Chicago White Sox

Ballantini: Animated Ozzie livening up Sox camp

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Ballantini: Animated Ozzie livening up Sox camp

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 11:10 a.m. Updated 2:24 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has already constructed a new mantra for 2011 spring training, predictably involving curse words but along the lines of needing some drama to liven up camp. Thursday brought more of the same for Ozzie, fighting boredom but as always, finding joy in life.

On the lush, green fields of Camelback Ranch, Adam Dunn was routinely singled out for his glovework during fielding drills, in somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion (although to be fair, Dunn played first base as his primary position for the first time in 2010 and compiled a -3.1 ultimate zone ratingnot great, but better than Paul Konerkos worst-in-baseball -13.4). After the drills, Guillen joked: The Big Donkey Dunn is gonna have a sore arm and a sore back tomorrow. By way of encouragement and introduction, Konerko explained to Dunn that he played both catcher and third base (where I was fine, as long as they hit it right at me) before settling in as a first baseman. Later, the Captain was chatting with pitching coach Don Cooper over his status as a league leader in assists (he finished tied for fourth a season ago, with 83).

As players hit the fields this morning, Guillen let them know the pressure was on, with owner Jerry Reinsdorf in attendance. He also was quick to give Roger Bossards ground crew trouble for their aggressiveness in dragging the field, claiming their attentiveness to detail was due exclusively to the big boss being around.

Mark Teahen made a number of nifty plays and strong throws from third, an indication that some of the injury-induced yips of 2010 might be a thing of the past.

Alexei Ramirez, on the other hand, was a loose as ever at shortstop, responding to Guillens chatterings by more than once encouraging Guillen to come out to short to field with him. Guillen: Oh no, you dont want to start that fight with me.

For Openers

Guillen made it more certain than ever that Mark Buehrle would be the White Soxs Opening Day starter, basically intimating the non-news that if all goes according to plan (no injuries, outrageous struggles, or dissention from GM Ken Williams or Cooper), the lefthander would start his team-record ninth opener. The lefthander would bring a career 3-1 record and 3.39 ERA into Opening Day 2011.

Early Impressions

Jordan Danks opened some eyes in his live BP session, at one point prompting A.J. Pierzynski to ask him whether he had visualized a long drive into the gap. After his session, it was Danks and veteran Omar Vizquel on a side field practicing bunting off of a batting machine.

On the mound, it was Miguel Socolovich getting some plaudits and attention. The 24-year-old has played five minor-league seasons but only distinguished himself in 2010, going 7-6 with a 3.33 ERA at AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte. Socolovich had quite a battle with Alex Rios, at one point sawing off Rios bat and causing Rios to angrily chuck the splintered bat to the backstop. Guillen called Cooper over to look at the 61, 175-pound righthander, and shouted out a compliment to the non-roster invitee once he finished his 40-pitch session.

Peavy A-OK

Jake Peavy had a quick chat with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen before workouts on Thursday, pronouncing himself just as fit as he did to the media yesterday. Peavy was in high spirits in reassuring his skipper, who has indicated that if theres one worry with his righty fireballer, its whether he will be forthright about how hes feeling. Yesterday, Peavy seemed to indicate he was cognizant of that worry, telling reporters that in a sense, he had learned his lesson.

It really doesnt mean a whole lot to me, Peavy said of breaking camp in the rotation. I just want to be healthy. I want to be healthy for the majority of the season. If Im healthy this whole season and throw 200 innings with the guys, its certainly something I want to do. But if I dont, I dont see myself being that far behind. I just want to make sure when I get back theres not any kind of setbacks.

If for no other reason, Peavy is tired of having to explain how he came to the White Sox in 2009 injured, rushed back, then pitched through discomfort in 2010, leading to his dramatic, detached latissimus dorsi muscle injury.

Today, prospective fourth outfielder Lastings Milledge laughed when asked about his trial by fire with the White Soxfacing Peavy in his first live BP of spring training: Injuring Peavy on a comebacker isnt going to get me on the roster.

