Young White Sox hitters have been gathering in January to get an early start on the season preparation since the days of Camp Cora. This title no longer is welcome because both Cora and the regime he worked for ended hastily, and the minicamp under that title was inextricably tied with the false hope for the development of the like of Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo.
Not to tamp down all the excitement of the sight and sound of actual bats connecting with baseballs again, and reports of Yoan Moncada lefty swatting batting practice pitches out to dead center, but the expectation for this needs to be settled firmly on ‘useful exercise’ rather than ‘source of revelatory breakthrough’ for the 16-man group (Moncada, Zack Collins, Charlie Tilson, Matt Davidson, Kevan Smith, Adam Engel, Jacob May, Trey Michalczewski, Keon Barnum, Courtney Hawkins, Dan Hayes, Keenyn Walker, Joey DeMichele, Jameson Fisher, Alex Call and Nick Delmonico) in Glendale. Even with a wide open major league club that nearly half of this group could be considered Opening Day roster candidates for, this whole camp is a nod to a principle that Don Cooper alluded to in his podcast with Chuck Garfien: what’s a rebuild to a position group coach, who is always developing talent no matter what?
Moncada expressed some shock at being traded through an interpreter, but still expects to thrive with his new team, he got to see his parents in Cuba for the first time in two years over the offseason, and everyone is over the moon about his physique and talent, but where the Sox stand with Collins grabbed attention. When he was drafted, some evaluators compared Collins’ chances to sticking at catcher unfavorably to Kyle Schwarber‘s at the same point in their careers, but after an offseason of pilates work focused on improving agility, confidence is still high after a debut season full of mixed reviews.
Here’s one point taken away from today: Zack Collins and White Sox have no doubt he will be a solid big league catcher.
— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) January 10, 2017
Given the sea change effect sticking at catcher, even as just a defensive mediocre one, would have on Collins’ value (not to mention how much more simple it would make building the next Sox contender), they are absolutely right to continue pushing toward this reality. Another side benefit of the rebuild is no pressure to abandon having Collins catch for the sake of getting his bat to the majors.
As far as sources of newsworthy revelations and insight, I prefer Don Cooper talking on Chuck Garfien’s podcast. Beyond the simply hysterical quips on Sale’s jersey incident–“obviously he didn’t like the uniform,”–and Mark Buehrle’s state of affairs when he asked about warming up for Game 3 of the World Series–“He had a styrofoam cup in his hand, it looked to me like it had suds in it…It might have been one of those energy drinks,”–Cooper gave the first team insights on their trade returns in months, and in his typically more honest style.
While he didn’t get deep on Lucas Giolito, he did say they were unconcerned about him getting shelled in his brief major league debut in 2016. Surprisingly, he acknowledged that Reynaldo Lopez “could go either way” as far as starting or relieving while still praising where his fastball and slider are at right now. But for perhaps the riskiest arm in the bunch, Cooper was over the moon, praising Michael Kopech‘s huge arm and also his delivery, and saying keeping him healthy is the only real concern.
On Dane Dunning, Cooper mostly just made fun of the awful video quality that other teams had on Dunning and was generally positive. Since Dunning was just drafted this past June and hasn’t hit High-A yet, this seems like a very appropriate level of Dunning enthusiasm.
On the veterans, Cooper said James Shields will benefit from a clean slate but also acknowledged that after 11 years in the majors, his stuff is obviously diminished. He confirmed our speculation that David Robertson was hampered by his knee problems in 2016, and while he concluded that the biggest issue for Derek Holland going forward is health, he also mentioned his trouble staying back in his delivery when pitching out of the stretch as a target area for a fix. Every time Cooper is pointing out a specific fix, goals seem much more attainable. Which is also instructive for how to read it when he’s less specific.
There’s going to be plenty read into his comments on pitch-framing, which he acknowledged the value of, but probably wasn’t super convincing when tried to defend the switch between Tyler Flowers to Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. Cooper ended by saying ”I hold the pitchers responsible for everything that goes on,” to sum up his approach. While the Sox certainly don’t hold any benefit of the doubt right now for how much they appreciate framing, that really shouldn’t fall on Cooper, whose comments would fit along just fine with a framing conscious organization.
Photo by Mark J. Rebilas