Showing posts with label Geovany Soto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Geovany Soto. Show all posts

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Derek Holland continues mastery of Cleveland in 2-1 White Sox win

Derek Holland
White Sox left-hander Derek Holland is now 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA over five career starts at Cleveland's Progressive Field, after he tossed six shutout innings Wednesday in Chicago's 2-1 victory over the Indians.

Holland (1-1) limited the Tribe to only one hit -- a leadoff double by Francisco Lindor in the bottom of the sixth -- while striking out four and walking four.

The 30-year-old veteran has a 1.50 ERA through 12 innings and two starts, and if you look at some of the pitch charts, it's clear that he's changed his approach after struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness the past three seasons.

Based on my own observations, it has seemed as if Holland is throwing his curveball a lot more this season than he did during his time with the Texas Rangers, and this research conducted by our friends at SouthSideSox confirms my suspicion.

Holland is throwing his curve on 21.1 percent of pitches this season, as compared with 7.5 percent in 2016. He's also using more four-seamers and fewer sinkers. His sinker use has dipped from 58.9 percent of pitches to 13.9 percent, while he's using the four-seamer 29.4 percent of the time, as compared with only 1.4 percent last year. The use of the changeup and the slider has remained status quo.

Give credit to Holland for realizing he needs to make adjustments. His fastball is sitting at 92 mph, as opposed to his pre-injury 94 or 95. That two or three miles per hour can make a big difference, and sometimes a veteran pitcher needs to make some concessions to Father Time.

Is Holland's early success sustainable as the weather warms and the conditions become more hitter friendly? I don't know. We'll have to watch and learn.

As for Wednesday's game, the Sox offense was limited again, but Holland and three relievers made two early runs stand up. Matt Davidson's two-run single in the second inning accounted for the only Sox offense, and it was enough for a rare win in Cleveland.

Something to watch for in Thursday's game: Both closer David Robertson and setup man Nate Jones have worked in three consecutive games. If it's a close game late, will new manager Rick Renteria have the restraint to not overwork Robertson and Jones, who could be valuable trading pieces for the Sox later in the year?

Renteria shouldn't be afraid to allow Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak to pitch. Even if the Sox were expected to contend, it's too early in the season to be going to the whip with the best bullpen guys on the club. Robin Ventura made that mistake last year, and despite early success, the relief corps crumbled with injury and ineffectiveness in May and June.

Soto to DL; Smith recalled

The Sox have placed catcher Geovany Soto on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. Kevan Smith has been recalled from Triple-A Charlotte.

It's too bad for Soto, who was off to a good start with three home runs. (The Sox only have six as a team). It's also too bad for the Sox, as their already shaky defense behind the plate just got a little bit worse.

I saw Smith catch a few games during spring ball, and while he hit well in Cactus League play, let's just say he did not impress me with his receiving skills.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

White Sox begin nine-game trip with typical Cleveland loss

Michael Brantley
The White Sox are 12-25 in their past 37 games in Cleveland, so we shouldn't be surprised that their first road game against the Indians this year ended with an archetypal punch to the groin.

Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle (0-1) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 10th inning, but then he walked Francisco Lindor and gave up a game-winning double to Michael Brantley as the Indians came away with a 2-1 victory.

It's too bad, because the Sox wasted a serviceable start by the erstwhile James Shields. The veteran right-hander gave up a solo home run to Lindor in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing more over 5.1 innings. He allowed only two hits, walked two and retired 12 consecutive Cleveland hitters at one point.

Given the garbage we saw from Shields last year, how can we complain about that performance against one of the better lineups in the American League? We can't.

And, the Sox bullpen covered 13 more outs before Kahnle finally cracked in the bottom of the 10th.

Have we mentioned the fact that the Sox can't hit? Yeah, it's becoming a theme. Other than Todd Frazier's solo home run in the fifth inning, the offense generated little. The Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and four of the nine starters finished the game 0 for 4.

The best scoring chance came in the top of the eighth inning against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller, of all people. Geovany Soto walked and advanced to third on a double by pinch-hitter Matt Davidson with one out.

With runners on second and third, Tyler Saladino hit a Miller slider right on the screws, but his line drive landed in the glove of diving Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz. Good defense by Diaz, bad luck for Saladino. If that one gets through, the Sox (2-4) take a 3-1 lead. Alas, it did not, and Tim Anderson swung over the top of two Miller sliders and basically struck himself out to end the threat.

The Indians also missed an opportunity in the eighth inning, thanks to some curious managing by Terry Francona. Sox reliever Nate Jones was laboring; he walked the first two hitters. But Francona for some reason ordered the red-hot Lindor to sacrifice bunt, which he did.

Sure, that gave Cleveland (4-3) runners on second and third with one out, but it opened the door for Sox manager Rick Renteria to walk Brantley intentionally and set up the double play. That's precisely what Renteria did. Jones got a righty-on-righty matchup that was favorable for him against Cleveland's Edwin Encarnacion, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play to keep the game tied. Good managing by Renteria, not so good by Francona, who is normally the game's best.

Unfortunately, given a second life, the Sox's offense was too inept to scratch across a run and steal a winnable game.

