Showing posts with label Avisail Garcia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Avisail Garcia. Show all posts

Friday, July 1, 2016

White Sox have won three straight series for the first time in 2016

Nate Jones
You would think the White Sox would have won three straight series at some point during their 23-10 start to the season, right?

Well, they didn't, but they have now after taking two games from the last-place Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon. The Sox (40-39) have won seven of their last 10 games, so I can't complain too much -- especially after living through the misery of the 10-26 stretch that carried on from May 10 all the way until June 19.

Some consistent winning is welcome, even if the wins are over a team as bad as the Twins, and even if the wins aren't as easy as perhaps they should have been.

Do you want to know the last time the Sox won a game by more than three runs? It was May 9 against the Texas Rangers, and even that was an extra-inning affair. The Sox won by four (8-4) because Todd Frazier hit a grand slam in the top of the 12th inning.

On Wednesday night, it looked as if the Sox were finally going to coast across the finish line with an easy victory. They had a five-run outburst in the seventh inning against Minnesota starter Ricky Nolasco and reliever Michael Tonkin. Sox right-hander James Shields finally resembled a major league pitcher, allowing just one run over 6.2 innings.

The Sox led 9-1 after eight innings. Piece of cake, huh? If only.

Minnesota's ninth inning went as follows: Double, walk, strikeout, E-4, single, groundout, HBP, walk, double, flyout.

The South Siders hung on for a 9-6 win, but not before three relievers were needed to get through the final inning. It's unfortunate that Nate Jones had to be summoned to pitch in this game. He entered with two on, two out and the tying run at the plate, and got Eduardo Escobar to fly out to end the drama.

But so much for that rare blowout win.

The Sox squeaked out a victory Thursday, as well, winning 6-5 after J.B. Shuck delivered a go-ahead single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Anybody who has ever watched baseball with me knows that relievers who walk people are my biggest pet peeve in the game. "You walk people, you lose"  has always been my mantra.

In this game, Minnesota reliever Fernando Abad walked people, and he lost. He retired the first two men he faced in the bottom of the eighth inning, but then he walked both Avisail Garcia and Jason Coats. The walk to Coats came on four pitches, and that's especially ridiculous when you consider that Coats is 1 for 17 since his recall from Triple-A Charlotte.

Why was Abad afraid to throw a strike to Coats? You got me, but that walk put Garcia in scoring position, and Shuck's bloop over Escobar's head brought Garcia home to put the Sox ahead, 6-5.

The hit made a winner of Jones, who worked 1.1 innings of scoreless relief. David Robertson got three outs for his 21st save of the season.

Carlos Rodon's performance Thursday was a disappointment. He went 5.2 innings, allowing four runs on five hits, but he just wasn't any good with the lead.

Rodon retired the first 11 he faced, but blew an early 2-0 advantage by giving up back-to-back homers to Robbie Grossman and Brian Dozier in the fourth. The Sox came right back with three in the bottom of the inning to stake Rodon to a 5-2 lead, but he still couldn't complete the sixth inning and had to be removed with the score 5-4 and the tying run in scoring position.

The Sox need more from their young lefty, who has way too much talent to be 2-6 with a 4.24 ERA. He hasn't pitched into the seventh inning since May 22, a span of six starts. Not coincidentally, that's the last time Rodon won a game. Make the first goal pitching deeper into the game, then go from there.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Are the White Sox phasing out Avisail Garcia?

Avisail Garcia
Here is a little-noticed detail from the White Sox's weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays: Avisail Garcia was not in the starting lineup Saturday or Sunday.

As I was driving to the ballpark Sunday, I heard WLS radio host Connor McKnight say Garcia was "getting another day off." That's a charitable way to say it. If a player is sitting for one game, that's a "day off." If a player is sitting for consecutive games, that player is either injured or the manager is looking for better options.

We saw a couple of interesting lineup constructions from Sox manager Robin Ventura over the weekend. Garcia played Friday as the designated hitter, but we saw Todd Frazier at first base -- Jose Abreu got the day off.

In Saturday's game, Ventura had both of his catchers in the lineup with Alex Avila serving as the designated hitter, and Dioner Navarro behind the plate. The move actually worked. Avila had a home run and a double, and Navarro also homered.

Tyler Saladino got a start at third base Sunday, with Frazier moving to designated hitter. This move also worked. Saladino walked and scored the first run of the game, and he started two slick 5-4-3 double plays that helped Sox ace Chris Sale pick up his 13th win of the season.

There are two conclusions I can draw from these moves: First, Ventura and staff have no use for Jason Coats. And who can blame them? Coats is 1 for 15 in 21 plate appearances since his recall from Triple-A Charlotte. He hasn't shown anything in limited opportunities, and it seems as if he's a waste of a roster spot at this point.

Secondly, Garcia is taking a seat because he has been providing next to nothing in terms of extra-base pop in the designated hitter role. He's a lousy defensive outfielder and a poor base runner, and he's not getting any better with the bat:

Garcia in 2015: .257/.309/.365 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs in 601 plate appearances
Garcia in 2016: .247/.309/.358 with 5 home runs and 25 RBIs in 236 plate appearances

These are similar slash lines, and even though Garcia is still relatively young at age 25, after 1,334 plate appearances in the majors, you start to believe that he's never going to be much better than he is right now.

