What I’m Watching For This Spring Training

It has been a long offseason White Sox fans, but spring training is here and this is a very important one with a lot of things going on. There are players and position battles you definitely need to keep an eye on. There is a roster glut with the additions of Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso, there is still a blank spot in my projected starting rotation and at second base. The Sox have unfortunately missed out on Manny Machado and I’m sure that some players feel a little down about it at least now the Manny Machado questions will end and they can focus on the task at hand. The task is improving upon a 62 win season from 2018 and taking the next step in this rebuild with largely the same core. There are players that will be fighting for playing time this year and in the years to come, there are guys in some make or break spring training camps let alone make or break seasons. There are a lot of storylines for White Sox fans to watch here are the ones I am looking forward to watching.

 

Yoan Moncada

I don’t think anyone would argue that Yoan did not meet them, in some cases, very high expectations last season. If you asked him I’m sure he would say it wasn’t the season that he wanted to have. Yoan took the extra effort and step to make sure he got the extra work in this offseason. “I went to Arizona because I wasn’t completely happy with the results I got during the season,” Moncada said through a team translator during SoxFest. “I knew that I could do better and I asked Rick, Ricky, and the team, ‘I want to go to Arizona, can you help me out there? I want to work in the areas I didn’t perform at the level that I know that I can.’ They agreed, and I was there for two to three weeks. “I worked with Trick (hitting coach Todd Steverson) on my offense, my hitting. We watched a lot of videos, and I think I identified a lot of things I was doing wrong and I’ve been working on that since that time. That’s one of the biggest changes that I’m going to do for the upcoming season. I think I’m in a much better spot with my offense.” Defensively Moncada had an okay season at second base but rumors swirled from the start of the offseason about some of the infielders moving around to some different positions, Moncada to third base seemed to be an inevitability by Christmas time. As the White Sox Spring training kicked off Yoan started getting reps at third, when asked about it manager Rick Renteria said, “I think we are going to work him over there as much as we can during the spring. And don’t be surprised if you see him there Opening Day.” The reality is the more flexibility we have with him, the more he knows what he can do. He sees himself and has been an excellent third baseman, before we (acquired) him, in the amateur ranks. In his major league career, Moncada started 5 games at third base with the Boston Red Sox. I will be paying very close attention to this as it allows for both positional flexibility and a place for top middle infield prospect Nick Madrigal to come in when he is ready to make a major league impact.

 

The Fifth Spot in the Rotation

You can fill out the top four rotation spots with Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, Lucus Giolito, and the newest addition Ivan Nova, barring any injuries, but the team needs a fifth starter. As I write this it seems that Hahn will be looking in house to fill this role, as they haven’t seemed to show much interest in free agent pitchers like Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchal.  I have narrowed down the fifth spot down to three players, Manny Banuelos who was acquired from the Dodgers last season, spent some time in the bigs with Atlanta in 2015. He appeared in 7 games and made 6 starts. He was largely underwhelming in those starts, his last start he was removed from the game after 5.2 innings and was found to have bone spurs in his elbow. He bounced to the Angels and then the Dodgers where he represented the team in the AAA all-star game.

 

The next candidate is Dylan Covey, fans will remember him from his starts with the White Sox in 2017 and 2018. 2017 Dylan made twelve starts and appeared in 18 games, he gave up a ton of contact and had a horrible fielding independent pitching of 7.20. Dylan just didn’t throw enough strikes having a walk rate of 11 percent, and when contact was made against him it was quality contact. Only 18 percent of his hits against was considered soft contact and almost a quarter of the balls hit in the air left the yard. 2018 he was hit hard yet again, almost the same hard-hit numbers against in his 21 starts, but he induced more ground balls and fewer flyballs and only 13 percent of those flyballs became souvenirs. He also lowered his walk rate and raised his strikeout rate by about 4 percent on each. Where Covey ran into trouble is the number of times opposing batters saw him in a game, the number of strikes he threw fell from 484 1st time through, to 406, to 262 the third time through. His flyballs went from 17% to almost 34% the third time through, and his strikeout percentage fell almost 2% from first to last time through. He was worst the second time through the order unless Dylan and Renteria want to deploy the opener pitching strategy, which isn’t a horrible idea, he’ll have to figure out what the issue was the second time though through the order was because 2 innings out of a traditional starter just aren’t enough.

 

Jordan Stephens could be a dark horse candidate for the fifth starter spot but he has 3 minor league options left. He was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the rule 5 draft. Last season in AAA he had a 4.71 ERA, 3.5 walks per nine, and 8.9 strikeouts per nine. Unless Jordan really comes out strong in Spring Training, Banuelos and Covey have the inside track due to their past time in the majors and lack of 3 minor league options. Manny may be a favorite of the front office as they gave up assets for him most recently and he has taken a similar track to the team as former White Sox reclamation project Jose Quintana.

