Lucas Giolito

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

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USA TODAY

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

White Sox prospects received more attention from fans and media this year and on Sunday the White Sox minor league season concluded with rookie level Great Falls dropping the decisive game in the Pioneer League Championship.

Here's a look at some of the standout players, storylines and moments from the season that was, from Yoan to Eloy to Robert.

1. Yoan Moncada gets called up to make his White Sox debut after seven-player trade with Yankees

Yoan Moncada wasn't only the top White Sox prospect but the top prospect in baseball according to some, so when he was the first big prospect in the club's rebuild to get called up, it was a significant moment. Moncada mania began with a standing ovation from the home fans in his debut. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and later said his White Sox debut had a similar feeling to his major league debut with the Red Sox.

2. Eloy Jimenez’s arrival and immediate hot streak

Trading Jose Quintana to the Cubs wasn't an easy pill for White Sox fans to swallow. With that in mind, it's a good thing that Eloy Jimenez quickly turned public perception of the trade in the White Sox favor. Jimenez had good, but not great numbers with the Cubs' Carolina League affiliate Myrtle Beach (.271/.351/.490) when he was traded. Jimenez had missed some time due to injury, but staying in the same league, he erupted with the Winston-Salem Dash. In 29 games with the Dash, Jimenez hit .345/.410/.682 and blasted eight home runs.

One of the highlights was when Jimenez told teammate Ian Clarkin, who arrived from the Yankees just days after the Quintana-Jimenez trade, that he was going to hit a home run. After Jimenez did in fact go yard that game, Clarkin shared Jimenez's prescient call on Twitter.

Jimenez provided more magic by blasting a home run in his first at-bat for Double-A Birmingham. In 18 games with the Barons, Jimenez hit .353/.397/.559 and solidified his spot as one of the best hitting prospects in the game. He has impressed the White Sox and Jimenez thinks he is ready to play in the majors.

3. The Luis Robert saga

With the major league team struggling on the field, the off the field moves attracted most of the attention. The chase for Cuban free agent Luis Robert riled up Sox fans, who were eating up the latest news and rumors about the then-teenage prospect.

When the Sox landed Robert, it was another big move for a quickly improving farm system. The outfielder has received high praise from around baseball.

After signing Robert played in the Dominican Summer League. He missed some time with minor injuries, but finished hitting .310/.491/.536.

4. Michael Kopech dominates in Double-A

Along with Moncada, Kopech was a big part of the Chris Sale trade. When the White Sox got him he was a hard-throwing 20-year-old who had plenty of strikeouts, but also plenty of walks.

After continuing that trend for the first three months of this season, something appeared to click for Kopech. The former first-round pick walked 11 batters in 44 1/3 innings in his final eights starts with Birmingham. He struck out a whopping 58 during that stretch and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.

When he was in Birmingham, Kopech created buzz the Barons hadn't seen since Michael Jordan. He finished tied for fifth in the minors with 172 strikeouts on the season, which impressed the White Sox front office and earned him Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher.

5. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez make White Sox debuts

Moncada was the first major prospect to get promoted in the White Sox rebuild, but Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito represented the first pitching prospects to join the big league club. Both joined the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade in the offseason, had major league experience and began the year in Triple-A.

Lopez's debut came first. After rolling off a hot July in which he posted a 2.10 ERA, Lopez pitched a quality start on Aug. 11 in his White Sox debut.

Meanwhile, Giolito waited a little bit longer after struggling for much of the year in Charlotte. He had a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts for the Knights, but found some consistency later in the year and drew rave reviews when he made his Sox debut on Aug. 22.

6. Breakout years for Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning

Lopez and Giolito received most of the attention in the Eaton trade, but in the early part of the season it was Dunning who was making the most noise in the minor leagues. The 2016 first-round pick utterly dominated the opposition in Single-A Kannapolis with a 0.35 ERA and 33 strikeouts against just two walks in 26 innings. Dunning got promoted to Winston-Salem and finished tied for 11th in all of the minors with 168 strikeouts, capping off a stellar first full season in pro ball.

Amazingly, Dunning may have been outshined by his own teammate. Alec Hansen, who the White Sox drafted in the second round last year, didn't get promoted out of Kannapolis as quickly, but dominated in Winston-Salem and finished the year in Birmingham. He ended up leading all of minor league baseball with 191 strikeouts and he thinks 2018 could be even better.