Monday, April 10, 2017

White Sox lose two out of three to Minnesota Twins

Avisail Garcia
The Minnesota Twins lost a league-worst 103 games last season, but they've surprised the American League with a 5-1 start this year. Minnesota starting pitchers have racked up quality starts in five of the team's first six games, and not surprisingly, all five of those games resulted in wins.

The Twins took two out of three from the White Sox over the weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are some observations from the series:

Friday, April 8
Twins 3, White Sox 1: If we're being honest with ourselves, we know the Sox are going to struggle offensively. They don't have much power, and they were limited to seven hits (six singles, one double) by Minnesota starter Phil Hughes (1-0) and two relievers in this loss.

Poor defense cost Sox starter Derek Holland (0-1) a gift run in the fourth inning. He tried to pick Robbie Grossman off second base and tossed the ball into center field, allowing Grossman to advance to third. The Minnesota runner later scored when Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia dropped a shallow fly ball that was not nearly deep enough to be a sacrifice fly.

Grossman also scored the go-ahead run in the sixth on a double by Miguel Sano. In the seventh, a leadoff walk to Eduardo Escobar bit Holland, as a double by Chris Gimenez off Sox reliever Nate Jones scored Minnesota's third run.

This game featured Rick Renteria's first glaring managerial mistake of the season. With the Sox trailing 3-1 after eight innings, he put Jacob May in center field in place of Leury Garcia -- presumably for defensive purposes. Naturally, May ended up at the plate after Avisail Garcia and Geovany Soto drew two-out walks with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The rookie, who is hitless through five games, was seemingly unaware that the previous two hitters had walked. He swung at the first pitch from Minnesota closer Brandon Kintzler and grounded out to second base to end the game. Fail.

Saturday, April 9
White Sox 6, Twins 2: The Sox executed pretty well offensively in the game, knocking Minnesota starter Adalberto Mejia out of the box early with a run in the first inning and two more in the second.

In both innings, the Sox placed a runner on second base with no outs. Both times, they brought the runner around to score. Tyler Saladino doubled to start the game, advanced to third on a grounder to the right side by Tim Anderson and scored when Melky Cabrera grounded out to short with the Minnesota infield back.

Todd Frazier walked and stole second base in the second inning. Avisail Garcia did the right thing -- he looked to hit the ball to the right side -- and he drove one off the right-field wall for an RBI triple. Garcia scored later in the inning when the Twins botched a rundown off a failed suicide squeeze attempt by Soto.

Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez (1-0) protected the lead through six innings. He gave up a two-run homer to Jason Castro in the sixth, but walked off the mound with a 3-2 lead. Garcia and Soto hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the sixth to account for three more runs, providing the final margin of victory.

Garcia finished a double short of the cycle. He went 3 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBIs.

Saturday, April 10
Twins 4, White Sox 1: Again, the big hit was lacking for the Sox. They had 11 runners reach base and stranded 10 of them. The good news: They took five walks and had one man reach on an HBP. The bad news: They had only five hits, and all of them were singles.

The lineup had no punch against Minnesota's best pitcher, Ervin Santana (2-0). The right-hander went six innings, and he allowed only two hits.

Sox ace Jose Quintana (0-2) pitched much better than he did in the home opener. He had his typical quality start, allowing two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings. Alas, he left with the Sox trailing 2-0, and had nothing to show for a respectable effort.

Minnesota increased its lead to 4-0 in the eighth when Sano got a not-high-enough fastball from Jones and knocked it over the center field wall for a two-run homer.

The Sox had their chance in the bottom of the eighth inning. They loaded the bases with one out against Minnesota reliever Matt Belisle. But, Matt Davidson basically struck himself out by swinging at a Belisle fastball that was up and out of the zone. It was a rally-killing at-bat, to say the least.

Kintzler entered the game and plunked Avisail Garcia with a pitch to the give the Sox their lone run, but then he struck out Yolmer Sanchez, who flailed helplessly at a pitch in the dirt for strike three.

One area the Sox must improve: They need to cut down on their strikeouts. They are letting pitchers off the hook by swinging at pitches out of the zone in RBI situations. It's a long-standing problem, and part of the problem is they need to get better players. Davidson and Sanchez likely will never be good hitters at the big-league level. But in the meantime, Renteria and his staff need to preach more patience at the plate.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Surprise, surprise, James Shields secures first White Sox win of 2017

James Shields gave up 40 home runs last year, including 31 in the 22 starts he made after the White Sox acquired him in a midseason deal with the San Diego Padres.

So, I wasn't expecting good results Thursday when Shields took the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field on a day where the winds were gusting out to right field at 25 to 30 mph. I figured the Detroit Tigers would hit at least three home runs off the veteran right-hander.

Matt Davidson
Well, surprise, surprise. Shields hung in there for 5.1 innings and earned the win in an 11-2 White Sox victory. It wasn't the best pitching performance I've ever seen -- Shields walked five and struck out five -- but he allowed only one run on two hits. He gave up one home run -- a solo shot by Tyler Collins in the second inning -- and it was the Sox hitters who best took advantage of the windy conditions.

The South Siders hit three home runs. The biggest one came from catcher Geovany Soto, whose 3-run shot in the bottom of the third inning gave the Sox a 5-1 lead and knocked Detroit starter Matt Boyd out of the game.

Matt Davidson added a long 3-run homer (estimated at 428 feet) in the bottom of the fourth inning -- his first in a Sox uniform -- off Detroit reliever Anibal Sanchez to make the score 9-1.

