Chicago White Sox

BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em

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BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em

Sunday, March 27, 2011
Posted: 6:38 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through spring training, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check.Far be it for me to claim responsibility for putting this bug in Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams ear, but the scenario I recommended just two days ago apparently has come to pass after pitcher Jeffrey Marquez was placed on waivers, leaving three remaining roster spots to pitcher Phil Humber, outfielder Lastings Milledge and superutilityman Brent Lillibridge (after Jake Peavy is put on the disabled list).With the roster apparently settled, lets take a look at how all the pieces fit:

Fourteen position players what is this, a coed softball league?

Williams rarely bows to convention, and while breaking camp with 12 pitchers is the traditional mode of operation for teams, he was faced with picking from two pitchers (Humber and Marquez) who didnt seem much to care about making the big club.

On the other hand, Milledge and Lillibridge were scraping like hell to make the cut, somewhat hilariously trying to top one another, often in the space of a single game: Lillibridge leads off with a home run, Milledge throws out a runner at home, Lillibridge makes a diving catch, and so on. The GM is not known for rewarding underachievement and the feistiness of both hitters made the decision to break with just 11 pitchers rather easy.

What happened to Marquez?

Simply put, given the chance to leapfrog Humber onto the roster after the former first-rounder pitched poorly vs. the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, Marquez couldnt seal the deal. Answering mediocrity with mediocrity is no way to convince the GM of your roster worthiness.

Just a couple of days ago I called Marquez the stronger option, with a higher ceiling than Humber, and I stand by that. He bounced back from Saturdays ugly start vs. the Los Angeles Angels with several strikeouts, and his live arm is the thing GMs normally drool over. Marquez is a better fit in the White Soxs power-arm, K-coughing pen, so Im somewhat shocked that Williams was willing to waive Marquez rather than extend the audition.

So whats left of the Nick Swisher trade?

Aside from the knowledge that Swish is no longer allowed to giddily poison the White Sox clubhouse? Nada. Well, Jhonny Nunez is still around, improbably and in spite of choking away his potential as a future White Sox closer.

Anyone who believes Williams is governed by pride and driven to rationalize even his biggest mistakes needs to be reminded that by cutting Marquez, the White Sox are left essentially barren from his two Swisher deals, while Swish continues to play the pesky mascot in Gotham and Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney are starting for the Oakland As.

Is there really room for five outfielders on the roster?

Well, with Mark Teahens continued misadventures in the infield combined with Omar Vizquels continued excellence there, Lillibridge may bring greater value to the White Sox in the infield, as Teahen becomes more exclusively a corner outfielderdesignated hitter.

Make no mistake, Lillibridge presently is little more than a late-game pinch-runner a position in which he can add value to the club. Milledge has much greater potential theyre not nearly equal players, but consider the fact that Williams wanted to bring Andruw Jones back as a fourth outfielder but ran out of money, and recognize that Chicagos commitment to Milledge could well extend beyond a one-year audition.

If (when) right fielder Carlos Quentin is felled by injury, Milledge is the first choice to plug the hole, and if his spring training play is any indication, the White Sox wouldn't lose much with Milledge roaming in right.

Are there X-factors in keeping both hitters?

While its true that Lillibridge is out of options, and cutting him would result in the White Sox losing him (another club would claim him off waivers), Williams has just proven that not to be a deciding factor in his final cuts (by waiving Marquez).

One of Lillibridges strengths, in addition to his defensive flexibility, is his inner strength and character. Hes learned, through trades, injuries, and slumps, to accept a role that could be more modest than hed like. Theres little question Lillibridge would quietly contribute to a winning White Sox season, even if limited to a start every couple of weeks.

Milledge, however, presents more of a character question mark. He has said and done everything perfectly in the clubhouse this spring learning from veterans, knowing his role, even admitting to me midway through Cactus League play that it was a done deal that hed accept a minor-league assignment if offered (as a non-roster player, Milledge could cut ties with the White Sox if cut).

But the outfielder is a polar opposite of Lillibridge on the field, still the player who might high-five fans on his way back to the outfield after a big offensive inning or toss off his helmet well in advance of home plate to finish off a home run.

Such uniqueness can easily be rationalized as spirited play; but what happens if Milledge is thrown out at third on a sacrifice bunt for failing to slide, or gets a bad jump on a fly ball because hes taken a poor at-bat with him to the outfield? Both of those scenarios played out this spring, too.

The My Fair Gentleman process with Milledge is not yet complete, and bringing Lillibridge north with the club helps protect against any sort of behavioral relapse from the 25-year-old, on or off the field.

Doesnt this decision leave the White Sox short of arms?