7. White Sox draft Jake Burger in the first round and he hits for a cycle

The White Sox will have a higher draft pick next year, but this year the Sox picked up Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger with the No. 11 pick.

Burger began his pro career hot by hitting .358 in Kannapolis, but slumped the rest of way. Burger hit .219 in August and September, but did hit for a cycle on Aug. 24.

8. Zack Collins struggles at the plate, but shows defensive improvements

When Zack Collins was drafted by the White Sox with the 10th pick in 2016, he was thought of as a sure-thing bat with question marks about his ability to play catcher. So naturally, his 2017 played out in exactly the opposite way.

He hit .223 in Winston-Salem while striking out 118 times in 426 plate appearances, but got promoted to Double-A Birmingham anyway. He got promoted the same day as Eloy Jimenez and both homered in their Birmingham debuts. Collins posted an .893 OPS in Birmingham, but still hit just .235.

Collins received better reviews about his defense, which he owes partially due to training with Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, a fellow University of Miami product.

9. Zack Burdi’s Tommy John Surgery

When Zack Burdi was with the White Sox in spring training, he was trying to act like he belonged in big league camp. The fire-balling relief prospect was in line to be the White Sox closer of the future.

After beginning the season in Triple-A Charlotte and producing uneven, but promising results, the White Sox learned in July that Burdi would need Tommy John Surgery. A look at the White Sox bullpen now shows a lot of young, unproven pitchers and Burdi likely would be among them had he stayed healthy.

Now, it's all about the recovery for the 22-year-old, whose upside combined with the lack of proven arms in the White Sox bullpen means he remains a potentially key part of the team's future.

10. Micker Adolfo flashes power potential

Micker Adolfo wasn't a high-profile prospect at the start of the year, but had a breakout season. The 21-year-old was a big international signing back in 2013, coming with a $1.6 million signing bonus.

He was named the White Sox minor league player of the month for both May and June. He began to show his power potential with Kannapolis and helped the team make it to the South Atlantic League Championship Series. Adolfo slowed in the second half, but finished with 16 home runs, tied for fifth in the league.

Bonus: Nicky Delmonico shines in short big league stint

It wasn't a big deal at the time, but Nicky Delmonico's promotion has looked like a potentially significant moment for the White Sox rebuild. He has had a breakout performance in the majors and has made a strong case that he could be a significant part of the team's future.

How Lucas Giolito overcame an inconsistent fastball and thrived against Royals

How Lucas Giolito overcame an inconsistent fastball and thrived against Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Lucas Giolito didn’t have his best stuff on Wednesday and he thrived anyway. Catcher Kevan Smith thinks it has a lot to do with the pitcher’s large frame and the movement on his pitches.

The 6-foot-6 Giolito had poor fastball command early, only induced a few swings and misses and put six runners on base in the first three innings. But that didn’t prevent him from success. The White Sox rookie induced a boatload of weak contact over 6 1/3 strong innings to help send the White Sox to a 5-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

“His stuff is moving,” Smith said. “Guys get in the box joking, ‘This guy is 7-foot-5, how am I supposed to hit?’ It’s funny when guys have that perspective with him. It’s fun seeing a pitch that he didn’t hit his spot but guys pop it up. It’s like, ‘All right, something is moving there,’ especially with the caliber of hitters on that side.”

It was evident in the first inning Giolito didn’t have crisp command. He walked two and gave up a single and only escaped with the helped of a botched double steal and a leaping grab by shortstop Tim Anderson.

Giolito’s fastball command issues carried into the third inning when he hit one batter and walked another. But the White Sox rookie needed only four pitches to rebound as Eric Hosmer struck out and Salvador Perez grounded into a force out.

“It was one of those battle days,” Giolito said. “Right out of the gate walking the first batter, two in the first inning. I definitely felt a little out of sync in the beginning.

“But once it got to situations with runners on base and less than two outs, especially, that’s when I really tried to slow the game down to my pace and make quality pitches. We were able to do that.”

The quality pitches early were critical. Consider that Giolito’s fastball averaged 91.6 mph (down from his 92.5 mph average) and he only induced six swings and misses. He also threw strikes on only 58 percent of his pitches (54 of 93).

But the Royals couldn’t take advantage.

