Cody Asche has already settled in with White Sox

Cody Asche has already settled in with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Joining a new team after six pro seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies didn't exactly put Cody Asche's mind at ease last month.

Then he set foot into the White Sox clubhouse.

A non-roster invitee to camp, Asche has since found a comfort zone and it has translated to the field. With 11 days left in camp, Asche -- hitting .364/.563/.909 with six extra-base hits in 32 plate appearances -- is firmly in the mix for the Opening Day roster. 

"You lay awake at night before you come to spring training with a new club wondering how it's going to be and how scary it could be, being it's your first time," Asche said. "It's nothing like I would have imagined. I felt like I fit in right away, and I'm really taken aback by the humbleness of the superstars in this room, (Jose) Abreu, (Todd) Frazier, (Jose) Quintana. Those guys, they're really great teammates."

A fourth-round draft pick in 2011, Asche was "very surprised" when the Phillies decided to designate him for assignment on Dec. 2. The University of Nebraska-product quickly rose through Philadelphia's farm system and was promoted to the majors late in the 2013 season. Asche -- who hit 31 homers and has a .684 career OPS in 1,287 PAs -- struggled defensively at third base in 2013 and 2014, which prompted the Phillies to switch him to the outfield the past two seasons. Arbitration eligible this offseason for the first time and due a raise, Philadelphia opted to move on.

"I didn't see that coming at all," Asche said. "I thought at least I would be back in camp and fighting for a job again. That's baseball. That's how it goes. I wasn't the first, and I won't be the last.

"I don't want to prove to them anything. A lot of people have to make tough decisions in this game. Sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong."

The White Sox are hopeful the Phillies were incorrect in their evaluation of Asche, who signed a minor-league deal with an invite to camp on Dec. 22. Though he faces longer odds as a non-roster invitee, Asche's chances are helped because he's one of the few left-handed sticks in camp.

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The White Sox have added some flexibility to Asche's game by trying him out at first base this spring. They've been pleased with how he's handled his chances there as well as his offensive performance, which includes three doubles, three homers and nine walks in 32 trips.

"He's making it tough on everybody," manager Rick Renteria said. "Done a nice job preparing, executing and the things he is capable of doing. He's a pro and is doing things he's capable of, not trying to do too much. He's shown well. He's a pro and a person that kind of grows on you. He's pretty witty and very professional going about your business."

Asche said it didn't take long to feel comfortable in his new digs. He and Renteria had a chat at the start of camp where the manager "laid it on the line and told me what was going to be expected of me," Asche said. He has since found plenty of friendly faces, whether it's a quick word with Abreu or joking with Frazier.

Asche thinks he's matured as a person over the last few years. Though it has been tough to move on from old friends in Philly, Asche said he's only looking forward.

"No one wants to be DFAed from their parent club that drafted them and brought them up, but I always welcome new challenges," Asche said. "It's been real easy to play for these guys and around this group of teammates.

"I want to be a part of this culture. I want to be a part of this team. I want to play hard for Ricky. "I want to play hard for the guys in this room, and that's really all I'm focused on."
 

White Sox send Zach Putnam to DL, promote Chris Beck as a replacement

White Sox send Zach Putnam to DL, promote Chris Beck as a replacement

The White Sox placed reliever Zach Putnam on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation after making only minimal progress in his first day of treatment.

There’s no structural damage, but rather than risk the right-hander the White Sox opted to promote Chris Beck from Triple-A Charlotte. Beck, who has made 26 previous big league appearances, is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in eight innings at Triple-A Charlotte. The move is retroactive to Sunday’s game.

“We needed to make a determination today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Putnam) had started on the medication and we were very hopeful he would feel enough difference when he came to the ballpark. It was just minimal. For us, we needed a guy in the pen so it makes more sense to put him on the DL and have Beck take over.”

Putnam said on Monday he’s the “definition of day to day” with elbow irritation. The right-hander said his elbow flared up suddenly on Saturday and because he’s familiar with the tenderness he knew to shut it down. Testing showed no structural damage for Putnam, who had nine strikeouts and a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings.

“I had been feeling pretty good, and it just kind of came on out of nowhere, but it’s a familiar feeling,” Putnam said on Monday. “I know what to look for, and I know my body better than anybody.”