And what he is right now is not good enough to be an everyday designated hitter. Garcia's slugging percentage for the month of June is a pathetic .265. He has one extra-base hit (a double) in 75 plate appearances this month. His last home run came May 28, and that's the only long ball he has hit since May 6.

We're talking about a hitter who is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and he still hasn't shown he can drive the ball with any consistency, despite receiving more than enough opportunities from the Sox.

It seems as if Ventura has seen enough, and I can't blame him.

Saladino has a .394 slugging percentage this season -- that's 36 points higher than Garcia's slugging percentage. And Saladino provides strong defense at any position on the infield, and he's a threat to steal a base when he gets on. If Garcia is not going to hit the ball off the wall or over it as a designated hitter, then the Sox are a better team with Saladino taking Garcia's spot in the lineup. Quite simply, Saladino can do more things.

The Sox can play Saladino at third and use Frazier as the DH. The Sox can play Saladino at second base and use Brett Lawrie as the DH. The Sox can put Saladino at third, shift Frazier to first and use Abreu as the DH.

Any of these lineup combinations seem more appealing that Garcia as DH at this stage. The Sox, obviously, intend for Justin Morneau to be the DH against right-handed pitching when he comes off the disabled list sometime after the All-Star break. But until that happens, Ventura is probably better off going with a rotating DH, and he showed signs of going in that direction with his lineup construction against Toronto.

Monday, June 20, 2016

White Sox get swept once again vs. a divisional opponent

"Poor Jose" Quintana
The White Sox are once again on a losing streak, having been swept in a divisional series against the Cleveland Indians over the weekend. Let's take a look back at the carnage:

Friday, June 17
Indians 3, White Sox 2: Jose Quintana ranks fourth in the American League with a 2.63 ERA. He's also 0-6 in his last seven starts because the Sox offense has scored only five runs total when Quintana has been on the mound during that same span.

It's no wonder we're seeing classic satire such as this when describing Quintana's hard-luck career pitching for a perpetually underachieving Sox team.

In any case, Quintana was spared a loss Friday. The Sox trailed 2-1 in the ninth inning, but back-to-back doubles by Brett Lawrie and Avisail Garcia off Cleveland closer Chad Allen tied the game.

While Quintana was spared, the team was not. Carlos Santana hit a walk-off home run for Cleveland on a hanging slider from Sox reliever Nate Jones in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Jones jumped ahead of Santana 0-2 with two good sliders. Sox catcher Alex Avila called for a fastball on 0-2, but Jones shook him off for another slider. Moral of the story: If you're going to throw the same pitch to a major league hitter three times in a row, you better make it a good one.

That third slider to Santana was as bad as it gets.

Saturday, June 18
Indians 13, White Sox 2: So, that James Shields trade isn't working out so well. The veteran right-hander needed only 11 pitches to get the Sox blown off the field in this game.

Shields walked Santana on four straight pitches to start the first inning. Jason Kipnis narrowly missed a two-run homer on Shields' sixth pitch of the game. The ball hit the fence for a double and placed runners on second and third.

Francisco Lindor hit an RBI single on the eighth pitch from Shields, and Mike Napoli connected for a three-run, opposite-field homer on pitch No. 11. At that point, it was 4-0 Indians, and the game was over.

Cleveland ended up scoring five runs in the first inning and three more in the second. All eight were charged to Shields, who was removed after lasting just 1.2 innings.

Shields has allowed 22 runs (21 earned) on 24 hits with nine walks in his first three starts with the Sox. We were told he is an "innings eater," but so far he's thrown only 8.2 innings.

In other words, he's recorded 26 outs as a member of the Sox, while allowing 22 runs. Let that ratio roll around in your brain for a moment. He's allowed 15 first-inning runs since the trade.

It makes no sense at all for Shields to remain a member of the starting rotation. You can't keep running a guy out to the mound who is putting your team four, five or six runs down in the first inning. Yet the Sox have stated Shields will make his next start Thursday in Boston.

Have I mentioned the Shields deal is the type of trade that gets GMs fired?

Sunday, June 19
Indians 3, White Sox 2 (10 innings): After the way the first two games went, Sunday's game just had a feeling of inevitability to it. Sox starter Carlos Rodon pitched pretty well; he went 6.1 innings and allowed only two runs.

That's not a bad outing at all, although it was disappointing that Rodon blew two leads. The Sox went ahead 1-0 in the first; the Indians tied it in the bottom of the inning. Melky Cabrera hit his sixth home run of the season in the fourth to put the Sox up 2-1; Rodon served up a home run to Juan Uribe in the bottom of the inning to make it 2-2.

It stayed that way until the bottom of the 10th when Jose Ramirez hit a two-out single with the bases loaded off Sox closer David Robertson to win the game. The Sox never trailed until the moment they lost, but watching the game, there was never a single moment where I thought they would win. Sometimes you just know it isn't going to end well.

The loss dropped the Sox (33-36) 5.5 games behind the first-place Indians. The South Siders have lost the last six head-to-head meetings with Cleveland, and they are 0-9 in road games against divisional opponents Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit. They have been swept in three-game series in all three of those cities.

