Fulmer finished the day perfect through an inning and two-thirds, with two strikeouts.

Despite the offensive surge this afternoon, the White Sox were on the wrong end of a one-run ballgame. They had some timely hitting, but it wasn’t enough to overcome what was an overall subpar day for the pitching staff. After using a little bit of spring training magic over the last few games, the White Sox got a taste of their own medicine in the loss today. The team will head to Tempe tomorrow to take on the Angels with first pitch scheduled for 2:10 CT. Joe Resis has the game coverage for SSHP.

Subs provide spark, pitching shuts down Reds in 7-2 win

Young blood: Yermín Mercedes, Luis Basabe, and Micker Adolfo all contributed to a key ninth-inning rally this afternoon. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


GOODYEAR, ARIZ. — After yesterday’s game was cancelled, the White Sox were able to squeeze in their first Cactus League matchup this afternoon, as they traveled to Goodyear to take on the Reds. The lineup was stacked, giving White Sox fans a look at most of the guys that will be playing regularly once the season starts on March 26.

However, it wasn’t the starting lineup that was the story of the day, but the subs who came in and helped seal a 7-2 victory.

Dylan Cease took the mound this afternoon for his first Cactus League start and came out of the gates firing, hitting 99 and 98 mph consecutively to start his day. Cease went for two innings, which is the norm for starters at the early stages of spring training. He allowed at least two batters to reach base in each inning, but they never amounted to anything thanks to his defense and three strikeouts.

All things considered, Cease’s command was pretty good for his first outing. There were moments where he struggled to find the strike zone, but those moments never hurt him — and for his first in-game action in months, his performance could’ve been a lot worse.

As for the rest of the White Sox starters, it was a very quiet day. At the start of spring training, it’s common for pitchers to be ahead of hitters, and that was evident this afternoon. Tim Anderson had an infield single in his first at-bat, but that was the only hit among starters until James McCann had a double to lead things off in the top of the fifth. Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, José Abreu, and Luis Robert all went a combined 0-for-11 on the day. Moncada, Abreu, and Robert each hit the ball hard on different occasions, but they have nothing to show for it.

But even though most of the starters struggled, they managed to give the White Sox 2-0 lead thanks to some timely hitting in the top of the fifth.

After Carson Fulmer put runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, Matt Foster entered the game in a tough situation. However, Foster would rise to the occasion. He generated a weak fly ball and a grounder to quickly get two outs after facing just two batters. McCann helped get Foster completely out of the jam by gunning down Shogo Akiyama trying to steal, for the third and final out. Foster went on to pitch in the following inning, where he once again shut down the Reds and didn’t allow a run.

At this point in the game, there were all new faces in the field for the White Sox — and when the fun began. Seby Zavala took over for McCann and blasted an opposite-field, solo home run to give the White Sox a 3-0 lead in the top of the seventh. A lot of hitters were aggressive today, wanting to make a statement early. Seby, however, was not. He was patient at the plate, wasn’t fooled by junk outside of the zone, and once he got his pitch he deposited over the wall in the right, center gap.

Zavala wasn’t the only sub who would come through for the White Sox this afternoon. After the Reds made it a 3-2 game in the bottom half of the eighth, the White Sox were looking to add insurance runs in the ninth and they would do just that.

Micker Adolfo got the rally started with a double, and would later come around to score on an error, the first of two unearned runs in the inning.

Nick Madrigal would also join the party by scorching a RBI single to left field. Madrigal made a few mistakes in the field this afternoon, but he made up for it with this RBI. All told, the White Sox plated four runs on four hits in the ninth and put the game out of reach for the Reds.

Tyler Johnson finished this one off with a 1-2-3 inning where he picked up two strikeouts and was sitting in the upper-90’s with his fastball.

The White Sox will be back in action tomorrow as they take on the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. First pitch is scheduled for 2:05 PM CT, with Alex McRae taking the bump. This is the first of six games televised by NBC Sports this spring, so don’t miss it.

Four under-the-radar, early-season storylines

Where the magic happens: Our newest writer will be covering March 2’s White Sox action from this vantage point, so if you’re at Camelback, say hi! (Chicago White Sox)


I just had wrist surgery and am typing with one hand, so I don’t really feel like writing out a long intro, but the title is pretty self-explanatory. Here are four things I will be watching during Spring Training and the early months of the season.


