Ventura highway about to open

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Ventura highway about to open

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Everyones gotta start somewhere.

Thats how Chris Sale explained the debut of his new manager Robin Ventura, who arrived at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday about to embark on quite the unexpected journey, hired to manage the White Sox despite not managing or even coaching in any sport at any level.

Truth be told, Ventura actually does have some coaching experience on his resume.
He once coached his daughters basketball team in California. Oh, and there was the time he led a ragtag group of aging amateurs at the White Sox fantasy baseball camp at this exact same facility two years ago.

How bad were they?

We stunk, Ventura said.

But when Kenny Williams shocked everybody by hiring the former White Sox third baseman to replace Ozzie Guillen this off-season, Williams didnt care that Ventura had coached as many professional games as just about everybody reading this sentence.

Why?

Because Ventura is not like everybody.

Its the reason he had a 58-game hitting streak for Oklahoma State in 1987. It had never happened in Division I baseball before. It hasnt happened since.

Its why he charged the mound in 1993 against 46-year-old and future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who proceeded to pound Ventura with several noogies to the head.
Probably not a smart move, but it shows the quiet, inner rage that can boil in his stomach. He might not show it, but its there. Expect to see it.

And its also why at the end of his playing career with the Dodgers, Venturas teammates gave him a nickname that foreshadowed his baseball future.

What was it?

Ploach.

Short for player-coach.

But while Ventura held that title quietly behind the scenes with no one watching, its a much different situation now. Hes now been thrust to the front of the stage with Chicagos blinding media spotlight directed right at him.

Few can effectively handle it. Ventura, like Ozzie Guillen before him, learned to play the game while living in it.

Not having Guillen around for the first time since 2003 will be an adjustment. Walking into the Sox clubhouse on Wednesday, something didnt seem right. I couldnt figure it out. Then I realized there wasnt a single profanity-laced tirade by a certain Venezuelan manager.

The silence was deafening.

Certainly from that standpoint, Ventura walks into this situation with some pretty large shoes to fill. Hes also taking over for the only manager alive who won a World Series title in Chicago.

I dont look at it necessarily as Im replacing him, Ventura said. I can only look at it as Im just happy to be in this position with the White Sox.

In a season that will feature many firsts, Wednesday was Venturas first spring training
press conference. The first-time manager gave us a glimpse at how he will act in his new job, and what he will expect from his players.

I do have things I believe in as far as the way they play, Ventura said.

Which will have to be a 180-degree shift from last year when the Sox struggled out of the gate and finished a disappointing 79-83. Ventura can help steer the season in the right direction, but he wont be the only person with his hands on the wheel.

Hopefully guys can play better. Thats obviously something from last year," Ventura said. "Thats just the situation were in, and nobody is going to let them up from that until you have an extended period of playing well and guys playing well. Thats just the facts. Thats just the way it is. We have a long way to go to kind of prove that wrong.

Ventura cant swing the bat for Adam Dunn, Alex Rios or Gordon Beckham. Thats not his job. But helping them get to the right place mentally to succeed? That is. Ventura knows it all begins here at spring training.

I think theres always a tone you open up with, the Sox manager said. I dont think you can force it on them. Your leadership and your club is going to kind of set that tone. Its about being prepared to win games, and thats really the focus of how were going to do things, and do it right. And thats it. Its pretty simple.

With the Dodgers he might have been the unofficial player-coach. But will he be a players coach?

Asked about running the club like a dictatorship, Ventura quipped, Absolutely. My way or the highway.

Tomorrow the journey begins.

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

Jose Abreu has made quite a turnaround from being a guy who was admittedly lost to bashing the ball like Abreu of old.

From April 19th on, Abreu has hit at another level, reminiscent of the performances he put on throughout an eye-opening 2014 campaign in which he was the unanimous American League rookie of the year winner. Over that stretch, Abreu has slashed at an absurd .347/.404/.677 clip with nine doubles, one triple, 10 home runs and 22 RBIs in 136 plate appearances.

Earlier this week, Abreu said the run is the product of trusting his tireless preparation.

"I struggled in the first few weeks of the season but I kept working," Abreu said through an interpreter. "Now I'm at this point where I feel very good and confident with my offense and things are going well for me. That's part of what you work for and if you work hard, you know the results will be there at the end of the day."