Overall, the Sox are now a combined 6-18 against Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit -- the teams that remain relevant in the AL Central race. Manager Robin Ventura is now 140-190 (.424 winning percentage) against divisional foes during his tenure.

The Sox have dropped 26 of 36 since their 23-10 start. This "slump" has continued on for six weeks, but all the decision-makers in the organization still had jobs as of Monday morning.

People wonder why the Sox have a dwindling fan base and poor attendance. Personally, I can't blame people for not wanting to put up with this anymore.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Big comebacks mean little if you lose the next day

Adam Eaton
The White Sox were trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the third inning Monday night against the Detroit Tigers.

Incredibly, they rallied to win, 10-9, in 12 innings on a walk-off single by Adam Eaton. It was the Sox's biggest comeback since June 28, 2002, when they erased an 8-0 deficit to beat the Cubs, 13-9.

The Sox (32-32) had lost 22 out of 30 games coming into Monday, so the popular narrative after this win is going to be this: Is this inspiring, come-from-behind victory going to be the thing that puts the Sox back on track?

Well, maybe. There were plenty of positives to take out of Monday's game. Jose Abreu homered for the second straight game and knocked in three runs. Eaton had a four-hit night, and Brett Lawrie and Avisail Garcia delivered clutch, RBI-producing hits with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Garcia's at-bat was perhaps his best of the season, as he battled back from an 0-2 count before lining a game-tying single to left-center off Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The Sox and their fans will take the win and be happy about it for sure, but it's worth nothing the Tigers have their ace, Jordan Zimmermann, pitching Tuesday. He'll be opposed by Miguel Gonzalez in the one pitching matchup in this series that does not favor the Sox.

If the Sox lose to Zimmermann, we're right back in that mode where we're talking about losing 23 of 32. If the Sox win tonight, hey, that's two in a row and a rare series win against a divisional foe. There's a big difference between those two mentalities, and it goes to show the momentum from Monday's win can be fleeting if it's not backed up with another victory in Game 2 of the three-game series.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Some random Tuesday thoughts on the White Sox

Tim Lincecum is headed to the Angels.
The White Sox had their first bad week of the season last week, going 2-4 on a six-game road trip through Texas and New York.

Here's the good news: The Sox had a five-game lead in the AL Central when they left for the trip. They had a five-game lead when they came home. Sometimes, when it's going bad, treading water in the standings is a good thing.

Some other random thoughts:
  • The Sox own a league-best 3.17 team ERA, but their team ERA is 5.93 over the past 12 games (6-6 record). Only Chris Sale and Jose Quintana seem immune from the pitching suck bug right now. But perhaps some regression was inevitable.
  • The Sox bullpen did not lose a single game through the first 33 games of the season. They have now lost three of the past five games.
  • Tim Lincecum's decision to sign with the Los Angeles Angels instead of the Sox isn't worth much heartache. I wouldn't have objected had the Sox signed Lincecum -- what's the harm in giving a guy a one-year deal and taking a chance? But it's also true that Lincecum hasn't had a good season since 2011, is coming off hip surgery, and didn't have a spring training. He probably won't make a start in the big leagues for about a month. The odds of him making a major impact are not high.
  • On April 23, Avisail Garcia was hitting .135. In 15 games since, he's hitting .393 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs and 10 RBIs. He has raised his batting average to a respectable .269 after hitting safely in 13 of those 15 games. But every time I feel like Garcia is turning a corner, he follows a good stretch with a slump that disappoints me. I need to see more before I believe in him.
  • White Sox prospect Tim Anderson is adjusting nicely to Triple-A competition after a slow start to the season. The shortstop was named International League batter of the week Monday after hitting .432 with three home runs and six RBIs during an eight-game stretch. Anderson's season slash line of .287/.310/.380 is respectable, but also reflective of a rough beginning. However, recency suggests he is starting to figure out Triple-A pitching.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Jose Quintana continues mastery of Blue Jays

Jose Quintana is 3-1 this season.
Something was going to give Wednesday night. The Toronto Blue Jays hadn't been swept at Rogers Centre since Sept. 10-12, 2013. And White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana was 3-0 in three previous starts in Toronto.

As it turns out, Quintana continued his streak, and the Blue Jays' long run of not being swept at home has come to an end.

The Sox left-hander fired six shutout innings in a 4-0 win. Quintana (3-1) struck out a season-high 10 and stranded a Toronto baserunner in scoring position in four of his six innings. He is now 4-0 with 0.68 ERA in four career starts at Toronto. His season ERA is 1.47 -- fourth-best in the AL -- and he has yet to allow a home run in 30.2 innings this season.

Zach Duke, Nate Jones and David Robertson all pitched a scoreless inning to finish the shutout.

Toronto starter Marco Estrada matched zeroes with Quintana through six innings, but the Sox once again broke through in their favorite inning -- the seventh. Dioner Navarro's two-out, two-strike, two-run triple put the Sox ahead and ended Estrada's night. Austin Jackson greeted reliever Jesse Chavez with an RBI triple to complete the three-run rally.

Avisail Garcia's RBI single in the eighth inning tacked on an insurance run as the Sox won their sixth straight and improved to 16-6.

