To say that White Sox camp has been anything less than eventful thus far would be a vast understatement. During the last week, the events surrounding the LaRoche family and the White Sox have turned the team into media darlings. The week-long fiasco known as “L’Affaire LaRoche” was no longer just a White Sox Spring Training story, it was a Chicago sports story.
So, yes, it’s been quite the exciting three weeks.
But the show must go on, and the regular season is still rapidly approaching. The White Sox have made their second group of cuts this week, and with each round of cuts we are better able to infer answers to the remaining roster questions that have been looming throughout camp.
Here is what I have found to be the most pertinent stories from camp. And, thankfully, these topics have to do with actual baseball.
The White Sox have “Hit the ground running”
The common theme and one of the largest take aways from SoxFest 2016 in January was that the organization felt it was important that they “hit the ground running” in Spring Training this season. Of course, every team finds it important to leave camp on a high note going into the regular season, but this is especially important for the White Sox in 2016.
It’s no secret that the White Sox have failed to leave Arizona with a winning record during the last few Springs, as recently as last year posting a record of 12-17-3. As a club that has finished with poor regular season records, including a 66-win campaign in 2013 and two fourth-place finishes in 2014 and 2015, they need the confidence boost now more than ever.
“And it’s true to some extent because the numbers here do not count for the season. But for us, especially for us who had a bad season last year (76-86), to have that kind of start to spring training is good because it gives us confidence.’’ Jose Abreu told reporters through a translator earlier this spring.
The Spring has looked promising thus far, with the White Sox currently over .500 and sitting near the top of the Cactus League standings. As much as these numbers don’t count towards any significant strides, they do matter from a different standpoint. This is a crucial year for this organization. When asked at SoxFest whether or not the team would consider a full-fledged rebuild at the end of the season should they face another turbulent year, Rick Hahn responded by stating that all options will be on the table.
However, getting off to a good start early isn’t simply about winning games or good stat lines. Having what is often referred to as a “winning culture” in your clubhouse is a key component when attempting to head into the season with your best foot forward.
The culture that Hahn and Ventura have helped establish and cultivate during the past offseason seems to have a significant chance to help aid the mentality of this team to be just that — a team, and perhaps a winning one. With additions such as veteran leader Jimmy Rollins and his desire to unite a clubhouse while remaining humble, this team has already worked to manifest unification.
While what has been happening on the field is a great start, what is happening off the field could possibly be a better “hit the ground running” start than any Cactus League standing is able to offer up.
Carlos Rodon is stepping up
Sometime it can be easy to forget that on Opening Day 2015, Carlos Rodon was just a 22-year old prospect in the White Sox minor league system. Now, after stepping up to post 139 innings of work in his rookie season, Rodon will enter his second year with the club, but this time he will play an essential role in the Opening Day rotation. Rodon has worked hard at perfecting his craft this offseason, with pitching coach Don Cooper’s careful instruction, in order to accelerate his path to becoming the pitcher he is capable of being.
In his first two outings of the Spring, Rodon did not allow a run, and surrendered just three hits during seven innings of work. However, in his last official outing on March 16, Rodon surrendered four earned runs on seven hits, one of them being a home run.
Rodon continued to struggle in a B-league game this week. He gave up three runs on seven hits and issued six walks, while also striking out six. “The last outing wasn’t that great, but the two before that were spot on, which is surprising because they were the first two outings I had,” Rodon told the media after his unofficial outing. “It seems like I’m getting stronger.”
Remember, though these last few outings may seem troubling — it’s still Spring Training.
Fastball command was the primary cause of Rodon’s recent issues, which he pointed out to the media that he was not pleased with. The White Sox are working to help Rodon perfect his pick-off move as well by supplying him with base runners.
Rodon is more than capable of being a third starter in this White Sox rotation, and we can be certain that he will continue to attempt to demonstrate that while harnessing his fastball command through the remainder of Spring Training.
As the White Sox seek bench options, Jerry Sands and J.B. Shuck deliver
The assembly of bench roles is one of the most fascinating stories to watch during Spring Training each year. So much of a roster’s bench construction simply has to do with luck; who has the best spring and looks to have a strong momentum going into the regular season.
For the White Sox, right now that seems to be outfielders Jerry Sands and J.B. Shuck. Sands is a newcomer who was selected off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in late December. Along with Shuck, he will be battling for a spot in the bench with Carlos Sanchez, Travis Ishikawa, and Matt Davidson.
With Shuck and Sands both out of options, they came to camp with the need to present a case for themselves to make the 40-man roster early on. But with both showing decent potential right out of the gate, they look to be the most likely to make the cut.
Shuck fit into his bench role well in 2015, serving as an average defender in all three outfield positions in 2015, and posting a TAv of .263 in 79 games. Shuck also proves a valuable asset off the bench as a left-handed bat. He has nine hits and two RBIs this Spring.
Sands proves valuable to the White Sox bench in his ability to play first base, a bench role that has recently been vacated by the departure of Adam LaRoche. Sands has dazzled recently in Spring Training, hitting two home runs in the White Sox win against Oakland on Saturday. Sands has hit 3 home runs and has 8 RBIs so far this Spring.
While the the race to fill the final few bench spots will likely take place right up until the Sox are set to leave camp, Shuck and Sands are both making significant strides to carve out a space for themselves on the Opening Day roster.
With the departure of Erik Johnson, Mat Latos looks to be the White Sox fifth starter… for now
Mat Latos made his first start at White Sox camp on Tuesday, and the final line was a bit disconcerting. Having watched the game, I can say that the first few innings went well. But by the third inning, contact became an issue for Latos in the form of fly balls and home runs — something that could be a concern in the small hitter friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field.
However, perhaps we should be looking at Latos as the lesser of the two (or three, or four) evils. At least with Latos, the concerns are not veiled. He has struggled with mechanics since his injury, and he tends to allow a few more fly balls than optimal. Neither of these issues are a surprise.
On the plus side, Latos was able to get ahead in the count, starting off a good portion of batters in a 0-1 count, and induced quick outs when he wasn’t hitting the middle of the zone or letting his breaking pitches hang. So there is potential for success there, and again, this was just his first outing of the Spring.
But it’s become more evident in recent days that perhaps the real question in the fifth starter debate is not who will fill the position best but instead “Who can hold down the fort until Fulmer gets here?”
Pitching coach Don Cooper eluded to Carson Fulmer reaching the majors sooner than anticipated earlier this week when he stated that he believed Fulmer was ahead of where Rodon was this time last year.
Well, in that case, we see the path that Rodon took to the majors, and should Fulmer be paces ahead of Rodon’s progression, we could see him take the mound at U.S. Cellular Field before they stop the hot chocolate sales. So, don’t fret, we may have another recent draft hero coming to save the rotation yet again.
Lead photo courtesy of Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports