Kevan Smith

Composed prospect Reynaldo Lopez's White Sox debut a 'good one'

Composed prospect Reynaldo Lopez's White Sox debut a 'good one'

If prized prospect Reynaldo Lopez felt any nervousness on Friday night it was seemingly undetectable.

The starting pitcher impressed from the outset and energized the Guaranteed Rate Field crowd in his White Sox debut as he pumped 97-mph fastballs while only making a few mistakes. The first player to emerge from the December trade that sent Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals, Lopez lived up to the hype with six strikeouts in six strong innings as the White Sox downed the Kansas City Royals 6-3. At no point did Lopez, who earned a no decision, better demonstrate the poise that made him the No. 59 prospect in baseball than when he pitched out of a fourth-inning jam to protect a one-run lead.

“He got through that great,” catcher Kevan Smith said. “Obviously got a couple hits off him there. He kept his poise. He made some great pitches in some counts he was behind on that I was proud of him about. That was a great inning for him to have there in the middle because he was kind of cruising a little bit. I was like, when’s he going to hit some adversity here? He got through it and it was a good one.”

Solid reviews poured in from every corner of the building for Lopez, who threw 36 four-seam fastballs at an average of 96.5 mph. Working with a three-pitch mix, Lopez started to attack as soon as his introductory applause died down. The right-hander struck out a pair in the first inning and struck out the side in the second inning as well. While Lopez walked a batter in each of his first three innings, he also remained hitless.

“He’s a good pitcher, man,” said Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. “He’s got some good stuff. Great fastball. Great changeup. Great slider. He’s going to be a good pitcher in this league. So you got to tip your hat to him.”

Ironically, Lopez wound up tipping his hat twice to Moustakas after he struck him out in their first encounter. Moustakas ended Lopez’s no-hit bid with one out in the fourth inning with a long home run to right field to get the Royals within 2-1. The blast temporarily derailed Lopez, who allowed consecutive singles to Cheslor Cuthbert and Alcides Escobar afterward.

The third straight hit off Lopez brought pitching coach Don Cooper out to the mound. But Lopez didn’t break as he escaped further damage. Alex Gordon flew out to shallow center and Drew Butera fouled out to end the inning.

“He looked comfortable, too,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He didn't look very nervous to be honest. He looked like he was in the right place. Everything he did was very much under control.

“We were hoping it would look that way.”

Lopez was proud just to have the chance. The effort came only a week after Lopez said he felt like he was ready for a shot at the majors following an outstanding July. Lopez was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the month in July after he posted a 2.10 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 30 innings.

Having pitched 44 innings in the big leagues last season, Lopez has believed all along he’s ready to be here. He said it had been difficult at times not to already be in the majors but he was happy with the patience he’d shown the White Sox.

Lopez was even happier with his performance on Friday, particularly how he escaped the fourth-inning jam. While he surrendered the lead in the sixth when he allowed a solo homer, Lopez and Smith think the youngster produced a good effort on which to build.

“I know that I’m going to allow some hits,” Lopez said. “But I think that the key is just to keep your focus on the game and keep your confidence and that was what all I did. I gave up three hits in a row but then I kept my confidence and I was able to get out of that inning.

“My key today was just my focus. I was focused all the game and I was able to command all my pitches.”

Adam Engel's 'outstanding' catch helps White Sox snap six-game losing streak

Adam Engel's 'outstanding' catch helps White Sox snap six-game losing streak

Unlike last week, Adam Engel had an opportunity to “work the wall” on Tuesday night and he wound up with a candidate for catch of the year.

A strong defender, the White Sox outfielder turned in his best play of the season when he used his foot to boost himself into the air to rob Brian McCann of a home run. The play was the biggest highlight of an 8-5 White Sox victory over the Houston Astros and one of the top catches manager Rick Renteria said he’s seen in his career. Engel also singled and drove in a run as the White Sox snapped a six-game losing streak.

“It was outstanding,” Renteria said. “The catch that Engel made was probably … top one. Great catch, went up the wall, brought it back.

“I think top one this year. And probably a top 10, if you had to say, it’s got to be up there. That’s a pretty good catch. That’s a great catch.”

The White Sox held a 6-3 advantage in the top of the fourth inning when McCann stepped in against starting pitcher Derek Holland. Holland (three earned runs over 5 2/3 innings) thought McCann’s drive on 1-1 knuckle curve would wind up 30 rows deep off the bat. But Engel had a bead on the drive the entire way and pushed off the wall with his left foot, soaring with his arm outstretched to haul the ball in for the out.

“That's one of the greatest catches I've ever seen to go out there and rob McCann,” Holland said. “As soon as I gave it up I thought for sure it was gone.”

Engel’s most recent encounter with the wall let him know he had a chance at that play and — perhaps more important — that he was clear for takeoff. The rookie tried to track down a Josh Donaldson homer in the first inning of a July 31 contest only to have a full-speed collision with the fence post that prevented him from playing the next day.

Whereas he was shaded toward left-center on the Donaldson homer, Engel was more straight up for McCann and therefore knew he had a shot.

“I think I was able to get back to the fence a little quicker,” Engel said. “The other night I was playing in the other gap so I wasn’t able to get to the wall in time and maneuver the wall like I wanted to and also there was a pole. Tonight, I was able to get back there and work the wall.”

