A.J. Pierzynski's top moments with the White Sox

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A.J. Pierzynski's top moments with the White Sox

With A.J. Pierzynski heading to Texas, CSN Chicago stats guru Chris Kamka put together his personal top nine moments from his eight years on the South Side.

Sept. 20, 2005: Pierzynski stomps Aaron Boone

With the Sox lead down to 2 12 games in the Central race, there was an air of urgency at U.S. Cellular Field. Cleveland was up 5-3 entering the bottom of the 7th, but Pierzynski had something to say about that.

First Pierzynski doubled home Carl Everett. Next he made his way to third as Paul Konerko scored on an Aaron Rowand sac fly. But an errant throw from first baseman Jose Hernandez sent third baseman Aaron Boone diving to the dirt and Pierzynski stomped him as he lie in his path before scoring the go-ahead run.

A shot of the stomp showed A.J. with his eyes fixed on his victim. Hawk Harrelson chuckled. So did I.

Oct. 4, 2005: A pair of homers in postseason opener

The White Sox dominated in the 2005 regular season, but they also dominated in 2000. So the 2000 ALDS disappointment against the Mariners was fresh in my mind. And they drew the defending champion Red Sox. And then Game 1 of the 2005 ALDS happened.

BoSox starter Matt Clement was lit up to the tune of 8 earned runs in 3 13 IP, and Pierzynski clouted two homers and knocked in four. It was the second multi-HR game in franchise postseason history (after Ted Kluszewski in Game 1 of the 1959 World Series) and Chicago's Sox won in a 14-2 laugher.

Oct. 12, 2005: Pierzynski steals first base

Run first, ask questions later. A.J. did. Angels catcher Josh Paul thought the Sox receiver was the victim of an inning-ending strikeout against Kelvim Escobar, and technically he was. But Pierzynski ran to first and home-plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled that Paul didn't catch it cleanly. Pablo Ozuna entered as a pinch runner and scored on a Joe Crede walk-off double.

Instead of heading into extra innings, facing perhaps an 0-2 hole in the ALCS, they evened the series and won the next three games. And Angels fans haven't forgotten. Unfortunately, they'll be seeing more of Pierzynski than ever in 2013.

May 20, 2006: The punch

After Jermaine Dye grounded out to start the bottom of the second, Cubs starter Rich Hill walked Pierzynski, Crede and Juan Uribe consecutively. When Pierzynski scored on a Brian Anderson sacrifice fly, he emphatically slapped home plate after barreling over Cubs receiver Michael Barrett.

Of course, then Barrett clocked A.J. in the face and the next thing you know, Brian Anderson was throwing down with John Mabry. This eventually led to the White Sox' clever "Punch A.J." campaign for a 2006 All-Star roster spot (which he won).

The dropped third strike and the punch were arguably Pierzynski's two signature games. He went a combined 0-3 with 2 strikeouts, 2 walks and a run in those two games combined.

May 21, 2006: Pierzynski Shows up Big Z

The day after "The Punch," the Sox (wearing 1906 throwbacks) & Cubs met again at US Cellular Field. In the fourth inning, Pierzynski took Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano deep to tie the game at two. After crossing home plate, Pierzynski, ever the instigator, pointed skyward, just like Zambrano does after an inning-ending out. Big Z had to be restrained, and the crowd was abuzz. However, Zambrano & the Cubs emerged 7-4 victors after a bullpen letdown.

July 1, 2006: Redemption at Wrigley

A third SoxCubs moment from 2006. The rivalry was as heated as ever mainly from the intense May series, despite a miserable season on the Northside (while the White Sox were on their way to a second consecutive 90 win season). The Sox trailed 6-5 entering the 9th inning, and Cubs closer Ryan Dempster came in to try to nail down the save.

Dempster got two quick outs on a Scott Podsednik flyout and a Tadahito Iguchi groundout, but Ross Gload singled and Dye walked to set the stage. Pierzynski crushed a 1-1 pitch to right to give the Southsiders an 8-6 lead, which Bobby Jenks preserved with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Related: Flowers ready to earn his role

Aug. 24, 2008: Quick thinking on the basepaths

In the bottom of the 10th inning against the Rays, Pierzynski singled and advanced to second on a Carlos Quentin flyout. When Dye hit into a fielder's choice to shortstop Jason Bartlett, Pierzynski was caught in a rundown and appeared to be in trouble. When it seemed the Sox were destined to blow a good scoring chance, he initiated contact with third baseman Willy Aybar after Aybar made a throw back to second.

