White Sox announce 20 invites to spring training

875607.png

White Sox announce 20 invites to spring training

By James Fegan
CSNChicago.com contributor

The Chicago White Sox announced Thursday the invitation of 20 players to their spring training camp in Glendale, Arizona. The group is a combination of 13 prospects from the teams farm system and seven non-roster invitees signed to minor league contracts.

Outfielder Trayce Thompson and Infielder Carlos Sanchez are the most heralded prospects among those invited, rated second and third respectively in the White Sox organization according to Baseball America.

Thompson, 21, finished the 2012 season in Triple-A Charlotte after hitting 25 home runs across stops in Single-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. Sanchez is a year younger still, but is considered to have an outside chance at a major league roster spot. This year will also see Keenyn Walker, an outfielder who was selected with the White Sox first pick of the 2011 draft, make his first appearance at big league camp.

2011 second-round pick Erik Johnson, a right-handed starter who just completed his first year as a professional, is the highest-rated pitching prospect going to Glendale. Joining him will be Scott Snodgress, a left-hander out of Stanford who led the White Sox farm system in strikeouts, and right-hander Jake Petricka. Daniel Moskos, a left-hander who was selected fourth overall in the 2007 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was also invited.

Rounding out the group of prospects are a pair of catchers in Michael Blanke and Kevan Smith, first basemen Andy Wilkins, and infielders Tyler Saladino, Seth Loman, and Marcus Simien. Saladino was featured on several top 10 lists for prospects in the White Sox organization coming into 2012, before enduring a rough season where he recorded a .668 OPS.

The announcement of non-roster invitees for the 2013 White Sox camp marks the return to the organization of right-handed reliever Jeff Gray, and outfielder Stefan Gartrell.

Gray pitched 13.1 innings for the White Sox in 2011 before being put on waivers and claimed by the Seattle Mariners. He spent all of 2012 working out of the bullpen for the rival Minnesota Twins, recording a 5.71 ERA over 52 innings. Gray was originally signed as a Free Agent by the White Sox in December.

Gartrell is returning to the organization that drafted him in the 31st round in 2006. He spent six seasons in the White Sox farm system before being traded to the Atlanta Braves shortly after the start of the 2011 season. Gartrell has hit 20 or more home runs in four straight seasons, almost all of which were spent in Triple-A.

Left-handed reliever David Purcey, who last saw major league action with the Detroit Tigers in 2011, right-handed pitcher Ramon Troncoso, catcher Bryan Anderson, and infielders Josh Bell and Steve Tolleson were all given non-roster invitations to camp as well.

White Sox top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito throws no-hitter in Triple-A Charlotte

giolito-227.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito throws no-hitter in Triple-A Charlotte

Lucas Giolito threw a seven-inning no-hitter in Game 1 of Thursday's Charlotte Knights doubleheader.

The White Sox top pitching prospect recorded three strikeouts and issued three walks in a 4-0 win.

The Knights' Twitter account posted a video of the final out:

Perhaps the best part? It was against the Syracuse Chiefs, the Washington Nationals' minor league team.

The Nationals selected Giolito with the 16th pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. Last offseason, the 22-year-old was traded to the White Sox — along with Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning — as a key component in exchange for Adam Eaton.

The last Knights pitcher to throw a no-hitter was Andre Rienzo on July 25, 2013 against the Indianapolis Indians, which also came in the first game of a doubleheader.

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."