Reynaldo López’s offseason adjustments

This is the least “under-the-radar” storyline of the four, but that is because it’s also probably the most important to the White Sox’s success.

López has been a very polarizing player for the White Sox. In 2018 he showed a lot of promise, finishing with a 3.91 ERA in his first full season in the bigs. However, his advanced stats showed that these results may have been smoke and mirrors.

Reynaldo has always been an extreme fly-ball pitcher. In 2018, López benefited from the ninth lowest rate of home runs to fly balls of all qualified starters, a number that tends to regress to the mean over time. His xFIP (expected ERA assuming average outcomes on balls in play and an average HR/Fly Ball ratio) was 5.22 in comparison to his previously-mentioned 3.91 ERA, the largest gap in baseball. Additionally, the spin rates on both his fastball and breaking pitches were near the bottom of the league. Sure enough, all of this caught up to López in 2019. Despite some encouraging outings, the season as a whole was a major step back, as he had one of the worst ERAs in baseball.

In 2019, López was trying to work his breaking pitches off of a high fastball, the “hot new trend” in the juiced-ball 2019 season. For guys like Lucas Giolito, who have a fastball with above average carry and a high-spin breaking ball, this philosophy is great. However, López has a low-spin fastball with a great deal of horizontal movement.

To become a solid major league pitcher, significant changes will be needed to either López’s mechanics or pitching approach. López and Don Cooper have talked about getting less rotational and more linear in order to drive the ball to the plate, generating carry rather than horizontal run. If López was able to accomplish this in the offseason, he may be able to survive as a high-fastball guy. If not, however, he may need to embrace the low-spin fastball rather than fighting it, and work on sinking and cutting the ball.

Ultimately, López may end up as an impact bullpen arm, where his stuff will play up and he will likely be able to work in the 98-100 mph range rather than the 95-98 range. However, he will be given every chance to prove that he belongs in the rotation. One thing that will be helpful for a fly ball pitcher like Lopez is the rumors of a more “normal” baseball for 2020. I have no doubt that López, an outstanding competitor, went back to the drawing board this offseason. I am interested to see his outings this spring to get a look at what that offseason work entailed.


Right field: Nomar Mazara, or platoon?

Rick Hahn and Ricky Renteria have already said they see Nomar Mazara as more than a platoon player and plan to use him as the everyday right fielder. A breakout definitely could be on the horizon, as a change of scenery could be exactly what the 24-year-old former top prospect needs to unlock his massive potential. However, over the course of his career, Mazara’s numbers against left-handed pitching have been subpar. Barring a breakout, the better option may be to keep Mazara as the strong half of a platoon, sitting him vs LHP in favor of Adam Engel or Leury García (likely pushing Luis Robert over to right field). Based off of 2019 statistics, both Engel and García had much more success versus LHP than RHP. As Mazara is still so young, the potential for a breakout is definitely there. I am as hopeful as anyone, but at worst, this route would set everyone up for success.

Not only would Engel be a huge upgrade to our outfield defense on days he plays, but based on 2019 numbers, this platoon would generate a .820 OPS overall (Mazara .821 vs. RH starters, Engel .819 [109 ABs] vs LH starters). Keep in mind, these splits are for the entire game when the starter was right or left-handed, so they don’t take into account opportunities to pinch-hit based on reliever match-ups. The .820 OPS estimate for the platoon would have ranked in the top 30 among all MLB outfielders, ahead of many of the offseason possibilities White Sox fans were mad about missing out on (Marcel Ozuna, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Benintendi). When the Mazara/Steele Walker trade happened, the majority of the reaction was negative. However, in 2019 Mazara had a .786 OPS at age 24 in his fourth MLB season, whereas Steele Walker had a .771 OPS at age 23 in Single-A. The trade was a low-risk, high-reward move. If this platoon is the worst case scenario, I will take it every time.


James McCann Framing Improvements

James Fegan came out with a great article a few weeks ago on the offseason work that James McCann has done with highly-regarded catching coach Jerry Narron to improve his framing skills. While White Sox pitchers have lauded McCann for his ability to handle a staff, scout opposing hitters, and control the game behind the plate, they are also losing quite a few strikes per game because of his terrible pitch framing numbers, specifically side-to-side and low in the zone. Now, the White Sox have Yasmani Grandal, who graded out third of 64 qualified catchers in Statcast’s catcher framing metric in 2019 (this same metric ranked McCann dead last).

