White Sox rebuild offers 'leeway' for Lucas Giolito after frustrating 2016 season

White Sox rebuild offers 'leeway' for Lucas Giolito after frustrating 2016 season

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Lucas Giolito knows if he had performed better in 2016 he wouldn’t have endured the season from travel hell. 

Instead, the top pitching prospect in baseball struggled with consistency in the big leagues and the Washington Nationals constantly shuffled him around. Giolito — one of three pitchers acquired in the Adam Eaton trade in December and MLB.com’s 11th-ranked prospect — was moved eight different times throughout the Nationals organization last season. 

More irritated by his inability to pitch well for a team in a pennant race, the tall right-hander understands why he spent much of last season on the go. But it’s also one of the main reasons why Giolito, who is likely to begin the 2017 season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Charlotte, is excited for a fresh start with the White Sox.

“It was frustrating because I knew if you get up there and pitch well I can stay, but I didn’t,” Giolito said. “I wanted to help the team win. That’s really all I wanted to do. And all my starts, aside from my debut, which got cut short by the rain, I did not give the team a chance to win. So rightfully so I got sent down. But yeah, it’s frustrating. 

“At the same time, with this club I know there might be a little more leeway. I know they might allow younger guys more time to settle in, at least from what I’ve seen.”

The White Sox have made no secret about their plans to rebuild. Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are four of the seven prospects acquired in December whom the White Sox hope to build around. 

General manager Rick Hahn has made it increasingly clear that player development is the team’s top priority.

“At this point going forward we’re really not going to have anyone in Chicago until they’ve answered any questions we’ve had for them at the minor league level and we feel they’re ready to succeed,” Hahn said last month at SoxFest. 

And once those players arrive, they’ll be given ample opportunities to prove whether or not they belong. The routine will be normal with regular turns in the rotation rather than spot starts here and there. 

The team’s mindset is in stark contrast with Washington, which has been in win-now mode for the past few seasons. Whenever the Nationals called upon Giolito, who hadn’t pitched above Double-A Harrisburg before last June, they needed him to fill in for a rotation that only had three pitchers make more than 25 starts.

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Giolito pitched four scoreless innings in a rain-shortened MLB debut on June 28 and then didn’t pitch again until July 7. With Stephen Strasburg back in the rotation, the Nationals then sent Giolito to Single-A Hagerstown so he could get another turn before the All-Star break. Then it was on to Triple-A Syracuse for one start and back to Washington for another. 

After he struggled in that outing, Giolito spent a month at Syracuse, returned to the bigs to struggle again on Aug. 28 against Colorado, and went back to Triple-A for one more. Finally, Giolito returned to Washington on Sept. 7 and stayed the rest of the season, though he only pitched twice in a month. In six big league games (four starts), Giolito had a 6.75 ERA. 

The up-and-down nature of Giolito’s season prompted MLB.com’s Jim Callis to write: “I also don't think the Nationals handled him very well last season, calling him to Washington on five separate occasions but never letting him take consecutive turns in the rotation, as well as having him change teams nine times.”

Giolito remembers a couple of small planes back and forth from Washington to Syracuse. He also drove a few times because it was so close. 

“All sorts of ways of moving around,” he said.

It’s also treatment that’s normally reserved for a Four-A pitcher who has options to burn rather than a top prospect trying to find stability.

Giolito — who was drafted 16th overall in the 2012 draft out of high school — thought some of his struggles were related to poor mechanics and getting away from what had made him successful. The 6-foot-6 pitcher said he tried to simplify his mechanics this winter in order to allow the ball to leave his hand more freely and easily. 

Giolito is pleased with the results so far. His main goals early in camp have been commanding his fastball low and away to right-hander hitters and learning how to throw his curveball for a called strike.

“It’s coming out very good,” Giolito said. “Much better than last year. I made a lot of positive changes.

“The time in the big leagues was definitely fun. But going up and down a lot can be like a grind. Getting on the plane, doing this, you’re pitching the next day. You have to be able to try and stay level headed and focus on the next day or task at hand. But when you’re moving around a lot it can be difficult.”

David Robertson doing all he can to push trade rumors out of his mind

David Robertson doing all he can to push trade rumors out of his mind

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The reality of his situation isn’t all that pleasant, so David Robertson is doing his best to solely focus on baseball.

Second only to Jose Quintana in the team rumor mill, the White Sox closer said Tuesday morning that the uncertainty surrounding the team’s rebuild hasn’t been easy. Even though spring training has already begun, Robertson, who primarily has been the focus of trade talks with the Washington Nationals, said he realizes anything can happen. So for now Robertson -- who went 5-3 with 37 saves in 44 tries and a 3.47 ERA in 62 games -- wants to keep his attention on preparation for the World Baseball Classic and then on the regular season, wherever he may be.

