White Sox decline to offer contract to Tyler Flowers

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White Sox decline to offer contract to Tyler Flowers

The White Sox let Tyler Flowers go Wednesday night in the name of offensive improvement and they sound hopeful to have someone lined up.

The team’s starting catcher for the past three seasons is one of two arbitration-eligible players to whom the White Sox didn’t offer a contract ahead of Wednesday’s 11 p.m. CST deadline. The club tendered contracts for outfielder Avisail Garcia and relievers Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings and Nate Jones.

General manager Rick Hahn said the need for more offense was the driving force for letting Flowers — who hit .239/.295/.356 with nine homers and 39 RBIs in 361 plate appearances in 2015 — become a free agent.

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“The decision basically came down to we saw an opportunity to improve the club from an offensive standpoint,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “While we're not able to get into specifics as to what the next move will be to fill the roster spot vacated by Tyler, this move was done as part of a plan and we're just not in a position to announce what the next move's going to be.”

The White Sox were last in the American League in runs scored and home runs last season and finished 14th in on-base percentage. Their catchers combined for a .656 OPS, which ranked 17th among 30 major league teams.

Last week, the club signed free-agent catcher Alex Avila to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million in hopes of an offensive upgrade. Though he figured he might see less playing time next season, Flowers was on board because he thought the platoon could be good for the White Sox. But on Tuesday, Flowers heard from Hahn that the club was leaning towards making him a free agent.

“It’s definitely surprising,” Flowers said. “I have a good relationship with Rick so we talked a little bit. I knew this was a possibility, more so just recently, but still very surprising. In my understanding of the business we’re in, it seems a little surprising to make this move with the player the caliber that I am. I think it’s more than just surprising to me, I’m sure it’s surprising to a lot of people and teams.”

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Hahn said Wednesday the White Sox have more work ahead, indicating they don’t intend to head into the season with Rob Brantly or Kevan Smith as their No. 2 option.

While the White Sox have always lauded Flowers for his work with the pitching staff, and more recently his pitching framing, the catcher’s offense hasn’t been on the same level.

Flowers struggled in his first full season as the starting catcher, hitting .195/.247/.355 with only 10 homers and 24 RBIs before he revealed he had played through a shoulder injury that required surgery in September 2013.

Fully healthy, Flowers bounced back in 2014 and hit .241/.297/.396 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs and continued to earn the trust of his pitching staff.

While he never found consistency at the plate last season, Flowers excelled at pitch framing and was constantly lauded by pitchers for his game-calling skills. He finished among the game’s top catchers in framing metrics and Chris Sale has often credited much of his success to his trust in Flowers.

Hahn said everything had been taken into consideration when making the move. But ultimately, the need for offense prevailed.

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“One of the things we need to improve upon is our run-scoring ability,” Hahn said. “While Tyler certainly had some strengths from the defensive side of the game, and it's an area of importance, we did see the opportunity to make us a little bit stronger, along with Alex Avila, from an offensive standpoint.

“We’re looking to improve the club offensively at a number of positions and this move was part of potentially doing that at catcher.”

Jacob Turner, who was claimed off waivers from the Cubs this offseason, also was non-tendered. Hahn said the White Sox still hope to work out a deal with Turner.

White Sox prospect Luis Basabe adjusts to new organization, playing without his twin

White Sox prospect Luis Basabe adjusts to new organization, playing without his twin

Luis Alexander Basabe’s roommate received a phone call on the road on July 9 in which he learned he had been traded by the Boston Red Sox. What would be a strange experience for most teammates was even more difficult for Basabe and his.

The player traded was his identical twin brother, Luis Alejandro Basabe.

“I was like, ‘Man, I don’t believe that,’ ” Luis Alexander Basabe said.

Nearly five months later, Luis Alexander received a similar call from the Red Sox to inform him he was included in a four-player package headed to the White Sox in exchange for five-time All-Star Chris Sale. Having already experienced the trade of a brother he describes as younger (by five minutes), shorter and weaker, Basabe wasn’t rattled.

While he later found that acclimating to a new organization was "weird" at first, Basabe said he already feels at home with the White Sox. The center fielder currently has a 10-game hitting streak and is slashing .260/.351/.400 with four stolen bases in 58 plate appearances for Single-A Winston-Salem.

“So far everything has been very good,” Basabe said. “When (my trade) first happened it didn’t feel weird or anything because it was in the offseason.

“I felt a little more comfortable because I had been through it with my brother. But I know it’s a business and no matter where I go I’ve got to do my job and play the way I do.

“ ‘Yeah, that’s all right. I don’t care because I’m here with a chance.’ ”

Plentiful opportunity is potentially there with the White Sox.

The No. 8-ranked prospect in the organization, according to MLBPipeline.com and Baseball America, Basabe, 20, has all the tools needed to be a top-notch defensive outfielder. His speed and arm are both graded at 60 on the 20-80 scout scale and his fielding rates at 55. Basabe’s manager thinks he has everything necessary to play a critical spot.

“He’s a true center fielder to me,” Winston-Salem manager Willie Harris said. “Speed, arm. It’s still a little early to tell if he’s going to hit. Who knows? But from the defensive side of the game, he knows what’s going on. He’s going to learn as he goes on and he’s going to be very, very good.”

Everything may come down to whether or not the switch-hitting Basabe performs at the plate. His hit tool grades at 45, according to MLB Pipeline, which is more in line with the bat of a fourth outfielder.

But so far the White Sox are optimistic Basabe can make the proper adjustment.

“He’s got a sweet swing,” White Sox hitting coordinator Mike Gellinger said. “He’s got a timing thing to handle. But he’ll get it and it should be very helpful.”

