Monday, March 19, 2018

White Sox Opening Day starter: James Shields

James Shields
There's nothing like Opening Day. For many baseball fans, including me, it's more exciting than Christmas morning was when I was a little kid.

However, that enthusiasm is somewhat lessened when you know your favorite team is almost certain to begin the season 0-1.

Such is the case for me this year, as the White Sox have named 36-year-old James Shields as their Opening Day starter.


Shields has made 43 starts with the Sox since he was acquired midseason in 2016, and he's gone 9-19 with a 5.99 ERA. The veteran right-hander has given up a whopping 58 home runs over those 43 starts, and his 5.23 ERA in 2017 actually was lauded as being an improvement after the 6.77 ERA Shields posted in 22 starts with the Sox in 2016.

Double yuck.

So what could be the justification for starting Shields against the Kansas City Royals on March 29? Well, once upon a time, in place not named Chicago, Shields was a respectable major league pitcher. Believe it or not, he's made seven previous Opening Day starts -- four with the Tampa Bay Rays, two with Kansas City and one with the San Diego Padres. So, he has experience, and the moment shouldn't rattle him.

In those seven starts, Shields is 2-2 with a 4.75 ERA, although in fairness to him, five of those seven starts were quality, and the two rough outings were enough to inflate his ERA. But that was then, and this is now, and Shields simply hasn't done anything in the past two years to inspire confidence.

There's no reason to believe he's the Sox's best pitcher, so you won't catch me calling him the "ace." There are aces, and then there are guys who start on Opening Day. Shields is the latter, not the former.

Here's one silver lining: Shields is scheduled to pitch twice on the season-opening road trip to Kansas City and Toronto. His second start should come April 4 against the Blue Jays, which means there's no way in hell he will be anywhere near the mound when the Sox open at home April 5 against the Detroit Tigers.

If pitchers remain on schedule, Lucas Giolito is in line to start the second game of the season against the Royals, which would mean it would be his turn for the home opener April 5. Right now, it's looking like Reynaldo Lopez will pitch the third game, and Miguel Gonzalez the fourth.

Carson Fulmer and Hector Santiago continue to compete for the fifth starting rotation spot. Fulmer will make a spring start today -- March 19 -- against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Carson Fulmer should not be in White Sox rotation when season starts

It's March 15. The regular season starts two weeks from today, and we've yet to see any reason why Carson Fulmer should begin the season in the White Sox starting rotation.

I hate overreactions to spring training numbers. I try to remind myself they don't matter, but Fulmer has pitched so poorly in the Cactus League that his struggles are impossible to ignore. Even if a pitcher's numbers stink, he has to stay on the mound long enough to get his work in, and start climbing toward being able to pitch six or seven innings in a game in order to stick in the starting rotation.

Right now, Fulmer can't make it out of the second inning.

He was shelled for the third time in four spring starts Wednesday in an 11-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Fulmer lasted 1.2 innings, allowing seven runs on five hits -- including three home runs. He walked three, did not record a strikeout, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.

His numbers for the spring: 6.2 IP, 18 hits, 17 runs -- 14 earned -- five strikeouts, 10 walks, seven home runs allowed.


Fulmer cannot command his fastball. He can't repeat his delivery. He's extremely wild, both in and out of the strike zone. This is a guy who doesn't look as though he belongs in the major leagues in any role right now.

So, what do you do with him? He's less than three years removed from being a first-round draft pick, so you don't want to give up on him, but it looks as though it's time to lower expectations. There's nothing about Fulmer that says "future starting pitcher" to me.

That's especially true when you see what's going on in the organization as a whole. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez have arrived in the majors and are ready for their first full season as big-league starters. Carlos Rodon still is hanging around as a potential top-of-the-rotation guy, if he can get healthy. Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen are on the way. There's another potential wave of pitchers behind them in the minor leagues that includes Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease.

Do we see a long-term scenario in which Fulmer wins a spot as one of the five Sox starters? I do not.

So, I think the time has come to send him to Triple-A Charlotte and convert him into a reliever. Fulmer should focus on commanding two pitches and repeating his mechanics. If he can do that, perhaps he can contribute in the majors as a late-inning reliever somewhere down the line.

Certainly, the Sox have room for Fulmer in their bullpen, if he's willing to make the adjustment.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Eloy Jimenez announces his presence in White Sox camp; injuries continue to mount

Eloy Jimenez
The White Sox's top-ranked prospect, Eloy Jimenez, has made five plate appearances since returning to action after missing two weeks with a sore left knee.