“It's tough because there's nothing I can really do,” Robertson said. “I can't control anything about it so I just try to put it in the back of my mind. Just come to the field and do the work I need to do and whatever decisions this organization makes is what they're going to do. I only have a choice, I'll end up doing what I want to do, play baseball.”

The rumors of Robertson to Washington haven’t slowed down at all. Earlier this week, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said dialogue between the two teams has continued up until the edge of spring camp only to have their most recent talks stall again. But the two potential trade partners have held intermittent discussions dating back to December when there was discussion of including Robertson in the trade that sent Adam Eaton east.

Dealing with constantly hearing his name in rumors can’t be easy and both general manager Rick Hahn and manager Rick Renteria understand the human element involved. While Renteria said Tuesday he hasn’t addressed the topic individually with players, he won’t hesitate to if it’s necessary. Renteria addressed his team for the first time before Tuesday’s workout and stressed that his door is open at all times.

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“We’re certainly open to talking about it, personal or otherwise,” Renteria said. “Those are things that for all these guys, they’re professionals. I think right now they’re more focused on getting ready to perform.”

Hahn agrees with Renteria -- being at camp is probably the best distraction. Robertson has another diversion as well as he’s one of four White Sox pitchers participating in the World Baseball Classic, which runs from March 6-22.

“When they are here, they can focus more on doing their job,” Hahn said. “Regardless of the uniform they are wearing, they know how to prepare for a season.

“They are able to a little more easily block out a little more of the outside distractions when they are hear getting ready for their profession. I don’t foresee that being an issue at all.”

It wasn’t until Sale was traded to the Boston Red Sox that Robertson received clarity on which direction the White Sox were headed this winter. Given how the team attempted to piece together its roster in his first two seasons, Robertson half expected more additions and another try in 2017. But all the uncertainty was cast aside at the point Sale was traded.

“I didn't know which direction the organization was going to take but obviously, they kind of set the table by making those trades,” Robertson said. “They're looking to rebuild so either I'm going to be a part of it or I'm going to be a piece that gets moved.”

Robertson, who has two years and $25 million left on his current contract, is excited to pitch for Team USA. The right-hander, who had surgery to clean up a meniscus tear in the offseason, said he’s ahead of his normal throwing schedule. When he returns from that, Robertson can then focus on the regular season.

“What else can I do?” Robertson said. “I'm here to play baseball. I'm going to continue to work on getting better and let the cards fall where they're going to be. I can't do anything about it. I'm just going to try my best to stay here. If I stay here, great. If I get moved, it's their decision.”

Can anyone chase down the Cubs in 2017?

Can anyone chase down the Cubs in 2017?

The Cubs entered the 2016 season with a target on their backs and they embraced it all the way to the first World Series title since 1908.

Of course, those expectations will be back in full force this year and everybody will be gunning for the Cubs.

The question is: Can anybody actually catch the Cubs?

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Gone are Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Jorge Soler, but the replacements aren't exactly second rate.

Wade Davis is one of the elite relievers in the game when healthy, Mike Montgomery will be around for a full season now and Brett Anderson represents low-risk, high-upside rotation depth. 

Jon Jay is a veteran influence in the clubhouse and he and Albert Almora may combine to serve as a defensive upgrade in center field over Fowler.

The Cubs are hoping Kyle Schwarber won't miss 159 regular season games again and all the young players are another year older, more confident and more experienced.

Plus, Grandpa Rossy is still around the organization in a front office capacity.

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Oh, and there's no more talk of curses or Bartmans or goats or century-long droughts hanging over the franchise like a dark cloud.

So it's not hard to see the Cubs as the favorites to repeat in 2017 as we sit here in February.

Earlier this week, USATODAY released their projected win totals and the National League shook out as follows:

Cubs - 99
Dodgers - 92
Nationals - 90
Giants - 89
Mets - 89
Cardinals - 88
Rockies - 81
Pirates - 81

Everybody else is projected for a losing season.

With that, let's look at each contender's chances of dethroning the Cubs in the NL. (Keep in mind, we're just looking at NL West and East opponents here. The full NL Central breakdown will come later.)

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers' main losses this winter include Anderson (who accounted for only 11.1 innings in '16), outfielder Josh Reddick (who posted a .643 OPS in 47 games in LA) and a pair of veterans — 38-year-old second baseman Chase Utley and 36-year-old reliever Joe Blanton — in the twilight of their careers.

In their stead, the Dodgers have added infielder Logan Forsythe and Sergio Romo while ensuring Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill weren't leaving town.

Keep in mind, Clayton Kershaw missed two months of the 2016 season and the Dodgers still won 91 games and advanced to the NLCS.

Expectations surrounding Los Angeles are high this year and they should be. 

A pitching staff led by Kershaw, Hill, Jansen and 20-year-old Julio Urias is one of the best in the game and the lineup is packed with power and quality approaches from both sides of the plate (thanks in large part to the acquisition of the right-handed Forsythe).