We should be able to gauge relatively quickly if McCann’s offseason work has paid off. Spring training will give us a glimpse, and we should have enough data to see where his metrics are after a few months of the regular season. This could be the difference between being a backup catcher who only generates a spot start here or there vs. being the weaker half of dynamic catching duo. I, for one, don’t think Giolito needs McCann as his “personal catcher,” but it would definitely be easier to work a defensively improved McCann in for Giolito’s starts. An improvement would also allow Renteria a much greater deal of lineup flexibility to keep veterans fresh for the entire season. For example, he could give José Abreu, Edwin Encarnación, and Grandal a day off every 10 games or so, leaving McCann to catch roughly two or three of every 10. When EE sits, Grandal (or McCann) could DH, and when Abreu sits, EE could play first and Grandal would slide to DH.


Can Kelvin Herrera Rebound?

I know what most of you are probably thinking: Kelvin Herrera is WASHED UP. I was as frustrated as anyone that our proven, lockdown free agent bullpen signing was unusable in close games for the majority of the season. Herrera posted the third-worst ERA (6.14) of all MLB bullpen pitchers with more than 50 IP.

Doesn’t sound like the stat line of a guy you want to be counting on in 2020, right?

Not so fast. There is still reason for optimism. 

Herrera’s massive struggles in 2019 can really be attributed to two issues.

The first was injury, as Renteria and Cooper were quick to blame foot and back injuries for a portion of Herrera’s 2019 struggles. Because Herrera never spent an extended period of time on the IL and consistently made appearances throughout the season, it was tough to buy that from the outside looking in. However, both the stats and the data seem to bear out the fact that Herrera may have actually been significantly affected by the Lisfranc and back injury for the majority of the season.

Here are Herrera’s numbers prior to May 5, when the back injury occurred: 16 games, 16 ⅓ IP, 2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16 K

Here are his numbers after August 22: 15 games, 15 ⅓ IP, 1.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19 K

These numbers seem to support the theory that Herrera may have dealt with lingering injuries for the majority of the season and finally started to get healthy late. When I looked at Statcast data to see if anything supported this, one thing jumped off the page at me.

So, the No. 2 with Herrera was release point inconsistency. Baseball Savant has a really cool visual that outlines the various release points for all pitches thrown. The smaller the spread of release points, the more similar all pitches look when coming out of the pitcher’s hand. This makes it easier for the pitcher to create a “tunneling” effect with the pitch and keep the hitter from identifying what’s coming and squaring it up.

Looking at the best pitchers in the game, such as Gerrit Cole or Kirby Yates, their release point chart is a tight circle. In 2019, Herrera’s was ALL over the place. Baseball Savant even noted it was “very erratic,” a characteristic I didn’t see noted for any other pitcher. Here are the visuals for Herrera and Yates for comparison:

If a pitcher is favoring certain parts of his body or trying to compensate for injury, his mechanics will undoubtedly be affected. There is no way that a healthy pitcher’s release points would be this erratic. A healthy Herrera in 2020 should be able to tighten this up.

Herrera also started to use a Don Cooper special, the cutter, a lot more effectively towards the end of the season. He gained three inches of movement on his cutter in September compared to the rest of the season. If that continues, it could be an effective way to combat his slight velocity decrease. Herrera’s average exit velocity against was actually in the 93rd percentile in all of baseball in 2019, which is shocking considering his results.

Bold prediction for the 2020 White Sox season: Herrera will post an ERA of less than 3.00 and be a useful piece in the late innings.

————–

I’d love to hear your opinions on these four storylines, and any more that you will be following.

I’ll be attending the Sox/Padres game in Glendale on March 2. The header photo for this article was taken from my seat for the game. If you are down there and see a 24-year-old kid with a black cast on his arm, say hi.

Lastly, here is the link to a 2020 White Sox hype video I made a few weeks ago, in case you weren’t excited enough about the season. Thanks for reading, and go Sox!

2020 White Sox Hype Video


This article was originally a Fanpost on South Side Sox.

 

New kids on the block had a strong showing at full squads

New club, new me: Nomar Mazara is all smiles as he heads out to the field in his first day with the White Sox. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


Today was the first opportunity for White Sox fans to get a look at the more complete package of what the team will be putting out on the field this season. Everyone has officially reported, and after a later-than-usual start, the team took the field for standard batting practice and fielding drills. The only difference today was that major league players were grouped together and the prospects worked separately on a different field.