Two numbers that have improved significantly during Abreu's five-week tear are his average exit velocity and strikeout rate.

Abreu entered Wednesday 39th in the the majors with an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph this season, according to Baseball Savant.

But Abreu wasn't hitting the ball nearly as hard early this season, which was littered with weak contact. Abreu stumbled out of the gate with a .157 average, one extra-base hit and only five RBIs in his first 54 plate appearances. Through the first two weeks, Abreu's average exit velocity was 89.0 mph on 31 batted-ball events, which was slightly down from last season's 89.6 mph average and significantly down from 2015, when he averaged 90.9 mph.

Since then, however, Abreu has seen a significant increase in hard contact. Over his last 92 batted-ball events, Abreu is averaging 92.6 mph, a total that would qualify for 15th in the majors this season. Included in that span is 35 balls hit 100 mph or more.

But Abreu's success isn't just related to how hard he has hit the ball. He's also made much better contact this season and is striking out less than ever. Abreu struck out 14 times in his first 54 plate appearances (25.9 percent). But since then, he has whiffed only 17 times in 136 plate appearances, good for a 12.5 percent strikeout rate.

His season K-rate of 16.3 percent, according to Fangraphs.com, is down from a career mark of 19.6 percent.

"You have started to see him heat up a little," manager Rick Renteria said earlier this week. "He's given us solid at-bats. He's in a good place right now."

Actually, it's a great place and one Abreu hasn't done with consistency since 2015. He once again looks like the hitting machine he was for most of his first two seasons and the final two months of 2016.

Abreu is on pace to hit 36 home runs this season, which would match his 2014 total. His current wRC+ of 138 is his highest since he finished 2014 at 167.

Last season, Abreu didn't hit his 10th home run until June 18. He hit his 11th homer on June 23 and then didn't hit another until August 4. That stretch raised myriad questions both inside the organization and externally about whether or not Abreu would return to prominence as a hitter. Perhaps inspired by the August arrival of his son, Dariel, Abreu finished 2016 with a flurry, hitting .340/.402/.572 with 14 home runs in his final 241 plate appearances.

General manager Rick Hahn said last September that the stretch was important for White Sox evaluators to see.

"It certainly makes you more confident as you see him over the last six weeks, projecting out that he's going to be that same player that he was for the first two years of his career," Hahn said. "Earlier, when he was scuffling, you looked at some of the things he was doing from his approach or some of the mechanical issues he might have been having and you felt confident he was going to be able to get back. But in all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks."

The White Sox offense has benefitted from Abreu's leap back into prominence. The team has averaged 4.53 runs per game this season and is 9th in the American League with 204 runs scored and 17th overall in the majors. But the increase in offense still hasn't helped the White Sox improve in the standings. While Abreu is glad to be on the roll he is, he'd prefer if his team is along for the ride.

"We're are passing through a tough moment, a rough stretch," Abreu said. "For me as I've always said the team is first. I want to thank God for how I've performed through this rough stretch. But it's not something makes me feel happy because we didn't win as many games as we wanted to win. It's tough."

Has Jose Quintana's slow start to the season affected his potential trade value?

Has Jose Quintana's slow start to the season affected his potential trade value?

 

Jose Quintana has not started his 2017 campaign as many White Sox fans had hoped or expected.
 
Through nine games the 2016 All Star has posted just two wins and watched his ERA climb to 3.92 after Wednesday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. 
 
This past offseason, Quintana was frequently mentioned as a possible trade piece for the White Sox who if moved might have brought in other key pieces for the retooling South Siders, much like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton did. 

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
 
Have Quintana’s early season struggles impacted his trade value?
 
White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti weighed in while appearing on Wednesday’s edition of SportsTalk Live.
 
“Somebody's trade value isn’t contingent necessarily on what he’s doing right now,” Benetti said. “I mean general managers are smart enough to know Jose Quintana is worth X over the course of time and a lot of what trade value has to do with, is what other teams need. So as injuries continue to pile up to other pitchers, if we’re talking about the value of a starting pitcher, the market has as much to do with that as his performance in one specific game.” 
 
Listen to what else Benetti had to say in the video above.