Sox thinking long-term with Hawkins

784138.png

Sox thinking long-term with Hawkins

The White Sox were, by most accounts, expected to take a college player -- likely a pitcher -- with the No. 13 pick in Monday's edition of the MLB Draft. They did just that two years ago, and that player wound up throwing a complete game on Sunday against Seattle.

It had been 11 years since the White Sox last selected a high school player with their first draft pick, although Kris Honel never panned out. The last high school position player the Sox took was catcher Mark Johnson all the way back in 1994. Safe to say, few had the White Sox picking Courtney Hawkins at No. 13.

But White Sox scouting director Doug Laumann wanted it that way. He said the White Sox had been interested in Hawkins for a while, and the interest was mutual. Hawkins played in last year's Double-Duty Classic at U.S. Cellular Field and knew some members of the organization prior to being announced as the team's pick.

"Oh, man, it's amazing," Hawkins said of being tabbed by the White Sox. "Coming out here to New York, getting invited for the first-round player draft, being called by the White Sox after playing there, being there, meeting all the personnel before, it's amazing, and knowing that you're one of the best 13 in the country, it feels pretty good."

Hawkins is incredibly athletic -- as he showed with his somewhat-infamous backflip on the MLB Network draft set -- and, like Chris Sale two years ago, was expected to be selected a little higher than he was. Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein called Hawkins' drop "mysterious," which sounds an awful lot like Sale's odd tumble in 2010.

Sale, of course, came up and helped the White Sox in 2010, serving as a lights-out reliever. Still a teenager, Hawkins won't follow that path. In fact, by the time Hawkins may be ready for the majors, Sale will be an established veteran -- or, if Hawkins' development takes a little longer, ready to hit free agency.

While the Sox farm system is widely regarded as being among the worst in baseball, the organization does have the luxury of waiting for Hawkins to develop thanks to a decent crop of young outfielders.

Jared Mitchell has come around with Double-A Birmingham, entering Tuesday with a .417 on-base percentage in 55 games. He's still at least a year away from the majors and has a major hurdle to climb in Triple-A all while working on cutting down his strikeouts, but the 2009 first-round pick has done everything in his power to restore faith in his potential.

Keenyn Walker, the Sox first pick in 2011, similarly needs to cut down on his strikeouts but has posted a fine .370 OBP with Single-A Kannapolis in his first full processional season. The news isn't as good for Trayce Thompson, a 2009 high school draftee, who has struggled in his first year with High-A Winston-Salem, hitting only six home runs with a .312 OBP in 52 games.

But with Hawkins and Keon Barnum -- who Laumann expects to remain at first base but may get a trial in left or right field at some point -- the Sox not only have depth in the outfield, they have talent. That talent doesn't always play out, as those who are quick to point out Joe Borchard and Brian Anderson will say.

The Sox still need organizational depth in the middle infield, and given the volatile nature of pitching prospects, there's no such thing as too many arms in a farm system. But most of all, the Sox just need good players developing in the minor leagues.

If all goes right, Hawkins will fill that need.

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Having experienced a playoff-like atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic, David Robertson and Nate Jones already feel prepared for the regular season. 

The two relievers returned to White Sox camp on Friday morning bearing gold medals from a Team USA WBC title run that concluded on Wednesday night with an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Robertson, who recorded the final three outs of the clinching victory, said he's glad to be back and won't need much of a tune-up to be ready for the April 3 season opener.

"Back up to speed?" Robertson said. "More like slow down and get ready for the season. I'll probably play catch (Friday). I didn't throw (Thursday), I spent the day traveling. Probably play catch today, and be ready to throw (Saturday). If I needed to throw today, I could. I feel like I'm season ready right now."

"It feels good to be back. It's been a long trip doing this WBC, so it's good to be back and relax a little bit. Have a couple days before we start the season."

Both Jones and Robertson appeared four times each for Team USA with similar results. Each allowed a solo home run but nothing else. Jones said he brought his gold medal back to camp because he isn't yet ready to put it in his safety deposit box. His favorite moments of the tournament were brought on by raucous crowds.

"Once you get a crowd chanting USA that was a pretty cool moment," Jones said. "You're proud of representing your country, and once they did that, it all kind of set in, like, ‘Wow, this is happening.'

"It's just pure excitement, everybody going crazy."

Jones and Robertson said they're pleased to have returned to the relative tranquility of White Sox camp after they lived out of a suitcase for the previous 18 days. Both were set to meet with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Rick Renteria to discuss their upcoming schedule. Jones said he expected to throw a side session on Friday in front of Cooper to have his mechanics reviewed. Robertson last pitched on Wednesday and didn't know when he'd throw again.

"They've been busy, obviously, with Robbie finishing up the last game," Renteria said. "We'll see how the schedule lines up in terms of their usage for the remaining 9-10 days."

[Buy White Sox tickets right here]

Robertson is pretty sure he won't need much work. Whereas the team's closer normally waits until the first week of March to appear in a game, Robertson has pitched in plenty this spring. Each of the last four has had a ton more intensity than any normal Cactus League work.

"It felt like playoff baseball really early in the year," Robertson said. "Just coming from Miami, trying to win a couple days in there was really hard. Fans were really loud. That place was a very intense environment, and it didn't feel like you were the home team at all.

"It felt like (a home game) when we were in San Diego We were the home team there, and when we got to L.A., same thing. Although, I will say that when we were playing the Japanese, it erupted a couple times when they had some big moments in their game. It was just a lot of fun to play in this whole event. It was definitely more than I expected."

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."