Comings and goings

A few roster moves over the past couple days:
  • Catcher Kevan Smith was placed on the disabled list with a back problem before appearing in a game. The Sox purchased the contract of Hector Sanchez from Triple-A Charlotte. I wouldn't be surprised if Sanchez gets a start Thursday with John Danks on the mound against Baltimore
  • Pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte, and relief pitcher Daniel Webb was recalled.
  • On a sad note, Robertson had a death in his family, and the closer has been placed on the bereavement list, meaning he will be away from the team for 3 to 7 days. Infielder Carlos Sanchez has been recalled to fill that roster spot. Sanchez was off to a good start at Triple-A Charlotte, with a slash line of .309/.356/.469 with three home runs and six stolen bases in 20 games. With Webb being on the roster, the Sox still have seven relievers available for the Baltimore series.

Friday, April 8, 2016

I went to Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field, and it snowed

How's this for baseball weather?:


That was the scene at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday before the White Sox's first home game of the season against the Cleveland Indians. The game resulted in a 7-1 Cleveland victory. More on that in minute, but five years from now, when people talk about Opening Day 2016 the main thing they are going to remember was the bone-chilling cold (temperatures in the 30s, wind chills in the 20s) and snow.

It did stop snowing for a little while, and the ballpark looked great for pregame ceremonies:


And, did I mention this new center field scoreboard is awesome?


On the field, there weren't many positives for the Sox, who fell to 3-2 with their worst performance of the season's first week.  We should have seen it coming. John Danks entered Friday's action with a 5-14 record, with a 5.29 ERA, in 26 career starts against Cleveland.

Make it 5-15 in 27 starts.

Danks gave up seven runs, five earned, over five innings pitched. He sucked the life out of the sellout crowd by giving up three runs in the top of the first inning, plus two more in the second. The "here we go again" feeling that was so prominent in the ballpark during these last three losing seasons of 2013-2015 was back again immediately with the Sox down 5-0 an inning and a half into the home portion of the schedule.

There were physical mistakes (Alex Avila's throwing error in the first inning that cost the Sox two runs) and mental mistakes (Avisail Garcia getting picked off first base with runners on first and second and one out, down 5-0, in the bottom of the second inning). There was an alarming lack of offense -- only three hits all day.

Todd Frazier went 2-for-3 with a solo home run, a single and a walk. Beyond that, the only offense was a single by Austin Jackson. This marked the second straight year the Sox were limited to just three hits in their home opener. Last year's 6-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins was utterly forgettable and sadly a predictor of misery to come.

We can only hope today's performance is an aberration and not a foretelling of another bad season on the South Side.

The only other good thing we can say? Well, Dan Jennings and Zach Putnam combined for four scoreless innings in relief of Danks. If not for that, it would have been worse than 7-1.

Without question, this game was one to forget, unless you're talking about the weather.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

White Sox offense in need of some more hits

Oakland ace Sonny Gray beat the Sox on Wednesday.
Unrealistic dreams of an undefeated season died Wednesday night as the White Sox lost, 2-1, to the Oakland A's.

Oakland ace Sonny Gray fired seven innings of one-run ball, and relievers John Axford and Ryan Madson closed out the first win of the year for the A's.

Gray is one of the best in the league, so fans should not fret too much about losing a game to him, although a fine effort by Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon (7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 6 Ks, 1 BB) went to waste Wednesday night.

That said, it would be nice to see the Sox have a breakout game offensively sometime in the next few days. Despite a 2-1 record, most of the lineup has started cold. Leadoff hitter Adam Eaton has reached base nine times in his first 13 plate appearances (7 hits, 1 BB, 1 HBP), but he's only scored two runs because so many others have had a slow first three games:

Jimmy Rollins: 2-for-12 (but at least one of the hits was a game-winning homer)
Todd Frazier: 2-for-12 (but at least one of the hits was a three-run homer)
Melky Cabrera: 1-for-11
Avisail Garcia: 1-for-11
Brett Lawrie: 2-for-11

The Sox have a .238/.297/.337 team slash despite a red-hot start by Eaton (.636/.692/.818). They've been held off the scoreboard in 22 of their 27 offensive innings against an Oakland staff that is lacking once you get past Gray.

There's been a lot of talk all offseason about Frazier providing protection for Jose Abreu, and I remain confident that Frazier will do his job. But can Cabrera and/or Garcia provide adequate protection for Frazier?

In the sixth inning Wednesday, Eaton was on second base with one out. Abreu grounded out for the second out, and then Frazier was pitched around with first base open to bring Cabrera to the plate. Gray retired Cabrera on a weak comebacker to close the inning unscathed.

To me, Cabrera and Garcia are going to be the keys to the Sox offense this year. I think Abreu and Frazier will perform as they always do. But will the offense die once the lineup gets down to the 5 and 6 spots? That question remains unanswered.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Projected White Sox lineup for Monday's opener vs. Oakland

Robin Ventura
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the lineup he fielded in Tuesday's 6-2 exhibition win over the Texas Rangers would likely be the one he uses Monday when the season opens against the Oakland A's.