Beck made a mechanical adjustment with his left leg this spring that has allowed him to be better with fastball command. He’s worked closely with Triple-A pitching coach Steve McCatty and feels good. Beck also said he’s invigorated by the chance to be back in Renteria’s clubhouse after an enjoyable spring.

“It’s a refreshing thing,” Beck said. “It’s almost more frustrating going down because you are missing the environment in the locker room. To be back now feels great.

“Again, unfortunate news for Zach. It’s always bittersweet when you get a moment like this, but you have to take advantage of opportunities. I’m just hoping the best case scenario for him.”

White Sox prospect Zack Collins takes a major step toward making it as a big-league catcher

White Sox prospect Zack Collins takes a major step toward making it as a big-league catcher

Single-A Winston-Salem's Zack Collins is experiencing some newfound confidence when it comes to the catch and throw.

He should.

After he made a minor technical adjustment this spring, the White Sox first-rounder has dramatically improved his results in throwing out base runners early this season. The catcher has consistently reduced his throw time to second base by a tenth of a second. After he only threw out three of 21 stolen-base attempts in 2016, Collins has nailed 10 of 14 would-be thieves early this season.

Collins' correction is due in large part to a small change he and White Sox catching coordinator John Orton made in how the catcher positions himself as he releases the ball.

"What we noticed was when he tried to be quick throwing, his ball would seem to kind of die," said. "We looked at some video compared to some other guys that throw well and he wasn't using his front side, he wasn't on his legs enough to where he could use his lower half. 

"We saw it, he made the adjustment the next day and he felt it right away. He's basically carried that into the season. He's throwing great right now. 

"It doesn't normally work that way."

It's more than just a repositioning that has helped Collins. The No. 10 overall pick of the 2016 draft changed his dietary habits in the offseason and dropped 15 pounds. Collins also did Pilates to improve his mobility behind the plate.

Those aspects along with a strong attention to detail and quiet presence behind the plate had the White Sox pleased with how Collins showed in big league camp this spring. Early in camp, Orton said it didn't matter if Collins ever grew into a standout thrower because there are so many other important aspects of catching. He listed receiving/blocking, game-calling/handling the staff and hitting ahead of throwing in terms of importance.

But then Collins added a wrinkle and made what could be a significant adjustment. Prior to making the change, Collins' glove and front shoulder were pointed toward shortstop when he released to second base on a stolen-base attempt. Orton changed Collins' positioning and now has him throwing directly at the base. Collins instantly could feel a difference and his throws have been on target more often.

"I kind of closed myself off to second base," Collins said. "I get a lot more behind my throws and a lot better accuracy. That's the biggest thing.

"It feels great. It kind of feels normal now. Before it was a little weird, like I was closing myself off too much. But it kind of feels normal now and I get a lot of pressure off my arm and obviously the throw percentage is there."

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More important, the drastically-reduced times are there. 

Prior to making the change, Collins' throws to second base were somewhere around 2.08 to 2.10 seconds. In the first week of the season, Collins had reduced the time to 1.97 seconds and registered a 1.92 on one throw. He even posted several 1.87s in between innings.

"If you're under 2 and accurate you'll get most guys for sure," Orton said.

Collins has eliminated many attempts in the early going. He's throwing with confidence, too.
 
Recently, late in a tied game, Collins threw out a man headed to second base with a runner on third for the final out of the inning.

Winston-Salem manager Willie Harris was stunned to learn that Collins had improved from throwing out 14 percent of all base runners last season to 71 percent so far.

"Hell no I wouldn't even believe that," Harris said. "He's made some serious adjustments behind the plate.

"Collins is definitely a pro. He's going to have a very long career at the major league level. He does a lot of things right. He runs the staff. He knows when to make mound visits. He picks runners off at first, third, second."

The confidence the University of Miami product feels has carried over to social media. After Collins threw out another runner on Sunday, the team's Twitter account made a plea to Carolina League opponents to #KeepRunningOnZack. Colorado Rockies farmhand Willie Abreu, a former teammate of Collins at Miami, chimed in to inform the catcher he'd run on him all day.

Collins fired back: "You'd run on the other Zack Collins. Not the new one."

"It definitely helps and kind of gives me a little confidence behind my back knowing that I've found something that has helped me catch and throw," Collins said. "Obviously last year the numbers really weren't there during my first pro season. At the same time, I was kind of tired last year and didn't have as much behind my arm as I do now. I feel a lot better now."