Chicago White Sox

Lucas Giolito's White Sox debut drew rave reviews

Lucas Giolito's White Sox debut drew rave reviews

Lucas Giolito’s first outing may not have netted the outcome the White Sox hoped for, but the look and feel was most definitely there.

The team’s sixth-ranked prospect showed just how much progress he’s made the over the entire season and in particular the last six weeks in his White Sox debut on Tuesday night.

Giolito was promoted from Triple-A Charlotte early Tuesday and looked poised and confident for six innings despite a heavy reliance on the fastball because his curve wasn’t where he wanted. While he yielded three home runs in a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins, Giolito and the White Sox liked what they saw.

“Excellent,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I thought it was a very positive outing.

“Lucas I thought threw the ball very, very well. Fastball was very good. He was using his breaking ball. He threw some that were a little short. But all and all, I thought his mound presence, his attack of the strike zone -- I don’t think he walked anybody, he threw a lot of strikes -- he looked very, very good to me. Very pleased.”

Once the top pitching prospect in baseball, Giolito had lost a little bit of the shine even by the time he was traded to the White Sox last December in the Adam Eaton deal. He struggled at times during a nomadic 2016 campaign with the Nationals -- he was moved seven times in all -- and saw a dip in fastball velocity as his mechanics got out of whack.

Though excited by the trade to the White Sox, Giolito admitted in spring training he wasn’t quite where he yet wanted to be. He struggled early this season at Triple-A Charlotte, posting a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts and often failed to pitch deep into games.

But along the way Giolito found his confidence, rediscovered his curveball and began to pitch more consistently. That was the pitcher the White Sox saw on Tuesday night, the one who despite not having his entire arsenal didn’t panic.

Working almost entirely with his fastball -- 69 of his 99 pitchers were four-seamers -- Giolito pitched at a quick pace and got into a rhythm. Giolito got 10 swings and misses, including eight with the fastball, and didn’t walk anyone.

“I felt relaxed,” Giolito said. “I felt confident the whole time.

“I feel like tonight I was able to control the game a lot better. Last year my time in the big leagues the game would speed up on me a lot. I’d walk a guy, give up a couple of base hits and start to kind of get out of control. Tonight, I felt under control, I was able to trust my stuff, it was just those mistakes.”

Giolito’s outing wasn’t perfect. He tried to go inside with fastballs three times and left them over the middle. Jorge Polanco blasted a game-tying solo homer off Giolito in the fourth, Kennys Vargas hit one off him in the fifth and Eddie Rosario hit a two-run, opposite-field shot in the sixth.

[MORE: White Sox may have discovered 'diamond in the rough' in Juan Minaya

But that he was effective enough to keep the White Sox in the game in spite of his offense, which blew bases-loaded opportunities in the second and third innings, and minus all of his pitches wasn’t lost on Omar Narvaez. Narvaez liked how Giolito competed and the way he spotted his fastball in and out, up and down.

“I think he’s going to be one of our best pitchers,” Narvaez said. “His fastball is kind of sneaky and he has a great changeup. He uses it whenever he wants to and he has a really, really good curveball.

“He made a lot of good pitches (with the fastball). Every time we worked behind he just came back with the fastball.”

Giolito threw his curveball 12 times and used the changeup 16. While he induced a few groundballs with his curve, Giolito wasn’t as effective in two-strike situations, spiking the pitch in front of the plate. Even so, Giolito felt good about what he accomplished and that’s great for the White Sox.

“I feel like I belong,” Giolito said. “I feel like my stuff plays. I’m happy I didn’t walk anyone tonight. I was able to command the fastball pretty well, but fastball-changeup was pretty much all I had. I wasn’t throwing the curveball as well as I would have liked, but I’m going to work on that for the next start and hopefully be able to command that pitch a little better.”

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

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USA TODAY

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

White Sox prospects received more attention from fans and media this year and on Sunday the White Sox minor league season concluded with rookie level Great Falls dropping the decisive game in the Pioneer League Championship.

Here's a look at some of the standout players, storylines and moments from the season that was, from Yoan to Eloy to Robert.

1. Yoan Moncada gets called up to make his White Sox debut after seven-player trade with Yankees

Yoan Moncada wasn't only the top White Sox prospect but the top prospect in baseball according to some, so when he was the first big prospect in the club's rebuild to get called up, it was a significant moment. Moncada mania began with a standing ovation from the home fans in his debut. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and later said his White Sox debut had a similar feeling to his major league debut with the Red Sox.