Lefthander Will Ohman, who is proving to be one of the more entertaining players on the roster, questioning Peavy about wearing his socks high (Peavys retort: I go up and down with the old-timey look I have no sense of fashion.).

Loony Lefty

Ohman also related his (failed) offer to Guillen (a Rolex) to get his skipper to give him the No. 13 jersey: If Omar Vizquel couldnt get it from him, I didnt stand much of a chance, did I?

Danks You Very Much

John Danks laughingly admitted he was roughed up in his first live BP throws on Wednesday, particularly by slugger Tyler Flowers, who hit at least one moon shot off the lefthander: That one went a long waybut its hard to hold guys down when hitters know whats coming. Danks admitted that it was some competitive spirit that found him then sawing off Flowers bat with a cutter.

Danks spent his off-time between sets of 20 pitches behind the batting cage, watching Matt Thornton get his work in, the reflection on it today making him shudder. Matt throws so hard and right where he wants it. Hes got a scary arm.

Impatient A.J.

Around the cage, talk turned to swinging on 3-0. Pierzynski was curious whether Dunn was inclined to swing on 3-0, or got many green lights from his managers. Dunn had a few comments, and asked A.J. the same. Youve got to get to 3-0 to swing on 3-0, the rapscallion backstop said in reference to his infamous impatience. By the time I see three pitches, its 2-1 or 1-2.

Pena the Toro

Asked whether he felt strong so far this spring, prospective spot starter Tony Pena replied in the affirmative: Como toro. Like a bull.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

How Alec Hansen's methodical path through minors has turned him into a top prospect

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Winston-Salem Dash

How Alec Hansen's methodical path through minors has turned him into a top prospect

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — He didn’t totally lose it, but the White Sox intended to restore Alec Hansen’s confidence with a methodical minor league program after drafting the right-hander.

Hansen, 22, admits that a junior season at the University of Oklahoma in which his stock fell sharply when he was moved in and out of the team’s starting rotation was difficult.

Still, the 6-foot-7-inch pitcher never gave in and found a team that believed in him enough to take him in the second round. Fourteen months later, the Single-A Winston-Salem starter feels good enough about his prospects to have recently suggested he thinks he can be a No. 1 or 2 in the majors.

“It’s tough, especially when you work so hard basically your whole life to achieve your goal of being a first-round pick or a top-10 pick and it kind of wastes away throughout the season,” Hansen said. “I think the White Sox had faith in me. They saw what I can do and understood my situation there at OU and took a chance on me and I’m just trying to make sure they get their money’s worth.”

Hansen has been everything the White Sox hoped and more since they selected him with the 49th pick in the 2016 draft. Once viewed as a potential first overall pick, Hansen was viewed as a project by the end of a rough 2016 season. Though he could hit 99 mph on the gun, Hansen’s mechanics were off and he was deemed inconsistent throughout a season in which he posted a 5.40 ERA and walked 39 hitters in 51 2/3 innings for the Sooners.

But the White Sox liked what they saw. Hansen struck out 185 batters in 145 innings at Oklahoma. Their plan for the right-hander included a quick trip to Arizona to work with now-bullpen coach Curt Hasler on mechanics before he’d spend the bulk of the season at Rookie League Great Falls.

“He was a little bit out of whack,” said third-base coach and ex-farm director Nick Capra. “I think confidence played a big part in what he was doing early and to what he’s doing now. He didn’t have the confidence in what he was doing. Once he got into sync with what he was doing with his mechanics it took off on him.”

Hansen said the mechanical adjustments were related to better posture — sometimes he leaned back toward first base in his delivery — and keeping his head still. While he deems the changes as minor, the impact they’ve had on him has been great. After seven innings pitched in Arizona, Hansen moved to Great Falls and struck out 59 batters with only 12 walks in 36 2/3 innings and a 1.23 ERA. That performance earned him a late-season promotion to Kannapolis.

“The difference outing to outing is just mentally,” Hansen said. “It’s just mental and having the confidence and the poise and being relaxed and the right attitude to go out and be successful.”