One of the biggest positional story lines heading into the regular season concerns second base. The White Sox have done a great job of upgrading the roster this offseason, but second base is still a hole while we wait patiently for Nick Madrigal to take over after the first month or so of the season. Madrigal has spent time working in the field with the regular big leaguers, but today he was sent off with the other prospects when the team broke off into fielding drills. Leury García and Danny Mendick took turns fielding grounders at second base with the rest of the guys to start the day. García would end up staying put at second base, but Mendick shifted around and got some reps in at shortstop and third base as well. Could this be a sign of the job being either García’s or Mendick’s to lose? Time will tell, but it’s worth noting that those two got the first set of reps with the full squad present in Glendale this afternoon.


After spending the past few days working behind the scenes, Yoán Moncada went back to work with the rest of the team today and he looked like one of the best of the bunch. During fielding drills, he made on error by letting a ball get through his legs, but aside from that, he was fantastic in the field. He handled nearly every grounder with ease and all of his throws across the diamond and to second base were right where they needed to be. After fielding drills were finished, Moncada took batting practice, where he continued to shine. All of his work came from the left side of the plate, and he demolished the ball all afternoon.


Speaking of everyone being present, Nomar Mazara hit the field today for his first official workout with the team. I did not have a chance to watch him in the field, but I did sit through his full rounds of batting practice, where he put on a show. He put together better rounds than everyone besides Moncada. Mazara’s hitting session consisted of mainly line drives and deep fly balls; granted it’s only batting practice, but you can see the power potential in his bat.

For a while, it seemed like the White Sox might explore external platoon options with Mazara because he’s had a rough time with left-handed pitching. However, with everyone being in Glendale, it seems like the White Sox are going to roll with what they have. There has been mentions of the team having confidence in what Mazara brings to the table and that he will get the bulk of the playing time in right field. The club’s new hitting coach, Frank Menechino, watched Mazara closely this afternoon as he was hitting and frequently gave him praise throughout his session. Mazara is a bit of a project, thus there’s still some potential that can be unlocked there. It seems like the White Sox are going to give him every opportunity to break out and reach that potential this season.


In addition to Mazara, White Sox fans also got to see Edwin Encarnación for the first time this afternoon. Before swinging the bat, he participated in fielding drills at first base. He made a handful of errors and you could tell he is still getting some of the dust off his glove, but he was fine at that position for the most part. Encarnación participated in live batting practice against pitchers and also regular batting practice with coaches pitching to him. His session went just about how you would expect: He showed easy power and drove the ball to all fields. It didn’t seem like Encarnación was going at full speed, but he still managed to put together some loud sessions.


Now that the full squad is finally together, we are getting closer to seeing what the finished product will be. There are still some holes to fill, but soon that will no longer be the case. Cactus League games are coming up fast, and it will be interesting to see who can carry the momentum from camp into game action and who will win roster spot battles. The team is back together, the players are having fun, and we are just a few days away from seeing all the hard work they put in all offseason on display as the spring training season opens.

Welcome to the La Pantera party!

It’s go time: Luis Robert arrived at Camelback Ranch today, ready to get his 2020 season started. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


We are one day away from position players officially having to report to spring training. Luckily for the White Sox, most  are already in Arizona, and have been for a few weeks, and the team is just waiting on a few more guys before they have the full squad together.

Today, Luis Robert arrived at Camelback Ranch, and White Sox fans got a first look at their Opening Day center fielder.

If you follow Robert on social media, you know he’s put in a ton of work this offseason. It seemed like he was not familiar with a day off, as he was constantly posting workout or BP videos. This afternoon, Robert took batting practice, and then shagged fly balls in center field while other players were hitting. He looked like a guy who came prepared, and with the way he was swinging the bat you would’ve thought that this was not his first official workout and that he has been at spring training for a month already.

In center field this afternoon, Robert was equally as impressive as he was in the batter’s box. He was not taking it easy on his first day, going full speed in the outfield and covering a lot of ground to make a hard play look routine. After he was done in the field, Robert practiced foot first slides (please continue to do that and protect that thumb, Luis!) before he called it a day.

Robert probably was the most impressive player on the field today, which is easy for him because he is blessed with all those tools and has the body of a Greek god. Even on his “bad” days, Robert can still look better than the average player.