If that's true, here is Monday's lineup:

1. Adam Eaton, RF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Todd Frazier, 3B
5. Melky Cabrera, LF
6. Avisail Garcia, DH
7. Brett Lawrie, 2B
8. Austin Jackson, CF
9. Alex Avila, C

Chris Sale, P

The biggest questions were who Ventura would use at DH, and how he would align his defensive outfield. Clearly, he's going defense-first here, with the weakest defensive outfielder of the four in the lineup (Garcia) serving as the DH. As long as Jackson is playing, he's going to be in center field. That moves Eaton to a corner spot. If Garcia is the DH, that puts Eaton in right field. If Cabrera gets a DH day, expect to see Eaton in left field with Garcia in right.

The Sox broke camp in Glendale, Arizona, with a 15-13-1 Cactus League record. They hit a major-league best 49 home runs and finished with a winning spring record for the first time since 2004.

The South Siders have two exhibition games in San Diego against the Padres on Friday and Saturday before the opener in Oakland.

One thing to watch this weekend: Mat Latos is slated to start Friday after pitching coach Don Cooper said the team needs more from the right-hander, who has a 12.46 ERA in 8.2 innings this spring. Cooper is looking for Latos to be more efficient and pitch deeper into games.

Latos is scheduled to start the fourth game of the season April 7 in Oakland. He's one of the biggest question marks as the Sox head north.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The White Sox's spring leader in RBIs? Avisail Garcia

White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia made several mechanical adjustments at the plate this offseason. He has lowered his hands. He's standing taller in the box, and his head position was changed in hopes of getting him a longer look at the ball.

We said at the start of spring Garcia was one of the players to watch in camp -- in fact, we had him No. 1 on our list -- to see how these changes would work. All the usual caveats about spring numbers being (relatively) meaningless apply, but I'd say Garcia has given the Sox reason for optimism.

He hit his fourth home run of the spring Sunday in a 13-9 win over the San Francisco Giants. He's posted a .333/.385/.708 slash line in 51 plate appearances this spring. Nine of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. The four home runs are tied for the team lead, and his 16 spring RBIs are tops on the team.

Can it carry over to the regular season? Garcia will continue to be one of the players to watch as the games begin for real next week in Oakland.

Friday, March 18, 2016

FanGraphs: 'How the White Sox Could Win the Pennant'

It's hard not to feel bad about White Sox baseball today. Chris Sale and Adam Eaton are fanning the flames of the Adam LaRoche retirement controversy, and the organization is coming off looking bad.

But here's an article that could inspire some hope: A FanGraphs blogger has charted a potential path to the pennant for the Sox.

Cliff notes version: The Sox project as an 81-win team, so they need to find another 10 wins to be a playoff team. How do they get those 10 wins? A young and hard-to-project Carlos Rodon blossoms into a top-of-the-rotation stud, Mat Latos is healthy and returns to his 2013 form, and Avisail Garcia surprises the critics by learning how to hit for power.

The LaRoche retirement creates savings that allow the Sox to acquire a player to fill in a hole, and shortstop prospect Tim Anderson comes up the second half and makes the team better.

Yes, that's a lot of stuff that needs to go right, but realistically, that's probably the course the Sox would need to take to reach the postseason in 2016.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jay Bruce and more silly White Sox narratives from Chicago sports media

Jay Bruce
There has been a lot of discussion -- even some this week -- about the White Sox needing to acquire a power-hitting left-handed bat for the middle of their lineup.


I don't disagree with Bruce Levine when he says the Sox could use that piece, but I am unconvinced that Jay Bruce is the right man for the job -- especially considering that the Cincinnati Reds would most likely want the Sox to take on most of the $12.5 million Bruce is owed for the 2016 season in any deal.

Reports outside Chicago, most notably from MLB Network's Jon Heyman, indicate the Sox and Reds have not had any recent talks about Bruce. Heyman reports the Sox are not seeking a starting outfielder after their recent signing of Austin Jackson. I tend to think Heyman is correct.

That didn't stop the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh from adding to the Bruce talk, and in a bizarre twist, Haugh seems to believe the Sox should acquire Bruce with the idea of pushing Adam Eaton to the bench.

What?

Here's what Haugh wrote:

"The broader big-picture question involving Eaton should be what to do with him if the Sox acquire outfielder Jay Bruce, the left-handed power hitter the Reds reportedly want to trade. Several other teams remain interested in Bruce, scheduled to make $12.5 million in 2016, and WSCR-AM 670 reported two top Reds scouts have been regulars at Camelback Ranch. If Sox general manager Rick Hahn can pull it off, Bruce would join former Reds teammate Todd Frazier in the middle of an increasingly dangerous Sox lineup.

"Trading for Bruce to play right field with Jackson in center and Melky Cabrera in left likely would make Eaton a fourth outfielder and part-time designated hitter -- perhaps platooning with Avisail Garcia -- Eaton's ideal role on a contending Sox team. It also would make Eaton's five-year, $23.5 million contract extension signed a year ago all the more baffling. Bruce offers 30 home-run potential, a capable glove and an expiring contract, which Hahn appears to be collecting."

Again, what? 

I'm not sure if Haugh is expecting us to take this narrative seriously, but let's humor him with some player comparisons. Tell me which of these four 2015 statistical profiles you like best:

Player A: .267/.311/.385, 2.3 fWAR
Player B: .287/.361/.431, 3.6 fWAR
Player C: .226/.294/.434, 0.1 fWAR
Player D: .273/.314/.394, -0.3 fWAR

So, what's your verdict? Who's the best player in the bunch? You gotta go with Player B, right?