For good measure, Soto added a solo shot in the seventh inning for his first two-homer game since 2011.

The most eye-opening thing about Thursday's game was the performance of Davidson, who also tripled, walked and scored three runs as part of a 2-for-3 day as designated hitter.

I'm on record as a Davidson nonbeliever. He's 26 years old, and he still strikes out too much -- despite his prodigious power. That said, I've been wrong about people before, and Davidson should be getting at-bats ahead of Cody Asche, lefty-righty matchups be damned.

This is Asche's fifth year in the big leagues. He already has 1,291 plate appearances under his belt. His career slash line is .240/.298/.384. At this point, I think it is safe to say those numbers reflect who he is. Perhaps he'll stick around for a while because he bats left-handed, but he's a fringe player.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that Davidson is a fringe player as well. However, Davidson has made only 93 plate appearances at the big-league level across parts of four seasons. He's struck out 26 times, which is way too much, and has a slash line of .259/.355/.506.

That's not enough sample size to make any firm judgments. I'd be in favor of letting Davidson play. The Sox aren't going anywhere this year. It's as good a time as any to find out what they have in him, if they have anything at all.

The Sox (1-1) will next host the Minnesota Twins (3-0) for a three-game weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: Derek Holland vs. Phil Hughes
Saturday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Adalberto Mejia
Sunday: Jose Quintana (0-1) vs. Ervin Santana (1-0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

David Robertson trade rumors begin anew

David Robertson
The rumors about a potential trade in which the White Sox would send closer David Robertson to the Washington Nationals just won't go away.

The Nationals need a closer, having lost Mark Melancon to the San Francisco Giants in free agency over the offseason. Washington has yet to sign or trade for a suitable replacement, so Robertson does make some sense for them. (I personally think Shawn Kelley might be a better option for the Nationals than a post-peak Robertson, but shhhhh, don't tell them that.)

Reports indicate the Nationals have agreed on a two-year, $21 million deal with catcher Matt Wieters. That move has rekindled the Robertson discussions, because Washington now has three catchers, and the Sox have a hole at that position.

Is anyone prepared to argue that the Sox are set with the catching tandem of Omar Narvaez and Geovany Soto? Nope, me neither. They could use another guy there, because Narvaez only has 34 games of big-league experience, and the 34-year-old Soto comes with health concerns.

The Sox need a catcher. The Nationals have one to deal. The Nationals need a closer. The Sox have one to deal. Yes, you can see the potential fit.

But here's my question: Would either of the two catchers Washington has to deal be a fit for the Sox? With the addition of Wieters, one of Derek Norris or Jose Lobaton needs to go.

Let's cross Lobaton off the list immediately. He's a 32-year-old journeyman. He's been a backup for six of the seven seasons he's been in the majors, including the past three. Acquiring him would be like acquiring a somewhat healthier, somewhat younger version of Soto. That's a waste of time.

What about Norris? This Sporting News report suggests the Sox might "demand" the Nationals include him in any deal for Robertson.

Hmmmm.

Norris is 28, so he's got a few more years left in him than players such as Soto and Lobaton. And he's closer to the top of the list than the bottom when it comes to pitch framing. That said, why would the Sox "demand" a five-year veteran who hit .186 last season be included in a deal for Robertson?

The Sox's stated goal is to stockpile young talent. They are specifically looking to trade veteran assets for younger players. Granted, the declining Robertson is not a good enough trade piece to fetch an elite prospect from another organization, but if he is dealt, I would prefer to see a younger player with some upside coming back to the Sox. If such a trade is not available at the moment, that's fine. Keep Robertson for now. Hopefully he has a good first half, and maybe his value is higher in July.

I would be disappointed in a Robertson-for-Norris deal. If a trade such as that happens, it would suggest the Sox were just trying to get out from underneath the $25 million Robertson is owed over the next two years. Personally, I'd rather keep Robertson than see him traded for nothing more than salary relief and another mediocre veteran.

The modest, short-term upgrade at catcher isn't worth it to me. Bring some young talent back in the trade, or don't bother.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Catching up on recent minor White Sox moves

Geovany Soto
It's been a quiet offseason since the White Sox announced their intention to rebuild with early-December trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. I've been busy at work and with the holidays, so I haven't had much time to remark on the generally unremarkable roster moves that have been made over the past month.

But for the sake of catching up, here's some of the stuff the Sox have done recently:

1. Signed veteran catcher Geovany Soto to a minor-league deal

There's no question the Sox needed to add a catcher. The oft-injured Alex Avila has gone back to Detroit after the Sox (rightfully) showed no interest in retaining him. That left 24-year-old Omar Narvaez as the most experienced catcher in the organization, and that's not saying much -- Narvaez has only 117 plate appearances in the major leagues.

So, the Sox went back to a guy they already know in Soto. He was here in 2015, caught 78 games and posted a .219/.301/.406 slash line. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels for the 2016 season, but knee injuries limited him to 26 games and 86 plate appearances. He did hit .269 with five doubles and four homers in those plate appearances, so there's that.

Soto will turn 34 years old next week, and it's a stretch to think he'll be healthy the whole season. But, that's why he's on a minor-league deal. There isn't much risk for the Sox with this signing.