“Gio did a nice job of just working through the game today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He got deep. His ball-to-strike ration wasn’t as effective. This outing might have been similar to his last outing in terms of strike effectiveness. But he kept working through it, got some big outs when he needed to and made some pitches when he needed to.”

Giolito finished with a run and four hits allowed in 6 1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out three. The strikeout total was significantly down from a Sept. 3 outing when Giolito struck out 10 hitters against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Giolito -- who has a 2.56 ERA in 31 2/3 innings in the majors -- suggested that the low strikeout total was because of poor fastball command. But he showed once again he isn’t afraid to pitch around an inconsistent fastball and the Royals struggled to hit what Giolito had. They produced an average exit velocity of only 73.9 mph on the balls they put in play, which resulted in a lot of easy outs.

“I think it depends on the stuff I’m bringing that day, especially commanding the fastball,” Giolito said. “I feel like I missed out on a lot of strikeouts today just not commanding the fastball and not getting ahead of guys as well as I would have liked.

“I’ll take early, weak contact over strikeouts any time just because as a starting pitcher it means you can throw more pitches, throw deeper into the game.”

Smith thinks Giolito can induce weak contact because of his height. Because Giolito is tall, he throws from a different, deceiving angle. That natural ability gives the 22-year-old a chance on days when his fastball isn’t popping like it can.

Only Perez did damage against Giolito with a solo homer in the sixth inning off a 91-mph fastball.

“The big thing for him is angle,” Smith said. “When he gets that he’s almost unhittable. He got burned on that one pitch there. But he did a great job getting through that first inning, dealing with those ups and down.

“Overall a solid outing.”

Why teaching phase of White Sox rebuild has Don Cooper excited

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USA TODAY

Why teaching phase of White Sox rebuild has Don Cooper excited

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Don Cooper has been waiting for this portion of the season to begin after watching the dismantling of the pitching staff piece by piece.

As difficult as the departures of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and many others has been, the White Sox pitching coach agreed with the organization’s decision to head in this new direction all along. This spring, Cooper said he was excited for the learning environment the team had begun to create for its young prospects and the future they brought with them.

Now that many of the franchise’s young pitchers have graduated to the majors, Cooper is enthralled to have reached the teaching phase. He’s found working with Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Tuesday’s starter Reynaldo Lopez to be rejuvenating after a trying process in which eight pitchers were traded since December, including seven since mid-July.

“The rebuild is underway,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t underway prior to them getting here. It was still the gutting of the team that was happening. And it’s been fun seeing where they’re at and what we might do to improve and how we improve in those areas.”

Giolito doesn’t mind it, either.

He’s comfortable knowing he’ll be with the White Sox for some time in this final stage of development. Rick Hahn said last December the team intended to first let Giolito work things out at Triple-A Charlotte before he would be promoted. They wouldn’t start Giolito in the majors and send him back for more development if he struggled.

Last season, Giolito bounced around the Washington Nationals organization. The Nationals were in a pennant race and needed the rookie to contribute and he struggled. Giolito liked the motivation offered by the challenge, but also appreciates the comfort he has with the White Sox. He and Cooper like working together to determine how Giolito can improve.

This week they’ve focused again on getting ahead in the count early after Giolito walked four batters in Friday’s loss. Giolito wasn’t pleased with the strike zone (Pitch Tracker made it appear that at least 10 low strikes were called balls) and was ejected. But on Monday, Giolito said he thought he was erratic on the edges and at the top of the zone, which can result in missed strike calls. If he faces that situation again, Giolito plans to attack hitters more often with his fastball.

“The learning experience to take from that is when you’re getting squeezed a little bit you just have to pound the zone to the best of your ability,” Giolito said. “Challenge hitters. Take those opportunities to challenge yourself -- I’m going to throw my fastball in there and see what happens.

“Just to have that comfort of I’m going to go out there and give my 100 percent and whatever happens happens. But I know that I’ll be able to continue to work on things at this level and I’ll get another opportunity.”

As Cooper noted, no bad game or even a rough stretch is going to cost Giolito or Lopez or Fulmer. They’re all a big part of the franchise’s plans and the White Sox will exhaust every effort with each.

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It’s the teaching phase and Cooper is relishing it.

“All of the kids that are coming up, there’s nothing they can do negatively that’s going to get us off of them and stop what we’re trying to do and stop where we’re trying to head because they’re part of the future,” Cooper said.

“It’s refreshing.”