The only thing that Engel didn’t know was if he had hung onto the ball. Engel said it hit in a part of the glove that allows the ball to shoot out on occasion. But Engel knew he’d held on when Avisail Garcia threw both his arms up in celebration of the grab.

Back behind the plate, catcher Kevan Smith — who doubled, homered, walked twice and had four RBIs — watched the entire play unfold. He saw the reactions of Holland and Garcia as well as everyone on the bench. Smith enjoyed his perspective of the play and also wasn’t surprised by it having seen Engel, a plus-defender, make similar grabs over the years.

“If you took a second, you saw every player with their hands up — and the whole bench,” Smith said. “It was a pretty cool feeling on my end, so far away from it. I can't imagine how Avi felt or how Adam felt. But that is going to go down as one of the best catches in a long time. But it doesn't surprise me. I've seen him do it in the minors. He's done that a lot.”

20/20 vision: Dreaming of roster for White Sox next World Series contender

20/20 vision: Dreaming of roster for White Sox next World Series contender

Be afraid, baseball world. Be very afraid.

While "Winter is coming" in this weekend's Game of Thrones series opener, the White Sox version of the iconic phrase from one of television's most popular shows will be coming to a baseball diamond near you in a few years.

The White Sox farm system has gone from worst to first in the span of 15 months.

And it's only going to continue to get stronger as the White sox have a few more trade chips to sell off and they'll have a Top 5 draft pick in 2018. The organization will also have a few briefcases stuffed with cash to toss around to the loaded 2019 free agent class.

As most White Sox fans pick their jaws up from the floor when looking at MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospect list, we've done our best to construct the optimal White Sox lineup for the 2020 season.

LINEUP

1. Yoan Moncada (2B)

The top prospect in MLB is a five-tool talent who possesses the on-base skills (.385 in Triple-A) and speed (16 stolen bases in 2017) to set the table for the White Sox for the next decade.

2. Manny Machado (3B)

If the White Sox are going to throw big money at a free agent in 2019, Machado could be the guy. His age (27) when he hits the open market is right around the White Sox window of contention.

3. Eloy Jimenez (LF)

Some scouts believe Jimenez could be better than Moncada. His power and ability to hit for a high average make him an ideal candidate to hit No. 3 for the White Sox in 2020.

4. Jose Abreu (DH)

Abreu's leadership will still be imperative for the White Sox when they're ready to contend.

5. Luis Robert (CF)

Robert is the ultimate wild card in the White Sox system as he's yet to show off his skills in the United States. Another five-tool talent, Robert's upside is off the charts.

6. Avisail Garcia (RF)

Coming off his first All-Star appearance, Garcia could be an integral part of the White Sox future or the team could sell high on his 2017 season for more high-end young talent.

7. Zack Collins (C)

Collins low batting average (.220) and high strikeout numbers (90) in Single-A are alarming, but he's still only 22 years old, and his defensive abilities behind the plate have improved immensely since the White Sox drafted him. 

8. Jake Burger (1B)

Burger's advanced bat and power will have him moving up the pipeline. It wouldn't be surprising to see him shift from third base to first base by the time he's ready to join the majors.

9. Tim Anderson (SS)

The first piece of the rebuild has gotten off to a bad start in 2017, but he's still an important part of the young core.

BENCH

Nicky Delmonico (OF), Adam Engel (OF), Yolmer Sanchez (IF), Kevan Smith (C), Gavin Sheets (1B)

Engel is a must-have on the bench for the White Sox as he could be an important late-inning defensive replacement at any position in the outfield. Delmonico's left-handed bat and pop give him the nudge over a few other White Sox minor league outfielders. Sanchez can play all over the diamond and would be the perfect utility infielder for a contender. Smith and Sheets round out the rest of the White Sox bench.

ROTATION

1. Carlos Rodon

2. Michael Kopech 

3. Alec Hansen

4. Lucas Giolito

5. Dane Dunning

While he hasn't shown consistency thus far in the majors, Rodon — the only holdover from the current White Sox rotation — has the dynamite stuff to be the ace. Kopech, who has topped out at 105 MPH, has the highest upside of any pitching prospect in the minors and if his command continues to improve he could challenge Rodon for the top spot in the rotation. The last three spots in the rotation could be a toss up because the White Sox have about 15 arms that are worthy of a starting spot. No matter how it shakes out, the White Sox project to have a strong starting five. Hansen, Giolito and Dunning — our projected No. 3, 4 and 5 starters for the 2020 South Siders — have the upside of being No. 2 starters if they were on a handful of other clubs. 

BULLPEN

Zack Burdi (closer), Andrew Miller (SU), Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Carson Fulmer, Bernardo Flores

Burdi possesses an 80-grade fastball (the highest possible rating) and a potential wipeout slider. If Burdi can bounce back from potential Tommy John Surgery, he'll likely still be the White Sox closer of the future. Instead of inserting one of their young pitchers in the setup role, the White Sox will throw some money at the best reliever in baseball, Andrew Miller, because why the hell not? Lopez' fastball which can reach 100 and plus-curveball would be devastating in a 7th inning role before the White Sox turn the ball over to Miller and Burdi. Cease and Fulmer round things out.