2. Signed 3B/OF Cody Asche to a minor-league deal

Here's another move that doesn't stir the soul, but we make note of it because Asche has managed to appear in 371 major-league games and make 1,287 major-league plate appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies over the past four years.

Asche hit .240/.298/.385 with a combined 31 home runs over those four seasons, which means he isn't providing enough power for a defensively challenged corner infielder/corner outfielder. Understandably, Philadelphia non-tendered him, and now here he is with the Sox as a minor-league free agent signing.

Hooray for organizational filler.

3. Claimed outfielder Willy Garcia off waivers from Pittsburgh and designated Jason Coats for assignment

Basically, the Sox added someone else's busted prospect while letting go of one of their own. Garcia, 24, is younger than Coats, who will turn 27 by the time the season starts.

Garcia is a corner outfielder who has spent the past season and a half at Triple-A Indianapolis. In 129 games and 499 plate appearances last year, he hit .245/.293/.366 with six home runs and 43 RBIs. He did have 30 doubles, which suggests he at least has warning track power, but warning track power at the Triple-A level probably isn't all that exciting.

Coats is out of the organization. He was recently claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays. I was getting annoyed by Sox fans who believed Coats should be given a starting job at the big-league level for the 2017 season.

Yes, I know it's a rebuilding year, but that doesn't mean starting jobs should be handed to career minor-leaguers who have no future with the Sox.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

White Sox remake their catching situation

Alex Avila
When the 2016 season opens, the White Sox will have two new catchers.

Tyler Flowers' three-year reign as the Sox's No. 1 backstop ended Wednesday when the team opted to non-tender him. Last year's backup catcher, Geovany Soto, signed Nov. 24 with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Sox will turn to longtime Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila as their main guy behind the plate next year. Avila signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million on Nov. 25.

When Sox GM Rick Hahn announced the non-tendering of Flowers on Wednesday, he said the move was "part of a plan," and that the club saw an opportunity to upgrade the position offensively.

Reports indicate 12-year veteran Dioner Navarro is set to sign a one-year deal with the Sox to be the second catcher.

What do we make of this? Well, assuming Avila is healthy (he played only 67 games last year because of knee issues), this is a platoon system that should work.

Avila, 28, a left-handed hitter, can't hit lefties at all. But if he achieves his career slash of .251/.358/.423 against right-handed pitching, this is a good pickup for the Sox. I don't think anyone would complain about a .781 OPS from a platoon catcher.

Even in a generally lousy, injury-plagued 2015, Avila had a .355 OBP against right-handed pitching. In case you were wondering, Flowers never posted an OBP over .300 in any of his three seasons as a full-time catcher.

Avila can't hit lefties, which brings us to the switch-hitting Navarro. The 31-year-old is a lifetime .255 hitter with a .688 career OPS, but check out the splits:

Navarro vs. LHP: .270/.336/.439
Navarro vs. RHP: .249/.305/.353

So, Navarro has a career .775 OPS against left-handed pitching. Avila has a career .781 OPS against right-handed pitcher. Platoon these guys in matchups favorable for them, and you might see some good things offensively from White Sox catchers for a change.

Flowers has a career .665 OPS, so the bar for improvement is not high. If used properly, Avila and Navarro have a good chance to clear it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

If the White Sox insist on keeping John Danks in the rotation, they need to give him a shorter leash

White Sox pitcher John Danks is overpaid. Everybody knows that. But this blog entry is not going to be about money. Today we are talking about Danks' poor performance, nothing more, nothing less.

The veteran left-hander had another implosion against an AL Central opponent Monday night. He gave up nine runs (five earned) on nine hits, including three home runs, over 5.1 innings in an embarrassing 13-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on national TV. Danks getting rocked by a divisional foe is nothing new. We've chronicled those struggles here in the past.

I've heard some folks argue Danks is a "serviceable" fifth starter. Heck, I think I might have made that statement a couple times in the past. But as time goes on and I gather more information, I've come around to the opinion that this guy doesn't belong in the rotation anymore. His 5.38 ERA ranks 50th out of 53 qualifying American League pitchers. That's not serviceable. It's terrible. It's the kind of performance you can't live with if you want to think of yourself as a competitive team.

It would be one thing if the Sox didn't have other options. For instance, we can complain until we're blue in the face about the not-so-dynamic Sox catching duo of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto. But the reality is those two guys are the best the team has in its organization at that position right now. You can't do anything else but trot them out there until the front office addresses the issue.

But it's not that way with the fifth starter spot. White Sox farmhand Erik Johnson is pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte. He was just named International League Pitcher of the Week. He has not given up a run in any of his last three outings, striking out 28 batters and walking just four in 22 innings over that span.

Given what we know about Danks and his struggles against the AL Central, and just his struggles in general, wouldn't it be a better play to drop Johnson into the rotation for a week and see how he does? At the very least, he could give teams such as Minnesota and Detroit a different look. The Tigers and the Twins are not fooled by the offspeed pitches of Danks. They've faced him countless times, and they are probably fighting to get to the bat rack, knowing a night against Danks is a chance to pad their personal statistics. Minnesota did a good job of getting fat on Monday night, that's for sure.

