Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

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Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

Friday, March 25, 2011Posted: 5:00 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. Even with the Chicago White Soxs final batch of big cuts this week, competition for the final two roster spots remains heavy. Are you a Brent Lillibridge fan, or Lastings Milledge? Want to see Jeffrey Marquez man the last bullpen spot, or Phil Humber? Lets take a look at the ins and outs of roster spots 24 and 25 for the White Sox:

Will only two of these four players break camp with the White Sox?

Theres a chance that only one player is turned away, but that all depends on whether projected fifth starter Jake Peavy is healthy enough to avoid a stint on the disabled list to open the season. With the brakes applied fully to his rehab as the righthander struggles through the setback everyone anticipated would happen, the odds are that Peavy will indeed open on the DL.

So, Marquez vs. Humberwho wins?

In both a stats test and an eye test, Marquez has earned a spot on the White Sox, ahead of Humber. Whats frightening about Humber is that whenever the light has started to intensify on him, poor outings have been the result. And those numbersa 5.87 ERA in six games, two losses, two home runs allowed and five walks against 10 strikeouts. He also seems best suited to be a starter, underscoring the need for him to begin the season at AAA Charlotte as longer-term insurance for Peavy.

Marquez, on the other hand, is a wild card who brings greater flexibility to the roster, available to start or pitch in long relief. Hes rocking a new cutter, cultivated since his acquisition in the Nick Swisher deal, and is having a terrific spring: 2.70 ERA in six games, a win and just two walks against 13 strikeouts. Marquez has an electric armnot always a good thing, given three wild pitches and two hit batsmenwith greater upside than Humber.

With off-days and likely postponements in the first two weeks of the season, why is there any hubbub at all about a fifth starter?

Its very strange that given the off-day between the first and second series of the season that the White Sox would still be tabbing the first start for a No. 5 reliever as April 6, when there is no need for a fifth turn until April 10and thats with no postponements at all in the first eight games of the season. The rotation has had six weeks and five or six starts to tune up for the regular season. Making Gavin Floyd pitch a simulated game in order to stay in a groove, as he did on an off-day on March 15 (just a month into training), makes senseand by extension, giving Opening Day starter Mark Buehrle five days between starts in the first week of the season and assuming that wont throw some rhythm off seems silly.

The White Sox are loaded with startersfour electric ones, and five when Peavy is healthy. They extend six strong in the bullpen, led by power arms Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain and supplemented by lefty specialist Will Ohman and long reliever Tony Pena. Let the top guys pitch, rather than giving five or six innings to the 12th or 13th-best pitcher on the club, as will happen with Humber (or even Marquez) taking the bump on April 6.

Does Marquez being out of options play a role in the decision?

As much as it shouldnt, were not talking about a pitcher whos spit the bit this spring. Marquez has been electric. Saturdays start could actually cement his position as the No. 12 arm on the White Sox, ahead of Humberbut even if Marquez struggles, hes got more weapons in his arsenal. Need proof? Hes tied with wunderkind Chris Sale, behind Thornton, for the second-best KBB this spring at 6.5.

Theres speculation that as the only viable piece left from the disastrous Swisher trade, GM Ken Williams wants to see Marquez succeed. But thats short-sighted and silly, and not how Williams operates. If Humber is the clear choice, transaction history will play no role in who gets cuts. Likely losing Marquez, who is out of options, if hes demoted? That will most definitely be a factor, especially in a pitching-thin system as the White Soxs.
As for the final bench spot, Lillibridge is out of luck, right?
It appears so. Lillibridge has a lot of factors in his favor while fighting for the final bench spot, including his history with the team, flexibility in the field (the Washington native basically excels everywhere but pitcher and catcher), even leadership. But his spring numbers havent been too goodjust a .591 OPS, two walks against nine Ks and one stolen base.

Milledge has the job?

Yeah, and deservedly so. The 25-year-old came to camp not even on the team roster and basically tore up the Cactus League, hitting at a 1.015 OPS clip, four homers, 10 RBI (fourth on the team) and three steals against one CS. Most significant for Milledge, at a time when the White Sox are whiffing with impunity and in direct contrast to his free-swinging past ways, hes had a team-best 10 walks against 10 strikeouts.

Isnt Milledge a head case, an eruption with Ozzie waiting to happen?

Youve seen flashes of impudence from Milledge, some slow jumps on fly balls, his odd habit of chucking equipment and snatching off his helmet in good times and bad. But with a clubhouse as tight as Chicagos, surely Guillen and Williams are confident that Milledge will adapt. Hes proven a ready pupil, learning early from Paul Konerko, Juan Pierre and others.

And hes a Kenny guy, right?

Well, Williams traded for Lillibridge just a few years ago, too. But do the White Sox see greater upside from Milledgeperhaps even to the extent where he could be a long-term possibility on the team ifwhen Juan Pierre or Carlos Quentin leave? Absolutely. Milledge has flashed five tools in the desert this spring.

So, assuming Peavy is sidelined, only Lillibridge gets his bus ticket punched out of town?

Not in my book, actually. I fail to see the need for 12 pitchers breaking camp, especially given the delicate situation with Lillibridge, who most certainly will be claimed on waivers and lost to the White Sox (as Marquez would be) if hes cut. Without a pressing need for a fifth starter, Id send Humber down to begin as the No. 1 starter at Charlotte and employ Marquez as the wild-card arm out of the bullpen. That would allow the White Sox to break camp with both Lillibridge and Milledge, safeguarding the team against an early injury at almost any position, as well as buying time for Williams to broker a minor deal for Lillibridge if it remains clear hell be the odd man out when Peavy returns.

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

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”