Corey Seager is one of the game's best young players and very well may have won both the 2015 Rookie of the Year and 2016 MVP if he didn't play in the same league as some guy named Kris Bryant.

Right now, the Dodgers seemingly pose the biggest threat to the Cubs in the race for the NL pennant.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals have entered every season as a World Series contender over the last half-decade but have yet to live up to those lofty expectations when the postseason hits.

That could all change in 2017, especially if they're able to acquire David Robertson or some other closer to help stabilize the bullpen.

Catcher Wilson Ramos and closer Mark Melancon are the major departures from a squad that won 95 games last year. The closer vacancy is still an issue, but a December trade for Derek Norris helps shore up the catcher position.

Adam Eaton is also a nice fit for the Nats atop a lineup that will include MVP contenders Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy and upstart rookie Trea Turner who burst onto the scene in a big way in the last couple months of 2016.

The rotation is still one of the best in the game with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Wilmington, Ill., native Tanner Roark who actually led the staff with a 2.83 ERA in a breakout 2016 campaign.

With only two more years left of control on Harper and an aging core that includes Jayson Werth (37), Scherzer (32), Ryan Zimmerman (32), Murphy (32) and Gio Gonzalez (31), the Nationals are going pedal to the metal in their quest for a championship and won't be shy in dealing more prospects for win-now pieces in-season.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants were very close to taking down the Cubs last season, igniting a sense of panic that was filtering through Chicago's North Side before the bullpen imploded worse than the Atlanta Falcons.

Had the Giants closed out that Game 4 victory, they would've sent Johnny Cueto to the mound at Wrigley for a winner-take-all Game 5, an unsettling prospect for Joe Maddon's Cubs and the entire fanbase.

San Francisco plugged the hole in the back of the bullpen by throwing $62 million at Melancon and parting ways with Romo and Santiago Casilla (who combined for 35 saves last season).

The rest of the Giants roster is intact and in the midst of their prime, led by perennial Cy Young candidates in Madison Bumgarner and Cueto and former MVP Buster Posey.

Full seasons of starter Matt Moore and reliever Will Smith add more depth to a pitching staff that won't need any "even year magic" to strike fear into opponents.

The Giants have the perfect blend of experience, talent and confidence to serve as contenders on a yearly basis and 2017 will be no different.

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New York Mets

At this time a year ago, the Mets represented the biggest challenge to the Cubs after knocking Maddon and Co. out of the postseason in the 2015 NLCS.

But a rash of injuries to the starting rotation left New York in the crapshoot that is the one-game wild-card playoff where they couldn't solve Bumgarner and watched Conor Gillaspie transform into a new October hero.

When it comes to a five- or seven-game series in the frigid temperatures in October, no team will want to run into the power pitching staff of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia.

But the Mets' 2017 prospects hinge completely on the health of that rotation with Harvey, deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler all returning from serious arm injuries. Wheeler is coming off Tommy John surgery and hasn't pitched since 2014.

The rest of the roster is largely unchanged from a year ago with 43-year-old Bartolo Colon as the biggest departure and while there are no additions of note, the returns of David Wright and Lucas Duda (who combined for only 84 games in 2016) will provide a huge boost to the lineup.

There's no guarantee Wright (back) will ever be 100 percent again or what kind of numbers he'll put up when he's in the lineup, but this is the organization's heart and soul who sports an .867 OPS and 53 WAR over his 13-year career.

Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker opted to return this winter and former top prospect Michael Conforto is waiting in the wings if the Mets lineup needs another jolt.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies made waves this winter by signing Ian Desmond and rehabbing former closer Greg Holland, sending a message to the baseball world that they believe themselves contenders.

Desmond joins a lineup anchored by Nolan Arenado (one of the best two-way players in the game) and Carlos Gonzalez plus up-and-comers Trevor Story and David Dahl. Gerardo Parra, D.J. LeMahieu and Charle Blackmon represent quality depth and Tony Wolters is emerging as one of the best defensive catchers in the NL.

A starting rotation led by Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson may not be one of the game's elite, but all five projected starters will pitch at age 28 or under in 2017 and the Rockies believe their talents are suited to Coors Field.

Holland and veteran southpaw Mike Dunn help bolster a bullpen that already featured a slew of former closers in Adam Ottavino, Jake McGee, Jason Motte and Chad Qualls.

The Rockies still seem a year or two away from truly contending but after years of toiling away toward the bottom of the NL West, they've at least put themselves on the map and have everything in place to potentially get hot and make a run late in the season.

The rest

In order for the Arizona Diamondbacks to be a considerable threat in the NL pennant race, they need pretty much everything to go right, which is possible but unlikely. The D-Backs were a popular pick to contend before 2016 and still have a talented roster, but the success will hinge completely on the effectiveness of Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and the rest of the pitching staff.

The San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins are all in full-on rebuild mode, though the Marlins were kind of forced into that stance by the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez last fall.