If the Sox are going to insist on leaving Danks in the rotation, at the very least they need to give him a shorter leash. Minnesota hung a five-spot on him in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night, turning a 2-1 Sox lead into a 6-2 deficit. No, it wasn't all Danks' fault. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez made a crucial error behind him that opened the door for the big inning, but the Twins scored three runs after two were out, as well. Danks had opportunities to make pitches, pick his teammate up and minimize the damage. He failed to do that.

He should have been removed after that fourth inning. A four-run deficit is not good, but it's not insurmountable. The Sox's long and middle relievers were all fresh and available to use. Manager Robin Ventura should have gone to one of them. You hope a fresh relief pitcher can keep Minnesota at six runs, and then maybe your offense can come back.

Instead, Ventura trotted the ineffective Danks out there for both the fifth and sixth innings, apparently wanting him to "eat innings." Predictable results followed -- a three-run homer by Kennys Vargas in the sixth made it 9-2. Then, the game was over.

The whole thing was disturbing and disheartening. By sending Danks back out after he had been roughed up, it felt like Ventura was conceding the game. And he can't afford to concede games to division foes right now. The Sox are 30-39, 11 games out and in last place. There has to be an urgency to win right now. You can't allow a struggling pitcher such as Danks to go out there and torpedo everything for 24 other guys. There's no rule that says Danks has to stay in for 90 to 100 pitches no matter what. When he's bad, pull him and give the team a chance to come back and win. This isn't rocket science.

On Monday night, it seemed as though Ventura was managing for tomorrow when he needed to win today. The Sox skipper is running out of tomorrows, maybe a lot faster than he realizes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Three changes the White Sox could make today that wouldn't cost a thing

Last night, we highlighted the poor defense the White Sox played in the first inning behind starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Pitiful glove work sadly has become the norm and not the exception for this Chicago team through the first 29 games of the season.

If you've been watching, you already know that, so I won't pain you with further examples of the problem.

Rather, I'd like to present three changes the Sox could make today that would improve the team and not cost a thing. Note that none of these suggestions involve firing any of the organization men in the dugout.
Carlos Sanchez

  • 2. Move Carlos Rodon permanently into the rotation. Hector Noesi is a two-pitch pitcher. Put him in the bullpen where he belongs.
  • 3. Have Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche flip roles. LaRoche becomes the primary first baseman. Abreu becomes the designated hitter most days.

I've identified three major problems with this team over the course of this 12-17 start. One of them is the catching situation. Unfortunately, there are no internal solutions, other than crossing your fingers and hoping Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto play better.

The other two problems are very correctable with the solutions already available in house. One of the two is the back of the starting rotation. It's just not working out with Noesi, who hasn't won a start since Aug. 27, 2014. Rodon is ready and able, so let him pitch. Yes, he will have his ups and downs as all young players do, but I don't think having him pitch mop-up duty in the bullpen helps his development, nor does it help the Sox win games. Putting Rodon in the rotation allows him to not only develop his pitches, it will allow him to impact winning and losing. Based on what I've seen from Rodon, he will help the Sox more than he hurts them.

The biggest flaw on this team -- and it's a fatal one if it doesn't get addressed soon -- is the infield defense. The fan base is howling. They want manager Robin Ventura fired on the grounds that he doesn't emphasize fundamentals enough, and that he doesn't hold players accountable for their poor defense.

But let's take a step back and make an honest assessment of this infield: Abreu at first base, Johnson at second base, Alexei Ramirez at shortstop, and Conor Gillaspie at third base.

I'm sorry, but three of those four men are poor defensive players. All but Ramirez, who will soon turn 34 and is starting to show some regression, are subpar with the glove. People preach about accountability, but Ventura could show these guys the Tom Emanski instructional videos and drill them on fundamentals all day and they still wouldn't be a good defensive infield.

The good news is potential solutions exist, if the Sox would be willing to give them a try. Sanchez is a good fielding second baseman, and he's hitting .369/.394/.500 in Charlotte. Why isn't he in Chicago?

LaRoche is a top-notch fielder, yet the Sox are using him as their primary DH. Why? Team brass probably has a reason. I just don't know what it is.

Make LaRoche-Sanchez-Ramirez-Gillaspie your infield, and all of sudden your defense goes from pitiful to adequate, if not slightly above average. On days Gordon Beckham plays third base in place of Gillaspie, that infield is above average defensively.

Why won't the Sox try it? The organization has an annoying habit of ignoring defense when it comes to lineup and roster decisions. With the Sox, it's offense, offense, offense. Young players are promoted in the minor leagues based upon what they do offensively. Johnson is here because he's perceived as being ready for the big leagues offensively. His slow hands and poor footwork defensively are completely ignored, because the Sox are forever searching for that offensive upside.

It's backfiring, and they are too obstinate to make a change. They ought to reconsider before the season swirls completely down the drain.

Miserable first inning typical of White Sox malaise

This isn't a newsflash, but the White Sox stink on the road.