Player B has the highest batting average, the highest on-base percentage, the second-highest slugging percentage (only .003 behind Player C) and the best fWAR.

Mr. Haugh might be interested to know that Player B is Eaton, the guy he thinks belongs on the bench.

For the record, Player A is Jackson, Player C is Bruce and Player D is Cabrera.

Eaton, to me, is the third-best positon player on the Sox, behind only Jose Abreu and Frazier. I look at him as a core player, and I can't see any rational baseball reason for him to be displaced from the lineup for a player such as Bruce. Play Eaton wherever you want in the outfield, but he and his .361 on-base percentage need to be at the top of the lineup for the Sox this year. There is no question about that.

Haugh wrote that, "this week's discussion over where incumbent center fielder Adam Eaton plays was cute," and I'm not sure what he means by that.

I'm not being cute at all when I tell you that some members of the Chicago sports media would be well-served to do a little research and maybe watch a few White Sox games before they sit down at a computer and offer their "opinions" about the team.
 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

White Sox bats showing some life in early spring

Avisail Garcia
The White Sox have scored 40 runs through their first six Cactus League games, including 34 runs in their last four games.

I know, it's spring training, so who cares? But the Sox are normally so terrible in spring ball that you can't help but notice when they do well.

Avisail Garcia and Jimmy Rollins both homered in Tuesday's 10-6 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, as the Sox improved to 4-1-1 so far in Arizona.

The Sox have 12 home runs by 12 different players through six games. Garcia and Rollins joined a list yesterday that includes Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Adam Eaton, Dioner Navarro, Matt Davidson, Steve Lombardozzi, Adam LaRoche, Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino and Jason Coats.

The South Siders are leading the Cactus League with a .609 slugging percentage heading into Thursday's game against the Oakland A's. All the usual caveats apply about these games being meaningless, but it's been a long time since the Sox have looked good in spring training.

Do you want to know the last time the Sox had a winning mark in spring games? 2004! Even the 2005 World Series championship team had a losing month of March.

So, while this recent stretch of good offense won't mean a thing when April 4 rolls around, it's refreshing to see some guys getting good results, instead of having to resort to the usual grumping about how early it is, or clinging to the idea that failure is OK because the players are "just getting their work in."

It's never a bad thing to play good baseball.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Austin Jackson agrees to one-year contract with White Sox

Austin Jackson
The White Sox moved to bolster their outfield depth Sunday, signing veteran Austin Jackson to a one-year contract worth $5 million.

Jackson, 29, posted a slash line of .267/.311/.385 with 9 home runs, 48 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 136 games split between the Seattle Mariners and Cubs last year. He's a career .273 hitter, but I don't think offense is the reason the Sox acquired him.

The projected outfield of Melky Cabrera in left field, Adam Eaton in center and Avisail Garcia in right is a subpar one defensively. Jackson will be the best fielding outfielder on the roster the minute he walks through the door. Jackson has produced 49 Defensive Runs Saved in six seasons in center and has a career Ultimate Zone Rating of 11.8 there, according to fangraphs.com.

Accordingly, Sox GM Rick Hahn has indicated Jackson will spend most of his time in center field.

“Most of, if not all of, Austin’s time will come in center,” Hahn told beat writers, including Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. “Obviously, a high quality defensive player out there and a lot of his value comes from having him in that spot. As I talked about with Adam Eaton at the end of last season and a couple times over the offseason and once again this afternoon, we also view Adam as a very fine defensive center fielder. He was one of the three finalists for the Gold Glove in 2014 out there and we think we’re stronger certainly from a defensive standpoint when we have both Adam and Austin out there in that same outfield. Adam’s expressed a willingness to do whatever we feel makes the most sense on a given day to win a ballgame whether that’s playing center field for Adam or DHing or being on one of the corners.”

Eaton remains the third-best position player on the Sox's roster -- behind only Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier -- so there is no chance he'll be displaced in the lineup by Jackson. If the plan is to play Jackson in center field and move Eaton to a corner outfield spot, that creates a logjam for Cabrera, Garcia and incumbent DH Adam LaRoche. Only two of those three players can be in the lineup if Jackson is in there.

Against left-handed pitching, LaRoche is certainly the odd man out -- the veteran hit just .157 with a .383 OPS against lefties last year.

Meanwhile, Jackson has been a solid bat against left-handed pitching over the past two seasons:

vs. LHP: .290/.345/.408
vs. RHP: .248/.293/.344

It seems like a pretty obvious move that Jackson plays center field against lefties, Eaton moves to right field, the weak-fielding Garcia is relegated to DH duties, and LaRoche goes to the bench.

The more interesting question is what the Sox will do against right-handed pitching. The splits show Jackson is not a good hitter against righties, but will his strong defense be enough for him to be in the lineup every day regardless? We'll assume the highly paid LaRoche will DH against righties, like it or not.

That leaves either the veteran Cabrera or Garcia as the odd man out. Would the Sox allow the 24-year-old Garcia to wither away on the bench? Will they send him to Triple-A Charlotte? Or might they give up on him entirely and trade him? It's a story to follow as the spring moves along.