2. Eloy Jimenez’s arrival and immediate hot streak

Trading Jose Quintana to the Cubs wasn't an easy pill for White Sox fans to swallow. With that in mind, it's a good thing that Eloy Jimenez quickly turned public perception of the trade in the White Sox favor. Jimenez had good, but not great numbers with the Cubs' Carolina League affiliate Myrtle Beach (.271/.351/.490) when he was traded. Jimenez had missed some time due to injury, but staying in the same league, he erupted with the Winston-Salem Dash. In 29 games with the Dash, Jimenez hit .345/.410/.682 and blasted eight home runs.

One of the highlights was when Jimenez told teammate Ian Clarkin, who arrived from the Yankees just days after the Quintana-Jimenez trade, that he was going to hit a home run. After Jimenez did in fact go yard that game, Clarkin shared Jimenez's prescient call on Twitter.

Jimenez provided more magic by blasting a home run in his first at-bat for Double-A Birmingham. In 18 games with the Barons, Jimenez hit .353/.397/.559 and solidified his spot as one of the best hitting prospects in the game. He has impressed the White Sox and Jimenez thinks he is ready to play in the majors.

3. The Luis Robert saga

With the major league team struggling on the field, the off the field moves attracted most of the attention. The chase for Cuban free agent Luis Robert riled up Sox fans, who were eating up the latest news and rumors about the then-teenage prospect.

When the Sox landed Robert, it was another big move for a quickly improving farm system. The outfielder has received high praise from around baseball.

After signing Robert played in the Dominican Summer League. He missed some time with minor injuries, but finished hitting .310/.491/.536.

4. Michael Kopech dominates in Double-A

Along with Moncada, Kopech was a big part of the Chris Sale trade. When the White Sox got him he was a hard-throwing 20-year-old who had plenty of strikeouts, but also plenty of walks.

After continuing that trend for the first three months of this season, something appeared to click for Kopech. The former first-round pick walked 11 batters in 44 1/3 innings in his final eights starts with Birmingham. He struck out a whopping 58 during that stretch and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.

When he was in Birmingham, Kopech created buzz the Barons hadn't seen since Michael Jordan. He finished tied for fifth in the minors with 172 strikeouts on the season, which impressed the White Sox front office and earned him Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher.

5. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez make White Sox debuts

Moncada was the first major prospect to get promoted in the White Sox rebuild, but Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito represented the first pitching prospects to join the big league club. Both joined the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade in the offseason, had major league experience and began the year in Triple-A.

Lopez's debut came first. After rolling off a hot July in which he posted a 2.10 ERA, Lopez pitched a quality start on Aug. 11 in his White Sox debut.

Meanwhile, Giolito waited a little bit longer after struggling for much of the year in Charlotte. He had a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts for the Knights, but found some consistency later in the year and drew rave reviews when he made his Sox debut on Aug. 22.

6. Breakout years for Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning

Lopez and Giolito received most of the attention in the Eaton trade, but in the early part of the season it was Dunning who was making the most noise in the minor leagues. The 2016 first-round pick utterly dominated the opposition in Single-A Kannapolis with a 0.35 ERA and 33 strikeouts against just two walks in 26 innings. Dunning got promoted to Winston-Salem and finished tied for 11th in all of the minors with 168 strikeouts, capping off a stellar first full season in pro ball.

Amazingly, Dunning may have been outshined by his own teammate. Alec Hansen, who the White Sox drafted in the second round last year, didn't get promoted out of Kannapolis as quickly, but dominated in Winston-Salem and finished the year in Birmingham. He ended up leading all of minor league baseball with 191 strikeouts and he thinks 2018 could be even better.

7. White Sox draft Jake Burger in the first round and he hits for a cycle

The White Sox will have a higher draft pick next year, but this year the Sox picked up Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger with the No. 11 pick.

Burger began his pro career hot by hitting .358 in Kannapolis, but slumped the rest of way. Burger hit .219 in August and September, but did hit for a cycle on Aug. 24.

8. Zack Collins struggles at the plate, but shows defensive improvements

When Zack Collins was drafted by the White Sox with the 10th pick in 2016, he was thought of as a sure-thing bat with question marks about his ability to play catcher. So naturally, his 2017 played out in exactly the opposite way.