Yawn. There are two off-days in the first two weeks of the season, with at least one other cancellation possible, as the White Sox dont play in a weather-safe city until the 16th game of the season. And isnt part of the point of bolstering the bullpen to such an outrageous extent (signing Jesse Crain and Will Ohman, pushing projected starter Chris Sale into a setup role) to let the pitchers in the pen pitch?

But, the fifth starter!

Double yawn. Even if the clouds break and sun shines brightly on every of those initial bad-weather city games, the White Sox can avoid a fifth starter at least until April 10, in spite of all the automatonic tendencies toward using the unnecessary fifth turn in the rotation directly on April 6. If Peavy isnt ready by April 10, sure, throw Humber out there to take on the Tampa Rays, and keep Tony Pena (or Sale!) warm in the garage in case of catastrophe.
Will Peavy be ready?

He threw off the mound Sunday for the first time in a week. Though his 30 tosses were far from game conditions, all signs are pointing to Peavys shoulder tendinitis as a natural offshoot of the aggressive rehab the pitcher has pursued since surgery last July.

The notion that he will stay behind for extended spring training and throw four rehab starts before stepping on a major league mound this season veers a bit on the conservative side.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Peavy renders Humber irrelevant by striding to the bump for the first required fifth starter outing, on April 10 (and with just a single postponement to be made up later in the summer, the initial need for a fifth starter pushes back to April 20 at the Rays).

So, still digging this 2011 White Sox team?

Yep.
Not budging from a 93-win prediction and a division title?

Nope.

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

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.”

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A strong relationship with pitching coach Jose Bautista allowed Michael Kopech to make a midseason adjustment he thinks is critical to his dominant stretch.

The Double-A Birmingham pitcher said he’s learned a ton about himself during a very good first season with the White Sox. Much of Kopech’s newfound knowledge is related to the direction of his throwing motion and how he needs to be more consistent with it. The suggestion came courtesy of Bautista, who’s in his ninth season as a White Sox coach.

Kopech, who next pitches for the Barons on Friday night, has found the necessary amount of consistency since he and Bautista made the switch in early July. Since then Kopech, 21, has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in 41 innings.

“He really trusts Jose’s information,” Birmingham manager Julio Vinas said. “They did some mechanical stuff fixing his direction. He just took off from there once they corrected that direction and make him understand, strike one, how important it really is. He had one good game where he got into the seventh inning and he came out and he says, ‘That’s the longest outing I’ve had.’ And it was like right after he had corrected the direction and he just took off from there. He’s done great. He’s a great kid. He works hard. Fantastic teammate.”

Kopech is pleased with the insight he has gained from Bautista.

“I feel like I’ve learned more about myself this year,” the right-hander said. “Just that I’m more successful as a starter when I’m able to repeatedly stay in one motion.”

Bautista’s fix came on the heels of a six-start run where Kopech posted a 7.46 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. The club used a nine-day window between starts from July 5-13 to work on his direction. Kopech had only one appearance, a scoreless inning in the Futures Game.

“I may be a guy that goes toward the plate and spins off,” Kopech said. “But I can’t be a guy that goes toward the plate and stays toward the plate and the next pitch goes toward the plate and then spins off. I just have to follow in that some pattern no matter what I’m doing. It’s about consistency and I’ve learned my most consistent patterns as a pitcher. That’s put me in a good position.”

Rather, it’s put Kopech in an elite position.

The No. 12 prospect in baseball has perhaps begun to outperform the lofty expectations that have been in place since he arrived last December from Boston in the Chris Sale trade.

Opposing hitters have a .414 OPS against him over the last month. He has completed at least six innings in each of his last six starts and has gone seven frames or more four times.

“He’s going deeper into games,” player development director Chris Getz. “A lot of it has to do with that fastball command and really its staying within his delivery and going after hitters early with that fastball, trusting it, because he’s got good action on the fastball, not just the upper-90s straight fastball. He’s got natural two-seam action to his ball.”

Undoubtedly, throwing more strikes has played a big role in Kopech’s dominance. In his first 16 starts, Kopech threw strikes 61 percent of the time en route to a respectable 4.02 ERA. He’s increased that figure to 67 percent in his last six games.

Ultimately, Kopech credits Bautista for getting him back in the right direction.

“Getting a little bit of success with one mechanical adjustment kind of made the mental adjustments easier,” Kopech said. “It made me feel a little bit more comfortable with myself.

“I stayed in line. I stopped spinning off so much. The solution to that was getting out there and throwing more strikes. One thing became another and after that I started feeling a lot more comfortable with myself.

“A lot of it has to do with Jose and him being in my ear and telling me when I’m coming off and when I’m doing certain things.

“It’s the best I’ve been all year, the most consistent I’ve been all year. I’m feeling pretty good about myself.”