With Jackson's addition to the 40-man roster, third baseman Mike Olt has been designated for assignment. No surprise there.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Spring training lookahead: Five White Sox players to watch

Avisail Garcia
As pitchers and catchers report to spring training, let's take a look at five White Sox players who will be worth watching as the Cactus League schedule unfolds:

1. Avisail Garcia, RF -- The Sox considered replacing Garcia over the offseason. They were linked to two major outfield free agents in Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes before apparently deciding the price was too high. As it stands now, the 24-year-old Garcia is getting another kick at the can, and it's likely make-or-break time for him. He's trimmed down since last season, so expect to read stories about him "being in the best shape of his life." He also will try a new batting stance this spring after a recent three-day session with hitting coach Todd Steverson. Even with the acquisition of Todd Frazier to bat cleanup, the Sox need Garcia to become a run producer in the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup. If he's still the 6-foot-4, 240-pound punch-and-judy hitter we've seen in the past, the Sox will need to move on from him.

2. Tim Anderson, SS -- The team's No. 1 prospect is a long shot to make the roster. Barring an acquisition from outside the organization, good-glove, no-hit Tyler Saladino is likely to be the Sox's shortstop on Opening Day. However, he's likely just keeping the seat warm for Anderson, who figures to get extensive playing time this spring. Many fans have read the glowing reports on him, but those who watch spring training games will get to see him play more frequently for the first time. It will be interesting to see how close he is to ready. Anderson improved in all facets of his game last season, and there's not much question he's eventually going to get a shot with the big club. But will he live up to his star potential and become a core player, or will he be just another guy?

3. Adam LaRoche, 1B/DH -- Like it or not -- and chances are you don't like it -- the Sox are stuck with LaRoche, so they have to pray he rebounds from the worst full season of his career, which saw him hit .207 with only 12 home runs. LaRoche has 10 seasons of 20 or more home runs in his career. That's the player the Sox thought they were getting when they signed him before the start of the 2015 season, and they need him to be that guy -- there is no other left-handed power threat on the roster. But at age 36, last year's woes could be a sign that LaRoche is simply washed up. Everyone will feel much better going into the year if LaRoche has a productive spring and provides some hope that he still can be a presence in the middle of the lineup.

4. Mat Latos, SP -- We've already stated a couple times on this blog that Latos could be a bargain at $3 million this year for the Sox. He was one of the top 50 pitchers in the sport before he hurt his knee, and if he returns to that form, the Sox will have a legitimate, playoff-caliber starting rotation. Of course, that's a big 'if,' given that Latos has been hurt the past two years. When watching him this spring, don't worry so much about results. Check to see if his velocity is back. Pitchers tend to see their velocity dip when they have a lower-body injury. Despite his veteran status, Latos is only 28, so you would think time would be on his side in terms of injury recovery. It's not like he's in his mid-30s and at the end of his baseball life.

5. Carson Fulmer, SP -- General manager Rick Hahn has gone out of his way to put the brakes on high expectations for the Sox's 2015 first-round draft pick. Fulmer is not a candidate to make the team. He likely needs a full season in the minors, and he wasn't as advanced coming out of college as Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon were. When the season begins, Fulmer is likely going to be at Double-A Birmingham. That said, he is a high-end pitching prospect, and it will be exciting to see how he fares in his first big-league spring training.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

White Sox, Cubs top two suitors for Dexter Fowler?

Dexter Fowler
I'm not sure I buy this NBC Sports report that says the White Sox and the Cubs "appear to be the two teams with the most interest" in Dexter Fowler.

I'm especially skeptical because the source appears to be Bruce Levine of 670 The Score. The Score isn't exactly the place I go to get intelligent baseball talk, but that's a blog for another day.

Just for grins, let's discuss the possibility of Fowler landing on either side of Chicago. I think it makes a lot of sense for him to go back to the Cubs, for whom he hit .250/.346/.411 with 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 156 games last year. In contrast, I don't think Fowler is the right guy for the Sox, but more on that in a minute.

First, let's look at why Fowler is a good fit for the Cubs: Well, he was their center fielder last year when they won 97 games, and they haven't replaced him with anybody else. I know what you're thinking. Didn't the Cubs sign outfielder Jason Heyward to a eight-year mega-deal worth $23 million a year?

Yes, yes, they did.

But let's think logically about Heyward's skill set. What is it that he does well that makes him worth all those millions? He's the best defensive right fielder in baseball, right? He's got three Gold Gloves in the past four years that prove that.

That being the case, why would the Cubs pay Heyward, the best defensive right fielder in baseball, $23 million to be an average or slightly above-average center fielder? Wouldn't it make much more sense to re-sign Fowler to play center field, put Heyward in right field where he belongs and trade Jorge Soler to help solidify a top-heavy pitching staff?

Yes, I think that makes a lot of sense. And unlike other teams, the Cubs wouldn't have to surrender draft pick compensation to sign Fowler. You better believe that qualifying offer has contributed to a slow market for Fowler. It's moot if he goes back to the Cubs.