So far, he's 3 for 4 with two home runs, a triple and a walk. Not bad, huh?

Jimenez homered in a pinch-hitting appearance Saturday against the team that traded him last summer -- the Cubs. The two-run blast in the top of the eighth inning gave the Sox a 4-3 lead in a game that ended in a 4-4 tie.

The outfielder followed that up with a home run Sunday in the Sox's 6-5 win over Arizona. This homer came off a big-league pitcher, Diamondbacks left-hander Patrick Corbin.

Let's just hope Jimenez stays healthy from this point forward, because I like his odds of making the major leagues before this season is over if he does.

The injuries continue to mount in Sox camp. Luis Robert is out 10 weeks with a sprained left thumb. Nick Delmonico and Tyler Saladino both left Sunday's game after a collision chasing a pop fly in medium-deep left field.

Delmonico has a partial left shoulder subluxation, while Saladino has entered concussion protocol. Both are considered day to day, and if both men end up returning fairly soon, they can consider themselves lucky.

It's always been a pet peeve of mine when big-league ballplayers collide on the field because they failed to communicate on a routine play. Saladino made reckless play here, in my view. He's damn near halfway out to the left-field fence when the collision occurs. (See video here.)

I'm sorry, but that's Delmonico's ball all the way. Did Delmonico not call it? I have a hard time believing he didn't, and if he did, the shortstop needs to get the hell out of the way and let him make the catch.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Charlie Tilson among first round of White Sox roster cuts

Adam Engel
Charlie Tilson will not be the Opening Day center fielder for the White Sox.

The Sox made eight roster moves Tuesday, and Tilson was among the players optioned to Triple-A Charlotte.

It's somewhat surprising to see Tilson sent out the second week of March, as he was believed to be a contender for a starting job in center field, along with Adam Engel, Leury Garcia and Ryan Cordell.

But after a 3-for-18 performance in eight spring games, the club obviously has decided Tilson needs more at-bats in the minor leagues. General manager Rick Hahn foreshadowed this possibility at SoxFest, when he noted that both Tilson and Cordell have missed significant time because of injuries.

Cordell has shown well this spring -- he's 4 for 13 in six games with four walks and no strikeouts -- but he soon might join Tilson in Triple-A just because he didn't play at all the second half of last season.

That leaves Engel and Garcia in the mix, and we know the Sox like Engel's defense. It's also no secret the 26-year-old needed a swing overhaul after hitting .166 in 301 plate appearances at the big-league level last season. So far, so good for Engel this spring -- he's 5 for 16 with two home runs and four RBIs in eight games.

Garcia is the most accomplished player in contention for the center field job, but most of his playing time this spring has been in the infield. Garcia is an infielder by trade, but he was given time in the outfield last year to take advantage of his athleticism. When healthy, he was decent in 2017, posting a .270/.316/.423 slash line with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 87 games.

Right now, Engel might have the inside track to be the center fielder based upon his defense, his health and some signs of offensive progress.

In other moves, pitcher Thyago Vieira was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Right-hander Jose Ruiz was optioned to Single-A Winston-Salem.

Injured third baseman Jake Burger, catcher Alfredo Gonzalez and pitchers Michael Ynoa, Jordan Guerrero and Dylan Covey all were assigned to minor-league camp.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Carson Fulmer's spring off to a rough start

How much stock do we put in results from the first two weeks of spring training games?

Not much, really.

That said, it's hard not to notice the rough start Carson Fulmer has had this spring. The White Sox's No. 10 prospect is believed to have the inside track to start the season as the team's No. 5 starter, but his 22.50 ERA through two spring outings is enough to give some people pause.

Fulmer failed to make it out of the second inning in Sunday's 7-6 loss to the San Diego Padres. He allowed four runs on four hits with four walks in an inning plus three batters, and there's no getting around the fact that it was ugly.

Worse, Fulmer had two-strike counts to three of the four hitters he walked, and three of the four runs he allowed came on 0-2 pitches -- he allowed a solo home run to Manuel Margot and a two-run single to Fernando Tatis Jr. (Yes, that Fernando Tatis Jr.)

