Chicago White Sox

Ballantini: Smooth sailing for Peavy continues

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Ballantini: Smooth sailing for Peavy continues

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011Posted: 2:43 p.m. Updated: 4:54 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz Well, drama sells, but nobodys buying at Chicago White Sox camp so far this spring training.

The early return on this budget-busting bunch of Chisox is smiles all around. On Wednesday, pitchers threw to hitters in live batting practice for the first time, and that was a topic of some apprehension in one corner of the clubhouse before workouts, as Juan Pierre indicated some nervousness about facing John Danks after the lefty had gone some four months without throwing to a batter.

Theres just that little bit of doubt, Danks said, after Pierre had outlined some escape strategies in case of wildness. I dont mind hitting batters, but not the guys on your own team.

Danks explained that in order to ease into throwing to live batters, he works on hitting his spots away, then gradually moves toward the inner half of the plate.

Pierres worries were unfounded. It was in fact lefty fireballer Matt Thornton who sent him Speedy Gonzalezing in the batters box. Danks, meanwhile, had an entertaining exchange with catching prospect Tyler Flowers, who was mauling some of his pitches. Finally, Danks announced he was throwing a cutter, and promptly sawed the barrel off of Flowers bat, sending it flying to deep shortstop.
Peeved

No, White Sox hurler Jake Peavy isnt angry hes cruising through the early portion of his rehabilitation from latissimus dorsi surgery.

Peavy threw to Omar Vizquel, Lastings Milledge, and Eduardo Escobar during his portion of live BP two sets of 20 pitches, approximating two innings work and by all accounts the session was better than anticipated. Pitching coach Don Cooper exclaimed his encouragement on more than one occasion, and later confirmed that the righty was on track to not miss a start in April.

Peavy indicated he was feeling no abnormal discomfort afterward, and what ill effects he was feeling was completely normal for spring training in fact an encouraging sign that hes keeping up with his fellow White Sox starters.

Its just another step in the right direction, obviously, Peavy said. It has been a long process of rehabilitation and these last few days have been as grueling as youll have as far as getting your arm in shape. There is some soreness, but I was just in the clubhouse talking about their soreness and them trying to get through it as well.

He had better stuff, increased intensity, and the ball was going more where the glove was, said pitching coach Don Cooper. Now, he is as tough a judge on things as anybody I have every had he will throw pitches that I like, but he doesnt like. Thats him. But Im sitting back there liking everything whatever pitch he was throwing. It had a little more zip on it.

Ramon Castro, who caught Peavys session, thought that the fireballers breaking stuff was season-ready Peavy said he threw about 10-12 breaking pitches but the backstop estimated his fastball at around 70-80 percent.

He was nice, throwing every pitch fastball, slider, curveball, changeup for a strike, Castro said. It looked like the old Peavy in terms of breaking ball stuff. The fastball is not there yet, but hes going to get there.

It was a big accomplishment for Peavy to succeed with his breaking stuff, something he hadnt done consistently in his rehabilitation to this point.

I said the last time I threw a few just to try to get a feel for breaking pitches, Peavy said. Yesterday in playing catch, I threw in a few more. But before you get out there in a game you want to have a little bit more of a feel if you need to throw one.

While its tempting to prematurely judge Peavy fit for a fifth starters duty on April 9, not missing a turn on the season, the fireballer himself isnt attaching that sort of pressure to his early spring training work.

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.

Count Peavys pitching coach as sold on the toughness of his hurlers remarkably fast comeback.

First of all, for him to be out there in many ways is impressive, Cooper said. Hes throwing the ball better. He probably went up a notch in intensity. He threw more breaking balls. He certainly is doing what everybody else is doing. Its a credit to the surgeons, Jake and trainer Herm Schneider following up on all the things he is supposed to be doing.

He certainly has more to do and climb. But I dont think the climb could be going any nicer than it is right now.

Peavys next work off the mound comes on Saturday, in a workout to be determined.

Sales Set

To be sure, Chris Sale is cherishing his role as a full-time baseball player; remember, a year ago, he was juggling his college pitching with schoolwork.

I can put 100 percent of my focus on baseball instead of going to the field, then going to class, maybe having an exam and next week having to study and have a paper due in a couple of days, Sale said. I can really just focus all of my attention on baseball. Its definitely worked out a lot better for me this year, just going through it.

For a pitcher whos just a few days into his first training camp, hes cherishing the experience.

Its definitely a change of pace, Sale said, laughing at the thought of where he was a year ago, a relatively nondescript starter at Florida Gulf Coast University. Its different. I love it: Come here in the morning, get your work in, start your day out pretty good, wake up early. Im eating a couple more meals a day than I would. The thing that I like is that Im getting a lot better sleep because I dont have to worry about going to class, practice, study hall and stuff like that.

I mean, last night, I fell asleep at 8:30.

Judging by the sideline debate on Wednesday, Sale is also an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate, with many people being unaware that Sale still qualifies for the award.

Ask him, and when it comes to winning the Rookie of the Year, Sale doesnt much care either way. But if he wins it, hes not exactly going to send it back.

Rookie of the Year talk comes up, but at the same time Im just worried about going out there and performing, Sale said. You cant really have that goal in mind. The ultimate goal is getting to the playoffs and ultimately winning a championship.

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 me 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 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.”