As for the White Sox, one of the things that's perplexing about this report is that it calls for the Sox to sign Fowler to play center field and move Adam Eaton to right field. Huh?

I feel like Fowler would be redundant with Eaton on the Sox roster. Let's look at some numbers:

2015:
Eaton: .287/.361/.431, 14 HRs, 18 stolen bases
Fowler: .250/.346/.411, 17 HRs, 20 stolen bases

Career:
Eaton: .284/.355/.407
Fowler: .267/.363/.418

Pretty similar players, right? The Sox already have Eaton, a center fielder with some pop and some speed who can bat leadoff and get on base. Why give up a draft pick to sign Fowler, when he essentially provides the same thing?

What the Sox really need is a corner outfielder who can hit the ball over the fence. Incumbent corner outfielders Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia combined for only 25 home runs last season. Fowler doesn't offer a big upgrade over that, as the 17 homers he hit last year represent a career high. His career norm is 11 home runs per 162 games, which is less than what Cabrera and Garcia hit last year.

Further, there's no evidence that Fowler offers a defensive upgrade over Eaton. Let's take a look at Fowler's defensive WAR over the past five years:

2011: -0.1
2012: -0.8
2013: -0.2
2014: -1.8
2015: -1.0

Five straight years of negative defensive WAR.

Eaton's defense is a little harder to judge, based on the two years he's been a full-time player with the Sox:

2014: +1.8
2015: -1.1

Eaton was a Gold Glove finalist two years ago, then slipped defensively for unknown reasons last year. I need to see what he does this year to make a more firm judgment on what kind of defensive player he'll be over the long haul, but Fowler has a more established track record of being mediocre (at best) in center field. The Eaton we saw in 2014 is clearly superior to Fowler defensively, so I wouldn't be signing Fowler in order to move Eaton to right field.

It just doesn't make a lot of sense for the Sox to bid too high, or even bid at all, on Fowler.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Yoenis Cespedes signs three-year deal to stay with Mets

Yoenis Cespedes
Yoenis Cespedes was the last of the impact free-agent outfielders on the board this offseason, and he had to wait until late January to sign a contract.

But, what a player-friendly contract it is.

Cespedes will stay with the New York Mets, after agreeing Friday on a three-year deal worth $75 million. The Mets front-loaded the deal -- Cespedes will make $27.5 million for the 2016 season, and the contract includes an opt-out after one year.

Given next offseason's weak crop of free agents, Cespedes is in position to go back on the market next year and cash in with an even bigger contract -- if he performs at a high level this season in New York.

Cespedes was acquired by the Mets midseason last year, and he hit .287 with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs in 57 games. During that stretch, New York went 36-21 and transformed itself from a middling team into NL East Division champions. They went on to make the World Series before losing to the Kansas City Royals.

Give the Mets credit. This move solidifies them as one of the top teams in the National League. Quite possibly, they are the favorite to make it back to the World Series. It's hard to bet against them with the pitching staff they have in place. Their rotation includes Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and one of Bartolo Colon or Zack Wheeler.

Find me another team in baseball that can match that kind of quality and depth in starting pitching. I don't think there is one.

There's every reason to believe Cespedes, 30, will continue to be productive as a cleanup hitter. The only real problem for the Mets here will be their outfield defense. Cespedes is a plus defender in left field, but on the Mets, he'll need to play center field in between Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson. As a center fielder, Cespedes is adequate at best. That could hurt New York at times, but I think the benefits of this signing far outweigh the drawbacks for them. They are one of the teams that has a shot to win it all in 2016.

What does this mean for the White Sox? Well, back to the drawing board. I'm not sure the Sox were ever serious contenders for Cespedes, and certainly, they were not going to hand out a contract like the one Cespedes signed.

The Sox got caught a little bit here, slow-playing the outfield market, believing somebody's price would eventually come down into their range. That never happened, and for now, they are stuck with the status quo in their outfield. We'll find out in the next few weeks how much they really believe in Avisail Garcia. Will they give him another year in right field, or will they make a trade to replace him?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

White Sox make additions to 2016 SoxFest roster

Jose Contreras
With the holiday season over, it's time to look ahead to SoxFest 2016, which believe it or not is just a little more than two weeks away.

The event is scheduled for Jan. 29 to 31 at Hilton Chicago.

The White Sox on Monday announced outfielders Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia; pitchers Dan Jennings, Erik Johnson, Nate Jones, Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb; and catcher Dioner Navarro have been added to list of current players expected to attend.

World Series hero Jose Contreras highlights the list of former players slated to appear. Other 2005 team members include Carl Everett and Willie Harris. Chet Lemon, who was an All-Star outfielder for the Sox in 1978 and 1979, will be in attendance, as will former pitcher Kirk McCaskill, who is best known for being on the mound when the Sox clinched the 1993 AL West Division championship.

Overall, the list of ex-players slated to attend the event is pretty good. It includes Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Bo Jackson and Ron Kittle.

Other current players who previously committed to appear include first baseman Jose Abreu, catcher Alex Avila, pitcher John Danks, third baseman Todd Frazier, infielder Tyler Saladino and pitcher Chris Sale.

If Twitter is any indication, center fielder Adam Eaton also will be on hand.

You can monitor any additional updates to the list of attendees by visiting whitesox.com/SoxFest.