Sure, they had a nice 4-2 homestand, taking two out of three from both the Detroit Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds, but it's naive to think the Sox's early-season struggles are over until they can resemble a major league team while playing away from the comfortable environs of U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox fell to 2-12 on the road Monday with a 10-7 loss to the NL Central cellar-dwelling Milwaukee Brewers, and the South Siders wasted no time reminding fans just how bad a team they are. The first inning of this game was disgraceful.  Let's take a moment to review the sad timeline:
  • Milwaukee leadoff hitter Gerardo Parra hit a grounder toward second baseman Micah Johnson, whose lame attempt to backhand the ball was a failure. The ball deflected off Johnson's glove for a "single." The play should have been made. It was not.
  • Parra successfully stole second base, and catcher Geovany Soto's throw was nowhere near the bag. Parra had a good enough jump that he probably would have been safe regardless, but Soto still looked like a fool with his lame toss.
  • Ryan Braun, the second Milwaukee hitter of the game, hit a weak grounder to shortstop that Alexei Ramirez kicked for an error. The play should have been made. It was not. Runners on first and third, no outs.
  • Adam Lind, the third Milwaukee hitter of the game, hit what should have been a double-play ball to Johnson, who was too slow to field it and too slow to get the ball to Ramirez. The Sox did force Braun out at second base, but Lind was needlessly safe at first. The play should have been made. It was not.
  • Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija hangs a slider to Milwaukee cleanup hitter Carlos Gomez, who homers to put the Brewers up 3-0.
Amazing, isn't it? Four batters into the first inning, and the Sox had already made a handful of glaring miscues. Is it any wonder this team is 12-17?

Samardzija eventually dug the team a 6-0 hole, and to the Sox's credit, they did battle back against inferior Milwaukee pitching to tie the game at 7-7 in the eighth inning.

Alas, reliever Zach Duke had his first bad outing of the year. He gave up three runs, including home runs by Elian Herrera and Khris Davis, in the bottom of the eighth inning. That Milwaukee rally sealed the Sox's fate. It was a fate they deserved after another night on the road of pitiful defense and subpar starting pitching.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

White Sox vs. Orioles -- no fans allowed; I watched it on TV

I had a chance to watch Wednesday's game between the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles on TV, and as expected, it was a little weird to be watching a game where no fans were in attendance.

The ballpark was closed to the public because of the recent rioting in Baltimore, so nobody saw the Orioles thump the Sox, 8-2, in person except for some scouts and assorted members of the media.

I have to say the game felt extremely odd for the first three or four innings, but after that I got used to it.

For at least the past 30 years, I've been listening to White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson say "Souvenir, right side" every single time a right-handed hitter hits a foul ball over the first-base dugout. Sox first baseman Jose Abreu hit just such a ball in the top of the first inning Wednesday, and Harrelson caught himself in mid-sentence, realizing that foul ball would not be a "souvenir" for anybody on the "right side," because there were no fans in the park. Harrelson instead said, ".... And ... that's a foul ball into the upper deck." For one afternoon, he was forced to drop one of his familiar catchphrases.

A fielding error by Abreu opened the door for the Orioles to have a big inning in the bottom of the first, and have a big inning they did. Baltimore scored six runs off Sox starter Jeff Samardzija to put the game out of reach early, and it was quite bizarre to hear no cheers coming from the crowd while the hometown Orioles were playing well.

Chris Davis launched a 3-run homer well over the right-field fence during that six-run rally. It was the kind of shot that always draws a reaction from the crowd, even if it's hit by a member of the visiting team, but in this case all you heard was the crack of the bat and then silence. It was eerie in a way.

Later, Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones made a fine running catch on a drive off the bat of Sox catcher Geovany Soto. Again, the cheers were conspicuous by their absence.

The Orioles enjoyed an 8-2 lead by the time the fifth inning concluded, and with the outcome no longer in doubt, I felt like hitters from both sides started giving away at-bats over the final four innings. I saw a lot of first-pitch swings and a lot of quick outs. The game was played in just one hour, 58 minutes. It seemed like the players were eager for the whole ordeal to be over, and I can hardly blame them for that.

As I watched the late innings, the game started to feel like your usual run-of-the-mill blowout, the kind where the crowd leaves early to beat traffic. There was nothing notable happening in the game, so the lack of cheers, boos or otherwise was less significant.

Any in case, I've never watched a game like this before, because there never has been a game like this before. Hopefully, nothing like this ever happens again. No one wants to see any city burn like Baltimore has the past couple days, and you hope Major League Baseball never has to take safety precautions like this again.

This was a one-of-a-kind game. As far as I'm concerned, it can stay that way.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Future is now for White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers

It seems pretty odd that one of the more controversial players for White Sox fans is catcher Tyler Flowers. Yes, he was once a good prospect acquired in trade for a pretty good pitcher. No, he has never lived up to his prospect hype or the expectations his minor league resume stirred (.275/.391/.484 on the farm vs. .218/.287/.396 with the Sox).

The pent-up frustration was shuffled to the back burner this offseason with the 29-year-old receiver coming off an up-and-down, but overall solid season (.241/.297/.396). The Sox maybe inadvertently created a smoke screen when they made big improvements to other parts of the roster. A look at some of the free agent options might have convinced fans there wasn't a catcher upgrade available that didn't cost an arm and a leg. And maybe there also was the realization that Flowers isn't really holding the Sox back.

So Flowers enters this year as the unquestioned starter with the fragile Geovany Soto as his backup. But Flowers' advancing age and increasingly large salaries mean the position will almost certainly be re-examined soon.

Should Flowers bomb, he'll be non-tendered the way Gordon Beckham was once the paychecks he was set to earn through arbitration exceed his usefulness to a team, only receiving an invitation to return after agreeing to diminished pay and playing time.