Umpire Doug Eddings (him again) ruled obstruction and awarded Pierzynski third base, which created a first and third situation. After a Jim Thome intentional walk to load the bases, Alexei Ramirez singled Pierzynski home with the winning run.

July 4, 2011: The balk-off

Pierzynski came on to pinch hit in the 9th following a blown save by Sergio Santos. A single, a sacrifice, and a wild offering by Aaron Crow put Pierzynski on third with one out. Mark Teahen went down on strikes for the second out which left it up to Adam Dunn (whose homer gave the Sox a 4-3 lead in the 8th). Or did it?

On a 1-0 count, home plate umpire Ed Rapuano signaled Pierzynski home. Who else would score on a game-ending balk? Cue the fireworks.

March 23, 2012: Spring speed

Yeah, it was Cactus League action, but who could forget Pierzynski's inside-the-park blast off Diamondbacks reliever Brett Lorin. The ball hit slightly to the left of the 410 mark in center and ended up about 10-20 feet from the right field line. Hawk and Steve Stone called for an oxygen mask.

Honorable Mention: August 3, 2012

Pierzynski shoved a pie in our former colleague Sarah Kustok's face on her last day at CSN (during a postgame interview with Alex Rios).

Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, Victor Diaz and the rest of the return for Chris Sale

Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, Victor Diaz and the rest of the return for Chris Sale

The White Sox return for Chris Sale has been generally praised in the aftermath of Tuesday’s megadeal with the Boston Red Sox, with the headliner being 21-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada

But the White Sox also acquired three other prospects with varying ranges of hype: 20-year-old right-hander Michael Kopech, 20-year-old outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and 22-year-old right-hander Victor Diaz. Baseball America ranked all three among the top 20 prospects in the Red Sox farm system, while MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Kopech No. 5, Basabe No. 8 and Diaz No. 28 in Boston’s farm system. 

Kopech is a hard-throwing former No. 33 overall pick out of Mount Pleasant, Texas who was rated as a top 100 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2016 season. Over three minor league seasons from rookie ball to high Single-A, Kopech has 172 strikeouts, 69 walks and only three home runs allowed in 134 2/3 innings with a 2.61 ERA.

Whether or not Kopech sticks as a starting pitcher (35 of his 36 professional games have been starts) remains a point of contention among prospect evaluators, though he features a power slider and a low-90’s changeup that Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser wrote has drawn comparisons to New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard. He also reportedly threw a 105 mph pitch last summer with Double-A Salem — and even if that radar gun reading was inaccurate, he’s able to fairly regularly throw his fastball at or above 100 mph. 

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

There have been two off-the-field issues with Kopech, though, that are why he’s been dinged in some prospect rankings. In 2015, he was suspended for the final 50 games of the season after testing positive for amphetamine use, and in March of 2016 he fractured his hand following an altercation with a teammate

Basabe — not to be confused with his twin brother, infielder Luis Alejandro Basabe, who the Red Sox traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer — is a toolsy outfielder who hit .264/.328/.452 with 25 stolen bases in 30 attempts between Single-A Greenville and high Single-A Salem last year. FutureSox’s Rob Young wrote that Basabe has “immense upside” as a potential five-tool player, while Baseball America’s best-case is Basabe’s raw talent develops into a "top of the order center fielder" 

Over four minor league seasons, Basabe has a .253/.353/.408 slash line with 21 home runs, 25 triples and 73 stolen bases in 93 attempts (78 percent). 

Diaz has had some control issues, issuing an average of 3.97 walks per nine innings, over his first two professional seasons. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 3.88 ERA with 63 strikeouts out of Single-A Greenville’s bullpen last year, and with a fastball touching 100 mph, he could develop into a legitimate relief option down the road if he can find the strike zone more consistently. 