Yasmani Grandal has been around Camelback Ranch for a while, but he’s strictly been working with pitchers and hasn’t done much hitting due to a mild calf strain that will keep him out of the first week of games. Today we got to see him take batting practice, and he got all of his work in from the right side of the plate. As a veteran, you would expect Grandal to be more prepared than some of the other guys (even factoring in his injury), but he still managed to impress. Grandal drove the ball consistently, with easy power. Obviously Grandal’s defense and ability to make pitchers better will make him well worth the money that the White Sox invested in him, but he’s a huge upgrade on offense, too, which was obvious this afternoon.


Another outfielder who had a good day was Adam Engel. He was driving the ball all over the field in batting practice and had some of the best rounds among all participants today. Take that with a grain of salt though, because we have seen this a few times in years past. It seems like Engel always comes prepared and looks good during spring training, but once the season starts we see a completely different player. Engel would be useful as a defensive replacement, but if he wants to have any kind of role beyond that he’s going to have to earn it. He hit well against lefties last season, so there’s the possibility that he can be used in a platoon role. However, 2019 was the first time in his career where Engel showed he can be successful in those situations — again, he will have to earn it if he wants to maintain a platoon role.


Today was another somewhat quiet day at Camelback Ranch, but the sound of Robert’s bat woke up everyone in the Glendale area. Tomorrow marks the first official full squad workout, as everyone on the spring training roster will be in camp. Baseball is finally back, and we will soon get a look at more of the players that Rick Hahn and Co. brought in this offseason. I expect the vibe to be a little more loose moving forward, as some of the players will be reuniting for the first time in months.

Exciting times are on the horizon for the White Sox — and tomorrow will be the true beginning of that.

Camelback Confidential: Beefed-up rookies impress

The Magic Man: Nick Madrigal is getting ready to take over second base in the not-so-distant future. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. as pitchers, catchers, and the position players who have reported early took the field this afternoon for batting practice and fielding work at the complex.

What was otherwise a quiet day was broken up at times by Eloy Jiménez‘s laugh and infectious personality, echoing throughout the back fields. He was excited to be there, as well as the rest of the guys, all who appeared to be having a good time. But when it came time to work, they were all business as well.

Speaking of being all business, Blake Rutherford participated in today’s workout and there were mentions of him hitting the weight room during the offseason. After seeing Rutherford in person today, I can confirm that he definitely looks like he’s packed on a lot of muscle and overall, he looks really good heading into the spring. He took batting practice this afternoon and had some of the best rounds among all participants. Even though it’s just batting practice — which can make anyone look good — Rutherford was consistently driving the ball, and the ball was exploding off his bat all afternoon.

After struggling in Double-A last season, the clock is ticking with Rutherford and he needs to find a way to make himself stand out if he wants to earn a role in Chicago down the line. Perhaps today was the start of that for him. His launch angle was solid during batting practice, and if he can continue to do that there’s potential for Rutherford to have a major increase in power this season when factoring in his added muscle as well.

Joining Rutherford in the unofficial White Sox offseason weight club was Nick Madrigal, who also came to spring training looking more filled out. Madrigal has talked about strength training being a focus of his since he joined the organization, and he backed that up by displaying a more muscular build at Camelback Ranch today. Madrigal didn’t hit this afternoon, but he did go through fielding drills, where he excelled just as you’d expect. Madrigal went through standard drills that involved fielding grounders and either flipping them to second base or throwing to first base. He was getting some reps with regulars like Tim Anderson and José Abreu. With Anderson and Madrigal working on turning double plays together, fans in attendance got a glimpse into the future.

White Sox 2019 first round selection Andrew Vaughn also took the field today to work on defense with the rest of the guys. For the most part, Vaughn had a good day in the field. He scooped up a glove-side chopper on a tough play that drew praise from the members of the coaching staff. Overall, he held his ground during drills, and his throws to second base were almost completely accurate — you can tell that Vaughn played all over the infield while growing up into the game. This marks Vaughn’s first invite to spring training and while he obviously won’t break camp with the team, it will be interesting to see how he handles playing against guys in the majors or close to it.

You can tell that the players who were at Camelback Ranch today are ready to get the season started. In previous years, the vibe was more loose and fun. Don’t get me wrong: There were still glimpses of that same vibe today. However, it seems like these guys are a little more serious this time around, as they get ready to close the book on the rebuild and grow into a winning team.