If Flowers is fine again, I imagine the Sox will keep bringing him back through arbitration. They can do that potentially through the 2017 season, after which he'll be 32-years-old. When considering monetary commitments against performance, this might be the optimal situation for the Sox, even if Flowers is just "good enough."

Is Flowers the kind of catcher who will age well into his 30s?

I think the better question is are there any catchers you'd want to rely on as a starter once he reaches 30. Recent history makes that proposition seem pretty bleak.

Here are all the catchers the last decade who have started at least 90 games in their 30s by year, indicating they were at least the dominant half of a platoon. Catchers who didn't start at least 110 games have an asterisk. (That's a little arbitrary, but for perspective, the fewest games that A.J. Pierzynski started at catcher during his time with the Sox was 112 games in 2011).:

2005
Jason Kendall (31)
Mike Matheny (34)
Jason Varitek (33)
Ivan Rodriguez (33)
Gregg Zaun (34)
Jorge Posada (33)
Paul Lo Duca (33)
Mike Lieberthal (33)
Jason LaRue (31)*
Bengie Molina (30)*
Mike Piazza (36)*
Damian Miller (35)*

2006
Jason Kendall (32)
Kenji Johjima (30)
Ramon Hernandez (30)
Brad Ausmus (37)
Jorge Posada (34)
Ivan Rodriguez (34)
Paul Lo Duca (34)
Johnny Estrada (30)*
Mike Piazza (37)*
Damian Miller (36)*

2007
Jason Kendall (33)
Kenji Johjima (31)
Bengie Molina (32)
Jorge Posada (35)
Jason Varitek (35)
Brian Schneider (30)
Ivan Rodriguez (35)
A.J. Pierzynski (30)
Paul Lo Duca (35)
Johnny Estrada (31)
Brad Ausmus (38)*
David Ross (30)*
Ramon Hernandez (31)*
Gregg Zaun (36)*

2008
Jason Kendall (34)
Bengie Molina (33)
A.J. Pierzynski (31)
Jason Varitek (36)
Ramon Hernandez (32)
Ivan Rodriguez (36)*
Brian Schneider (31)*
Kenji Johjima (32)*
Rod Barajas (32)*

2009
Jason Kendall (35)
A.J. Pierzynski (32)
Bengie Molina (34)
Rod Barajas (33)
Ivan Rodriguez (37)*
Jason Varitek (37)*
Carlos Ruiz (30)*
Miguel Olivo (30)*

2010
A.J. Pierzynski (33)
Jason Kendall (36)
Carlos Ruiz (31)*
Miguel Olivo (31)*
Victor Martinez (31)*
Bengie Molina (35)*
Ivan Rodriguez (38)*

2011
John Buck (30)
Miguel Olivo (32)
A.J. Pierzynski (34)
Yorvit Torrealba (32)*

2012
A.J. Ellis (31)
A.J. Pierzynski (35)
John Buck (31)*
Ryan Hanigan (31)*
Rod Barajas (36)*
Carlos Ruiz (33)*

2013
Yadier Molina (30)
Russell Martin (30)
A.J. Pierzynski (36)
A.J. Ellis (32)*
Chris Iannetta (30)*
John Buck (32)*
Chris Stewart (31)*

2014
Miguel Montero (30)
Kurt Suzuki (30)
Carlos Ruiz (35)*
Russell Martin (31)*
Yadier Molina (31)*
Dioner Navarro (30)*
Brian McCann (31)*
Chris Iannetta (31)*

Probably nobody needed to see this list to realize catching is a younger player's position. The sampling of players is too small to make any sweeping generalizations, but it looks like the bumper crop of older catchers in the early 2000s was bolstered by a few aging Hall-of-Fame candidates (Piazza, Posada, Rodriguez), guys with occasionally big bats (Lieberthal, Lo Duca), guys who played forever because of good defensive reputations (Miller, Ausmus, Molina), and some guys who played forever I guess because they could (Kendall, Zaun). Pierzynski and Varitek are anomalies here in that they played a lot, and played well.

Even with things in baseball being cyclical, I suspect three things will keep this list from expanding again: 1) The increased emphasis on defense and pitch framing will keep guys with big bats like Piazza and Posada from catching a huge number of games if their gloves don't age as well; 2) Teams that have invested in big hitting catchers will try to keep the bat from aging by shuffling those guys to other positions, like the Twins have done with Joe Mauer, the Indians, Red Sox and Tigers did with Victor Martinez and the Yankees are likely to do with Brian McCann; and 3) Stricter testing for performance enhancing drugs will likely keep some guys from staying as healthy as they once did, a situation only unique to catching in the sense that no other position faces as much wear and tear.

So assuming Father Time remains unbeaten, the Sox will be happy to make do with Flowers, which is really what most teams do at the catcher position, anyway. Hopefully while avoiding a huge commitment to an aging receiver while they wait for a better, younger catcher to be had.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Catching up on White Sox roster moves, other news

The White Sox have almost finalized their 25-man roster for Opening Day with a flurry of roster moves over the past 48 hours, so let's get updated on the comings and goings.

Micah Johnson vs. Carlos Sanchez: Surprise! Both candidates for the starting second base job made the team, according to manager Robin Ventura. However, Ventura has yet to name his second baseman for the April 6 opener in Kansas City. Having both these two guys on the roster is likely a temporary situation. The team will open the year with 11 pitchers. When Chris Sale comes off the disabled list -- presumably on April 12 -- one of Johnson or Sanchez will be sent to the minors.