What’s worth noting here is the depth of the trade for the White Sox. This is a farm system that lacked both top-end and raw talent when Rick Hahn & Co. woke up on Tuesday, but adding Moncada, Kopech, Basabe and Diaz to a group headlined by recent draft picks like right-hander Carson Fulmer, catcher Zack Collins and right-hander Zack Burdi should have a significant impact on the quality of the White Sox minor league ranks. 

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

The White Sox pulled off what may be the biggest deal in team history on Tuesday, dealing ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects. The rebuild is officially underway on 35th and Shields. 

In trading Sale, the White Sox acquired infielder/outfielder Yoan Moncada, outfielder Luis Basabe and right-handers Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz.  Moncada, though, is regarded by some as the best prospect in baseball and is certainly the prize return in the megadeal.

A 21-year-old, 6-foot-2, 205 pound switch hitting native of Cuba, Moncada regarded as baseball’s top prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America. One of the comparisons MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo offered for Moncada was “Robinson Cano with more speed,” referring to the Seattle Mariners All-Star (and possible future Hall of Fame) second baseman who has 278 home runs and a .307/.355/.498 career slash line.

Moncada had a monster season in the minors in 2016, slamming 31 home runs with a 45 stolen bases and a .294/.407/.511 slash line in 491 plate appearances across high Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. In 2015, his first season in the Red Sox farm system, Moncada hit eight home runs with 49 stolen bases a .278/.380/.817 slash line over 81 games with Single-A Greenville. 

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

What position Moncada ultimately winds up playing remains to be seen, but he has the flexibility to play second base, third base or center field. He played 163 of his minor league games at second base and has played 15 games at third base between the minors and majors. The White Sox, though, reportedly see Moncada playing his natural position of second base.

From MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo’s analysis of Moncada:

Few middle infielders can match Moncada's huge offensive ceiling, which earns him comparisons to Robinson Cano with more speed. He's a switch-hitter with outstanding bat speed who makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. Moncada has added some loft to his swing in 2016 and has the potential for 20-25 home runs per season.
Moncada's best pure tool is his well-above-average speed, which he has put to good use with back-to-back 45-steal seasons and an 86 percent success rate in the Minors. His quickness doesn't translate consistently as well in the field, though he has the range and arm strength to play almost anywhere on the diamond he might be needed. 
The biggest knock on Moncada is his 24.2 percent strikeout rate over his 854 minor league at-bats. That percentage spiked to 30.9 in 207 Double-A plate appearances, though his walk rate remained high there too (13 percent).

And here’s FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who projects Moncada to be worth five-plus WAR per season, on the newest member of the White Sox organization:

A plus-hitting middle infielder with plus raw and game power as well as 70-grade wheels is basically in-his-prime Ian Kinsler, except faster. That’s really good, and Moncada is debuting three years earlier than Kinsler, who is still stroking it at age 34, did. This is the best prospect in baseball, a player I think will be a perennial All-Star and a potential MVP type of talent, with tools so deafeningly loud that it may be a while before we hear the echoes of his historical significance. 

Moncada and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu briefly played together for Cienfuegos in Cuba in 2012, two years before Abreu defected and signed a six-year contract with the White Sox. In his age-17 and age-18 seasons, Moncada hit .277/.388/.380 with four home runs for Cienfuegos in 2012 and 2013. The Red Sox shelled out $63 million to sign Moncada in February of 2015.

If Moncada remains Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect — as he was in their midseason 2016 rankings — he’ll join an illustrious group of players with that designation:

2016: Corey Seager (SS, Dodgers)
2015: Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs)
2014: Byron Buxton (OF, Twins)
2013: Jurickson Profar (IF, Rangers)
2012: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2011: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2010: Jason Heyward (OF, Braves)
2009: Matt Wieters (C, Orioles)
2008: Jay Bruce (OF, Reds)
2007: Daisuke Matsuzaka (RHP, Red Sox)
2006: Delmon Young (OF, Rays)
2005: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2004: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2003: Mark Teixeira (3B, Rangers)
2002: Josh Beckett (RHP, Marlins)
2001: Josh Hamilton (OF, Rays)
2000: Rick Ankiel (RHP, Cardinals)