Fulmer through first-pitch strikes to seven of the first eight batters he faced. Normally, jumping ahead in counts is a recipe for success, but the right-hander could not get the outs he needed, even when he got to two strikes.

"It's really frustrating," Fulmer said on "Just like the last outing, I got ahead of a lot of guys, either 0-2 or 1-2, and I just wasn't able to put them away. I fell back behind in counts, left balls over the middle of the plate. It's easy to say to let this one go and get ready for the next one, but it's tough. It's tough, especially in the position that I am, and to be in a position to make an impact on this team, I have to put away guys. I have to use this outing and build off of it as much as I can and then get ready for the next one."

Hector Santiago relieved Fulmer in Sunday's game, and for the third time this spring, the veteran left-hander pitched competently.  Santiago has nine strikeouts in eight spring innings, and he's allowed only one earned run in that span.

If Fulmer struggles all March, Santiago has a chance to take that fifth starter's role.

Of course, it would be preferable to see Fulmer step up and secure that position. All things being equal, you'd rather see the young, former first-round draft pick earn the opportunity, as opposed to having to default to a mediocre veteran.

Ideally, Santiago would pitch in a swing role as a long man and spot starter.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Jake Burger done for the season; injuries to prospects a buzzkill for White Sox

First the good news: White Sox pitching prospect Michael Kopech's fastball-changeup combination looked good in his spring debut Monday, when he tossed two scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics. The Sox are 3-1 this spring after their 7-6 win over the A's.

Too bad that wasn't the story of the day.

Jake Burger, the Sox's first-round draft pick in 2017, was lost for the season Monday with a ruptured Achilles in his left leg. Burger was running out a routine grounder when he collapsed in pain about 15 feet before reaching first base.

Injuries to prospects have become an alarming trend for the Sox, and we're not even to March yet. Micker Adolfo, who has one of the best outfield arms in the farm system, is going to be relegated to DH duty this season because of a sprained UCL and a strain in his flexor tendon.

The Sox don't want Adolfo to lose at-bats, so he's going to try to play through it, but midseason surgery still is an option.

We already know Zack Burdi, a 2016 first-round draft pick, is out after having Tommy John surgery last summer. And top hitting prospect Eloy Jimenez is not playing right now because of a sore knee.

The injury to Jimenez is not severe, but it's hard to maintain optimism for the coming season when bad news is being piled on top of bad news on the injury front.

Burger's injury has led to increased speculation that the Sox might sign veteran third baseman Mike Moustakas, who incredibly remains a free agent after hitting 38 home runs for the Kansas City Royals last season.

My position on Moustakas hasn't changed: If you can get him on a two- or three-year deal at reasonable money, you have to consider it. Before the injury, Burger's projected timeline for arriving in the big leagues was about 2020. Now, you have to back that up to 2021, and questions only will increase in terms of his ability to stick at third base.

So, the Sox need somebody to man that position for the next three years, at least, and there are no other obvious solutions within the system. Time to look outside the organization? Perhaps, but I wouldn't go handing out a five- or six-year contract to the 29-year-old Moustakas as a result of this.

If the Sox want to sign a shorter-term stopgap, I'm cool with that. I would argue they needed a stopgap at third base even before this Burger injury occurred, so nothing has really changed.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

First spring training game matchup: Dylan Covey vs. Wilmer Font

Camelback Ranch
The White Sox typically open Cactus League play against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It makes sense, after all, because both teams train at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona.

This year is no different.

The two teams will get spring ball underway at 2 p.m. Friday. You can listen to the game on WGN AM-720.

In the past, this has meant that the first live ABs of the spring for Sox hitters come against the best pitcher in the world -- Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

This year is different.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, 27-year-old right-hander Wilmer Font will get the start for the Dodgers on Friday. Font posted a 3.48 ERA in 25 starts at Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2017, and he had an unsuccessful September call-up to the Dodgers in which he had a 17.18 ERA in three appearances.

Might be a slight downgrade from Kershaw, huh?

And, hey, it makes the game a little more of a fair fight. The Sox are starting right-hander Dylan Covey, who went 0-7 in the major leagues in 2017 and already got designated for assignment this spring.

In case you were wondering who is pitching the first few spring games for the Sox, there's a tweet for that. And here's what it says:

Friday: Covey
Saturday: Hector Santiago
Sunday: Jordan Guerrero
Monday: Michael Kopech

I'm guessing Monday's game might get more media attention that some of these others ...