J.B. Shuck: Thanks to his .339/.391/.441 slash line this spring, Shuck has made the roster as a fourth outfielder. He also has stolen five bases during Cactus League play, and he might be the best defensive corner outfielder on the roster coming into the season.

Geovany Soto: The former Cub has secured the backup catching position, perhaps sealing his spot by throwing out 3 of 4 potential base stealers during a Tuesday game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And, Soto would have thrown out 4 of 4 had shortstop Alexei Ramirez not missed a tag on Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. Soto's .281/.439/.469 slash line didn't hurt his cause, either. He clearly distinguished himself over the other catching candidates.

Matt Albers: The veteran reliever made the 25-man roster despite allowing seven runs over his last three outings. He did start the spring strong with four consecutive scoreless innings, so perhaps that left an impression. Albers had a 3.14 ERA in 56 games for the Cleveland Indians in his last healthy season (2013), so perhaps the Sox believe with renewed health he can return to the form he showed two years ago.

Carlos Rodon: The heralded pitching prospect is headed back to Triple-A Charlotte, as expected, but he left one final good impression Tuesday with 5.1 innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers. The lefty finished the spring with a team-best 21 strikeouts in 17.2 innings and a 3.06 ERA. It won't be a surprise if we see him on the South Side before the 2015 season is over.

Jesse Crain and Brad Penny: The two pitchers were each paid $100,000 retention bonuses to stay with the organization, under rules governing minor league contracts. Both players will remain in the White Sox system with a June 1 opt-out clause, should they not reach the majors before then. Crain is still working his way back from shoulder problems that cost him the entire 2014 season.

Sale update: The White Sox ace struck out 13 Cincinnati Reds minor leaguers in a six-inning outing on Wednesday. He will have one more outing at extended spring training Monday before a likely return to the rotation April 12.

With that, I think we're all set on the news and notes. For now. There is still one more spot in the Sox bullpen to be claimed. I think it's going to Kyle Drabek. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 23, 2015

White Sox reunite with Jesse Crain; add Geovany Soto to backup catcher derby

We've been talking a lot this week about former White Sox players returning to the team for a second tour of duty. It's perhaps fitting the Sox agreed Thursday to a minor-league contract with former relief pitcher Jesse Crain, who was on the South Side from 2011-13. More on that in a moment.

The other interesting name on the list of Sox minor-league non-roster invitees is former Cubs catcher Geovany Soto. The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year has never duplicated the success he had his first season in the big leagues with the Cubs, but if healthy, he has a legitimate shot of making the Sox roster as the second catcher.

Soto, 32, was limited to just 24 games last season due to knee and foot injuries. He also was arrested on a marijuana possession charge. Obviously, these are not good things, but it's also true Soto is the most accomplished player among those competing for the right to back up starting catcher Tyler Flowers.

Here are the numbers on the four guys in that mix. We'll include Soto's 2013 season numbers, since last year was pretty much a lost cause for him.

Soto:
2013 with Texas:.245/.328/.466, 9 HRs, 22 RBIs in 54 games
2014 with Texas/Oakland: .250/.302/.363, 1 HR, 11 RBIs in 24 games
Career: .248/.334/..436, 92 HRs

Rob Brantly
2014 with Miami: .211/.263/.265, 1 HR, 18 RBIs in 67 games
Career: .235/.298/.325

George Kottaras
2014 with 3 teams: .240/.355/.600, 3 HRs, 4 RBIs in 14 games
Career: .215/.326/.411

Adrian Nieto
2014 rookie season with Sox: .236/.296/.340, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs in 48 games

If all are healthy, who would you pick of this group? I think I'd take Soto. Nieto was in the backup role for all of 2014 because of his Rule 5 status. Most observers would agree a year at Triple-A would be good for his development.

Brantly bats left-handed, which is nice, but he's never shown he can hit major league pitching at all. Kottaras is the most experienced catcher other than Soto in the group, but he's been bouncing around from organization to organization. He was only in the bigs for 14 games last season. Naturally, he had a two-homer game against the White Sox as a member of the Cleveland Indians, but his career numbers are weaker than Soto's, as well.

If Soto can stay healthy and stop smoking marijuana, he has a chance to come north with the White Sox this year.

That brings us back to the 33-year-old Crain, who was excellent in his previous stint on the South Side. From 2011-13, he appeared in 156 games and compiled a 2.10 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched.

He was enjoying the finest season of his career in 2013 -- an 0.74 ERA and 46 Ks in 37 innings -- when his shoulder started to bother him. Crain went on the disabled list, and with the Sox languishing in the standings, he was traded midseason to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Crain never threw a pitch for Tampa Bay the rest of the year and signed a free-agent deal with the Houston Astros the following offseason. Alas, he never threw a pitcher for the Astros, either, as shoulder issues continued to plague him.

Now, he's back for another kick at the can with the Sox, the last team he pitched for, on a minor-league deal. Certainly, he cannot be counted upon with his injury issues, but he would be a huge veteran help to the Sox bullpen if he could somehow regain his form.

At the very least, we owe Crain a playing of "Welcome Back Kotter":