[RELATED: White Sox Talk Podcast: Alec Hansen wants to be a future ace and don't piss off Dane Dunning]

The White Sox started Hansen at Kannapolis this season and he was dominant again. He produced a 2.48 ERA with 92 strikeouts and only 23 walks in 72 2/3 innings. Hansen — who’s rated the No. 9 prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline and 10th by Baseball America — has continued to excel since a promotion to Winston-Salem 10 starts ago. He struck out 11 in seven innings on Wednesday night and allowed only a run in seven innings. Hansen is second in the minors this season with 166 strikeouts (he’s walked 43 in 126 innings).

Player development director Chris Getz said Hansen has the stuff to throw his fastball up in the zone and get swings and misses and combines it with good offspeed pitches. Throw in the confidence and Hansen has strong potential.

“Even though he’s a large guy he’s fairly athletic, he can repeat his delivery,” Getz said. “It’s really, with him, it’s staying over the rubber and not rushing out there so his arm can go out on time and on top of the ball. Those are the keys and he’s been able to take to that.”

“Since he’s really gotten into professional baseball and more comfortable with who he is as a pitcher he’s been consistent. We look forward to what else he can bring to the table.”

Hansen does, too.

He insists this belief in himself was never lost because Hansen suspected the consequences of doubt would ruin him. But Hansen didn’t downplay how the uncertainty of his junior season affected his mindset.

Hansen said he’s glad at how he handled the experience and has moved on from the disappointment of dropping 48 places. He's also more than pleased to have found an organization that has the same belief in him that he does.

“It was kind of hard to go through that but it’s over now,” Hansen said. “I believe in myself more than anyone. I think you need to as a professional athlete. If you don’t have confidence then you’re done as an athlete no matter who you are at what level.

“It’s just being more relaxed and comfortable and confidence because the people I’m around have confidence in me.”

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — No player has impacted the Double-A Birmingham Barons the way Michael Kopech has since … Michael Jordan?

That’s the belief of long-time Barons play-by-play man Curt Bloom, who said Kopech has garnered more attention than almost every player he’s covered during 26 seasons in the booth.

Bloom acknowledges that nobody will ever surpass Air Jordan’s 127 games with the Barons in 1994. But the advent of social media has made Kopech an extremely popular attraction this season. Whenever he takes the mound, the team’s social media accounts see a significant increase in page views, engagement and impressions.

“Jordan-esque,” Bloom said. “Nothing will beat Jordan. LeBron could come down. But this reminds me of it. It triggers it. A jolt.

“Nothing stirred like this guy has and I do say, and I think Kopech will tell you the same thing, a big chunk of the reason is we have social media. We didn’t have that for Jordan. We did not have that for Aaron Rowand. There’s always a ying for a yang.

“That being said, it’s still gone beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

It’s unavoidable to miss the Barons’ remembrance of Jordan’s season when he reportedly paid $350,000 to buy the club a luxury bus “The Jordan Cruiser and the Barons set records for attendance. The team drew 467,867 at their old stadium, Hoover Met, and Southern League attendance was more than 2.5 million.

Jordan’s image wearing a Barons No. 45 jersey can be found throughout Regions Field, including a massive banner near the home-plate entrance.

Kopech has been a focal point for White Sox fans since he was acquired in December.

Whether it’s his 100-mph fastball, his lofty prospect status or simply the fact he came over in the Chris Sale deal, eye balls have been drawn to Kopech all season. The right-hander has only increased the awareness with his steady presence on social media, including giving away game-used items to fans.

Throw in his recent dominance on the mound — Kopech has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in his last 41 innings — and the hysteria is real.

The Barons determined early on this season that they would follow in the steps of several major league clubs and anoint the day he pitched at home Kopech Day. The White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins have all recently done the same for Sale, Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez.

Kopech has only lived up to the hype.

“He’s answering the bell,” Bloom said. “There’s definitely awareness in the city, in our followers, the Twitter universe.

“My daughter Chloe who has no idea about baseball, she asks me, ‘Is Kopech pitching?’

"That’s what has been created.”