The biggest help will be repetitions. Basabe spent almost the entire 2016 season at Single-A Greenville in the South Atlantic League. Only at the end of the season was he promoted to Advanced-A Salem in the Carolina League, the same league he’s in now.

“He’s got a little bit of everything,” player development director Chris Getz said. “He can run, he has the ability to hit and he’s aggressive on the bases.

“He’s still only 20 and he’s had some success. But we feel the more at-bats he gets he’s going to be successful.”

Despite that young age, Basabe, whom his parents call “Chande”, and his twin, “Jandro”, have already learned about the harsh realities of baseball. They had just arrived at the ballpark to play the Lexington Legends that night when Greenville manager Darren Fenster summoned Luis Alejandro to his office with the news of his trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He would be assigned to Single-A Kane County.

“It was at 2 p.m. and the manager called my brother outside to come talk to him,” Luis Alexander said. “And then he told me ‘They traded me.’ ‘Really?’

“But then, (you learn) it really was a business and he got more chance over there.”

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

He absorbed a ton of information in spring camp, but perhaps it’s what Michael Kopech observed watching Jose Quintana that could help most.

For five weeks in big league camp, the extremely motivated White Sox pitching prospect gleaned every piece of information he could from more experienced teammates.

Kopech and veteran starting pitcher James Shields discussed pitch sequencing and the importance of the changeup. Infielder Tyler Saladino talked with the No. 14-ranked prospect in baseball about visualizing success. Catcher Geo Soto told Kopech pretty much everything about life in the majors.

But even though he didn’t say much, Quintana’s practice sessions may have provided the most valuable lesson of all. The key takeaway, Kopech said, is how Quintana performs every action with a purpose. The young pitcher knows how critical the example Quintana provided is to his development and wants to implement a similar approach.

“(Pitching coach Don Cooper) likes to call it focused practice,” Kopech said. “For me that’s one thing I haven’t done well, is get locked in. You have to be locked in all the time. That’s something that came from Coop and all the big leaguers I was around. Quintana is a great guy to watch when it comes to stuff like that.

“That’s a guy that is a definition of a silent leader. He doesn’t talk about much. He goes and gets his work in and you can just watch him and know that’s the way the game should be played.”

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Kopech took a nice step forward in his development on Tuesday night when he pitched a season-high six scoreless innings for Double-A Birmingham. He struck out eight and allowed a hit while walking four and lowered his ERA to 2.50. The Texas native had only compiled 12 innings in his previous three outings because of “hit-and-miss” fastball command that led to 10 walks.

Along with perfecting his fastball command, one of the keys to Kopech reaching the majors is an increase in workload. Kopech — the 33rd overall pick of the 2014 draft — has never pitched more than 78 2/3 combined innings he produced last season. The White Sox would love for Kopech to reach the 180-inning mark by 2019.

“He doesn’t have a lot of innings under his belt,” player development director Chris Getz said. “He hasn’t been able to have that build up so that’s something we’re going to make sure he can focus on. We’re going to make sure he’s in the right spot so we can do that properly.”

In order for Kopech to eventually hit that mark, he’d need to pitch between 110-130 innings this season and then throw around 160 innings in 2018. But to reach those figures, Kopech must first pitch deeper into games.

Through his first three starts, Kopech worked on a strict pitch count that varied based on performance. If he was on, he could throw as many as 85 pitches. But if he ran into command issues, Kopech might only throw 75.

On Tuesday, Kopech pitched well enough to throw 95 pitches (65 strikes) against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He thinks the key to consistency in games is directly tied to his effort in between. It’s yet another area where Kopech — who reads self-help books, is into Cryotherapy and salt baths and eats meals on the road pre-prepared by his nutritionist — strives to improve.

“From Day 1 to Day 4, you need to be just as focused as Day 5,” Kopech said. “I can’t stress that enough. If my bullpen tomorrow I lose a little focus, then I know I need to get right back into it to prepare for my next start. That’s something that’s going to have to kick in sooner than later.”

Birmingham manager Julio Vinas likes how Kopech has handled himself early in the season. Vinas thinks Kopech has the proper mindset and tools to be a special pitcher.

‘He’s got the right mentality and now it’s executing and it’s going to be there,” Vinas said.

He may have been there this spring, but Kopech preferred to not be seen or heard by his veteran teammates. Kopech couldn’t do anything about the onslaught of attention the media paid to him after he came over with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade. But he could control the rest of his time around teammates. Little by little, he’d engage the veterans without drawing too much attention.

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“I just didn’t want to make it about me,” Kopech said. “It was my first big league camp and a lot of those guys are getting ready for a big league season and I’m competing for a job that’s not necessarily on a big league roster right away. I was just trying to take care of my business. All ears, not really any talk and take away as much as I could without pissing anybody off, really.

“I got the chance to face some good hitters and take away a lot of knowledge from older guys and I think that’s the best I could do to prepare for the season.”

But Kopech agrees the best preparation came from watching Quintana, who Cooper always lauds for his practice effort. Kopech hopes to be able to emulate how the 2016 All-Star pitcher handles himself soon enough.

Kopech thought he focused well from the second through the fourth inning in an April 20 start at Tennessee. But he wasn’t as pleased with his effort in the first and fifth innings.

“That’s the way I want to lock in when I’m on the mound,” Kopech said of Quintana. “I haven’t been doing that, but it’s something I’m going to work on going forward.

“I have to remind myself to stay locked in even though I’m doing what I always do because I need to have the same focus (in practice) I do when I’m pitching on the mound.”