 

Players With Most To Gain

Carson Fulmer has a lot to gain this season after a horrible 2018 season that saw Carson demoted to back to triple-A after only 32.1 innings. It’s hard to blame the White Sox for that decision, he was walking almost 7 players per nine innings and two and giving up 2 and half home runs per nine. After he was sent down his walks lowered a bit and his strikeouts rose marginally, he gave up 1 fewer home runs per nine and didn’t allow as much hard contact, he did this by inducing a lot more ground balls. Carson knew he had to make changes this offseason after not being called back up for roster expansion in September. He had been a regular at Driveline – a sort of pitching academy made famous by Trevor Bauer – with his college teammate and Dodgers young starter Walker Buehler, he ramped up his work in the Seattle based facility. By the winter meetings there was excitement from Driveline staffers about Fulmer reclaiming his top-of-the-rotation status, and by the end of the offseason, he’d shed roughly 15 pounds off of what was already a fairly fit frame. The White Sox don’t employ the “same philosophies” as Driveline, according to Fulmer.  Fulmer focused on getting more depth on his breaking ball. Fulmer also said he was hoping to tap into more velocity as well. Fulmer averaged 93.5 mph with his fastball in 2018, but believes there’s “more in the tank.”  James Fegan if the Athletic reported on February 15th that the Sox plan on using Carson out of the bullpen this season.

 

There are two minors leaguers that can make big moves this season, and one of them really needs to or he will probably find himself elsewhere. Jordan Stephens, as mentioned above, has options left but it is the mix for the fifth starter spot, and a good showing may see him sent down to triple-A just to await his opportunity to make his major league debut. The other is a utility player named Jose Rondon. Jose came over from the Padres in 2018 spending most of the season in AAA but earned his way onto the major league roster for 42 games last season. He hit six home runs last year in his short big league stint. Jose boasted a wOBA of .319 and a wRC+ of 102, his strikeout percentage was 28 so he will need to make more contact to stick around. What Jose does bring to the table is some crazy defensive flexibility, Jose has played every defensive position outside catcher in his professional career, but is a primary second baseman, and there just happens to be a hole at second base now. That seems like a good segway into…

 

The Players With the Most To Lose

Well, let’s start with Jose Rondon, Jose is out of minor league options, meaning if he does not break camp with the team he will have to pass waivers and I’m not sure he will pass through waivers, there are teams that are rebuilding and could take a flyer on a player like Jose. His defensive flexibility makes him an asset to many teams and could be used by one of those teams as a trade chip if he reaches his ceiling. He will have to overcome a lot as the team really likes Yolmer Sanchez and he can play second base as well. The roster crunch does not only apply to Jose and Yolmer, but the outfield is also mighty crowded too, with the addition of Jon Jay and once Eloy gets more work on his defense that’s one more spot gone. So let’s look at the outfield now, roster resource has the Sox starting outfield from right to left being Jay, Engel, and Palka, with Leury Garcia and Brandon Guyer on the bench. That leaves Nicky Delmonico as the odd man out and down in triple-A to start the season after a down 2018, which can be attributed to a hand injury he sustained. Nicky can make the 2019 White Sox but will have to beat out Brandon Guyer, who signed a minor league deal with the team this past offseason, so it isn’t like the White Sox have a massive investment in Guyer. The winner of this battle will likely be the player who is dropped from the 25 man roster when Eloy’s defense finally comes around about 19 days after opening day. Guyer has the inside track as Nicky has 3 minor league options.

 

Other Storylines to Watch

Tim Anderson, the new more vocal leader of the White Sox has a lot to prove. Renteria said Anderson “continues to go out and show through his improvement that he is desirous of being an elite player. When you establish a routine and continually improve and do things that guys see, just by default they see it and understand he is leading by example.” Tim whether on purpose or not has put himself in the position of vocal leadership after the White Sox didn’t land Manny Machado with his quotes about being happy the questions are over, and especially when asked if Machado “missed the boat” by spurning the White Sox, Anderson said he “might have.”He continued: “But we’re going to keep rolling. You know, you can ride with us or don’t. … We couldn’t care less who’s on the boat with us. We know who all is on the boat with us and we know which way we’re going to sail.” The 25-year-old set career highs in 2018 with 20 home runs, 26 stolen bases, 28 doubles, 77 runs, and 30 walks. He also improved defensively from 2017, but still has room to grow, it seems that shortstop is his position and will need to take another step forward to back up some of his talk, and the team’s investment in him.  

 

Lucas Giolito had some clear control issues last season led the American League in walks and earned runs in his first full season in 2018. He went through 20 sessions of neurofeedback this offseason to improve his breathing, stay relaxed and get into a good mental state. “That’s what plagued me, those outings in the first two innings I’m already giving up four, five runs, letting it snowball and get away from me,’’ Giolito said Thursday. “Getting rid of those, building some consistency as a starting pitcher — I know I have the stuff to do it.’’  The first two innings were an absolute disaster for Lucas, giving up 64 earned runs in 62 innings walking 45 in those first two innings. That is a good way to kill your bullpen and make it very difficult to ever win a game in that kind of hole.

 

Those are just some of the things to look at this Spring training. Keep it here for all the updates and Spring training coverage. On twitter you can follow us @SidedSox, where we link to our articles have fun and give you updates on what’s coming next, there is also the ever-popular countdown to opening day. You should like us on Facebook, and as always email us with all of your thoughts and questions at SoxSided@gmail.com.

 

Mort

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