He hit .223 in Winston-Salem while striking out 118 times in 426 plate appearances, but got promoted to Double-A Birmingham anyway. He got promoted the same day as Eloy Jimenez and both homered in their Birmingham debuts. Collins posted an .893 OPS in Birmingham, but still hit just .235.

Collins received better reviews about his defense, which he owes partially due to training with Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, a fellow University of Miami product.

9. Zack Burdi’s Tommy John Surgery

When Zack Burdi was with the White Sox in spring training, he was trying to act like he belonged in big league camp. The fire-balling relief prospect was in line to be the White Sox closer of the future.

After beginning the season in Triple-A Charlotte and producing uneven, but promising results, the White Sox learned in July that Burdi would need Tommy John Surgery. A look at the White Sox bullpen now shows a lot of young, unproven pitchers and Burdi likely would be among them had he stayed healthy.

Now, it's all about the recovery for the 22-year-old, whose upside combined with the lack of proven arms in the White Sox bullpen means he remains a potentially key part of the team's future.

10. Micker Adolfo flashes power potential

Micker Adolfo wasn't a high-profile prospect at the start of the year, but had a breakout season. The 21-year-old was a big international signing back in 2013, coming with a $1.6 million signing bonus.

He was named the White Sox minor league player of the month for both May and June. He began to show his power potential with Kannapolis and helped the team make it to the South Atlantic League Championship Series. Adolfo slowed in the second half, but finished with 16 home runs, tied for fifth in the league.

Bonus: Nicky Delmonico shines in short big league stint

It wasn't a big deal at the time, but Nicky Delmonico's promotion has looked like a potentially significant moment for the White Sox rebuild. He has had a breakout performance in the majors and has made a strong case that he could be a significant part of the team's future.

White Sox prospect Alec Hansen thinks 2018 season could be even better than breakout season

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White Sox prospect Alec Hansen thinks 2018 season could be even better than breakout season

Look out for Alec Hansen.

The White Sox prospect thinks 2018 could be even better with all that he’s learned about managing himself in his first full season. That's pretty scary when you consider that Hansen, who finished at Double-A Birmingham, led the minors in strikeouts and earned two promotions in 2017.

The No. 6 White Sox prospect (No. 95 overall according to MLBPipeline.com) is even more optimistic about his second full season.

“(The first full season) was great that it taught me about my arm and how my arm is going feel in between every start and how my body is going to feel throughout the season,” Hansen said on a conference call. “I can go into this offseason and work out and get my body the way I want it to going into spring training and be able to maintain that throughout the season next year.”

“I'll have a lot more confidence and experience. By the end of next year that experience and confidence in my body will be where it needs to be to be in the major leagues for good.”

Hansen has plenty of reason to feel confidence. The No. 49 pick of the 2016 draft followed a stellar pro debut with an outstanding 2017 campaign in which he struck out 191 batters in 141 1/3 innings. Believed to have No. 1-starter type stuff, Hansen put it all together and carved a niche for himself in an organization loaded with pitching prospects.

Hansen said the final two starts of the season at Double-A Birmingham, in which he struck out 17 batters in 10 1/3 innings, further convinced him how his stuff would play at higher levels.

"That’s something I'll remember for the rest of my life that I led the minor leagues in strikeouts this year, which is pretty cool,” Hansen said. “You got to think, it was at the lower levels, it was in A-ball where guys swing a lot and are pretty aggressive at the plate. But it was nice to see I went up to Double-A and still had quite a few strikeouts. That was kind of reassuring.”

So, too, were the promotions.

Hansen started the season at Single-A Kannapolis and made 13 starts before he was sent to Single-A Winston-Salem after striking out 92 batters in 72 2/3 innings. He also excelled for the Dash, striking out 82 batters in 58 1/3 innings. Right before the season ended, Hansen got the call one last time. He went 11-8 with a 2.80 ERA and struck out 191 batters in 141 1/3 innings over 26 starts.

“Honestly, I had no idea what was going to happen to me this year,” Hansen said. “If you asked me at the beginning of the season where do I expect to end up, I wouldn’t have said Double-A. But if you asked me toward after the All-Star break and after a couple of starts at Winston-Salem where I started to pick it up a little bit, then I was kind of hoping I was going to finish at Double-A.”